The hills are alive once more as we return to Salzburg via The Kings Theatre

The Sound of Music, Neil McDermott with Lucy O'Byrne
The Sound of Music, Neil McDermott with Lucy O'Byrne

Former EastEnder and regular star of the West End stage Neil McDermott plays Captain von Trapp in this latest touring production of the classic The Sound of Music.

But it's not Neil's first trip into the Austrian Alps – he played Rolf, who woos eldest daughter Liesl, a decade ago. 

He joined this show's cast late last year, and tells The Guide: 'I played Rolf in the London Palladium version, so I was kind of clued up on the show and the story and the characters, albeit playing a different character. I watched the show evolve every night. I had a good idea of the character already.'

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical – and later an Oscar-winning film – tells the true story of the world-famous singing family, the von Trapps, and their governess Maria – from their romantic beginnings and search for happiness, to their thrilling escape to freedom at the start of the Second World War.

'I think I’m the only person who’s moved on from playing Rolf to playing the captain professionally, which is quite exciting,' says Neil.

'Coming back to the show and being offered the part of the captain is very exciting for me. I’ve done a few musicals over the years, but recently I’ve been doing the comedy villains, which are usually quite physical roles, whereas this is an emotional role so it’s a different challenge and one that I couldn’t turn down really.'

How did he find taking on the part of the widowed naval captain, Georg von Trapp? 

'The show and the film condense their story to be able to tell it in a two-and-a-half-hour show, but taking on a part that’s very famous from a film, I have done that before in other shows,' he played Lord Farquaad in Shrek: The Musical, 'and there’s always a sense of what people are going to make of what you're doing because of that.

'But a part is nothing if an actor doesn’t bring their own personality and sensitivity to it, so you have to do that and you work with the other actors playing their parts on stage and we make this version work for us and the audience – you can’t just do your own thing.'

While many are familiar with Christopher Plummer's take on the role from the film, Neil drew from another source closer to home.

'Alexander Hanson was the captain when it was at the Palladium. He’s a fantastic actor and was excellent in the role in my eyes, so I guess if anything, the way I play it is closer to his version than Christopher Plummer’s or anybody else's – just because that was the one I was most familiar with, but I try to put my own spin on it, obviously.'

Although he is something of a West End veteran, this is actually Neil's first major touring production.

'Before I’ve been lucky enough to be in the West End, or have done shows that have been stationed somewhere.

'I’ve done short tours – we did three weeks with Wind in The Willows before it went into the West End - but never one like this where we’re in and out of somewhere each week.

'It’s been different, but the good thing about it is that you get to see a bit more of the country and meet people from all over and it’s quite interesting to see how the audiences react in each city - you get to judge a place by its audience. For example, a Glasgow audience is certainly up for a night out! And you can tell that straight away, it’s quite an interesting aspect of it.

'Being a dad with two kids, being away can be a bit tricky sometimes, but that’s part of the job and I get to go home for a couple of days and see them before we move on to the next place.'

Neil's co-star as Maria is Lucy O'Byrne who came to fame when she was runner-up in the BBC's Saturday night show, The Voice in 2015. She joined the touring cast of The Sound of Music the following year to great acclaim, and now she's back.

'It’s lucky that a lot of people in the cast know the show very well, and Lucy comes into it with a lot of information and a lot of knowledge of what to do and how to play it, then we worked together to create our own relationship. We tinker with things to make it work for us.

'She’s had fantastic reviews across the board. It’s a hard part and she’s got a great voice to handle that.'

Neil remains best known though for his part as Ryan Malloy in EastEnders – he was in the show for two years from 2009 to 2011 and has made a couple of brief returns since. Would he go back again?

'We will see. Never say never, if it’s right for the show and it’s right for me, then of course I’ll do it because it’s a fantastic thing to be involved in.

'I left the show to be able to do other things, and sometimes when you train as an actor you have to make the decision whether to stay in something or go do something else. But that’s not to say I wouldn’t go back if it’s right.

'If you get famous for being in a soap people forget that you had a career before that, and will have a career afterwards too. A lot of the guys have been in musicals and plays.'

The Kings Theatre, Southsea

March 6-10

kingsportsmouth.co.uk