RICHARD Winsor is stepping into the shoes of John Travolta to play Tony Manero in Bill Kenwright's production of Saturday Night Fever, on tour in his York debut from Tuesday.

Winsor can take it in his stride after 13 years as a principal dancer with the Matthew Bourne Company. He landed the lead role in cult dance movie StreetDance 3D too before playing Caleb Knight from 2014 to 2017 in BBC1's Casualty, until Caleb lost his life in a knife fight.

Next week Winsor will be appearing at the Grand Opera House in his first leading role in a major musical and his first stage appearance since Casualty in a touring show produced by Kenwright by special arrangement with the Robert Stigwood Organisation.

"I was head-hunted for it," says Richard. "Bill Kenwright is a huge fan of Casualty, which I was in for three and a half years. He puts it down to Casualty being on just before Match Of The Day (Kenwright is Everton's chairman]!

"He contacted me about a year and a half ago to be in the show after he got the rights for it, and I jumped at it, because he wanted to keep the production "real" as it has a dark authenticity of 1970s' Brooklyn to it, and he wanted to keep it entertaining too.

"Then there's all that fantastic Bee Gees music. You remember the white suit, the disco music, but the lyrics are dark; they're about real pain, real love, being in trouble. The struggles Tony is having are real but the music keeps powering forward."

Summing up Tony, he says: "He's a young, enigmatic guy who hasn’t had much opportunity in his life. He’s from a hard-working, down-on-their-luck, Brooklyn family, and works in a paint store for minimal wages. But when he goes to the 2001: Odyssey nightclub, he is the king on the dance floor. He’s a different person there. He loves the attention, the sweat, the heat, the women. It offers him his chance to escape."

The role of Tony finds Winsor putting on his dance shoes once more, bringing back memories of his long association with Matthew Bourne. "I joined him as my first job out of college," Nottinghamshire-born Richard recalls. "It was a wonderful time. I was 19 when he asked me to join the company for Car Man. A year later he started creating lead roles on me. I did Play Without Words, when we won an Olivier; Edward in Edward Scissorhands, Dorian Gray, which all led to the second generation of Swan Lake.

"I’m still really close with Matthew; he’s a massive support. When I told him about Saturday Night Fever, he was delighted and said, 'Fantastic. About time you got back on stage, Dickie'."

Saturday Night Fever has been staged as a musical in London previously, but Winsor was drawn to Kenwright and the Stigwood Organisation's plans for the new production. "What Bill wanted to do, with the Stigwood guys and choreographer Bill Deamer, was create a whole new feel, a whole new look on stage, and I wanted to be involved in something that gives it that freshness," he says.

He was not intimidated by the prospect of taking on the "Travolta role" of Tony Manero. "The film is famous, Travolta's character is iconic, bringing all those dance styles to the screen, and I wanted to take that on board but I would never want just to copy him, so I've found the right level of 'John Travoltaisms' and 'Richard Winsorisms' to make it my own rather than a contrived imitation," says Richard.

"Bill Deamer is known for his classical dance style and he's brought that style to the show to achieve a feel of the Seventies' era – he's a real stickler for that – and we've found the balance of the right retro look but also making it right for 2019 too.

"We've made it powerful for audiences today when people are bombarded with great talent every Saturday night on Strictly, so you have to make something special, not just taking the dancing from the Seventies, but making something new."

In a show that requires Winsor to sing and act as well as dance, he needs fitness and stamina. "But the moments where I sing are mainly quite still moments – whereas in the film, there's no singing on screen; it's all on the soundtrack – and one of the reasons I wanted to do this is that we're calling it a dance drama. You have to pick your moments to breathe, flinging yourself around, while pushing yourself vocally too."

Winsor can draw on his past with Bourne's company in his performing skills. "With Matthew's work, there's no speaking on stage, but it's very narrative driven, and for the roles to be done in the best way, as with this show, the performers/dancers look to bring out the deep drama, because without that, it's just shapes," says Richard.

Could he envisage working with Matthew Bourne again? "I don't know. We'll see. It would depend on the role and what the show was," he says. "I love his work and I'd love him to do something like Play Without Words again."

Saturday Night Fever sparks a disco inferno at Grand Opera House, February 12 to 16, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

Charles Hutchinson