Contributed by Mike Losavio, this piece uncovers the captivating story of Saul Boyer, actor, writer and endless enthusiast, who has performed on various occasions at our beloved local King’s Head Theatre, including his new one-man creation running until mid-November.note from the editor
It’s 3 pm on a Monday afternoon. I feel as if I were breaking some unspoken rule, finding myself in complete solitude at the pub. I take a sip of my peppermint tea and expectantly glance at the door, struggling to keep my mind off the upcoming encounter with the person I’ve known only over a ping-pong match of emails. My thoughts are muffled as another vagabond roams into the pub, holding what seems to be all his possessions. Our eyes meet and I realise that this is my guest, Saul Boyer! The unpredictability of the life of the author of ‘A Man of 100 Faces’ matches that of its protagonist, I note to myself as we sit down to discuss, cut off from the outside world by a barricade of IKEA bags.
Meet Saul Boyer
“You have to get this boy to stage school” were the words that lay at the inception of Saul’s journey into the world of theatre. These words were uttered to his mother by a teacher at his primary after-school club. Soon after, he was cast as the main character, for his school musical ‘The Dracula Specular Show’. Coincidentally, our encounter falls on Halloween, which helps Saul record the details: “I was the only one of the auditionees who could do a Transylvanian accent and be very camp at the same time, which seemed to land me the role. I had good practice, because every Halloween, unfailingly, I would dress up as Dracula”.
Saul felt a special buzz from playing a character and holding the room’s attention, which didn’t go unnoticed. Luckily his mother followed the drama teacher’s advice, sending Saul to The Arts Educational School, where he learnt the ins and outs of acting before putting pen to paper himself and becoming a writer-performer. Saul’s quick-witted mind and the mischievous twinkle in his eye capture my full attention immediately as we launch into our conversation.
Director of the Unleash the Llama Productions, Saul has used his astute sense of humour to produce many writer-performer pieces including TüManz Tük18, a sketch show that he performed at the Leicester Square Theatre in 2018, and JEW…ish”, a romantic comedy, sold out at the Fringe, and later performed in King’s Head Theatre.
The Role of Storytelling
Recently, while helping a group of friends fall asleep, after a night of partying for a friend’s 30th, Saul surprised himself by remembering two complete stories from The Arabian Nights. He reflects that it was his father, who used to tell him bedtime stories, that first kindled Sal’s deep love for storytelling. And so, at the core of Saul’s love for theatre lies a childhood memory.
Pursuing a degree in English Literature at Cambridge had a questionable effect on Saul’s playwriting path. It surely deepened his frame of reference, inspired his imagination, and gave him the necessary skills to look at original sources, research their meaning and understand the social context. Yet a crucial skill was missing. “If anything, the analytical approach at university can often stamp out creativity if you’re not careful. You become so keen on deconstructing other people’s writing that it becomes difficult to have the confidence to write your own thing.”
Being active in the drama society at university played a vital role in bringing back Saul’s storytelling mentality.
“There was something like four productions going on every week, so I had lots of opportunity. You felt inspired to write the musical or play to fill the many slots available each term. The opportunity created the work, and people felt naturally keen to create… not least to escape the drudgery of their uni work. I think that led me to feel a good amount of confidence”.Saul boyer
Moreover, the people he met through this community play a vital role in Saul’s life up to this day. Sam Rayner, who he met doing a sketch in Cambridge, is now directing his play 12 years later.
Becoming a Writer-Performer
After an empowering first month putting on his own production at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival after graduation, Saul ran into the harsh realities of life in London. People around him were no longer quite so keen to perform in his plays, especially for free(!) Saul switched gears, trying to become an actor, doing tours of regional theatres, educational shows, and pantomimes, all while tutoring for GCSE and A-Levels on the side, to make ends meet. Unsurprisingly, Saul struggled to find any of this completely satisfying.
I ask Saul what he thinks makes a good actor. Acknowledging the potential controversy, Saul states that it is the degree to which a performer can be disobedient. Not in the sense of being disruptive, or disrespectful to the other performers, but rather in relation to the script and direction. “Someone who can work creatively with text, to making it their own, without fear of failure”.
It might be this rebellious nature that made Saul destined for writing his own shows. However, there is much more to it, for one, being sufficiently self-critical. A good writer-performer needs to be even more flexible when working with the material, Saul explains, since it’s his own ‘baby’. He also requires a guide who will not hesitate to point out the weak points.
Saul’s creative partner on the project, Sam, proved to be just the right man for the job. “When I delivered him the first draft of my show after working incredibly hard on it, the first thing he said to me was: “we’re not doing that.” We spent the next week rebuilding the show, with me improvising a lot of the scenes. I’m proud of the way I was able to immediately see that he was right, and he has complete faith in me to be able to re-create it in the next 6 days”.
Saul admits that he has tended to write comedy in the past, but he is open to trying to master new mediums. “I want to challenge myself to be able to write drama, which for me involves being more vulnerable”. Saul’s recent work, JEW…ish, represents this compromise between sticking to habit and unleashing organic eccentricities: although this piece is a classic romantic comedy, it is also an autobiographical work concerning Saul’s relationship with his grandmother.
“It resonated a lot more with me than some of the other things that I’ve done, as it was defiantly personal in theme. My only regret was that I could have been even more vulnerable in the writing of it. If I were to do that show again, I would lean more into some of the emotional dynamics”.
A Man of 100 Faces
On one cold winter evening, Saul was dreaming of lying on a deserted beach under the blazing sun while listening to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs archive. As one of the longest interview programs in radio history, the show has a vast archive of guests stretching back some 70 years or more. The concept of this show involves narrating a celebrity’s life through the seven records they select to bring with them, to make life on a desert island bearable.
One of the earliest extant programs that Saul stumbled across from the late 60s, featured as a guest, the now-forgotten celebrity, Sir Paul Dukes. Right from the introduction, Saul was floored:
“He was a musician, author, secret agent in revolutionary Russia and authority on Eastern philosophies. And the interview itself contained the most bizarre details. It told of his being caught by the Russian secret police in a search, hiding in a disused cemetery for a week, and simulating an epileptic fit to escape”.saul on sr paul dukes
Writing the play proved to be an epic one-man crusade to find everything there was to know about this figure.
I probe Saul on what resonated with him in Sir Paul Dukes’ story. The hero of the play was an eccentric character, unwilling to succumb to the frameworks placed around him by society. A victim of childhood trauma, he developed into a naïve fantasist with a rich imagination that helped him see possibilities where others didn’t – and eventually become probably the most effective spy in British history, and certainly the only one to be knighted.
“A one-man show is first and foremost about the central performer’s relationship with the audience. Equally, it is about the central character’s relationship with themselves, and how they change in response to the relationships they have with all the people they interact with as their story progresses. So, by the end, both performer and character need to go through some sort of ordeal, which is witnessed by that audience”. With this show, it will be first and foremost a physical ordeal for Saul. He is planning to hold the audience’s attention by using a full palette of emotions and changing the dynamics of each scene!
As we conclude our interview, we discuss meaningful acts of kindness. Saul’s strong affection for his family resurfaces once again. “One person who’s really helped me is my mother, who’s a painter. She helped me understand that, sometimes, no one cares about you, but the important thing to do is to just realise that to be successful is not to achieve external validation; it’s simply to be able to do what you want to do”.
Our conversation left exactly that impression – Saul is a natural comedian because he pursues his ideas at all costs, finding humorous aspects in the most unexpected things.
You can meet Saul during his upcoming performance of the Man of 100 Faces at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington. More information on bookings can be found here. To find out more about Saul’s upcoming productions, check out Unleash The Llama’s website.
Written by Mike Losavio
Photos courtesy of Saul Boyer