WHEN Wil Johnson talks about his role in Shed: Exploded View which is receiving its world premiere at Manchester’s Royal Exchange his passion for the project can be seen in his eyes.

“For me as an actor it’s all about stepping outside your comfort zone and this play does that in bucket loads,” he said. “It’s going to be challenging for the audience which is the right thing and it’s certainly challenging for us as the actors. But that’s the chief reason I’m doing this play.”

Shed: Exploded View written by Phoebe Eclair-Powell, was the winner of the 2019 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting. It’s the story of three couples over a 30 year period.

The Bolton News: Wil Johnson in rehearsal for Shed: Exploded View (Picture: Joel Fildes)

“I can’t say too much more,” laughed Wil. “There would be spoilers everywhere if I did. What I can tell you is it’s a wonderful piece of writing. It explores human nature, love, death, betrayal, sickness. It focuses on these three couples but we jump around in time. It’s very non linear - if it was a linear play it would be like watching paint dry and just wouldn’t work. But this is such an exciting, challenging and visceral work where every line means something.

“If you like theatre that stimulates you and challenges you then this is very much a piece for you.”

Wil has enjoyed a successful career both on stage and on TV. One of his first big roles was in Cracker and he was a series regular on Waking the Dead where he played DS Spencer Jordan. He has also appeared in Waterloo Road, Holby City and Emmerdale as well as playing Vaemond Velaryon in the Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon - more of which later.

On stage he has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

One of the attractions of Shed: Exploded View for Wil was the fact that is it a brand new work.

“We are inventing and creating this new work,” he said. “The play lends itself to being whatever it wants to be which is so exciting. I’d had the initial script for a while before we started rehearsals but I was reluctant to get too deeply into it. I knew it was new and that it would change and that has certainly happened.

“In the first week new lines would be added, scenes would be cut or moved around. It wouldn’t have done me any favours to become too wedded to the script too early.”

Writer Phoebe Eclair-Powell has been in the rehearsal room alongside director Atri Banerjee.

“She has been so open and willing to try things,” said Wil. “I always ask 10 minute questions so I know I can be a bit of a nightmare in a nice way – I do it with a smile. But we’d explore things together and she was so open to suggestions which is the sign of a good writer.

“It is a very visceral, muscular play with some dark moments; and at time it goes very dark which I love. For me they are the best bits but they are also the hardest to act as they take everything from you. In order for those bits to work, you have to give everything of yourself. You can’t dial just that in.

“And there is also light and humour to counter this which audiences are going to appreciate.”

As well as being part of an award-winning play receiving its premiere, Wil is also excited about returning to the Royal Exchange itself.

“It is a unique space,” he said. “My first experience of it as a theatre was probably in 1994 when we were filming Cracker in Manchester and I came to watch a production of Julius Caesar. At that moment I told myself ‘you have to work at this theatre some day’.

“It took me over 20 years mind you but in 2016 I did King Lear which was amazing, a fantastic experience.

“Along with the National, the RSC and the Royal Court it is one of most iconic theatres in this country.

The Bolton News: Wil Johnson in rehearsal for Shed: Exploded View (Picture: Joel Fildes)

“It is a great theatre space to work in on a practical level. But there is also the history of the place which is tangible. I think the Royal Exchange is on the bucket list of most actors and here I am. It’s so exciting.”

It’s all a far cry from the Golden Globe winning TV epic House of the Dragon.

“It’s a million miles away from the world of an HBO Max TV series that’s for sure, laughed Wil. “Look, we’re actors and we have we got to go with the work - that’s the bottom line. We have bills to pay and lives to live.

“So it’s rare you get the opportunity to have your cake and eat it; to have the opportunity to be part of one of the biggest franchises in world - I even got my own trailer.

“It was one of the most amazing opportunity and I got the chance to experience what the big boys do all the time.

“I was like ‘so this is the level that they work at’.

“For these major TV series, it’s all about time and resources which they have in abundance. The only thing you need to concern yourself with is your acting. For me, even though it was this big beast of a show, it was actually one of the easiest jobs I’ve done. I could just focus on the acting.”

“But I love the theatre and being able to come here and be part of this production is such an enjoyable challenge and such a contrast to flying around with dragons.

“Then this summer I’m off to the RSC to be in School for Scoundrel and the Merry Wives of Windsor which will be totally different again. I’ve never really done much comedy so I’m looking forward to that.

“All in all this is going to be a pretty good year.”

Shed: Exploded View is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until Saturday, March 2. Details from www.royalexchange.co.uk