29 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Emmie - Carpe Diem Emmie

Next up I spoke with the wonderful theatre and lifestyle blogger Emmie who runs the blog Carpe Diem Emmie. She's a fantastic human and a superb blogger. Check out her site here

Q - What was the first show that you remember seeing?
A - Oh, good question - my most vivid memory from one of my first west end productions is Kiss Me Kate. Locally I believe it was Annie.

Q - What inspired you to get into blogging about theatre?
A - I was working as a Freelance Dance Artist and I already had my blog (but it was more Lifestyle based) back in 2014. I wasn’t getting that much work and I wanted to be able to still be a part of something I was passionate about whilst moving careers. I fused blogging and theatre together and haven’t looked back since, it’s good to still have those contacts I made in a professional capacity.

Q -  Whose performances/productions have had the biggest impact on you?
A - There’s been many over the years but a few that stick with me for different reasons are Mary Poppins, Rent and Dear Evan Hansen. I have not felt the way I did during those shows with others.

Q - What is your favourite musical movie?
A - RENT - always Rent. It takes me back to my college years where I first discovered and became obsessed with it. There’s no other musical movie that can compete with it in my eyes.

Q -  What are your favourite show tunes?
A - Seasons Of Love - Rent
Defying Gravity - Wicked
You Will Be Found - Dear Evan Hansen
Times Are Hard For Dreamers - Amelie
One Day More - Les Mis

Q -  What are your favourite theatres to visit?
A - I’d have to say all of the ones in the East and West Midlands, we have fantastic theatres in our regions! Curve Theatre is my hometown theatre though.

Q -  Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - I enjoy reading, I work in a school so I’m passionate about the importance of education and a child’s mental wellbeing. I also enjoy travelling and exploring the outdoors.

Q - Can you tell us something we might not know about you?
A - I guess that I used to be a Freelance Dance Artist for 2 years where I did lots of work with various dance organisations and in local schools.

I'd like to thank Emmie for her time and for taking part. Please visit her website https://www.carpediememmie.co.uk/and you can follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/carpediememmie

28 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Lucinda Borrell

Next up taking part in the Isolation Interviews series I have Lucinda Borrell. Lucinda is a playwright and her first development piece received good reviews during a run at The Space in London. Lucinda is also an investigative journalist.

Q - What was the first show that you remember seeing?
A - The first show I remember was Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat. I must have been about five at the time and it's one of my earliest memories. I remember because my mum took me up to Edinburgh with a friend (and her mum) and I was wearing a really lovely red coat. It was Philip Schofield who played Joseph at the time.

Q - What are your favourite plays/musicals? (you can pick up to 5)
A - That's a tough one - and it varies. I do love a good bit of Hamlet - anything which ends in death and disaster - and it has some great speeches in there. I saw a play at Northern Stage almost a decade ago now called Ruby Moon about a little girl who goes missing, and its about her family kind of grieving for her, but not knowing if she's alive or dead and that has really stuck with me. I love a good bit of Les Mis and I remember seeing a fabulous play Romantics Anonymous at the Globe a while back which I came out from and I was buzzing.

I also turned 30 two years ago and my friend Kyra - who actually kind of kicked me into gear to finish writing my own play - she organised a surprise day out and we went to see Consent. It was one of those plays that really got you to think about serious issues but without feeling preachy which is a balance that is so hard to get right. That's the kind of thing I've always wanted to do - so I was gripped. Reading this back, I'm aware a lot of these plays end in misery, or deal with quite depressing issues but I do like happy plays too. I loved Strictly Ballroom when that came out - such fun.

Q - Where did the inspiration come from for writing your first developmental piece?
A - Another tough question. I think it's very rare that you get just piece of inspiration and I think for me its kind of a lot of things that came together at the same time.

There were a few stories in the summer of 2017 that I was working on which revolved around harassment of women and a bit later The Telegraph published their expose on Philip Green. At the time I remember thinking - given everything that was reported and the voice notes that were published - why on earth would his wife stay with him?

Then at the same time a childhood friendship of mine started falling apart in a way that was just un-fixable. Like years of stuff that had been left unsaid - on both sides - started emerging. It wasn't anything nasty, but it was clear we had huge gaps in our fundamental beliefs and values as well as years of grievances I think that both parties had kept quiet about that just came out at the same time.

Q - Can you tell us more about the piece?
A - I think a lot of people think of Us Two as a '#metoo play but I don't think of it like that. I think it's about the breakdown of a quite toxic friendship which takes place in that world - only the stakes for both characters are insanely high.

It's hard to describe without giving the entire plot away what happens - or even the premise but I'll give it a go. So our characters Lizzy and Beth are friends from childhood. Beth is a housewife and stay at home mum, whereas Lizzy is a journalist who absolutely adores her job and her freedom. Prior to the play opening, a big #metoo style incident has occurred causing a huge rift and this meeting is the two of them sitting down and trying to piece everything together and figure out their friendship after a lot of suffering on both sides.

We did the development piece at The Space in London and the actors (Karina Cornwall and Kara Stanley) did an amazing job and actually the response to that was amazing.  We were due to have a short run at The Old Red Lion in Islington but then corona virus happened which put paid to that.

Q - You're also an investigative journalist, did that help you when it came up with the research and developing the script?
A - I think for this in particular I didn't really have to do a lot of specific research which was nice as I was working on quite an intense project at the time of writing.

I think the basic psychology, particularly of both Beth and Lizzy  was formed after spending years and years of working on complex stories with survivors of various forms of abuse. It's an honour that people trust me with these stories, but it also means there was some understanding of the psychological impact of this already there and how abusers operate - so that helped create the world in which the play takes place.

There's also a lot of bits in about media law, criminal law etc. When you do a lot of investigative work, you get a lot of training on this anyway, so the basics is just second nature at this stage. But it kind of comes from years and years of top notch legal training. That was quite crucial to most elements of the plot.

Also, I'm female, and I have female friends and again, you just learn don't know the various complexities of navigating friendships which naturally shift over time.

So while I didn't do research for this specifically, there's a lot of knowledge that has built up over the years that ended up going in to it

Q - You've worked on some of TV's biggest investigative programmes (Panorama, Dispatches etc). What inspired you to get into that?
A - I ended up in journalism because I've written for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid I was telling stories. I'm also annoyingly nosy so print journalism was a natural fit for me. Problem is there's a whole load of issues with print journalism that I won't go into - and investigative jobs are few and far between - and not financially viable, so I ended up shifting over to TV where the bulk of the work is. I actually really love it, you get a lot longer to dig around stuff and I still do write the odd bit for the papers. I've had to really claw my way in - but I'm now lucky that I at least get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Q -  What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
A - That you can listen to all the advice on in the world, but at the end of the day you've still got to trust your gut. Every time something has gone wrong, it tends to have been because I didn't trust my instincts. Also if you believe in something - fight for it. Like really fight.

Q -  If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - I have lots of friends that work in theatre. Kyra who I've mentioned previously works in talent management/agency work and is a writer and performer herself. I have friends from my front of house days at the Royal Albert Hall. If I'm honest and I had to pick anyone in the world to hang out with over dinner it would be my mates. I totally understand why people do the stage-door thing at theatres - but for me, I like the people I see in the theatre to just remain a mystery. Like if I'm going to watch Hamlet, I want to see Hamlet on the stage, not Benedict Cumberbatch playing Hamlet. Does that make sense... there are some amazing theatre people out there. From directors and writers to actors and stage managers - but I want to just enjoy their work.

Q - Away from the theatre what are your favourite hobbies?
A - I cook a lot. Its very instant is cooking. Like you make something and then in minutes or hours you can see and taste the results. I like that - being rewarded. Also if you are the one that cooks among your friendship group you become everyone's favourite.

Q - Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I have a nephew called Billy. He's only eight weeks old and honestly, it's crazy how much I adore him. If I start talking about him, it's almost impossible to get me to stop.

I'd like to thank Lucinda for her time and for taking part in this interview. You can follow Lucinda on Twitter https://twitter.com/lucindaborrell

27 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Loren Kinsella

Next up in my Isolation Interview series I have Loren Kinsella. Loren is an American actress who has appeared in both film, TV and on the stage. Her stage credits include Anna in Choice, Lady M in Macbeth, Luciana in The Comedy of Errors and Diana in The Strength Of This Nation. You can visit https://www.lorenkinsella.com/ to find out more about Loren's career.

Loren Kinsella.
Q - What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - Actual theater, as opposed to symphony or ballet was a short version of King Arthur. It was a 'Young Audience' production of the whole play that was showing in New Orleans at the time. I believe I was 4 or 5 years old. It was brilliant. I can still remember how excited I was to see Arthur pull the sword from the stone! Just magnificent. There were special effects and thunder noises and smoke-- to a little kid, that was the best!

Q - What inspired you to get into acting?
A - Good question. I honestly don't know. It's just something that I always knew I was going to do. There never was any doubt.

Is that odd? I mean literally, I had my entire career projection figured out by the time I was nine years old. That was a defining moment in my life. I was taking a shower at the time and figuring out what I had to focus on at which point in my life. Evidently, I was a bizarre child.

Q - Who during your career has had the biggest impact on you?
A - That's a tough one. I've worked with so many inspirational people. 

I do remember working with Gene Hackman though, and watching him. He would take a long time before his lines. I was quite confused by that. I often wondered if I wasn't speaking loudly enough, which is possible since I was so star-struck, or if he just forgot what he was to say. Looking back now, I'm guessing I wasn't speaking loud enough.

I've also worked with some fantastic instructors. There are too many to name, but I'm grateful to each and every one. 

Q -  What are your top 5 favourite pieces of theatre?
A - The Scottish Play - you really can't beat it, can you? I can't count how many versions of this play I've seen, and I've enjoyed most of them. Even the more modern versions.

Hamlet - I've seen some fabulous productions of Hamlet. Also, some not so good ones. No matter what though, the story is always fascinating to me. Seriously, who hasn't wanted to kill their relatives from time to time?

All About My Mother - Granted, I'm probably biased, but I saw Diana Rigg in this show when it was at the Old Vic. I was blown away. Mark Gattis was also in it, and I can't tell you how they both lit up the stage. I was in theater nerd heaven!

Choice - Even if I've never been in the show I'd love this one. Best selling author of Regret, Timothy Allen Smith wrote this play as a sequel to the novel. The play is interesting and thought-provoking without being preachy. It's hard to create a balance like that. I don't want to give away the plot, but if you ever do get the chance to see it, I highly recommend doing so.

The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time.
Besides being a great story, the play reaches out to people who wouldn't necessarily like theater. I think this is one of the most important plays in modern history. Not because of the content in general, but because the play is about an autistic boy. Other kids who are autistic do see themselves in the character and can relate. To me, this is the very definition of art. It brings people together and helps to start a conversation. A conversation that perhaps some people would be too embarrassed or feel uncomfortable to have otherwise.

Loren Kinsella
Q - If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them?
A -  Forget what other people think and be yourself. I spent and wasted a lot of time worrying about what people thought of me. Even when I was relatively accomplished as a performer, I was still plagued with insecurity.

It's taken a long time for me to grow out of that. I'm not quite sure I'm there yet, if I'm honest.

Q - If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - 
Dame Diana Rigg - She's been my hero from a very young age. In New Orleans, where I grew up, on Saturday the local Public Broadcasting Station would play The Avengers series from the 60's. I would go outside and pretend I was Mrs. Peel. She was the most beautiful, smart, strong, independent lady I had ever seen.

Dame Helen Mirren - Because she's fabulous. No, seriously, she really is. To this day I have never seen her do anything I didn't believe.

Andrew Lloyd Weber - I want to know all about the process of creating Jesus Christ Superstar. What an inspiration it must have been to take on something so magnanimous! How does something like that come about and how do you work up the nerve to even try it?

Q - If you were to write an autobiography of your life so far what would you call it?
A - "Wait... What?" That's pretty much what I ask when I look back and remember all of the stupid things I've done.

Q - If you could play any of your previous roles again, who would you choose to play and why?
A - Anna from Choice. She really spoke to me. The character is rich and well written. You really love to hate her. In a nutshell, she's a manipulative mother of a mentally ill daughter. 

Q - Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - 
Reading - I love learning new things. 

Traveling - I love aviation. Airports are one of my favorite places. I know that's bizarre, but I could sit in an airport lounge for hours watching the people come in and out. 

Scouring the internet for the newest, cutest tech gadgets- If it's cute, tiny and functional, I'm all in. Especially if it's a travel gadget and I can use it while sitting in an airport lounge being a voyeur.

Q -  Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I'm a sucker for police procedural and paranormal television shows. My guilty pleasures.

I'd like to thank Loren for her time and for taking part in my interview. Loren wanted me to add her best wishes for everyone's health and wellbeing.

You can find out more about Loren on her website https://www.lorenkinsella.com/. You can also follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/lorenkinsella and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/lorenkinsella

26 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Violet Mackintosh - The Violet Curtain

Next up I have Violet Mackintosh. Violet runs the blog The Violet Curtain. Violet set up her blog earlier this year and also writes for @mytheatremates. Violet is a student but has previously been a production assistant at the Edinburgh Fringe and has done some stage management work at the National Youth Music Theatre and in Vienna.

Q - What was the first piece of theatre you remember seeing?
A - My first memory of theatre is when my parents took me to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicoloured Dream Coat (Lee Mead - 2007). I remember being such a grump that day and not wanting to go, and then being completely blown away by the music. Two days later I knew all the colours of his coat off by heart and I’ve never looked back.

Q - What inspired you to get blogging about theatre?
A - Ever since I started stage managing, I began to have a newfound respect for the complexities of putting together a production. I noticed things about props, quick changes and other technical aspects which others missed, and I realised I had to write about it. The more I write, the more I notice. I love the theatre, how it brings strangers together just for one night to share a common experience and then they take a small part away with them into their lives. I wrote responses and reviews just for me, to consolidate what I had seen. I found I was also giving recommendations to friends and family. So, I decided to put it all together on one website. Even now with no theatre, I still review online shows, write opinion pieces and look forward to the moment when theatres can open their doors once more.

Q - Whose performances/productions have had the biggest impact on you?
A - The first production which comes to mind is The Phantom of the Opera, which I first saw when I was quite young. I can actually pinpoint the moment when I first realised that people could be good and bad at the same time. It was when the lights came up on my tear-stained face in Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Then in 2017, I went to see Angels in America at the National Theatre (Parts One and Two: eight hours in total). I queued for four hours from 5am to get the tickets and it was worth it. There are no words to describe this epic play, but I felt like a different person when I stepped out those doors. I knew then that theatre is not just a traditional structure, it can be anything. Whether it is 45 minutes or eight hours, if people are watching: it’s theatre.


Q - What is your favourite movie musical?
A - 
How long have you got?!

•If I want a laugh – Singin’ in the Rain
•If I want a cry – West Side Story
•If I want a dance – Chicago
•If I want a singalong – Les Mis

All-time favourite: The Sound of Music

Q - What are your favourite show tunes
A - 
•All I Ask of you – The Phantom of the Opera
•Me and the Sky – Come from Away
•Something Wonderful – The King and I
•America – West Side Story
•Last night of the World – Miss Saigon

Q - What are your favourite theatres to visit?
A - 
•Berliner Ensemble
•Her Majesty’s Theatre
•The Old Vic
•The Young Vic
•Anywhere at the Edinburgh Fringe

Q - What have been your favourite productions across the years?
A - 
We could be here all day if I talked about every single one, but here is a couple:

•A Midsummer Nights’ Dream: Watch Your Head Productions, Savill Garden. This was an immersive outdoor production in summer, and it was one of the few times I have ever truly experienced Shakespeare.
•Twelfth Night – National Theatre – This is actually being streamed tomorrow on Youtube (tune in!) I went to see this just after I had done a production of Twelfth Night, with all of my cast. We were all mouthing along and laughing at the differences between our production and this one.
•Come From Away – I was sceptical of this show given its subject matter, but then I saw it. It was magical. It strikes completely the right tone and it really is a celebration of humanity. I actually saw this in Toronto, and the Canadian spirit was palpable.

Q - If you could have dinner with three theatre-related guests, who would you invite and why?
A - 
•Sir Cameron Mackintosh (no relation of mine, unfortunately). We need to discuss our common last name. The theatre industry ain’t big enough for both of us!

•Lyn Gardner – She is the queen of theatrical criticism and I would love some tips.

•Sir Tim Rice – I would like to have a discussion with the person who wrote my favourite musical lyric rhyme. Joseph: “All these things you saw in your pyjamas are a long-range forecast for your farmers”

Q - I know you’ve had some experience with stage management, could you tell me a little more about those experiences?
A - I got into stage management sort of by accident because I loved acting and had never thought about all the other aspects of theatre. One time I didn’t get into a play, so I signed up to help backstage and I realised that it really suited my skill set. I loved having more power and organising proceedings. I have found myself in some very odd situations as a stage manager, whether it’s a rare prop request, standing in for an actor or running around London looking for a specific length screw to hold the set together on opening night, it’s always very much second-degree fun! If I had three rules for stage management, they would be: always stay calm, write everything down (you never know when you might need it) and always have a plaster on you.

Since then I have worked with the National Youth Music Theatre on their productions at The Other Palace Theatre, London and also as a production assistant at the Edinburgh Fringe. Edinburgh is crazy but I am so happy to have been a part of that in 2019. It was very upsetting, but hardly surprising, when this year’s festival was cancelled. I hope Edinburgh 2021 will return bigger and better than ever. I have also done some directing/producing and hope to do more in the future.

Q - Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - When I’m away from the theatre I am probably thinking about theatre! I also love playing lacrosse, reading historical fiction and speaking German. I have also taken up knitting in lockdown.

Q - Can you tell us one random fact about you
A - My family invented Quality Street and Rolos.

I'd like to thank Violet for her time in taking part in this interview. You can visit her site www.thevioletcurtain.com and can follow Violet on Twitter https://twitter.com/violet_curtain

25 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Irvine Iqbal

Next up I have the brilliant Irvine Iqbal. Irvine is a fantastic actor and a champion for equality. Irvine's credits include Raj in The Boy in the Dress (RSC), The Sultan in Disney's Aladdin (Prince Edward Theatre), Broken Wings (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Bend It Like Beckham (Phoenix Theatre) and Bombay Dreams (Victoria Apollo).

Q - What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - Starlight Express and Me and my Girl on Broadway in New York in 1987.

Q - What inspired you to get into theatre/performing?
A - Luckily, I had gone to a school (Rossall School) where music and drama were encouraged. We had to choose an instrument and participate in daily activities. So while watching a school play version of West Side Story, I had an epiphany moment that performing was something I wanted to do. (Let’s not mention when Johnny Ball picked me from the audience to volunteer in his roadshow) 

Q - Who during your career has had the biggest impact on you?
A - My mother who has encouraged me and supported me from the beginning.

Q - What is your favourite musical movie?
A - West Side Story

Q - What are your favourite show tunes?
A - Mixed bag really, I’m obsessed with Sondheim who I consider to be the genius of our industry but I also love the music from Ragtime and Parade not to mention a little Disney.

Q - If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them?
A - See more theatre!

Q - What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
A - Meet everyone you work with, know their name, get to the know them, always be polite and respectful.

Q - If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - Stephen Sondheim, Raul Julia and Al Pacino. Any opportunity to dine with a hero!

Q -  If you were to write an autobiography of your life so far what would you call it and why?
A - Both not half - This represents my background and some of the choices I’ve taken.

Q - If you could play any of your previous roles again, who would you choose to play?
A - Has to be Raj. I  personally find comfort in comedy and he is someone who I know and a character audiences enjoy.

Irvine as Raj in The Boy in the Dress. Photo by Manuel Harlan (RSC)

Q - 
You recently completed the run of the new British musical, The Boy in the Dress, at the RSC playing shopkeeper Raj. How do you reflect on the experience?
A - For me, it was perfect timing having been in the West End for 5 years on different shows. Coming to Stratford upon Avon was a breath of fresh air away from the busy hub of London. Also, working with a great cast of young performers who were hungry to make a new musical work.

Q - Prior to The Boy in The Dress, you played The Sultan in Disney's Aladdin in London. Did you take much inspiration from the animated movie when it came to creating your performance?
A - No, although I’m a fan of the original animation. I wanted to bring something fresh and paternal to the character. I didn’t want to replicate or play a bumbling/clumsy character. I wanted to give the Sultan some regal and stern qualities being a father which the director agreed with. As actors, we should challenge ourselves to bring a fresh approach to a performance rather replicating what’s already been done.

Q - Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - I’m obsessed with watches and total nerd and fanatic.

Q -  Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I collect film and theatre memorabilia. In my collection is Yul Bruyner’s costume from The King and I. (See Pic below)
Yul Brenner in The King and I.
I'd like to thank Irvine for his time and his brilliant insights. If you want to follow Irvine on Twitter visit https://twitter.com/IrvineIqbal

24 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Holly-Anne Hull

Next up taking part in the Isolation Interview series is Holly-Anne Hull. Holly is playing the role of Christine Daae in the UK touring company of The Phantom of the Opera. She has previously been in Les Miserables (West End Staged Concerts and UK tour), Loserville (The Union Theatre) and Copacabana (UK Tour). She is part of the country/pop trio Remember Monday who reached the Quater Finals on The Voice U.K.

Q - What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - Oooooh! I think it was starlight express!!

Q - What inspired you to get into theatre?
A - It’s all I have ever known, and all I have ever wanted to do since I can remember!

Q - Who during your career has had the biggest impact on you?
A - I have always been a huge fan of Sierra Boggess!
Q - What is your favourite musical movie?
A - Ummmm Moulin Rouge! Or something Disney! Oh, The Cheetah Girls for sure! Hahaha
Q - What are your favourite show tunes? (You can pick up to 5 songs)
A - This changes all the time!!! I’m actually not that stagey, shamefully hahaha! So I don’t really listen to musical theatre in my own time! But if I was gonna have a sing, I’d normally go straight to Jekyll and Hyde!
Q - If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them?
Q - If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - Ummmmmm I honestly have no idea!! Hahaha anyone that will join me!
Q - How has the challenge been (prior to the current lockdown) of taking on the iconic role of Christine Daae in the UK tour of Phantom?
A - It was a rollercoaster!! It took me a little while to actually believe that I deserved to be there! I still can’t believe it’s happened and I don’t think I ever will! But I absolutely had some demons I had to battle with in order to let go and do the role!

Holly as Christine Daae in the UK tour of The Phantom of the Opera. Photo by Johan Persson
Q - You were part of the Les Mis staged concert (as well as previously touring and being in the west end company). How was the experience of doing it in concert form?
A - It was totally different! It was literally a concert, we were all on bleachers, and would stand by mics when we sang! I absolutely loved it, and it was so cool to work with such legends!!
Q - Both Phantom and Les Mis have played for over 30 years. Why do you think the shows, in particular, continue to fill theatres?
A - I mean it’s Phantom and Les Mis! They have been my favourite shows since I was a little girl, the stories are beautiful and the music will never ever get old!
Q - Your part of the country/pop trio Remember Monday. (who I LOVE). Can you tell me more about the band and their origins?
A - Yes! We’ve been a band for 8 years now!! We are three best mates at college that literally just started a band for fun and it never ended, we are always making new music and keeping it going! Lauren is currently playing Jane Seymour in the UK tour of SIX and Charlotte is a Choreographer and often tours around the world, so it’s hard to get rehearsals in but we always do it!!
Q - Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - If I’m not doing theatre I will either be singing with the band, with my family or on holiday!
Q - Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - Oooooh! Ummmm I sang for the Queen was I was 11! Hahahah

I'd like to thank Holly for her time and for taking part in this interview. You can follow Holly on Twitter https://twitter.com/HollyAnneHull and Remember Monday https://twitter.com/remembermonday_. You can also visit Remember Monday's website https://www.remembermonday.co.uk/

22 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Beth Hinton-Lever

Next up I have the brilliant Beth Hinton-Lever. Beth was recently in the Curve production of West Side Story. Her previous credits include As You Like It (National Theatre and Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch), Hadestown (National Theatre) and Spring Awakening (Hope Mill Theatre).

Q - What was the first show that you remember seeing?
A - I was extremely lucky that my mum loves the theatre and so I remember growing up watching videos of musicals. I loved watching Cats and I still remember badly singing along to the overture while watching those cat eyes come into view on the tv -which used to scare me actually hahaha- nevertheless, I was hooked!

Q - What inspired you to get into theatre?
A - I was a theatre kid. Pretty much in every sense of the word... When we were about 14 my best friend and I spent every weekend for a month travelling from Liverpool to Manchester to watch We Will Rock You at the Palace. So, as I say, I was a fan of theatre hahahaha.

However, it was a while before I did end up becoming an actor and I was ridiculously lucky to get my first job!

I was at the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF) with Parade by Jason Robert Brown which I had choreographed during my final year of my BA when I was very unexpectedly awarded the Best Choreography Award. I then had a few discussions with the wonderful Lucy Hind who was working at the festival as an expert in Movement Direction and choreography, she bolstered me up to realise that I could forge a career for myself if I worked hard and also gave me a lot of wonderful companies to look up and get in contact with, like Graeae, who I luckily have ended up working with too!
Lucy then offered me a job over the summer in a show she was working on called Dancehall which was at CAST in 2015. I said yes, and that started my professional career! So, sometimes it’s just right place at the right time, and WOW I’m happy I met Lucy and got given the chance I did!

Q - Whose performance/s have had the biggest impact on you?
A - There are so many people who inspire me within the industry and I am SO lucky to personally know a few of them. However, the person I’ll talk about is a director and activist rather than a fellow performer.

Jenny Sealey is a true love of mine. Jenny is the Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company, a company who I am very lucky to have worked with multiple times and people who I consider family.
Jenny gave me my first job after I finished my MA at Mountview in an Ian Dury and The Blockheads musical called Reasons to be Cheerful where I played a romantic lead, which I didn’t ever think would be possible because of my disability. I was very green and didn’t truly know where I would go within the industry as a physically disabled performer; Jenny made sure that I was equipped with the knowledge, confidence, and skill to go into the industry after Reasons to be Cheerful and create the career I have now.

Jenny taught me everything I needed to know about being political about myself. I’m passionate and punchy. My pace is fast and fricative. She, as well as that entire company of wonderful people, taught me I can be all of these things, but also how to be open and kind so that it’s a conversation, not an argument, when talking about disability.

I will always be indebted to Jenny for her kindness, skill, and love. If I could navigate this industry with even half the intelligence, humour, and craft that she does, I’ll be very happy.

Q -What is your favourite musical movie?
A - Ohhhh... it’s a tough one! I grew up watching RENT with my friends where we would cast each other and then sing and perform along with the film! Rock of Ages is so much fun and the songs are SO catchy! However, Across The Universe takes the top spot for the glorious story and stunning new versions of The Beatles classics. It has real soul and love interwoven with a strong political narrative, as well as gorgeous performances throughout.

Q - What are your favourite show tunes?
A - AHHH!!! It changes daily… it’s so hard to pick! But here are a few:

1.) Wait For Me II- Hadestown
I still can’t quite believe I got to sing this song every night for a few months. Well, the ENTIRE show. It is some of the most beautiful poetry I’ve ever heard and is one of my favourite shows. When the song drop down to the vocals and we could feel the love and energy pouring out of everyone. It was hugely special.

“The meanest dog you’ll ever meet - It ain’t the hound dog in the street. He bares his teeth and tears your skin. But brother, that’s the worst of him. The dog you really got to dread is the one that howls inside your head. It's him whose howling drives men mad, and a mind to its undoing.”

2.) The Old Red Hills of Home - Parade
The finale of this show is one of the most emotive pieces of music in the world. I mean, the whole show is stunning, but the last two minutes of the show when the acapella vocals come in. GOOSEBUMPS EVERY TIME. I will always hold Parade dear to my heart as the show that kick-started my professional career. Also, it’s SO GOOD.

3.) While My Guitar Gently Weeps- Across the Universe
Just listen to this version. Trust me.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps is my favourite Beatles song and this version is heartachingly beautiful with these gorgeous harmonies that just have such pain and joy and beauty in them.

I couldn’t not mention Stand Up from Harriet sung by the incredible Cynthia Erivo, she sings with everything she has, the lyrics are poetry, and every time I hear the song it makes me realise that I have strength to stand up for what I believe in and makes me hopeful for what will happen if we do push for change. I can’t stop listening to it.

Q - What's the best piece of advice you've been given/If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them?
A - I’m going to combine these questions, if that’s okay? I think the answer works for both! And… It’s definitely not the best advice I’ve been given…as it’s actually something I tell myself when I have a wobble, but it helps me!

If you don’t see yourself represented in the industry or you don’t see your story or hear your voice: do it yourself. Create that space and be that change. Change has to come from a place of kindness and positivity; as opposed to breaking the industry, breaking the mould. It’s actually about widening the industry, opening it, and showing that we’re capable of anything we set our minds to.

Q -You were recently part of the Curve production of West Side Story. How do you reflect on the experience?
A - West Side was a very special show. I will always remember the final scene. Every night the cast would hold each other and I always knew that everyone was right there in the moment with me holding me up and giving me love. The show was a labour of love for everyone who helped mould it. The cast, crew, and the Curve will forever hold a big place in my heart.

Beth with Ryan Anderson in West Side Story at Curve.
Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Q - If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - Tennessee Williams is one of my favourite playwrights and I would utterly adore talking to him about his writing and just to be in his presence for a little while.

Emilia Bassano is the central figure of one of my favourite shows I have ever seen, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia, it would be a joy to hear her side of the story and witness her genius in the flesh.

Sian Tickle is my high school drama and theatre studies teacher who fostered my love of theatre into a real tangible thing. She cared so deeply about theatre and her love and positive attitude was infectious to me and my best friend, Alice Merivale (who is also an actor!). Unfortunately, she passed away in 2017 and I would be honoured to have a few hours to tell her about the fact I’m now an actor and how appreciative I am to her for her love and support.

Q - Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - WELL!!! My BA is in Classical Archaeology and Classical Civilisations! So, unsurprisingly one of my favourite things to do is go to museums! Wandering around and everywhere you look and everything you read will teach you something new and show you something you may have never seen before. I know it sounds cheesy but getting lost in the past really helps me remain present in my wider life.

Q - Can you tell us something we might not know about you?
A - In between acting jobs I work in a wonderful yachting chandlers called Arthur Beale. It’s on Shaftesbury Avenue and I love walking to work every day past the theatres to my other love: sailing!
I have always sailed and so I feel very lucky to be able to have another passion; I love working manually and working with hardware, ropes, and technical equipment- it’s such a fun change from performing and always a great challenge!

Arthur Beale’s is a beautiful old shop and I recommend popping your head in if you’re around and about- and be sure to say hi if you see me!!

I'd like to thank Beth for her time and her wonderful responses. You can follow Beth over on Twitter https://twitter.com/BethHintonLever

Isolation Interviews: Becky Wallis (Musical Theatre Lives In Me)

Next up I have Becky Wallis. Becky runs a theatre blog called Musical Theatre Lives in Me (click here to visit) where she reviews shows, films and more. She also posts regular interviews including her own Isolation series called Life in Lockdown.

Q - What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing? –
A - I think it was a production of George’s Marvellous Medicine. I can still remember the moment
that the grandma grew as tall as the house! And I can remember going to see the Blue Man
Group at the New London Theatre (now the Gillian Lynne Theatre). The first big musical I
remember seeing was The Sound of Music.

Q - What inspired you to get into blogging about theatre?
A - Well, I have always been a writer. I have loved writing for as long as I can remember and
when my love for theatre really took off, it made sense to combine my two loves. My blog
gives me a platform to talk about my love for theatre and feel like someone is listening.

Q - Whose performances have stayed with you?
A - So many! Of course, I have to mention Charlie Stemp as Arthur Kipps in Half A Sixpence.
My favourite musical, and one of my favourite characters, brought to life in the most
wonderful way. Charlie is such an incredible performer and I just love seeing him on stage. I
also have to highlight Killian Donnelly as Jean Valjean, Matt Henry as Lola and Rob
Houchen as Marius. It was also a treat to see Tommy Steele in the Glen Miller Story. He has
always been Arthur Kipps to me, and at one point in the show he came on stage in a pin
stripe suit and straw boater and I just had to smile because even through he is much older
now, he still has that smile and he is still Arthur.

Q - What is your favourite musical movie?
A - I have a few favourites. It may have got mixed reviews, and of course, it cannot be compared
to seeing the show live, but I really love the film adaptation of Les Miserables. I also love
both Mary Poppins films, and old favourites like Joseph and the amazing technicolour
Dreamcoat. And of course, Half A Sixpence starring Tommy Steele at his absolute best.

Becky with Charlie Stemp.
Q - What are your favourite show tunes?
A - I can only choose five! Okay, so this is going to be tricky so I’m going to put it into

First up, a song from a childhood favourite – Close every door from Joseph and the
amazing technicolour Dreamcoat. This is such a beautiful song, full of emotion and passion
and I have to say that Jac Yarrow’s rendition is the best I’ve ever heard.

A song that gets me every time – Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from Les Miserables. There
is just something about this song, and I have heard so many amazing performances of it
over the years. From Rob Houchen to Fra Fee, this song just gets me every single time.

A song that reminds me just how magical theatre is – Step in Time from Mary Poppins. I
have always loved this song, but seeing it on stage has just made me love it even more. It’s
so incredibly full of energy and wonder. It makes me smile until my cheeks hurt.

A song that speaks to me – Memphis Lives in Me from Memphis. This song actually inspired
the name of my blog, musical theatre lives in me. It comes at a point in the show where
Huey decides that he simply cannot live Memphis, because it is too much a part of who he is
and features the line ‘like a sad old melody, tears me up but sets you free, that’s how
Memphis lives in me’. And that is how Musical theatre lives in me, it sets me free.

My go too happy song – Flash Bang Wallop from Half A Sixpence. This song has been an
absolute favourite of mine since I was little and first watched the film. It’s just so upbeat and
cheeky, and it just makes me feel wonderful every time I listen to it.

Q - What are your favourite theatres to visit?
A - I have to say the Theatre Royal Plymouth, because it is my local and I have seen so many
great touring productions there. I also love the London Palladium because you can just feel
the history of it whenever you walk in there.

Q - What have been your favourite productions across the years?
A - The new staging of Les Miserables is absolutely stunning, Come From Away deserves a
mention, Mary Poppins is absolutely magical and Half A Sixpence is my dream show, so
much so that I saw it ten times in ten months.

Q - If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests, who would you invite and why?
A - I would invite Cameron Mackintosh because I would just love to pick his brain and Tommy
Steele because he’s just one of my musical theatre heroes. And can I invite the whole cast
of Half A Sixpence because they are the loveliest people you could ever dream to meet.

Q - Away from the theatre, what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - I dabble in writing fiction, but never come up with a good enough idea to actually stick to.
And I love arts and crafts, whether that’s colouring pictures and knitting. Over the years, I
have made many knitted dolls as gifts for performers.

Q - Can you tell us a random fact about you?
A - I have never watched any of the Lord of the Rings films, only watched one Star Wars (against
my will) and two marvel movies

I'd like to thank Becky for her time and her insights. You can visit her website https://musicaltheatrelivesinmesite.wordpress.com/blog/. You can follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/MTlivesinme and on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/beckywallis5500/?hl=en

21 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Kerrie Nicholson (Wheelie Stagey)

Next up I have the magnificent Kerrie who runs the site Wheelie Stagey. Kerrie is a freelance writer, theatre lover and an absolute champion for accessibility within the arts. Alongside her website, she also runs a Wheelie Stagey Podcast.

Q - What inspired you to get into blogging about theatre?
A - I’ve always felt that writing is that “one” thing I’m quite good at and that I want to make a living out of one day, and theatre is one of my biggest passions, so it made sense to combine the two. It also struck me that I didn’t feel disability, especially physical ones like mine are widely represented in the industry, so I wanted to be a voice for those of us out there.

Kerrie with Jenna Russell, Maddison Bulleyment and David Perkins after The Bridges of Madison County.

Q - Whose performances/productions have had the biggest impact on you?
A - I’ve always a bit of a love/hate relationship with dance, in that I get a little bit jealous as my own disability leaves me physically restricted despite being in awe of the skill and the artistry; I finally got to see  Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake in the flesh last year and was utterly transformed by it – Will Bozier was my Swan/Stranger and Dominic North my Prince. I remember feeling really drained, shaky and emotional after it and led in bed that night shedding a few tears because I was overwhelmed in the best way possible.

The Bridges of Madison County headed by Jenna Russell and Edward Baker Duly at the Menier Chocolate Factory was a massive deal for me. It’s one of my favourite shows and scores on this earth and one having started life on Broadway one I thought I’d only ever experience via a cast recording.

Seeing my Broadway goddess Kelli O’Hara perform in person in the King & I was an absolute dream come true, as was seeing Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus, my favourite Shakespeare play!

It’d be silly of me not to answer this question without mentioning Hadley Fraser – he’s one of my absolute favourite theatre performers and has enriched my life in so many special ways, both onstage and off.

Q - What is your favourite musical movie?
A - I’m old school and love all the “Golden Age” movie musicals – all the Rodgers and Hammerstein adaptations, West Side Story and so on. My absolute favourite is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – I love everything about it, especially the choreography.

Q - What are your favourite show tunes? (You can up choose up to 5 songs)
A - In no particular order, five of my favourites are: Finishing the Hat, Stars, Be Prepared, Rose’s Turn and Wondering – from Sunday in The Park with George, Les Mis, The Lion King, Gypsy and The Bridges of Madison County, respectively.

Q -  What are you favourite theatre quotes?
A - Let me combine musicals, plays and Shakespeare to answer this: a few of my favourite things:

“However you live, there’s a part of you always standing by, mapping out the sky”, from Sunday in the Park with George

“The cat’s back…Hello kitty” – Scar, when Nala & Simba return in the musical version of Lion King

“So Hold This Moment Fast, and Live and Love as hard as you know how” from La Cage Aux Folles

“Love is always better” from Bridges of Madison County

“Strange isn’t it, what comes from within” from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

 “You common cry of curs! Whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens
Whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air,
I banish you” (from Coriolanus)

Kerrie with Dale Rapley, Edward Baker-Duly, Paul F Monaghan,
Shanay Holmes, Maddison Bulleyment and Gillian Kirkpatrick
after a performance of The Bridges of Madison County.

Q - What are your favourite theatres to visit?
A - London – The Lyceum, Almeida, Trafalgar Studios, Donmar Warehouse
Elsewhere – Chichester Festival Theatre, Manchester’s Royal Exchange & my local, Bristol Old Vic! I have loads of incredible memories tied to each of these.

Q - As someone who has a disability and is a champion for accessible theatre. How do you feel are dealing with accessibility?
A - The theatre is special to me because it’s where I found my tribe and where I feel welcome because the friends I’ve made don’t treat me any differently in light of my disability, and the performers I’ve been privileged enough to meet are always appreciative of the effort I make to come and see them knowing that said disability can make my theatregoing a logistical challenge because of travel, availability of wheelchair space and so on.

There are theatres out there doing fantastic work to improve and promote accessibility, and
London’s Old Vic is a superb example of this, but I think more could and should be done. The biggest change I’d like to see within the industry is two-fold: have theatre staff of all levels and types of roles reach out to consult disabled patrons and gain our insight about experiences in theatre and ask what they can do to help improve accessibility. Secondly, I would love to see more disabled creatives writing and involved in creating the stories we tell. I believe wholeheartedly that if that’s done, the industry I so love will become richer and more accessible to everybody, disabled or otherwise.

Q - If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Mear and Tom Morris. My favourite composer, choreographer and director. I’d love to hear all the stories they must have and about their work, and see if between the four of us we could come up with a plan for a new musical or play! Subsequent dinner engagements would have to follow as our crew and cast is assembled, of course!

Q - Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - I absolutely love to read, and am actually on an online course with a bestselling author right now that teaches her method she uses to plan and outline her novels and about the publishing process. I’ve always wanted to write a novel of my own and excited to see where this leads, but more importantly see if I can focus enough to finish the first draft of something I write for a change! I’m also a proud member of Bristol Show Choir, gamer and a sucker for a tv boxset.

Q - Can you tell us a random fact about you?
A - Ian McKellen once shared his chocolates with me!

I'd like to thank Kerrie for her time and wonderful insights. You can visit her website https://wheeliestagey.wordpress.com/ and follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/wheeliestagey and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WheelieStageyBlog/

Kerrie with Hadley Fraser.

20 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Jez Unwin

Coming next on the Isolation Interview series is the magnificent Jez Unwin. Actor and musician Jez recently completed a run in the UK tour and London transfer of Amelie the Musical. Jez's previous credits include Once (Phoenix Theatre), Oliver! and The Light at the Piazza (both Curve) and Sweet Charity (Menier Chocolate Factory and Theatre Royal Haymarket). Jez is also part of postmodern swing band The FlyBoys.

Q - What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - The first show I saw was Fiddler On The Roof with the inimitable Topol in the lead role. I was very young and have little memory of the performance. As a Chorister at Westminster Cathedral however I was lucky enough to go to and be a part of a myriad of concerts in spectacular settings. We sung for the Pope, The Queen and Margaret Thatcher to name a but a few. I was bewitched by the excitement of performing as well as the stunning choir music at an early age.

- What inspired you to get into theatre?
A - I have already mentioned the London Choirboy beginnings which definitely gave birth to my delusions of grandeur! Love of Musical theatre came later in my mid-teens. Two shows I saw in London in the mid-nineties bewitched me completely and made me determined to start a career in show-business. The first was the original production of Crazy For You at the Prince Edward Theatre. The staging was out of this world extravagant with rows and rows of showgirls, an incredible set and costumes, the music was by the incomparable George Gershwin and to top it all, it was the original star vehicle for Ruthie Henshall who was just wonderful in the role of Polly. They don’t make ‘em like that any more.

The Second show was Sunset Boulevard at the Adelphi. There has never been nor will there ever be a set like that again. Look it up on google, it was jaw-droppingly opulent. I fell for the drama and the Hollywood glamour of it all. Patti Lupone was mesmerising as Norma Desmond. Sooooo good!

- Who during your career has had the biggest impact on you?
My mother is also a singer and was the reason I was immersed in music as a kid so she had a huge impact on my career trajectory. Aside from mum I can’t really single anyone out. From my amateur beginnings in Gilbert and Sullivan operas to the West End shows I have been lucky enough to perform in I have watched and learned from the best. Because I didn’t go to drama school watching the people I worked with and respected was incredibly important to my growth as a performer. I would say to the younger generation that this is imperative. Watch and learn.

- What is your favourite musical movie?
A - I can tell you which one I hated and that was The Greatest Showman! This was a very unpopular opinion with my students. :/

I would have to say West Side Story was my favourite. It was so incredibly atmospheric and exciting. The moment at the end when Maria throws herself on Tony’s body is one of the greatest moments in cinematic history. It breaks me every time I see it.

- What are your favourite show tunes? (You can pick up to 5 songs)
A - I’m so bad at favourites!

The Light I’m the Piazza from the show of the same name. I was lucky enough to be in the original uk cast of this show at Leicester Curve. I knew nothing about it in advance, turned up for rehearsals and was floored by the stunning score. Sublime.

A Piece of Sky from Yentl. If you’re not a fan of Ms.Streisand watch this film. This song is at the end of the of the story as she arrives in New York and is a musical and cinematic orgasm. (Can I say that word?)

Buenos Aires from Evita. I have never had more fun in an ensemble number onstage than when I was in Michael Grandage’s Production at the Adelphi in 2007. It’s so full of life, spirit and Latin rhythm. Especially when sung by the pocket rocket from Argentina, Elena Roger.

Bess you is my Woman from Porgy and Bess. I wrote my thesis on this work at University. I think this is the best duet of all time.

Being Alive from Company. So many choices for Sondheim. I know this is a bit cliched but there is a reason why it’s so popular. There is no song with a greater catharsis.

- If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them?
A - I would say to my younger self not to care so much what others think, especially the negative people you cross paths with. I have given far too much energy to these people over the years. I am only now finding ways of giving them less power. It’s very healing.

Also, being different isn’t easy but it is exactly what will make your life a brilliant rollercoaster, so embrace it now!

- If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - George Gershwin. The man wrote such a vast array of incredible music in just 36 years. I would love to talk to him about his inspiration.

Barbra Streisand. I think her stories would be highly entertaining at the dinner table. Also, the two of us could sing one of Gershwin’s duets while he played the piano. ;)

Sammy Davis Junior. My favourite of the Crooners. He had the most stunning voice and way of putting across a song. Also I would love some insight into the real goings on backstage during the Rat Pack era.  I would of course get him to sing Gershwin’s ‘There’s a boat dat’s leaving soon for New York’ from Porgy and Bess while the maestro played.

Now that’s what I call a dinner party!

Jez in Amelie The Musical pictured with Audrey Brisson (Amelie). Photo by Pamela Raith

- You recently completed a run in the UK tour/The Other Palace run of the musical Amelie. How do you reflect on that experience?
A - It’s very hard to keep this answer short but I will give it a go.

Amelie is the show that got me out of semi-retirement, which, for reasons I won’t go into was quite a big deal for me. As soon as I read the script I knew it was right. The story and characters spoke to me profoundly. This is before I even did the self-tape. Cut to rehearsing the show and realising it was a near impossibility to stage in the four short weeks we were allocated. When we started the music for that first preview we were all in a state of emotional and physical collapse. It could have been the worst or the best show we had all been in. Truly none of us had any idea. And then, standing ovation after standing ovation, It was a hit. It moved us and it moved our audiences.

Looking back on it now is surreal. In a time when on my daily walk I cross the road to stay away from other humans, it makes me so emotional to think of our story of simple human connection. It feels very profound. I truly hope that, if any good comes out of this, the Importance of truly connecting to another human being will be fundamentally learned and appreciated.

- I bet it was a thrill to get to work with not only great actors and singers but hugely talented musicians too. I bet you had some great jamming sessions?
A - We did have some great jamming sessions. At the Watermill a few (alcohol infused) instances come to mind! My favourites were when we all got together to learn the vast score without the creatives in the evenings during rehearsals. It was a hilarious, bonding experience I can tell you!

- As part of the band The FlyBoys you've been able to tour the world. You as a band released an album, A Postmodern Swing Sensation, last year. Can you tell me more about the band and the album?
A - I am so proud to be one of the original members of  The FlyBoys. The Band was put together by my friend and ex flatmate Chris Orton. He wanted to put something original together with musical integrity when so much around was just repetitive dross. He truly succeeded.

The music is so cool! Mashups of modern songs with classic swing, reminiscent of bands such as PostModern Jukebox. I mean, that’s heaven for Jez! The arrangements, penned by Chris and a musical genius called Christian Philips are phenomenal. Have a listen on YouTube! What started as a few cruises one summer lead to some of the most memorable moments of my performing life. We performed on Prime Time BBC1 in the series Pitch Battle which was so exciting. More recently we were lucky enough to support Sir Cliff Richard on his national tour. Singing to a sold-out crowd at The Albert Hall was something I will cherish forever.

Touring with the band has also taken me to the most incredible places, the most memorable of which was a tour of the South Seas islands. Oh, what I would do to pop over to Bora Bora right now!

- You've had a great career to date with roles in some great shows. Which have been your favourites to play?
A -  Favourite roles, hmmm.

Ok, so in 2010 I was cast as understudy to the leading man in Sweet Charity. We did a ten week run at The Menier Chocolate Factory and then transferred to Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End. The lead in the show unusually got to play both the Italian Lothario , Vittorio Vidal and the nerdy accountant, Oscar Lindquist. This was such a blessing for a Performer, and even though I was the understudy I played the role for a good long run in town. It is the greatest range as an actor I have got to display to this day.

In 2008 I was cast in the title role of Don Giovanni at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle. It was a reimagining of Mozart’s incredible opera and instead of the usual Don, the brilliant director changed the protagonist to Count Zhivarny, a Hungarian magician. Zany huh! So not only did I get to sing this incredibly demanding role, I got to perform some amazing illusions taught by world-renowned illusionist Paul Keive (I got to work with Paul again in the groundbreaking Ghost at the Piccadilly Theatre). I don’t think Mozart’s Champagne aria has ever been performed while sawing a woman in half, nor ever will again. What an incredible experience that was!

Lastly, I would have to include The Bank Manager in Once at The Phoenix Theatre. When the UK cast rehearsed this show we were given real ownership over the story. It was incredibly special. My role’s story was comedic and also very poignant. Enda Walsh has an amazing knack of writing a character so clearly yet succinctly in his plays. My character was a man of few words that said so much. Also a gay, cello playing bank manager from Cork... what could go wrong! This show definitely changed me for the better.

And then there is Amelie...

Jez (second from the left) with the West End cast of Once. Photo by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg 

- Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
I am a nature lover and an avid bird watcher (I was obsessed with them as a young person) and am now at a ripe old age when I can embrace this hobby with no embarrassment. One of my joys during this strange time is watching the birds in my garden go about their business. It’s very reassuring.

- Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I was Young Choirboy of the Year in 1985.

I'd like to thank Jez for his time and his wonderful insights.
You can follow Jez on Twitter https://twitter.com/jezunwinmusic?lang=en
You can find out more about The FlyBoys https://www.theflyboys.co.uk/

Isolation Interviews: Simon Beck.

Next up on the Isolation Interviews series I have Simon Beck. Simon is a conductor, singer and mentor. He has worked on numerous shows in the West End, on tour and internationally. He's worked on productions in Rocky Horror Show, Spamalot, Sweet Charity and The Boyfriend. In 2015 he released an album entitled The Courage of a Dreamer. You can find out more about Simon and the services he provides by visiting his website http://simonbeckmusician.com/

- What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - I’m reliably informed that the very first piece of theatre I saw was The Sooty Show when I was 2 years old! I remember being taken to local pantos (Belgrade, Coventry & Birmingham Rep) very early on, but my first West End show was 42nd Street at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. I choose to mention this because it starred Catherine Zeta-Jones, recently promoted from understudy. Jane Hanna was playing the French Horn in the pit, Gareth Valentine was the onstage pianist, and it was conducted by Kevin Amos. All were names I didn’t know at that time, but all are people I have gone on to study/work with (except Ms CZJ). That show had a profound effect on me in so many ways!

- What inspired you to get into theatre?
A - As soon as the curtain went up on 42nd Street I knew I had to be involved in some way with theatre. I saw the conductor ‘waving his arms’ down in the pit and felt a connection deep in my soul … even though I had no idea what was actually happening, nor what that man’s job literally was.

- What is your favourite musical movie?
A - This could change on any given day, but today’s favourite? Beauty and the Beast! Disney’s original animated version. It is one of the most perfectly crafted pieces of musical drama. A truly great score by Alan Menken, with wonderful lyrics by Howard Ashman. Voiced by Broadway actors!

- What are your favourite show tunes? (You can pick up to 5 songs)
A -Again, this list is ever-changing … today’s favourites ….
1 It’s Today (Mame)
2 Spread The Love Around (Sister Act)
3 Sunday (Sunday In The Park With George)
4 As We Stumble Along (The Drowsy Chaperone) I can’t get enough of Beth Level singing this! I’ve watched every video!!
5 Somewhere (West Side Story)

- If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them?
A - You ARE enough!

- If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - John Kander (composer) - to talk about his musical influences, and hear his stories about his experiences!
Bernadette Peters (performer) - she is so kind. I met her very briefly once and she was as interested to hear about me as she was forthcoming about herself. Generous! I’d like to chat more!
David Krane (arranger/conductor) - I have been inspired by this man’s arrangements for years and would love to chat with him about all things musical, and life. The two go hand in hand I think. He came to a performance of The Boyfriend (Menier) and introduced himself. So humble and generous. I’d enjoy the full conversation …
I think these three people would get on around a dinner table!

- Was being a musical director/musical supervisor something you'd always wanted to do?
A - Yes, when I was 10 years old I knew it was something I WOULD do. And in London. Precocious much?! How could I have known …?

- How was it to be one of the youngest assistant “choreographers” (presumably you mean “conductors"?) in musical theatre when you joined Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard when you were aged 20?
A - I was the youngest. I’m very proud of that. And very grateful to David White for taking the risk, and giving me that opportunity. It was a crazy time for me! I knew nothing about the business, and had everything to learn! I had never been in a professional rehearsal room before, never mind conducted a performance. Most of the company were supportive, but there were definitely some troublesome personalities to navigate!

- You released your first album, The Courage of a Dreamer, back in 2015. How proud are you of that? (it's brilliant by the way!)
A - Thank you for your compliment! I am incredibly proud of this album! It’s very personal. It was born of a show I created in 2005, under the same name, but with some alternate material. I booked Angel Studios and my musicians, hired an orchestrator, fixed my singers, and off we went! Another huge learning curve! I never actually meant to release it. It was only meant to be a ‘learning project’ for me. The unmastered tracks sat on the shelf at Angel for 8 years before someone encouraged me to listen to them again. That same someone offered to mix the tracks so I could hear them as they were meant to be. We decided there was something there, so I had the album officially mixed and mastered, and finally released it! After the initial reactions from listeners I realised that my song choices perfectly mirrored my life up to that point. The final track The Chance To Sing was my Dad’s only request for his funeral service.

- You've been lucky enough to work in venues all around the world, which of those have been your favourites?
A - The Birmingham Hippodrome. It was my ‘local’ big theatre, and it is beautiful. The Theatre Royal, Newcastle has huge significance for me as it’s where my parents went on a first date, and I got to conduct West Side Story there. I conducted Sinatra in Symphony Hall, Birmingham. That hall is perfection. The sound is incredible. And the history of world-class artists who have played there before and after. The Coliseum, and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London are absolute Meccas of showbusiness. I am incredibly proud and humbled to have played those two venues. Onstage featured/solo pianist for Barbara Cook’s 80th birthday concert at the former, and for Sondheim’s 85th birthday at the latter.

- You offer sessions in conducting and vocal coaching as well as general sessions where you offer to help 'life coaching'. How rewarding is it to give back to others and help them going forwards?
A - It is hugely rewarding. I love to see the progress in the individual as they realise the talent within themselves, and develop their new skills in order to make full use of it. I have been vocal coaching since the beginning of my career, and my clients include musical theatre performers, pop artists and classical recording artists. The variety of styles is exciting. Working with my conducting students is particularly rewarding as this craft is all about THEIR feelings and interpretations of music. Learning how to express themselves fully in order to communicate their interpretation to others. We often get to know each other well and form strong bonds through this work, which leads to lifelong professional friendships. That’s the reward! To watch them shine, and to enjoy the friendships around the world.

- Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - I love food! Cooking, creating, eating! I also love walking in nature. I am very fortunate to live near open fields with stunning scenery.

Q - Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I used to play the French Horn.

I'd like to thank Simon for his time and for taking part in this interview. Please visit Simon's website http://simonbeckmusician.com/ to learn more about Simon, his career and what services he provides. You can also follow Simon on Twitter https://twitter.com/SimonGBeck
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