In the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre show, Mary Poppins, the magical nanny’s sidekick, Bert, just happens to be played by gay man, Matt Lee. We caught up with him to find out why the original movie has such queer appeal, among other things.
Hey Matt! Were you a Mary Poppins fan when you were a kid?
What child isn’t a fan of Mary Poppins growing up? I used to put it on if I ever watched a scary film and felt frightened, because Mary makes everything better. I wore my VHS version of it out!
Why do you think gay people are fans of the film?
She’s a little bit elusive, I think. She gets in there, and she wears the pants, and gets stuff done. She has a big camp bag that has everything in it!
What’s different about the show, compared to the film?
So many musical films get turned into stage shows, and the script is literally taken from the movie and stuck on stage, where this is really about going through PL Travers’ original books to tell the best stage story we can tell. We have most of the same characters, the Banks family and so on, but what we also have are new characters that have been introduced, that appear in the original books. It’s a little bit darker. Mary’s a little bit sterner with the kids. We have a nasty nanny in Act Two, that’s not in the film. We have a great, colourful character called Mrs Corry, who sings Supercalifragilisticexpalidocious with us.
You’re originally from Australia. Is your cockney accent any better than Dick Van Dyke’s?
I can safely say that it is better, but I’ll let everyone else be the judge of that.
Did you study his performance before playing the part?
I purposely didn’t watch the movie, once I got the role, because I didn’t want to be seen to be mimicking or copying Dick’s performance in any way. I wanted to bring my own flavour to it, and make the character my own. I don’t think about comparisons. I have such a ball playing Bert every night, and I’m lucky and thrilled to be doing it.
Is there any more depth of character for Bert? Do you get to see his inner emotional life?
If there was a spin-off, it would definitely be Bert’s story, going into his childhood. I think his backstory is that when he was a kid Mary Poppins was his nanny, and he’s been in love with her ever since.
Is there romance between them?
They’re very fond of each other. She’s always flying off to save another family, but if she could stick around, I definitely think there would be romance.
How do you have the energy to play the role night after night?
I get to show off everything I’ve trained for my entire life. I get to dance upside down on the ceiling, singing these wonderful songs. It is quite energetic, but it’s something I love. It’s a fantastic all-round role for a male. I’m scheduled to play Bert right up til the end of 2017, so that’s great.
Do you ever get sick of being Bert?
What you have to think about is that every audience is seeing it for the first time, so you have to go out there and give a brand new, fresh performance. Tell me another job where you get to go out and get to do what you love, night after night. That’s motivation enough for me. You discover different things every time you play it too, and we travel to different places, so that keeps it fresh too.
What’s your favourite thing about the show?
The great thing about Mary Poppins is that it’s a family show. People from all ages can take something different from it. The kids come and they’re in awe of the magic. Adults come and they’re taken back to their childhoods.
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