The Isle of Man has not only housed a few celebrated actors, but it has also bred a few. Perry O’Dea of Onchan is now more used to the lights of the West End than the Gaiety. Talented in singing, dance and stage production he has starred in various shows since his early beginnings. These include Blood Brothers, Evita, Oklahoma and most recently Motown, in which he will be starring until January 2020, touring all over the UK.
Last year, Perry starred in Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein along with Ross Noble and Hadley Fraser. The show was a big hit with critics and audiences alike and later that same year he performed with the cast at the Olivier Awards, essentially the BAFTAs of the stage production world. There, Manx lad Perry was rubbing shoulders with the greats of the acting world, and it seems like the only way is up for this rising acting talent.
I caught up with Perry recently to see how the stage lights of the West End compare to the Gaiety.
So Perry, when did the stage lights first call your name?
I think I was about 15 when I thought about doing it properly. I did a few school shows and a few amateur dramatic shows, and then I did a show one summer for about 6 weeks. The guy who ran the show was from England and he told me I could go across and learn how to do this, so that’s exactly what I did. I left at 16 to complete a sixth form course and moved onto a full-time acting course at 18 in Musical Theatre.
And did you find that the Isle of Man was a challenging environment for a young actor?
Yeah definitely. Especially then it seemed like the Isle of Man was a million miles away. Its so secluded. There’s nothing like it. I hear interviews with people who claim they have a hard time breaking out into acting when they’re from a small town, but it is so much easier for them to get to London than for someone from the Isle of Man who has to take planes, trains or boats.
It might be a tough pick with all the shows you’ve taken part in, but what’s the highlight of your acting career so far?
The highlight has to be Young Frankenstein. That was West End, which is the thing everyone wants to achieve in the business, so that’s ticked off now. Doing the Olivier awards was also incredible.
Even though you spend your time across, it doesn’t seem like you’ve forgotten your Manx Roots, and I hear you were back in December for some youth acting classes. How did it all go?
Yeah, I was back for a break and thought I would put on some workshops to help out any young kids over there who wanted to do it. When I was starting out, I didn’t have anyone from across who could tell me “this is what they will look for” or “this is how it works” so I thought something like that could really help. I’m back in June as well at Ballakermeen for another workshop so I’m looking forward to that. I find that sometimes being from an Island makes us hungrier for it, so the kids are really receptive.
What are your top tips for any budding young theatre actors who hail from the Isle?
I think you have to be resilient and grow a thick skin. Sometimes the young kids might do really well on the Island and then come across to the UK and not receive the same reception as they did from back home. You’ve just got to realise that that’s part of the job. Another thing is taking your chances. It might seem like such a big jump from Island life, but we can do it, you just have to get out there.
How’s Motown going?
Yeah its going really well, I mean… everyone loves Motown music. Its interesting because its not just about the music, although this is a big part of the show, its also about how the music came about. Right now, we are in Cardiff, and we’re touring all over the UK.
With all that touring, do you ever miss the comfort of Island life?
It does get tiring touring all the time but at the same time it is exciting discovering new towns and cities. On your days off you can go and explore, and you wouldn’t get that with any other job, so I don’t have it too hard. That being said, I do miss the Island. Most of all I miss the sea. That was the first thing I missed when I moved to London, I was like “f**k I don’t see the sea anymore”. Then obviously I miss my family and my friends from the Island. Until you leave it, you don’t realise how good the quality of life is. It’s a brilliant little place.