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Michael Xavier On Hitchin, MX Masterclass And Glenn Close

Hitchin actor Michael Xavier talks to Mark Kebble about ten years of his performing arts school and why we can expect a very special performance this month

Considering he has been nominated for an Olivier Award twice, and won a Broadway World Award, it’s perhaps not a surprise that when I ask Michael Xavier about his views on how theatre has been treated since the start of the pandemic, his hackles rise. “There are no words that can do justice to just how floored we’ve all been in the theatre world,” he laments. “It’s what we live and breathe, so to lose it for so long and see it struggle to get back on its feet is heart-breaking. I’m thrilled that it’s now over and we’re beginning to mend, but smaller theatres still need more financial support from the government.”

It’s not only during a pandemic that those running this country have given theatre short shrift, something that Xavier was determined to rectify when, ten years ago, he helped launch his own performing arts school. “I made it my aim, along with my wonderful team including Debra Morgan and Daisy Greenwood, to give the younger generation somewhere they could feel supported through their creativity, especially as the government were telling the country that theatre wasn’t a viable career. What kind of message was this for young aspiring performers to hear?”

Michael D Xavier

His anger at the decision makers soon gives way to enthusiasm for MX Masterclass, which the performing arts school is known as today. “I originally set up West End Masterclass [as it was known at first] with my ex-partner as initially we realised we had a lot to offer,” Xavier recounts. “Over time it’s become not only a passion project, but I’ve made it part of my mission to help young performers to not only get better at the three disciplines of musical theatre – singing, acting and dancing – but to grow into confident, kind, compassionate humans who are team players. After all, being part of a theatrical production is about being part of a team.”

The school has had plenty of success stories, including recent Absolutely Hertfordshire cover star Asha Banks, but for Xavier, when was his immense talent for the stage first discovered? “I was a very sporty child,” he starts the story not as I expected. “One winter I had a bad case of bronchitis and couldn’t play football – I couldn’t run a few yards without being completely out of breath, so I had to give it up until my lungs repaired. During that time, my school were auditioning for roles in their production of Grease and my friend Wil Mainwaring knew I could sing, so convinced me to audition. I did extensive breathing exercises daily to strengthen my lungs and subsequently auditioned for the show and got two roles, Teen Angel and Vince Fontain. From the first day of rehearsals I was hooked.”

Some 20 years later and his stage CV is hugely impressive. Xavier revels in the thrill of performing to a packed live audience – “No, nothing, nada,” he says on if anything compares to that – and he has had plenty of memorable experiences of doing just that. “My favourite experience has to be working opposite Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard in the West End and then on Broadway,” he says on his personal highlight, one that led to the aforementioned Broadway World Award. “That changed my life. My favourite creative acting experience was bringing to life the character of Oliver in Love Story [which saw one of those Olivier Award noms]. The show is beautiful and needs to be seen to be believed.” You will be able to do just that when a special 11th anniversary concert takes place at Cadogan Hall for one night only in November.

This entire interview could be dedicated to Xavier’s work on stage, but his screen credits deserve attention too. “I love the challenge of screen acting,” he says on switching between the two mediums. It also kept him busy during lockdown, with filming projects including Grace, Chelsea Detective, Gentleman Jack and Grantchester, the latter of which he’s just finished filming and why we find him back at home in Hitchin (“It’s my sanctuary,” he beams about that fact).

Michael Xavier Glenn Close Sunset Boulevard On Sofa
On stage with Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard

Does it feel like things are returning to normal in the acting world? “Not really,” he shakes his head. “For TV and film work it’s been flowing – or rather staggering – along for the past several months, which is great, but there are still very stringent rules and restrictions in place, like mask wearing on set and constant Covid tests. This is all absolutely necessary and I agree with them wholeheartedly, but it’s certainly not ‘normal’ on set.

“It’s great that most theatres have re-opened in London now,” he continues, “and it seems they’re getting closer to normal business resuming, but there is always the threat of a cast or crew member catching the virus, which can cripple a production. The theatre industry has been absolutely devastated by this pandemic. It’s going to take a lot of tentative steps to ensure it keeps moving forward whilst keeping theatre companies and audiences as safe as possible. I applaud our theatre industry for their hard work to keep it alive.”

The stage, in particular, is one thing he hopes to be stepping on once again in 2022. “I really do miss theatre,” he says, “so I’m hoping to do something on stage next year. I’m just finishing my contract with Grantchester, so I’m now able to start auditioning for other projects. I have an agent in America as well, so I’m hoping for a short gig in the States to mix things up a bit. But I always say choose the roles/projects, not the money. That’s probably why I’m not rich!”

MICHAEL XAVIER’S HITCHIN HAVENS

How long have you lived in Hitchin?

Nearly three years now, although I’ve known Hitchin for many years. I nearly bought a flat here in 2005 but I couldn’t quite afford it. I wish I had. It’d be worth a fair amount now!

What do you miss most about home when travelling for work?

Obviously my fiancée Carly and my dog, Winnie. In terms of the place itself I miss the peace and quiet. When I worked in New York I realised I didn’t want to live in a noisy city, so we bought this place when I returned to the UK. I also missed a good cup of tea!

Could you name your three favourite local spots?

First up, Hitchin Lavender fields. It’s a beautiful setting, with great facilities and the nicest owners. Then Groundworks café – I’m a regular (free coffee next time for the plug, please team). Lastly, Oughtonhead Common, which is great for walking the dog and escaping the hustle and bustle of the town centre.

Michael Xavier will be starring in Love Story for one night only on 28 November at Cadogan Hall. See more at cadoganhall.com

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