Rhys Morgan is one half of double-act Morgan & West who have been delighting audiences of all ages with their fun-filled shows for over ten years. We caught up with him to find out all about the latest production, The Three Musketeers, which is touring this summer. You can catch it in Oxfordshire at Oxford Castle on 11th and 12th June, and Kenton Theatre, Henley-on-Thames, on 24th July.
You have been working together for over a decade, how exactly did you first meet?
We were both studying for science degrees at Oxford University, I for a physics degree and Rob (Mr. West) was reading chemistry. I say studying for degrees, what we were actually doing was using our degrees as a rather paper-thin cover story to be involved with as much theatre as we could. We first met in a production of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters and bonded over a love of Eddie Izzard and Look Around You – a cult tv show which parodied the old Open University videos we’d all watch in science lessons in school. It wasn’t long before we were writing musicals and other shows together and eventually, we decided to form a double act. We both had a passing interest in magic and so made that our focus. The rest, as they say, is history…
And you were also teachers, at the same school no less?
Indeed, after our degrees we trained as secondary school teachers of science and mathematics and taught side by side (not literally of course, team teaching is brilliant but there’s only so much double act work that you can do in one day…) at King Alfred’s in Wantage.
How scary was it to leave teaching in order to become the duo Morgan & West?
Enormously terrifying. At the time, we had done two runs of magic shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and were also doing small shows in village halls the length and breadth of the UK. We would go into school on a Monday completely exhausted having been performing in Cumbria the night before. Things took a big leap forward for us in the summer of 2011 when we appeared on Penn and Teller: Fool Us (ITV) where we fooled the eponymous Las Vegas magic duo. We took this (and the bags under our eyes) as a sign that we had to make a choice between teaching (which we loved) and performing (which we loved). We chose performing and spent the next eight years touring the country and indeed the world with our magic shows.
Morgan & West appear to be Victorian gentlemen – where did the idea for the characters come from?
We love dressing up and what better excuse to wear frock coats, double breasted waistcoats, and brightly patterned cravats than Victorian fashion? The facial hair it affords you is pretty fun too. We were also very much influenced at the time by the golden era of magic, when the line between conjuring and reality was blurred – much like the line between mind reading and reality is these days. All in all, it’s excellent fun to play characters on stage who are a little larger than life.
With a decade of touring magic shows, and more recently science shows, why have you now turned your hand to a classic of literature?
Our first foray into finding our own voice within a classic story was back in 2016 when we created our own version of A Christmas Carol - this roughly followed the plot of the original with lots of silliness and magic tricks thrown in for good measure. Like the Muppets, only without actual Muppets and just a couple of fools. We’ve toured that show every Christmas for a few years and decided it was high time to abandon the magic tricks all together and just focus on telling the story.
What can we expect from The Three Musketeers?
Well, the original story for one thing. But told in a very silly and over-the-top way. Something of a cross between Monty Python and Muppets’ Treasure Island. Only without so many songs. And most definitely for all ages not just adults!
Is there anything in the show that is dangerous to do?
We’ve had to bring in a third person into a double act, dangerous in itself! But also there are a lot of high energy sword fights that we’ve carefully choreographed to be as thrilling as possible whilst also still being safe to perform of course…
Finally, what’s your favorite part of the show?
Personally, I love a good ‘dad’ joke, the kind of joke where the whole audience groans but still rather enjoys themselves. There’s a particularly good one in this but I can’t say any more else it’ll spoil the surprise! Action wise, the fights have been enormous fun to choreograph and never fail to delight. Although sadly I never actually get to square up against Mr West in this show. I think he’s worried it would turn into an actual fight…