Sheffield stage sees TV star Jason’s breakthrough as straight actor

Jason Donovan (Lionel Logue) in The King's Speech Credit Hugo Glendinning
Jason Donovan (Lionel Logue) in The King's Speech Credit Hugo Glendinning
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Jason Donovan admitted that it’s taken a long time to be taken seriously as an actor after his popularity in Neighbours in the 1980s.

He’s finally made a breakthrough with the stage version of The King’s Speech, which comes on tour to Sheffield Lyceum next week.

The actor and former pop star, who played Scott Robinson in the Australian soap, who was the love interest of Kylie Minogue, hasn’t had many chances to try straight acting on stage until now.

He said: “It’s not for the want of trying. Some people have been coming up to me and say, ‘we didn’t realise you could do this’.

“This is where I started but I just got sidetracked. I just don’t harp on about it. I understand why, Neighbours was a very popular show but I don’t live in that world any more.”

He plays Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue in the play that inspired the hit film, starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

Both tell the true story of King George VI and his struggle with a stammer that dogged him as he was thrust on to the throne after his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 because of his love for the divorcee Wallis Simpson who could not become his queen.

The Australian outsider and the king formed an unlikely alliance that allowed George VI to carry out his duties unhampered by his speech problem.

Jason has researched about Lionel Logue for the part. He said: “His back story comes out in the play. He wanted to be an actor but he failed. His father wanted him to be a surgeon but he couldn’t fathom that sort of career.

“He found his trade in helping First World War veterans who were shell shocked when they came back. As a speech therapist that made him well qualified to do what he did.

“At the end of the play the king comes to him and says ‘but you’re not qualified’. He says, ‘I’ll tell you why I’m far more qualified than those official types who don’t have the experience I have’. It’s a vital part in the play.”

He added: “It would never have worked for the king to have suited advisors who were Englishmen. His approach was to treat people as equals and break them down.

“The king said that the chair in Lionel Logue’s practice where he used to have his speech therapy and talk was the most comfortable chair in England for him. He made this man feel like a normal person.

“The irony is that he became the best king. It found him rather than he went looking for it. He wasn’t as crazy as Edward. He was more of a compassionate man and that worked for the monarchy.

“Can you imagine what would have happened if we’d had Edward for king? It would have been a big party and he was sympathetic to Hitler. God knows where we would be today.”

Jason said that the show is a wonderful piece of theatre and he is thrilled with the response that the tour has had so far, although he’s not a fan of matinees!

He would like to be back on TV, though. He said: “Don’t get me wrong, I love doing this but I would like to balance it out with TV work. That’s overdue.”

Jason missed out on a chance to break through in Hollywood when he turned down the role that Guy Pearce played in the drag queen comedy Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a role he has played on stage since in a successful musical theatre career.

Did he regret that decision?

He said: “I don’t live with regrets. That wasn’t the greatest decision I made but you can’t think like that. You would give yourself cancer worrying about stuff like that. It was 20 or 30 years ago.”

At one time Jason struggled with a drug problem but is now married and a father and has put those days firmly behind him.

With great honesty, he said: “I never make promises in life, it would be crazy to make promises, you don’t know what’s around the corner, but I realised that was something it was definitely time to move on from.

“My family has definitely given me a great opportunity to look to another side of life. It was turning point.”

The King’s Speech is at the Lyceum from next Monday to Saturday. Box Office: at the Crucible, call 0114 249 6000 or go online at sheffieldtheatres.co.uk