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Interview with Joaquin Pedro Valdes


Hot off his acclaimed performance as Light in Death Note at both the Palladium & Lyric Theatre, I caught up with Joaquin Pedro Valdes. Now in his third week of rehearsals for Pacific Overtures at the renowned Menier Chocolate Factory, he kindly gave up his break to tell me all about it!


Describing it as “one of those elusive Sondheim shows that rarely gets produced” he confesses he knew little about the show, having never seen a staging of it previously. Seldom produced, it is now being staged in London for the first time in decade. Matthew White’s brand new production is a collaboration between the Menier and Umeda Art Theater (Japan). Where in Japan it was staged in large proscenium arch theatres, it is being reimagined for an intimate traverse setting at the Menier.


“For the 200 people watching the show every night, they will be experiencing a Sondheim in a way that they will have never done so before. It’s almost immersive with it being really in your face. To witness it in such an intimate space and with what they are going to do in the chocolate factory is so exciting. We saw the set and we're working with really exciting things. You can tell that there was a lot of love, research, detail and respect, not only for the source material but also for the culture that it represents.”


Speaking of it being a fully asian cast, Joaquin was excited to tell me about sharing the stage with well known Japanese actor Takuro Ohno who will be playing Kayama.

“This is his first outing singing and acting in English. It’s really exciting to develop our rapport on stage and off stage. He’s a really great actor”


This led me to ask from his perspective/experience what barriers still exist within the arts


“This year I've booked Death Note and Pacific Overtures, but other roles I have booked have been awarded to me regardless of my race. I played Connor in Killing The Cat and Stephen Hayes in Then Now & Next. These are new musicals with creatives who are willing to take their characters anywhere. It was nice to know that whatever I brought into the room during my audition was what they considered the character needed. And that was including my race, I don’t think its despite of my race. I can’t get rid of my Asianess and who I am, so I bring that into the room whenever I audition. I originated these roles based on who I am and I think that’s really lovely.”

He continued;


“It's nice, at least from my experience, that I’m brought into rooms where it doesn’t matter what race I am. If I’ve booked a job, that means I've booked it based on what my individuality could offer. Beating out talent regardless of race.


I’ve got two big auditions coming up regardless of race, where I have made it to the final which reminds me thats what theatre can do. It can tell stories through multiple lens not just one.”


The show itself is based on the on the opening of Japan to the west in 1853. Joaquin’s character Manjiro is based on a true historical figure;


“He is quite a fascinating character, as he was arguably the first Japanese man to ever set foot into America. He was a fisherman and was castaway at 14. He was shipwrecked and got picked up by the Americans.


Prior to this anyone who was non-Japanese, particularly western looking, were deemed barbarians. But these ‘barbarians’ brought him to America, essentially fathered him; making him learn English and then put him through school. He grew up in America, learning the American way. He ventures back to Japan, at risk of his own life as it was against the law to fraternise with barbarians.”

With this, Sondheim and Weidman took artistic liberties. This was to make the characters of Manjiro and Kayama become more aligned with the cultures they grew up away from, through the show. Culture itself plays a huge part in this production, with Joaquin explained how the show has both a Japanese and cultural consultant on board; showing the love and care that has gone into the fine details of this production. This even extends to the cast getting traditional haircuts, unique to the show and the characters.


Talking more of the show itself, Joaquin explains;


“It's one of those uniquely Sondheim and uniquely intelligent shows. Its deceivingly simple, but also really complex. The whole telling of this show is very much like a Japanese poem. There's a lot of complexity in what on the surface looks very simple. There’s a Japanese concept called Ma, which is the space, the negative space. I think you can feel that in the writing and how Sondheim and Weidman essentially fell in love with that simplicity.

Everyone wants to say they know Sondheim, but they can’t always say they know Pacific Overtures. It''s quite the paradox because you cant know Sondheim without knowing Pacific Overtures! Sondheim would say one his favourite songs he has ever written was ‘Someone in a Tree’ from the show. It really feels like we’re starting something new and original. It’s nice to bring this show to an audience that is hungry for more Sondheim. I would say this is a brand new revival in the way it is being staged and approached, its really very special.”


With it being a rarely produced show Joaquin spoke of how it feels more like originating a role, explaining that he tries to treat every role as if he is originating it. In fact, when the subject went to dream roles, he explained that for him it's more about dream venues.


Towards the top of the list was the Menier, and doing a Sondheim here is feels like a real bucket list moment for him. He then lit up talking of his desires to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. Beyond this it was clear that he has a passion for regional theatre too;


“The West End is one thing, but then there is so much good theatre all around the UK. I was lucky enough to experience these uk cities whilst touring with the bigger shows. But its nice to take a break from the more commercial theatre and do good, classy, highly acclaimed artistic ventures that are brave.”


Discussing further how he no longer has a dream role, he explained in lockdown that he took down his goals board;

“It was when I took down all of these ambitions that I opened myself up to receiving the possibility of all these new characters and roles. When you try and hold on to your path you can miss out on side roads. I got my audition for Pacific Overtures when the musical supervisor saw me in Killing The Cat at Riverside Studios. I aspire more to work with incredible teams and creatives, thats what excites me more.”

It’s clear to see that acting is more than a 'job' for Joaquin. It runs strongly in his blood and is in it for the art more than the repercussions of it.

“Im not hunting for a big break. I’m hunting for an opportunity to work, and hoping that in that work I get to grow a little bit. I didn’t know Death Note was going to be that big, I just went into it doing the best I could. It's nice when things surprise you like that. I know that with the nature of our business that something like that can happen and that it can disappear.

Further talking demonstrating his passion for the arts and self improvement;


“I consider watching shows not just entertainment. Its' constant research to see what is out there. It is so important to stay inspired and match fit, to keep that part of your mind going. It reminds me why I chose this career in the first place.”

Pacific Overtures could however be a crossover point for Joaquin, who is open to a straight acting role. He spoke of how the challenge for him lays more in communicating at such an intimate level to extract the truth, than the singing itself. I am sure that Pacific Overtures will open up even more doors for him.


Pacific Overtures plays at Menier Chocolate Factory from 25 November 2023, until 24 February 2024.







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