Interview - Oliver Savile (Knights of the Rose)

‘I actually don't think even we know how special this is going to be yet’ Oliver Savile muses. In the run up to the opening night of new musical Knights of the Rose, he's taken some time out of rehearsals to chat all about how he got started in musical theatre, why classic rock music is so enduring, and of course, how he's preparing for his latest role.

Every actor finds their way into the profession in a different way, and for Oliver Savile, who grew up ‘on the side of a hill, in Buxton’, his start came at age 11 when his dad coerced him into attending a Saturday drama school. After a bit of initial hesitancy (‘I was like, "I don't want to go! If I don't like it I'm not staying!”’ he recalls), he almost instantaneously discovered an affinity for performing. After seeing a touring production of Blood Brothers at Buxton Opera House, he recollects that his dad told him that some people actually made their living as actors, and from that moment on he knew what he wanted to do as a career. ‘It was the biggest mistake of my dad's life’ Savile laughs. 

After moving to Manchester to study for a BTEC in Musical Theatre, Savile landed a place at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, but his drama school audition process almost took him in a different direction entirely. ‘I started auditioning for every drama school under the sun, and I didn't actually think I was going to do Musical Theatre at that time. I wanted to be an actor, so it was all RADA and the Acting course at GSA, and Central, and Italia Conti and all that’ he explains, ‘and my very last audition was for Musical Theatre at Mountview. I just loved what musicals did to me at the time, so I decided to go there.’ And it seems that serendipitous decision was the right one! In his third year of study he was cast in a tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and, as he puts it, ‘the rest is history’. 

Which brings us to the present day, and Oliver Savile's latest role in Jennifer Marsden's ambitious classic rock musical, where he will play high ranking and valiant knight Sir Hugo. Featuring songs by Meat Loaf, Bon Jovi and Bonnie Tyler to name but a few, Knights of the Rose will open at the Arts Theatre in the middle of what seems to be a rock musical renaissance. With Bat Out Of Hell currently rocking audiences on the West End, and American Idiot and Rock of Ages rolling out on tour in the near future, it seems as if there couldn’t be a better time for a musical like Knights of the Rose to premiere. 

The cast in rehearsal
Photo credit - Mark Dawson
‘It's a bit of a gift to an actor, especially nowadays, to get to do something new. That's what drew me to it. It's this brand new production, which has never been done before’ Savile admits. ‘On paper, yeah I've definitely played a role like this before, but this one is a lot deeper. There’s a lot of tragedy and a lot of heartache.’

After 8 years of acting, he has quite an impressive range of credits to his name, from the Rum Tum Tugger in Cats to Bobby in Company. But to many musical theatre aficionados, he’ll be best known for his stint in the 10th Anniversary cast of the megalithic musical that is Wicked, a show with a fan base which is almost unparalleled in its enthusiasm and dedication! Savile recalls how Wicked was at its early heights of popularity when he was studying at drama school, and back then the role of Fiyero was a dream for him. 

Now that he's crossed Fiyero off his list I wonder if he has any new dreams? ‘Honestly I want to do everything. I want to be in everything’ he says, ‘it used to be Fiyero and now it seems to be whatever I'm auditioning for at the time!’ But after 2 years as the rebellious prince and love interest to the wicked witch of the west, there is another equally regal yet rather more evil part which he’s got his eye on… Hans in Disney's Frozen! ‘I would love to do that when it comes over. Another Prince. I'll grab them all while I can, and I've still got my hair' he jokes.

But back to Knights of the Rose. A musical with such an iconic song list seems like such a gift, so of course I'm curious to know whether Savile has any favourite songs or moments in the show. He divulges a personal highlight. 'Obviously singing [Enrique Iglesias'] Hero every day is going to be fun, but there are so many awesome songs', he enthuses, before jokingly adding 'everyone used to ask me on Wicked "What's your favourite song?" And I'd say Dancing Through Life, it's my song, but I actually don't know in this show!' 

The cast and creatives in rehearsal
Photo credit - Mark Dawson
Of course, one of the things which seems most interesting about Knights of the Rose is that unlike other musicals like Jersey Boys and We Will Rock You, both of which focus solely on the music of one particular band, Knights of the Rose combines a number of different musical artists' most recognisable songs. I wonder if there are any other classic rock songs which Savile wishes had made it into the show. 'I probably shouldn't say this' he professes, 'but I'm the least "rockiest" person!'

I therefore ask if he has any ideas why the music within the show has such a dedicated fan base, and has maintained its popularity for so long. He pauses for a few seconds to think before answering. 'The story is the most important thing within a show. And I think with rock songs, and I'm being quite general here, but they're epic stories', he explains. 'Back in the day, those people didn't just go to a concert to go listen to somebody sing. They went to see the massive shows, and the story within each song.' And it certainly sounds as if creator Jennifer Marsden has latched on to this ideal combination of story and songs in Knights of the Rose. It does seem fitting after all that a musical which is described as being Shakespearian in scope should be coupled with such enduring and adored music.

With our interview time running short, I want to know why Oliver Savile thinks people should buy tickets to this new rock musical. His answer is as persuasive as it is all-encompassing. 'If you like Game of Thrones. If you like A Knight's Tale. If you like rock songs. If you like beautiful love stories. If you like friendship, and betrayal...' he pauses and reflects for a moment ('well, no one ever likes betrayal, but if you like to watch it on stage...'), before summing up his persuasion in two short sentences. 'It is epic. You've just got to come and see it!'