jack wolfe

Jack Wolfe is stepping into the spotlight

14 Jun 2024 | |By Gregory Wakeman

The Shadow & Bone star on the thrill of the West End and why the stage will always be his first love

When Jack Wolfe was attending youth theatre as a teenager in his hometown of Wakefield, Yorkshire, there was one Broadway performance that he’d watch repeatedly on YouTube.

“It was the original Broadway cast of Next to Normal performing at the Tony Awards,” Wolfe tells me over Zoom. Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s Tony-winning rock musical explores how a mother’s bipolar disorder impacts the whole family. “I’d listen to and watch it all the time. I was so electrified by it. That musical really was the soundtrack of my upbringing.”

Then, in 2023, Wolfe had what he calls a “full circle moment” when he was cast as the son, Gabe Goodman, in the off-West-End version of Next to Normal at the Donmar Warehouse. “It makes it far more special. You’re never in control of the work that is offered to you. So, when a story comes along that really speaks to your younger self, you really have to hold onto that feeling because it’s so special.”

Wolfe’s passion for acting was ignited by visits to the theatre growing up, particularly while visiting family in Wales. “I used to watch a lot of shows at the Aberystwyth Art Centre and whatever was touring around there. The first musical I ever saw was actually in Cardiff. My Nana took me to see Jesus Christ Superstar.”

But, while Wolfe’s reaction to the biblical musical was intense, it wasn’t necessarily the one Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice intended. “I was absolutely terrified. My Nana promised to never take me to Cardiff again because I was so petrified. I think it was just because it was such an electrifying production.”

As Wolfe grew older, he found acting helped give him a voice that had been struggling to emerge. “I was a really, really shy and very anxious, highly strung kid. There was youth theatre on a Saturday morning in Wakefield. It was £1.50 for three hours of training. It fully changed my life and the entire course of everything.”

Drama school allowed Wolfe to escape into different realities – and was where he made a lot of his friends, many of whom went on to become professional actors. “I don’t think the main thing was to create a whole generation of young actors. It did do that, as lot of people ended up acting professionally, but they really wanted to bring the community together, give people a place where they could find a new level of confidence. That’s exactly what it did for me. It gave me a sense of self. It’s why access to the arts is so important for young people.”

At 16, Wolfe’s proficiency on the piano saw him gain a place at Chatham’s School of Music in Manchester. Here, he studied not only piano, but also singing and composing but, eventually a choice had to be made: music or acting. It proved to be a relatively easy decision.

“I couldn’t stop imagining how great it would be to work as an actor. To be part of different companies and ensembles throughout my life. I just thought that there would be nothing better. That’s always what’s drawn me to it; the community aspect. The fact that you can spend a really intense amount of time with one group of people, as you learn from them, go to the pub, all while making something profound that’s bigger than you.”

And, so, to London and the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. In his final year, Wolfe secured his first paid professional job and an agent, both of which made his acting career “a bit serious” from the get-go. But even though he was intent on becoming a professional actor, Wolfe also wanted to make sure he “found fulfilment” in the work he does. “I just wanted to get better. That’s all I want to do now.” Since 2017, Wolfe has regularly performed on stage in the likes of Pinocchio, Sweeney Todd, The Magician’s Elephant, and Spring Awakening in Concert. He’s also appeared in the TV shows Inside No. 9 and The Witcher, as well as landing a main role in season two of Netflix’s fantasy epic Shadow & Bone.

It’s Wolfe’s recent turn in Next to Normal, however, that has drawn him the most acclaim and plaudits. He’s picked up Broadway World UK, Critics Circle Theatre, and WhatsOnStage Awards and been nominated for Evening Standard Theatre and Laurence Olivier Awards, too. “Hopefully this means that the show is doing its job,” says Wolfe, who adds that he was only able to win these awards “because of the work of every person that gave [him] the space to feel empowered to create the role.”

As a result of Next to Normal’s success, this summer the production will move to the much bigger Wyndham’s Theatre, in the heart of the West End. “The Donmar is such a brilliant theatre, but it’s very small and intimate. Not everybody was getting to see the show as it would sell out so quickly. The Wyndham gives us a much bigger place to play. I hope we’re able to create the same intensity on a bigger scale.”

Wolfe’s love of the production runs so deep that even when quizzed about what he wants to achieve going forward with his career, he can’t look beyond Next to Normal. “I hope to be stretched and challenged as an actor. I’d like to start writing again. But I don’t think my journey with Next to Normal is over. I’m really excited to see where this production goes. What the response is. The show asks a lot of its audience because we all experience the subjects in the show. I’m excited to speak to people at the stage doors again. I’m trying to take it one project at a time. Stay as present as possible. We’ll see what comes next.”

From my vantage point, the future will be whatever Wolfe wants it to be.

Next to Normal is on at Wyndham’s Theatre from 18 June 2024, visit nexttonormal.com

Read more: In conversation with Southbank Centre CEO Elaine Bedell