Backstage with... Jon Robyns

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Jon Robyns, currently playing the iconic title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera in the West End, and also writing two new musicals

How do you prepare for each show?

I spend more time in the make-up chair than onstage! But the preparation starts even before I sit down. For an evening show, I’ll arrive at 5pm and do my own vocal warm-up (I don’t get to participate in company warm-ups because that’s when I’m doing my make-up). Then I’ll make sure I eat something. And then I’ll have a shave. Luckily, the company has learnt that any actor playing this role and having to shave every day needs help with their skin, so the wigs and make-up department here are incredibly helpful and furnish me with some very expensive facial care.

At 6.15pm I’ll sit down in the make-up chair until around 7.20pm. If there’s football on (I‘m a Liverpool supporter), I might get my iPad out.

Tell us about the mask…

It’s a very involved process.Anything made to go on me is bespoke to my own skull. The role is 37 years old, so I suspect I have been spared what Michael Crawford had to go through. Now they make a 3D print of your head which means that everything fits perfectly. First there’s the bald cap that gets cut to my head shape and then glued around my hairline. Then there’s the make-up, followed by the prosthetic, followed by more make-up and two wigs. There are three masks – we rotate them so they don’t get too worn out. They’re made of a type of foam so they’re not too heavy.

What’s singing in the mask like?

It takes a little while to get used to. It’s to do with the sound bounce. Sometimes, depending on how the mask is positioned across your face or where you’re standing, the acoustic coming out of your mouth bounces across the mask and distorts. But the sound department is brilliant at being sympathetic to what you need onstage. It’s a collaborative process and when it works, everyone feels supported.

Describe the role of The Phantom…

It comes in intense bursts. Stage time is limited to under 40 minutes, but there isn’t a relaxed moment in that time. So holding on to that tension without any catharsis at any point is a challenge. It’s almost two plays – one about the character, and one that involves the character. When I come on, I only converse with Christine. So it’s a strange one in terms of being part of a company but also being separate. I rarely see anyone backstage.

How do you look after your voice?

Like any elite athletes – and that’s what I consider West End performers to be – we have to take care of our bodies and our muscles. Even 20 years ago, there was a general attitude of ‘You can sing, great, get on with it’, but now there’s a better understanding of the science of singing and there are longer careers as a result. With SOVT [semi-occluded vocal tract] training, the more you know about it the more interesting it is and the more you can apply it to your practice. I always have my vocal straw nearby – this is a long rubber tube that you hum down, which stops your vocal folds from hitting each other as dramatically as they might otherwise. Hydration and rest (I generally don’t talk much in the mornings) are also really important. The Phantom is a corrosive vocal workout. A lot of it wouldn’t achieve the right dramatic impetus if it was sung ‘beautifully’ but you still have to find a way of doing it safely – and over eight shows a week.

Your show Then, Now & Next with Alice Fearn recently premiered at Southwark Playhouse…

It was thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. As an actor you’re given stuff and told to run with it. As a writer, you’re at the beginning of the line. Being able to watch people change what you’ve done is a different type of skill – and I’m terrible at letting go, so having the discipline to step away was incredibly hard. But Christopher [Orton] and I learnt a lot, and we’re currently writing two new things – so watch this space!

As told to Sarah Kirkup

Jon Robyns is playing The Phantom at His Majesty’s Theatre until July – for tickets, visit; he performs a solo concert at the same theatre on 26 May – visit

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2024 issue of Musicals magazine. Never miss an issue – subscribe today