Keep smiling Bert!

FOR former Woodbridge man, and West End star Gavin Lee, keeping up a beaming smile is a prerequisite of the job. He is fast becoming well known for his performances in Mary Poppins.

FOR former Woodbridge man, and West End star Gavin Lee, keeping up a beaming smile is a prerequisite of the job. He is fast becoming well known for his performances in Mary Poppins. He told HELEN JOHNS about his career hopes, and fond memories of his days in local amateur dramatics.

GAVIN Lee seems to be the man who has it all - a steady job that many actors could only dream of, a beautiful wife, a home in London and plans to start a family.

After starting out with Woodbridge amateur dramatics group Company of Four, he has worked his way up the career ladder and now has one of the most high profile roles in the West End.

Each night he takes to the stage of the Prince Edward Theatre to play cheeky chimney sweep Bert in the musical version of Mary Poppins.

The role of Bert - made famous in the classic film by Dick Van Dyke - is one that Gavin treasures and would happily continue to play for many more shows to come.

When much of the cast was changed towards the end of last year, Gavin was given an extended contract to continue playing the role he created when the show opened in December 2004.

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“Out of the principals, I was the only one who stayed and so you do feel a bit of responsibility,” said Gavin, 34.

“It takes a couple of weeks to adjust but it does add new life to the show. It makes me, as Bert, react differently to how new people say things because not everyone does something in the same way.

The changes last October saw some people offered new contracts until April this year, while others left.

There will be another cast change in April but Gavin will stay as Bert until at least October, a decision he is pleased with.

“I spoke to Cameron Mackintosh one day and he was saying that back in the 1950s and 60s the big stars would stay in a show for at least two years or even three, so that people could put that character with that actor.

“It becomes your role and your character and it would be nice to think that if people mention Bert then people would think of my name.

“I've got a great part and if that's the case then why give it up? I think sometimes that's what actors do - give something up and then wake up on Sunday morning and realise you are unemployed.

“If someone offered me something else good now I would have real trouble knowing what to do, I'd struggle leaving this role because I've created it and made it my own, it will be very hard saying goodbye to Bert and seeing someone else do it.”

“I've been in the business for 16 years and never had a part this good and this big. I think if I get to the point where I do another year people will be thinking, 'oh, he's taking the easy option,' but so what? I only got married in September so there is more important things in my life at the moment, I'm not so desperately career minded at the moment.”

The woman behind Gavin's new priorities is actress Emily Harvey-Lee, who he married last year.

Originally from South Dakota in America, Emily came to London to study at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

The pair have been together for three and a half years and while Gavin treads the boards in Mary Poppins, 26-year-old Emily is currently appearing in Phantom of the Opera.

“We're both in London for a while, so we're really blessed in that way because that hardly ever happens to acting couples,” said Gavin.

“We go off to work together, say 'see you in three hours' and then do our shows and meet up at Charing Cross again. We've been lucky because that could change at any time, it's hard sometimes so we're just loving every moment of this year.”

Christmas saw the couple return to Suffolk to visit Gavin's parents at their home in Pettistree and sister in Woodbridge.

It was here that Gavin got his first taste of showbusiness with Company of Four.

“I wouldn't take anything from them, they got me into this job,” he said.

“The whole family used to be in it years ago and I saw my niece Emily for the first time in the pantomime this year. My sister was doing the choreography and she said 'you are going to come and see it aren't you?' and I said of course.”

But bringing his wife back to his home town did have a one unexpected drawback.

“She's seen some early videos of me being very embarrassing doing a terrible Scottish accent - I think they should be burnt!”

Bad accents aside, the more serious issue of parenthood could be on the cards for the pair, but not just yet.

“I'd like children, but Emily is in her first West End show and wouldn't want her to have to stop prematurely, I can see it being within the next three of four years. Most of our friends are ringing up now and saying they're pregnant, it's definitely on the cards.”

But for now Gavin is happy staying as Bert - even on the kind of day when going to work doesn't seem such an appealing option.

“I always have to remember there is people in the audience who have seen it before and have paid the price for the tickets and why should they get a lesser performance than the people on the first night did?

“It does turn into a job and sometimes you don't want to go in and be cheeky chappy Bert, you want to sit on your bum and watch television, but of course you can't do that and you have to give people what they are expecting for their £50.”

Mary Poppins is on show at the Prince Edward Theatre in London and is taking bookings until Ocotber this year.

WEBLINK: www.marypoppinsthemusical.co.uk

Gavin was born and brought up in Woodbridge and had his first theatrical experience with the Company of Four Theatre Group.

He trained at the Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts.

As well as Mary Poppins he has appeared in shows such as Peggy Sue Got Married, Crazy For You, Me and My Girl, Bugsy Malone and Oklahoma!

He now lives in London with his wife Emily.

His performance as Bert won him a nomination for the Best Actor in a Musical Award at the prestigious 2005 Laurence Olivier Awards.

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