Interview: Youngest penguin George Knapper comes of age with a whistle

George Knapper as Puck in Love Birds. © Steve Ullathorne
George Knapper as Puck in Love Birds. © Steve Ullathorne

George Knapper as Puck in Love Birds. © Steve Ullathorne

Continuing our cast interview series, we catch up with George Knapper, who plays Love Birds‘ youngest member of the Quack Pack, Puck. Read more about George’s previous credits on the Love Birds cast page. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeKnapper


 

Tell us more about your character, Puck.

Puck is the youngest of the penguins. But out of all four of them, he probably takes the biggest journey, in the sense that he grows up a huge amount whilst discovering and developing his love for Valentine. He starts off very rigid and very much the kid brother of the group. As the show progresses, he becomes more confident and much more grown up. It was brilliant to have the writer Robbie Sherman working so closely with us during rehearsals, sharing his original ideas with us. This was really helpful as a actor working on a brand-new, original piece, especially one in which my character takes such a huge journey.

George with Ruth Betteridge, who plays Valentine in Love Birds

George with Ruth Betteridge, who plays Valentine in Love Birds

You play one of the four penguins who may or may not be the penguins from Mary Poppins. Have you learned anything interesting about penguins?

We four penguins have taken a huge leap together since the first days of rehearsals. We’ve become very much in sync with each other and have developed a real brotherly-love relationship, on and off stage. Getting on that way is important. As much as we all have our different characters and personalities in the show, we need to work together as a unit – otherwise the slickness and barbershop feel would be completely lost and we’d just be four random penguins on stage. Our story is that we’ve all come from the countryside and travelled together to the big city so clearly we would already have a strong relationship from our past experiences and therefore that needs to come across in the performance.

You were at drama school – at Performance Preparation Academy in Guildford – with fellow penguin Ryan Willis. Did you know each other well there?

Ryan was the year below me at PPA: I would see him everyday and we were always very good friends. At college, we also were both part of a group called The PPA Singers. It was roughly 25 people, and we were both on the same harmony line so we spent a lot of time getting to know each other and working together. We performed in many small gigs with this group in and out of college.

There’s a lot of whistling in the Love Birds finale, which you open with a very strong whistle. Have you always been able to whistle so well or was this prospect at all daunting? Any other party tricks?

I’ve done performances before that required whistling and it’s never been a big issue for me, luckily. I don’t remember ever learning to whistle (except a loud whistle using my fingers), but I must have at some point. I think perhaps it was part of the process of growing up with three brothers: there’s a lot of competition, which means, once one brother learnt something, you wanted to be able to do that thing as well. Other tricks? I did ride a unicycle at a younger age, but it’s been a while so I’m unsure how comfortable I’d be on nowadays. I can do a few acrobatic tricks…

George with fellow penguins (l-r): Ryan Willis, Rafe Watts and Jonny Purchase in Love Birds

George with fellow penguins (l-r): Ryan Willis, Rafe Watts and Jonny Purchase in Love Birds

If not whistling, what’s the most challenging number in Love Birds and why?

I think the most challenging number but also the most fun has got to be the Sadie Macaw operetta. This is actually four songs linked into one big sequence, and throughout the whole number, us four penguins stick together in various tight formations. It was difficult to rehearse because, although it’s not a huge dance number, every positions needs to be very precise between all four penguins in order to get the slick barbershop feel across. Our director Stewart Nicholls spent a lot of time with us in rehearsals making sure we executed the moves just so to make this possible.

This is your first time performing at Edinburgh. What’s your initial impression of the city? And the festival?

Christina Bianco

Christina Bianco

I feel so lucky to have this incredible opportunity to be able to perform this show and do it at the Fringe – as well as witness all the other amazing work on here. On our first day, Jonny and Rafe (who’ve had more Edinburgh fringe experience) took us on a small tour around the city. It is one of the most picturesque and beautiful cities I have ever seen, and I am absolutely loving the theatrical buzz.

What other shows have you seen yet that you’d recommend? 

The two best shows I’ve seen so far are Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, which we all went to together on our first night here [and which is transferring to the West End after Edinburgh]. That was absolutely incredible. And also impersonator Christina Bianco’s Party of One. She has endless talent: the musical instrument she has in her throat is completely versatile and astonishing!

Love Birds runs 12.35pm daily 5-31 August (except 19 August) at the Pleasance Courtyard during the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe. BOOK TICKETS HERE.


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