Where ravens dare...
Meet Mr T, the Hollywood veteran making his London debut in 'Dr Dee'
Opera performers do not usually boast a skill for plucking out human eyes and entrails. But then the precocious talent making his stage debut at the London Coliseum tomorrow night is not your average performer.
At the tender age of 15, this artist already has a string of Hollywood hits to his name, having enjoyed big screen roles alongside Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman, and Robert Downey Jnr in Sherlock Holmes. Most recently, he filmed scenes with Russell Crowe (no relation) and Sacha Baron Cohen for the forthcoming cinematic adaptation of musical Les Misérables.
Tomorrow, the teenager will tread the boards in English National Opera's London premiere of Dr Dee, an opera by Damon Albarn of Blur. If he can keep his nerves in check, that is, and stop chasing fellow performers around the stage.
Mr T is a raven, and a moulting raven at that. "When they are moulting it seems to change their character a little bit," said trainer Anthony Bloom, 52, of Parrot and Seal, which provides birds for screen roles and displays in parks and zoos. "I don't know why. It generally makes them more timid because they are not as strong."
Neil, eight, and his female colleague Black, 18, will be waiting in the wings if Mr T, whose TV credits include Merlin and Midsomer Murders, is not up to it on the night. But, so far, his performance is attracting praise. "Mr T takes direction extremely well," said Rufus Norris, who directs the new production. "In fact, I think he quite enjoys being in the limelight. He's a consummate professional. He has been a pleasure to work with. However, he does have a bad habit of thieving apples from the production team."
The audience at the opera, which recounts the fall from grace of John Dee, a mathemacian, alchemist and adviser to Elizabeth I, will see the raven fly in the auditorium. But the bird's other talents include rolling on his back, jumping up and down, tapping on windows with his beak, and plucking out the eyes from "dead bodies". Pulling out rubber entrails from prosthetic bodies is one of his main lines of work.
Mr Bloom said it was best to start training birds from a young age. "You hand-feed them so they see you as a food source and you use that food source to keep their attention," he said. "If they eat a big lump of meat before you teach them, I am afraid it's game over. They have to be keen and hungry to work, but if they are too hungry, they are looking for food and not concentrating."
Mr Bloom is "petrified" about tomorrow's show, the first of eight performances, as there are no second chances with live theatre. Dr Dee premiered at the Manchester International Festival last year with a different raven, Scooby. "I'm not sure if Scooby has passed any tips to Mr T, but they have both taken to the stage like real naturals," said Mr Norris.
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