Ahead of his performance in Madagascar The Musical at Swansea Grand Theatre, we sat down with Jamie Lee-Morgan who plays Melman the Giraffe.

Tell us a little bit about yourself – where you grew up and your connections to Swansea

So I was born in Newport and I grew up in Caldicot where I lived for twelve years. The majority of my family are still in Caldicot but my Mum lives in Ogmore By Sea so I split my time between the two places when I come back to visit. I live in London now but despite being away from home I am a proud Welshman and always looks forward to coming back to the peace and quiet, the friendly people and the beautiful countryside. Swansea is a beautiful place. As a kid we frequently used to go to the Mumbles for a beach day and those are some of the happiest time in my childhood. For my 21st birthday I did a skydive over the Gower, it was a bank holiday and we had the most perfect weather. The views were spectacular!

Have you ever appeared on stage in Wales?

A a child I used to do a lot of amateur dramatics in and around Newport and used to perform at The Dolman Theatre. However to date I have not performed professionally in Wales so Madagascar at The Grand will be my professional Welsh debut which is quite exciting! We have travelled all over England, Scotland and Ireland but Swansea is a date I have had my eye on since the start of tour. Wales is a great country for the arts and there are so many fantastic venues that I would love to perform at and companies that I would like to work with. I am very proud to come from such an artistic nation.

What is your favourite Welsh place?

My favourite welsh place? That is a very difficult question. I don’t think I can give you one definitive answer. I’ll have to give you a few i’m afraid. I love Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley. That whole stretch of river is beautiful, particularly with the hills and unspoilt woods in the background. I have a lot of great memories there. The Millennium Stadium! Or the Principality Stadium I should now say. Cardiff on a welsh rugby match day cannot be beaten. If there is a game on and I can make it then I always travel back to soak up the atmosphere. I am still on a high from this year’s Six Nations and I am very much looking forward to what I hope will be a successful World Cup. There’s a small village called Sudbrook which is home to the Black Rock Picnic Site. It’s a lovely quiet spot which overlooks the two bridges connecting England and Wales. My family have a special connection to that place and I still to this day spend a lot of time there when I come back to visit. Two of my uncles run the Black Rock Lave Net Fishery and are the last fishery of their kind in the whole of Wales. I love walking out along the river with them and hearing stories of my great great grandparents who also used to fish in the same spots. I am looking forward to taking the cast to the Gower and showing them some of the amazing beaches Wales has to offer.

Your favourite welsh celebrity

It might be a bit cliche but my favourite welsh celebrity has got to be Tom Jones. What an absolute legend that man is. No more needs to be said.

Do you have a traditional welsh food you pine for when on tour?

I crave crave crave Welsh cakes!! There is a place in Cardiff called Fabulous Welsh cakes which are excellent and they do a whole range of flavours but you simply can’t beat a homemade classic. I recently have turned to a Vegan diet which means that Welsh Cakes are currently off the table. If someone can bake me a vegan welsh cake and bring it to stage door then I will be eternally grateful!

Tell us a bit about the show

The show is based on the Dreamwork’s film of the same name which has become this epic cult film that everyone knows and loves. I couldn’t believe that the film first came out fourteen years ago! The film’s success sparked two sequels, one off specials and a Netflix series about the penguins of Madagascar. A musical was bound to be next! The show follows the plot of the film pretty much to a tee but of course it wouldn’t be a musical without some singing and dancing. The story works really well as a musical and the transition has been quite a natural one. One of the big challenges is how you turn an animated film containing a huge variety of animals into live performance. This has been achieved by the brilliant costumes designed by Tom Rogers and creature costume maker Rob Allsopp and the use of mesmerising puppetry designed by Max Humphries and directed by Emma Brunton. The detail and skill that has gone into the costume and puppets makes you feel that you are stepping into the animated film.

You play Melman the Giraffe – tell us a little bit about him?

Melman is a hypochondriac giraffe; name an ailment and Melman probably thinks he’s had it. Despite his nervous disposition he is a loveable chap who would do anything for his friends. He goes on a bit of a journey in the show from initially not wanting to leave the zoo to discovering that perhaps the wild isn’t as bad as he thought. He finds he is braver than he thinks and thanks to his heroism he convinces Gloria to save Marty and Alex from the Foosa!

Are there any similarities between you and your character?

I suppose there are a few small similarities between myself and Melman. The most obvious being out height. Whenever I get asked which character I play and I tell them ’the giraffe’ they all say ‘ah, of course!’. I am about 6ft 1 pushing 6ft 2 so we are both quite tall. Melman is a sensitive chap and a bit of a worrier, I guess we are quite similar in that respect. My entire life I have been compared to David Schwimmer who of course voices Melman in the films so we have that connection too. I am a huge David Schwimmer fan!

What are the biggest challenge in playing Melman?

The biggest challenge of playing Melman has got to be the puppetry aspect and to bet able to sustain that for eight shows a week. I leant puppetry through my time on War Horse but this puppet is quite a challenge. He is very heavy and I carry that weight in my back, arms and shoulders for the entire show. And we really don’t get a break as we are a small cast and are pretty much on stage at all times minus a few quick gulps of water and a breather in the wings before out next scene. The costumes are quite restrictive so that presents a challenge as well as the heat that comes from wearing them. I wear an under-layer and then on top of that a muscle suit and then finally a giraffe print skin. Once the layers are on I get into the giraffe neck which is made of foam and then we attach the head. All in all it’s a very warm experience. Despite the aches and pains and the bucket loads of sweat, he looks fantastic on stage so it is completely worth it. He’s keeping me fit that’s for sure. It’s like having a free gym membership.

Are there any pre-show rituals/routines you go through before getting into character?

I often here of actors having pre-show rituals. I don’t seem to have developed any out of the ordinary. We obviously do a big cast physical and vocal warm up before the show which is a must but apart from that I don’t have any unusual habits. Depending on my mood i’ll either play some music in my dressing room or i’ll have a read before the show begins. I am a big Lee Child fan.

Whats the appeal of Madagascar to adults and to child?

We have had a real mixture of ages of people that have come to see the show. What has been wonderful is Madagascar has been a lot of children’s first experience of live theatre so that’s quite special. We have had parents who grew up with the films themselves and now have their own children and grandparents who get to experience their elation of their grandchildren when ‘I Like to Move it Move it’ starts to play. We have even had hen do’s! I bet the show is great after a few g&t’s!

Why should people came to the grand to see Madagascar?

The joy that you will experience from seeing hundreds of children in awe of their favourite characters live on stage is worth the ticket price alone and I can promise you that you will be dancing in the aisles when the show comes to an end. What better venue to experience Madagascar The Musical than at the Swansea Grand. I look forward to seeing you there. Vegan Welsh cakes can be left at stage door. Diolch yn fawr!