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Five questions with Luke Evans of 'Backstairs Billy'

After lead roles in Hollywood hits like Beauty and the Beast, Evans is back on stage for the first time in 16 years in Backstairs Billy in the West End.

Matt Wolf
Matt Wolf

Luke Evans, known by many for his screen work including Dracula Untold, Beauty and the Beast, and The Girl on the Train, has now returned to the stage in royal comedy Backstairs Billy, alongside Dame Penelope Wilton. He spoke with London Theatre about his musical theatre background and bringing the relationship between Billy Talon and the Queen Mother to life on stage.

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Was it important to come back to the theatre in a new play?

I wanted to be able to create something and put my stamp on it – people would then always refer to my performance as Billy. I know the theatre loves to remake and revive things, but there’s a lot of bravery and courage in bringing a new play to the West End.

What’s your take on the unusual rapport that developed over a half-century or so between the Coventry-born Billy Tallon and the Queen Mother, who obviously belonged to an entirely different social milieu and class?

They needed each other. The Queen Mother was a clever, if lonely, woman who lost her husband at a young age and so was relegated to this little house on the Mall [Clarence House, where the play is set] compared to [Buckingham Palace], where she was living before. She was curious about all sorts of people and loved to be social, and that’s where Billy comes into her life age 15. He saw his position as making sure she was still treated as the Queen and that she had a life full of interesting experiences.

How does it feel to have theatrical royalty, Dame Penelope Wilton, as your co-star?

Her play The Chalk Garden in fact went into the Donmar right after I finished there in Small Change, and I saw it five time. The timing of Penelope and (Tony winner) Maggie Tyzack was like a master class, and I used to sit there mesmerised by both of them. So when I take Penelope’s hand at the end of our play, I think, wow, what an honour it is to walk out with her not as the Queen Mother but as Penelope Wilton. She’s a legend.

Were you surprised that your musical theatre career allowed for such a crossover into film?

I’m very proud of my background coming from musical theatre and often talk about it, and I do get sad sometimes when there seems to be this big divide between musical theatre acting and other acting in general. The fact is, we can do everything, and if I’m an inspiration to fellow actors, then great. I’m living proof that it can happen.

Will it be another 16 years, do you think, before your next stage appearance?

I’ve now dipped my foot – my whole body, really – into this and have had such a lovely experience. So, no, I don’t think it will be.

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Photo credit: Luke Evans in Backstairs Billy. (Photo courtesy of production)

This article first appeared in the December 2023 issue of London Theatre Magazine.

Originally published on