Australia’s influence on British culture extends much further than TV soaps and lager. In 2010, the story of the failed actor from Adelaide who helped the King of England find his voice captured our imaginations in The King’s Speech, the Oscar-decorated movie starring Geoffrey Rush as maverick speech therapist Lionel Logue. The film was based on a play, which has been revived for a national tour calling at Cambridge Arts Theatre this month and starring another of Australia’s most iconic exports: Jason Donovan.
“It has a wonderful heart, and at the centre is a relationship between two men who are complete opposites,” says Donovan. “The underlying theme is fear: something we all face whether you’re the King of England or from the back streets of suburbia. We all have hurdles we have to learn to overcome, and that’s the journey of self-discovery that the king goes on.”
Is the play very different from the film?
“It’s written a bit like a movie,” says Donovan. “But the play is more political: I don’t think the film went too much into the abdication and the effect that had.”
Logue had worked with victims of shell shock before being approached by George VI to help him conquer his stammer. Says Donovan: “He’s a great character and I’ve found something in there that I’ve never found in a role before.”
Donovan, who shot to fame as Neighbours’ wholesome heart-throb Scott Robinson in the 80s, is no stranger to the stage. Following a definitive performance in the title role of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, he returned to the West End with The Rocky Horror Show and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
“I love the energy of theatre,” he says. “Theatre is alive. And it’s a lifestyle; you’ve got to look after yourself. I juice every day and try not to go out and go too hard…”
He laughs, but Donovan knows only too well the dangers of overdoing the showbiz lifestyle. The actor has spoken candidly about his drug addiction (which lead to a drug-induced seizure at Kate Moss’ birthday party in 1995), caused by wanting to shake off his ‘golden boy’ image.
Meeting the right woman turned him around. Donovan married stage manager Angela Malloch in 1998, but in 1989 his on-screen marriage to co-star Kylie Minogue was all the world could talk about. The soap celebrates 30 years this month – but don’t get too excited about any surprise Scott-Charlene reunions.
“It was 30 years ago,” says Donovan, somewhat wearily. “I always wanted to become an actor and I fell on my feet with Neighbours. I’m very proud to have been part of it but I don’t spend all my time thinking about it. I think [the reunion] is more of a press thing than something developed by any of the actors so no, it’s not something I’ll be doing.”
Lately Donovan has proved something of a reality TV favourite. In 2006 he did a stint in the jungle for I’m A Celebrity and in 2011 finished third on Strictly Come Dancing. “I got a lot out of Strictly,” he says. “It was a bigger challenge: I’m A Celebrity was a well-paid suntan.”
What are his plans after the tour?
“I’ve got a couple of dates for some 80s shows but nothing really as yet. Let’s hope this goes other places – we’ll see. It really is a great piece of theatre,” he continues. “There are certain roles in life that are made for you, and maybe this is one of those. I’d certainly say I’ve found a home in this play. And no-one can criticise my accent.”
:: The King’s Speech, Cambridge Arts Theatre, 9-14 March, 7.45pm. Tickets from £15.