Stephen Rahman-Hughes on difficulties of finding work in London’s West End

Rahman-Hughes is known for his portrayal as Hang Tuah in Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical.

IT has been over a year since Welsh-Malay actor Stephen Rahman-Hughes’ last visit to Malaysia.

Rahman-Hughes has had quite a hectic past year, devoting himself to the stage adaptation of Disney’s Aladdin on the prestigious London’s West End.

“The last time I was here was March last year. I couldn’t come here for a while because Aladdin took a whole year. It was every day, eight shows a week,” he shares with the Malaysian media in an interview at Petaling Jaya.

Of course, the 47-year-old Londoner is used to the rigorous demands that come with being a West End thespian, having starred in various long-running productions over the years, notably, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams and Rock Of Ages.

Rahman-Hughes, who is best known in Malaysia for playing Hang Tuah in Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical, is back in the country to help bring to life OlaBola The Musical.

OlaBola The Musical, which will be staged at Istana Budaya beginning Feb 22, 2018, is adapted from the box-office hit film of the same name, centred on the country’s national football team and its journey to qualify for the 1980 Summer Olympics.

Rahman-Hughes, who is a formally-trained dancer, is coming onboard the project as a special movements choreographer. This means he will help translate the act of playing football into a choreography suited for the stage.

Stephen Rahman-Hughes, Puteri Gunung Ledang
Stephen Rahman-Hughes is known for his portrayal as Hang Tuah in Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical. Photo: Filepic

“I used to play a lot as a kid,” he looks back on his experience with football. “I haven’t kicked a ball in a long time. So sometimes to warm up, the cast plays a football game and I’ll join in and see if I’ve still got the touch.”

Rahman-Hughes is in town for only a week before returning to London to star in a play.

Aladdin had all the bells and whistles, the flying carpets and genies appearing and disappearing. This (new play I am in) is just about the acting.

“There are only three people in this play and I play multiple characters.

I have to speak with different accents and play different ages. I’m looking forward to it.”

But Rahman-Hughes won’t be away for long this time, revealing he will be returning to Malaysia to sing at a good friend’s wedding soon and (potentially) starring as a villain in a local movie next year.

1. What is your role in OlaBola The Musical?

My role is to create the movement (inspired by) people playing football. You don’t just want to have football players kicking a ball among themselves on stage. You want to try and elevate the idea of the football match.

Otherwise, you might as well go and watch a football match if you want to see people kicking a ball. So we’re mixing football with (dance) movements.

Stephen Rahman-Hughes
Stephne Rahman-Hughes has starred in various West End productions over the years including Bombay Dreams and Rock Of Ages. Photo: Filepic

2. Performing eight shows a week for a year in long-running productions like Aladdin, does it ever feel repetitive?

Sometimes, it does turn into a job but you’re hoping you have enough experience and creativity to keep it fresh every day. You find new things to work on every day.

My role Kassim had lines that were funny and lines that were heartfelt. So I was always like tweaking and seeing how I can make my lines funnier or more heartfelt.

If it becomes mechanical, there’s no life in it. It’s dead and the audience can sense you’re just saying your lines. You have to inhabit that world and that character every day.

3. How difficult is it finding work as an actor on London’s West End?

There’s a lot of competition. With someone like me – half Malaysian, half Welsh – I have a very specific look next to other people. So something like Aladdin, with the way I look and my colouring, it’s very easy, there’s a role for me.

But sometimes it can be difficult to find the roles because the industry over there ... they need the person to look like the person that’s in their imagination. So if he’s American, I’m probably not going to get the job.

But I think it’s changing. There’s a new philosophy now where there’s a quota for actors with different ethnic backgrounds to be in a cast. So like Les Miserables has black and Asian actors.

4. You’re in talks to star in a Malaysian movie next year. What can you tell us about your character?

This character is a really bad character, and sometimes that’s more fun to play. This guy is just nasty, there’s no way for him to turn good. Too many bad things have happened in his life and the way he expresses himself is close to evil.

I would never think like the character, but as an actor, I have to emphatise with his perspective of life. Why does he see life this way? Why is he behaving in this fashion?

5. Is it true you’ll be singing at Datuk Hans Isaac’s wedding?

He asked me to. And of course, I have to say yes. It’ll be myself and Jaclyn Victor.

Maybe we’ll do something together.

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