Adrian Dunbar and Stephanie J. Block disagree completely about seafood 

The stars of Kiss Me Kate talk dirty lobsters, quote The Princess Bride, and dream about Dolly Parton's fudge

It’s hard to believe that American Broadway star Stephanie J. Block is yet to fully experience the London theatre scene. But if she was waiting for the perfect role to come along, she’s been vindicated for her patience, as she’s set to star in Cole Porter’s timeless musical Kiss Me Kate. Alongside her is a more surprising yet equally compelling cast-mate in Adrian Dunbar, who puts down his Line Of Duty detective’s hat to don something a little more flamboyant. With rehearsals taking place ahead of their June launch at the Barbican, we met them on the same day they first met one another.

“You’re meeting us on our first date!” laughs Block, already relaxed in Dunbar’s company, and on the same page. “It’s like preparing for a marathon, that’s the God’s honest truth – we are like athletes” she adds. “But we also know that we’re showing the story to a fresh audience with a new energy, and as soon as you step on stage and feel that orchestra rumbling, and the audience crackling, something inside of you switches gears. But to say that it’s easy would be a bold-faced lie. It takes a lot of work.”

“That scares me,” says Dunbar. “Don’t worry, I got you,” Block replies, smiling. For Dunbar, this deviation into the world of musical theatre represents something of a departure – but that’s not to say it hasn’t been a lifelong ambition. 

“My mother was a great singer and she loved musicals, so it was the entry point to me to being starstruck, watching Fred Astaire. For me it’s fulfilling an ambition to do this kind of play, it really is. It’s exciting.”

Even so, the actor is hoping that the experience of his stage-partner Block will help see him through. “I’m hoping she’ll hold my hand,” he laughs. “She knows this better than I do. I’ve done lots of plays on stage, Hamlet is quite a long show, but what is interesting about this is the amount of energy it takes, the attack that it takes. You can’t soft pedal it.”

“It’s a one whiskey a night kind of show,” Block adds. “Just one?” says Dunbar. 

What better time than a first date to get to know Dunbar and Block better. And what better way to do it than by getting stuck in a lift. 

Kiss Me, Kate | Sneak Peek

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?

Stephanie J. Block: Dolly Parton. She has such kindness, and she has great stories. She’ll usually have a bag of crisps, or peanut butter fudge in her purse – so why wouldn’t you want to be in a lift with Dolly Parton? She’s fabulous. 

Adrian Dunbar: I would’ve liked to have been stuck in a lift with Jack Kerouac. 

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?

Block: Elon Musk. I don’t think we have very much in common and I’m not sure what I’d say. Let’s just bring back Dolly. 

What’s the weirdest interaction you’ve had a celebrity?

Dunbar: I remember once going to a party in Beverley Hills, and knocking on a door, and somebody really famous came out. He said, ‘hi guys, why are you here?”, and me and my mate said that we were told to come to the party by another famous person, so he said, ‘okay come in’. When we were inside we were really hungry and we’d just arrived off the flight and there was a big load of Chinese food there, so we started eating and then we turned around, and there was only like 10 people in the room, but it was Elton John, Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges and Warren Beatty. And they were just staring at us. 

What’s the last show you show you went to?

Block: I just saw Appropriate on Broadway, with Sarah Paulson. It was tremendous. I also saw Kelli O’Hara and Brian d’Arcy James in Days Of Wine and Roses.

Dunbar: That is supposed to be a great show. 

Block: It is. Difficult to watch, not an easy watch at all – but very potent.

Dunbar: I saw Dear England. As a football supporter, it’s a really interesting show in what it is really asking. I’m not surprised it’s doing so well in the West End. It’s great to see The National producing shows like this too, that have a lot of popular appeal, but that actually mean something as well.

What did the 12-year-old imagine you’d be doing now?

Block: Until about the age of 12 I thought I was going to be a nun, but then at 12 it did change into being a musician and doing musical theatre. 

Well now you can play nuns on stage.

Block: I can. I mean there’s not a lot of roles for a singing nun. Other than The Flying NunThe Sound of Music

Dunbar: I started a band when I was like 13 or 14, mostly playing American country music. Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, all that stuff was very big in Ireland, where I come from. They weren’t as big here at all. They all thought we were hicks, and then 30 years later they say, ‘these guys were brilliant’.

Block: You were ahead of your time.

Dunbar: We were ahead of our time, absolutely. But I was always into music and playing in bands, and that’s what I thought I would end up doing.

What film have you rewatched the most times in your life?

Block: Oh this is so cliché, but either The Wizard of Oz, or The Princess Bride

Dunbar: “Never go in against a Sicilian!”

Block: “Anyone want a peanut?!”

Dunbar: The Princess Bride is one of the best. 

Block: Oh, it’s fabulous. 

Dunbar: The film I have watched the most, and only because I’ve had to sit through it with my daughter, is Beetlejuice. I think I’ve seen Beetlejuice about 15 times, because it’s my daughter’s favourite film – and a great film.

What is your most controversial food opinion?

Block: I eat nothing from the sea. Nothing. People say, ‘but what about lobster?’. Is it in the sea? Then no. Shrimp? No. Nothing. They live in their toilet, I mean honestly. It’s all happening under water. I’m not having it.

Dunbar: I’ll eat anything. Feet, heads, anything.

Do you have any superstitions?

Block: I don’t have superstitions, but I do have rituals. There are things that I do in the theatre, in a particular order, that help me move along. My mantra is, “just tell the story”. That’s the final thing I tell myself before going out on stage.

Dunbar: I never mention The Scottish Play when I’m in the theatre, and I never whistle. A few things like that I won’t do. Those old things I figure there’s got to be something behind them, and there usually is a reason. I like to keep the old theatrical traditions going. Block: Do you know why you’re not supposed to whistle? Because that’s how they used to cue the flymen, so if you whistle, a sandbag could come down. Not a good way to go.  

Kiss Me Kate opens at the Barbican on 4 June. Find tickets here