The year is 1965, in the United Kingdom, and the government has just abolished hanging. Top-notch hangman Harry (played by David Threlfall) now spends his days owning a pub with his wife Alice (Tracie Bennett) and daughter, Shirley (Gaby French), drinking the minutes away. When an unexpected stranger named Mooney (Alfie Allen) appears at the pub, Harry’s world is flipped upside down.
Andy Nyman plays the role of Syd, Harry’s useless and crude ex-assistant who has a deadly secret up his sleeve. I spoke with Andy and got a “metaphorical” front-row seat into the actor’s intelligent, charming, and creative mind.
Andy Nyman is a force in the theater, TV, film, and mentalist worlds
The English artist has spent his career making strides on stage, on screen, and in the realm of magic. His credits include Teyve in the West End revival of Fiddler on the Roof, Winston Churchill in Peaky Blinders, vice chancellor Jonty de Wolfe in the British sitcom Campus, and appearances in Kick-Ass 2, Jungle Cruise, and much more.
Andy’s childhood hobby of doing magic tricks eventually became a vital part of his career. He’s spent over 25 years inventing magic, teaching magicians, as well as co-writing and directing theatrical shows and TV series with English mentalist and illusionist Derren Brown.
Andy’s acting and his supernatural work help each other co-exist within the same space. “I do use an awful lot of memory techniques that I’ve learned within the mentalism world that really help speed that process up,” he explains, “especially when you can’t get it right, you can find these little pegs that you can just hook it onto. So you just never forget it.”
These mentalist techniques also help Andy as he steps into the role of a cheated henchman each night.
Hangmen tells the humorous but dark tale of morality in regards to crime and punishment
Playwright Martin McDonagh, also known for directing the Golden Globe-winning film Three Billboards, frames Hangmen as a satire within a deeper political and social environment. “It is scream out loud, funny. It’s the most amazing thriller, with the most brilliant twists and turns that happen in the plot.” Andy says, “Then, beneath all of that, it has incredible stuff to say about lots of things from capital punishment to masculinity.”
For Andy Nyman, Syd continues to evolve with each performance
Initially, Andy didn’t play the role of Syd when the show premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2015. After falling in love with the production (at first sight), he got the opportunity to take over the role of Syd for all 2016 performances in the West End. Now, Andy steps on that Broadway stage every night, feeling lucky to immerse himself into Syd’s funny and shady personality, each time slightly different.
In the play’s transition from the West End to Broadway, David Threlfall has taken over for Harry and Alfie Allen for Mooney. “I’m rediscovering all of my staff,” Andy says. “The whole joy of it is that you’re sort of morphing around them as well as they learn new things.”
Simultaneously, the show’s subject matter holds more weight in its move to NYC, as the United States continues to enforce the death penalty while England doesn’t. “You’ve got a play here where at home is like, ‘wow, how amazing and weird that we used to kill people.’ Like, it’s still happening.”
It’s sure to hit American audiences harshly given the reality of capital punishment in the U.S.
Throughout Andy Nyman’s career, he’s portrayed extreme characters with gracious care
Andy has handled intense characters like Tevye, Winston Churchill, and now Syd. He’s worked within extreme comedy, extreme violence; you name it. He can’t just leap into these roles headfirst, though. There’s a formula. “Once I can find the things that I can relate to and understand, I can start to build and build and build,” he says.
Andy refuses to play anything safe when it comes to his acting. While there’s always that risk that it falls flat or becomes a failure, he would instead take that jump. “If you’re operating on that knife-edge, you can achieve things that become unforgettable,” he explains. “Extremes hopefully work because somehow you still just sort of believe it as an audience.”
Andy Nyman on acting for the stage vs. the screen: “One is a paintbrush, and one’s a laser.”
When envisioning a paintbrush coloring a canvas, the art will stand alone for an audience to see after its completion— like seeing a movie in theaters. However, a laser moves and shifts based on active participants watching, which is like watching a play on stage. Each medium has its own emotional attachment.
“On a film, or a TV series, you’re doing your little jigsaw pieces, and very often, you’re just going in with what you bring to it,” Andy shares. “In the theater, you’ve got four weeks of digging and being shaped, suggested, changed, and moved so that you’re really crafting a complete thing.”
In Andy’s experience, the stage gives actors a chance to “reap the awards” of the audience. In film or television, actors have a tangible item to look back to, as their name flashes on the screen. Either way, both bring Andy the same feelings: love, a tad bit of work frustration, and wonder.
Andy Nyman shares his gratitude and hope for the future of the theater and film industries
The COVID pandemic might have paused the showings of new art, but it did not halt its creation. “After the two years of just earth-shattering weirdness that we’ve been through, we’ve got this fantastic backlog of art coming out from this isolation and the pain that we’ve been through,” Andy hypothesizes. We can see this idea come to fruition on the Broadway stage, as new works like The Minutes, A Strange Loop, Paradise Square, and Hangmen open for audiences. TV and film are pushing out new content every week. It is not a quiet time when it comes to artists.
Andy himself feels grateful for all the ways he’s been able to keep working on his craft. As he reflects on his time, he mentions one of his favorite projects, a long-running horror play and film adaptation called Ghost Stories. Not only did Andy get to work with longtime friend Jeremy Dyson, who co-wrote the show, but he also got to direct and star when the film came to be. While Ghost Stories is close to his heart, Andy feels proud of all his work. “I look at all of the work I’ve done, and I think 95% of it, I feel so proud to be able to choose something that feels really special,” he says.
Hangmen Broadway tickets
Hangmen runs on Broadway until June 15, 2022. Buy tickets here.
*Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.*
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