By Kat Mokrynski
Pictures: Kat Mokrynski & Art: Kelly Lin Hayes
On September 17th, Tim Mahendran gave his final performance as Francois DuBois in the hit musical & Juliet. For those unfamiliar with the show, & Juliet answers a hypothetical question about Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers – What if Juliet didn’t kill herself? Tim’s character, Francois, is a young man that Juliet meets when she runs away to Paris. I won’t go into any spoilers for the show here, but let’s just say he has my favorite storyline in the show! Tim was one of the original cast members who had been with the show for several years, but he is now moving on to play Gomez in the world premiere production of The Time Traveller’s Wife in Chester.
Before Tim left & Juliet, I had the chance to interview him about his time with the show. We talked about creating the character of Francois, representation and diversity, fan reactions, and of course, some Shakespeare jokes!
How did you first get involved in & Juliet? What made you want to get involved?
“I was doing the show Spring Awakening with Luke Sheppard, who directs & Juliet, in 2018. On our last night, he said, “I think I have a workshop for a role that you’d be quite good at. Would you be interested in doing a workshop?” And I said, “Yeah, absolutely.” Two weeks later, I was in the room. There were a few of us [the & Juliet cast] that did it – Me, Cassidy Janson, Arun Blair-Mangat, Melanie La Barrie. A few of the originals were all involved in it. And it went from there!”
Do you feel that your characterization of Francois has developed over the period of time that you’ve played him?
“I wouldn’t say “developed.” From where we started it stayed fairly similar. I think my understanding’s developed. Over this sort of “pandemic period,” everyone learned a lot more about gender and sexuality. It became more of an open conversation, so my knowledge definitely expanded and developed. But I think with the character, we wanted to make sure that how it was made in rehearsal stays the same throughout the show, however long it goes for.”
So you feel you’ve changed more than the character has over the years?
“Yeah, I’ve understood a lot more. I think I’ve become a lot more educated on sexuality and gender because it’s just a really open conversation now, isn’t it? “
On that topic, what does it feel like to be a form of representation on the stage for so many people?
“Alex Thomas-Smith, who plays May, and myself, we receive a lot of messages, Tweets, Instagram messages, and stuff of people basically saying, “Thank you for representing me on stage” or “Thank you for helping me.” And that’s a really special thing that I never thought I would be able to have. So to get that sort of thanks and those messages . . . It’s amazing. We’re representing so many people. And that goes for the whole show, to be fair, no matter who it is – Any leads, any principal role, even ensemble, represents someone out there in some way. So it’s pretty special in that regard?”
Do you think the show has helped the West End take a step forward in representation and diversity?
“Maybe! If you actually took a step back and have a look at the amount of diversity within our cast, whether it’s gender, ethnicity, shape, size, or anything really . . . It is one of the most diverse shows out there. Do I know if it’s had an effect on other shows? I don’t know. But from an outsider’s view, looking in, our cast is very diverse. And we’ve started to see other shows that are becoming more diverse as well. So who knows? Maybe we should claim it.”
Yes, claim it real quick before someone else does!
What do you hope future actors take to heart about Francois when playing him?
“I think his innocence is the biggest thing. So many people across the world have felt suppressed by their parents because they haven’t necessarily been accepted, or that innocence of just being yourself and struggling, and then feeling the freedom, the release of when he [Francois] realizes in the wedding scene, you know, “It’s Gonna Be May,” such a huge moment for him. It happens when it [the realization] comes. Nothing is premeditated. He never planned anything – He just does it as it comes and wears his heart on his sleeve. And so it’s that innocence of just going with it, riding the wave. When it happens, it happens.”
What has it been like combining classic Shakespeare with pop music?
“Different, different. It’s funny . . . When we first started the show, people would ask me about it, and I’d try to explain it, and every time they’ve gone, “That sounds horrific!” And I’ve gone, “I can see why you think that, but just come and see it. You’ll see.” And when you see it, it’s like “Why has this not been done before? How has this not been done?”
I mean, it’s 2022! A show like this could have been done a long time ago. These songs were all from like 10 years ago. So why has it not been done before? But David West Read, who wrote it [& Juliet] – He’s a genius. When we were rehearsing, I just thought, “How can one brain come up with this?” And everything is so seamless – Every transition between song and scene, every little Shakespeare drop in there . . . It’s just genius. I love it. I’m a huge fan of David West Read.”
Do you have a favorite line in the show?
“It’s the little ones, you know what I mean?”
Yeah, I get that!
“Some jokes are really camouflaged – They’re tiny little ones that some audience members get. And when you get a laugh you think, “Yeah, they got it!” Then there are some really obvious ones that are just hilarious. I think my favorite of those ones is Anne and Shakespeare just after the tango. She goes, “In all his plays, never once does William Shakespeare portray a single happy marriage.” And says, “I’m working on a play about a happy marriage, it’s called Macbeth!” That’s a little one that everyone will get, but it’s just genius. Easy comedy!”
When listening to audience reactions to the pop songs in jukebox musicals like & Juliet, I’ve noticed the main reaction tends to be laughter, which I find a little strange. Do you notice that as well?
“It is usually laughter, to be fair. When we start the boy band, everyone loves that, so there are usually cheers. But for the most part, it’s actually laughter like before “Baby One More Time” or “I’m Not A Girl,” which is a huge song for May. And usually, if people know that particular song, they start laughing, because they think, “oh, here we go.” Then by the end of it, they’re so in it. And again, it’s the same with “Baby One More Time.” This is all about Juliet, her anxieties about Romeo’s death, and getting over him. And everyone laughs! But then by the end of it that it’s like “I got you! I got you in the feels.” And it helps that Miriam [Miriam-Teak Lee] and Alex are singing the hell out of the songs as well. So yes, usually laughter.”
What will you miss the most about & Juliet?
“I’m gonna miss this show as a whole. I’m working on my new show at the moment and it’s very in the early days. We’re changing things each day and stuff like that, which we did for & Juliet as well. It’s put me right back in that position of remembering and trying to figure all the jigsaw puzzles out. But every show that I see or work on takes me back to how good the show actually is. And I’ve always said that even if I wasn’t in it, or I’d never been part of it, it would be my favorite show. I’m going to miss the people massively. I made some friends for life here, and obviously, my girlfriend’s here as well. So I’m missing all of them every day. And also the joy the show brings. I don’t think there will ever be another job that will bring people so much joy. Everyone at the stage door, online, and everywhere says how much joy they have watching the show. I don’t know how many other jobs will have that effect, but that joy that we are able to bring people means a lot to them. And so it means a lot to us as well.”
Favorite Max Martin song?
“Everybody” [More commonly known as “Backstreet’s Back”]”
Favorite song to perform?
“Whataya Want From Me.”
A character you would like to play for a performance?
And how would you describe your time with & Juliet in one word?
“One word? Joy.”
After my interview with Tim, I had the opportunity to attend his final performance on September 17th at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Many fans of the show had come to say goodbye to Tim’s portrayal of Francois, with some even dressed up as characters! Other fans wore fun customized shirts declaring their love for the show and Francois. A few show alumni also attended the performance, including Keala Settle, who played the Nurse, and Grace Mouat, who played Judith and was the first cover for Juliet.
& Juliet was absolutely electric at this performance. Songs featuring Tim including “Overprotected,” “Confident,” “I Kissed A Girl,” and “Everybody” received roaring applause, with one song receiving over a full minute of cheers! At bows, Oliver Tompsett gave a tear-filled speech on behalf of the cast saying goodbye to Tim and praising his incredible run over the past few years. Most of the actors on stage were getting teary-eyed – And so were audience members! After the show, Tim was greeted by roars of applause at the stage door, and he took time to greet every person there and thank them for coming. I truly felt like part of a tight-knit community at the Shaftesbury that night, with everyone uniting to say goodbye to a special member of the family.
Tim’s portrayal of Francois DuBois will be sorely missed, but I cannot wait to see where he goes next! Best of luck, Tim!
A special thank you to Tim, Nada Zakula, and David Bloom for their assistance with this article.