Matthew Mitcham on making his London stage debut, dream role with John Waters, &… er, crabs

Matthew Mitcham on making his London stage debut, dream role with John Waters, &… er, crabs

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Alex Ansdell and Matthew Mitcham appear in 'Strangers In Between'
Alex Ansdell and Matthew Mitcham appear in ‘Strangers In Between.’ (Photo: Paul de Dona)

Australian diver Matthew Mitcham, 35, has already secured his place in the history books. As the champion in the 10m platform at the 2008 Beijing Games, he became the first out gay man to win an Olympic gold medal.

However, his rise to the top was not smooth. He’s been frank in recent years about his addiction problems when he was younger. He’s been clean since January 2016. Mitcham has also been a happily married man since 2020 and now lives in London with British husband, Luke Rutherford.

Competitive athletic careers are, by their nature, short. Many may struggle to find a new purpose or career. Mitcham has decided to pursue performing, but this time on stage. He’s already taken part in cabaret shows in Australia and competed in the country’s version of Dancing With The Stars. However, for the next couple of weeks only, you can catch him making his London acting debut.

Mitcham is appearing in Strangers In Between (by Tommy Murphy, who also wrote the acclaimed Holding The Man, which was turned into a movie in 2015), playing at the tiny Golden Goose pub theatre in Camberwell.

Heralded as a modern Australian classic, Strangers In Between is perfect for Mitcham. It’s the tale of Shane (Alex Ansell), a gay teenager who flees his small rural town for the bright lights of Sydney. He embarks on a brief affair with Will (Mitcham) and is befriended by an older gay man, Peter (Stephen Connery-Brown). Mitcham also plays the part of Shane’s straight older brother.

Queerty caught up with Mitcham to talk about acting, STIs, and life in London.

Matthew Mitcham and Alex Ansdell in 'Strangers In Between'
Matthew Mitcham and Alex Ansdell in ‘Strangers In Between.’ (Photo: Peter Davies)

Strangers In Between explores how some gay men have to escape their upbringing to be their authentic selves. I threw myself into ____ to help me deal with my sexuality

I probably threw myself into the party scene, to be honest. It was just being around other queer people that helped do it. I certainly had made a decision to be 100% upfront and honest with everyone I met at a certain point, and that was when I turned 18. The party scene helped me spend time with other gay people but also took me off into an unhealthy trajectory.

Strangers In Between premiered in 2005. It’s still relevant today because

There are still queer kids in rural communities feeling isolated. Homophobia still exists. Queer people are still making the pilgrimage from rural towns to big cities to find their tribe.

Alex Ansdell and Matthew Mitcham
Alex Ansdell and Matthew Mitcham (Photo: Paul de Dona)

Part of this show revolves around a character acquiring an STI and seeking treatment. That’s something most gay men can relate to because…

One of my first boyfriends, when I was 17 or 18, had to have the conversation with me and tell me he thought he’d given me crabs. He’d bought lice shampoo and comb and everything, which was fine. Until he claimed he got the crabs from his cat, at which point I was less kind of fine about the whole thing. The best-case scenario was he was lying. The worst-case scenario is really quite horrific!

Strangers In Between is set in Sydney. What I miss most about the city is

The people. I’ve got a lot of friends still in Sydney. And the lifestyle, I’d have to say. The ability to go to the beach should you want to, living in such a major city, and so many different beaches. You could choose an ocean beach or a more secluded harbor beach. The summer in Sydney is just amazing.

What I love about living in London, and what I’m not so keen on

I love London’s proximity to the rest of the world. It feels most like home whilst being so much closer to Europe and America. I’m not so keen on only five hours of daylight in winter. Also, I don’t mind walking the dogs in winter because the ground is frozen, so your feet don’t get wet, but it’s the slushy pre-winter and post-winter, walking the dogs in slush and rain.

From being involved with this project, I’ve learned

That I am really capable because this is the first time I’ve done a straight play. I’ve always done musical and cabaret-style things, and this is the first time I’ve done real character work outside of some acting training. So to feel like I’ve done this successfully and for the reviews to really echo that, this play gave me a wonderful opportunity, not just to figure out and portray one character, but to figure out and portray two characters: two very, very different characters who are both equally nuanced. This has been a really amazing challenge for me.

Stephen Connery-Brown, Matthew Mitcham and Alex Ansdell
Stephen Connery-Brown, Matthew Mitcham and Alex Ansdell appear together in ‘Strangers In Between’ (Photo: Nick Brittain)

The gayest thing about me is

How much I enjoy gay s*x!

A director or storyteller I would love to work with is

The first person that comes to mind is John Waters. I just saw that he got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so he was at the top of my consciousness.

[Queerty informs Mitcham that Waters will soon shoot his first movie in 20 years, and he should lobby for a part.]

Oh brilliant! There you go. I wouldn’t mind playing something a bit more twisted.

The hardest part of transferring from a sporting career to acting is

The reviews that keep calling me an Olympic swimmer! [Mitcham was a diver].

Athletics and acting have some things in common. I have to be dedicated to my craft and practice until perfect

That’s why I got this role. Obviously, I auditioned well, but there were other candidates who they were considering, and one of the arguments in favor of me was, “Who out of all of these candidates has a proven track record of doing whatever it takes to get it right.”

And I have not stopped thinking about these characters or these roles even after leaving the room. I’ve bounced ideas off the director, Adam [Spreadbury-Maher], all the time. He’s let me do what I want to do with these characters because he says my instincts are good. We can look at the nuances and the conflicting motivations behind every single line, every choice, and everything these characters say. So I think that works in my favor, that work ethic that I’ve bought from sport, I’ve bought into this play.

Strangers In Between plays at the Golden Goose Theatre through October 7.


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