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Isolation Interviews: Rachel Dawson

Next up on my Isolation Interviews series, I have Rachel Dawson. Rachel is an actress and musician. She recently appeared in Amelie on it's UK tour and run at The Other Palace in London. Her previous credits include Once (Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch/New Wolsey Theatre), A Little Night Music (Watermill Theatre), A Christmas Carol (Northern Stage) and The Snow Queen (New Vic Theatre).

Q - What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - I remember seeing 'The Hunting of the Snark' in the West End - I must have been about four or five. My mum is a violinist and was playing in the pit. It was such an exciting spectacle and I was totally transported into the world. Unfortunately, the show was a bit of a flop and didn't run for long, but for a five-year-old, it was a memorable experience!

Q - What inspired you to get into theatre?
A - My family are all very musical, so I grew up surrounded by the arts. My Dad is a singer and spent his early career touring the works of Benjamin Britten with English Music Theatre Company. He set up a children's choir when I was young and put on annual musicals in the Easter holidays. That was my introduction into the world of theatre, and I loved it. I then kept it up at school, and as much as the cello was a big focus for me, I never felt like I could choose one over the other. Thankfully I discovered the world of actor-musicians!

Q - Who during your career has had the biggest impact on you?
A - Obviously, my parents have had a massive impact on me. Aside from them, one person that springs to mind is Sarah Travis. Sarah is so phenomenally talented as an MD/Orchestrator and an all-round legend in the actor muso world. My first time properly working with her was on A Little Night Music at the Watermill, one of my all-time favourite jobs. It is so wonderful to sit down with a new cast and start looking through the music, and for the arrangements to be so rich and clever. She has such a knack for using the actor-musician to their fullest potential and staying faithful to the original score. You have to work on your feet when rehearsing an actor-musician show, especially with a score that is as intricate as Sondheim. There are so many hurdles; the dancing, the moving of props, instrument porterage; the many complex logistics of having a cast of people doing it ALL. Sarah is never fazed by these things, and watching how she re-orchestrates on the hoof is extraordinarily impressive.

Q - What is your favourite musical movie?
A - West Side Story has to be up there, from the score to the choreography and all-round ingenuity. My guilty pleasure has to be Moulin Rouge.

Q - What are your favourite show tunes?
A - 'Somewhere'- West Side Story. The recent concert version by The John Wilson Orchestra at the proms in 2018 was incredibly special.
'My Lord and Master'- The King and I.
'Not a day goes by'- Merrily We Roll Along. Hard to choose just one Sondheim!
'As long as he needs me'- Oliver! Such happy memories from this production at The Watermill in 2015.
'Shadowland' - The Lion King. My week's work experience on this show when I was fifteen confirmed my desire to work in theatre.

The list could go on!

Q - If you could revive any show from the past what would you choose to revive?
A - I think it would have to be the John Doyle's 'Sweeney Todd' that originated at The Watermill and went on to have a life on both the West End and Broadway. I'm gutted I never saw it, and would love to play Mrs Lovett.

London Road is one of my favourite theatrical experiences, so I would love it to have another life.

Q -  If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them?
A - I'm not sure I would to be honest. When I was a teenager I vividly remember someone telling me that I could be whatever I wanted to be; that was incredibly freeing at that age. I think you have to look back at your choices with confidence and know that they all lead you to the here and now.

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 - Bette Midler, Angela Lansbury and Judi Dench. I mean- can you even imagine how incredible that night would be? And the wealth of stories you'd hear!

Q - If you could play any of your previous roles again, who would you choose to play?
A - When I was training I played Gussie in Merrily We Roll Along. It is one of my favourite memories of those years. I'd love the chance to be in that show professionally; to revisit it with the added life experience.

Q - You recently completed the UK Tour/Other Palace run of the wonderful production of Amelie. How was the experience?
A - It was emotional! In the beginning, it felt very challenging as we had a short rehearsal process. Then once the show was up and running at The Watermill, we reworked it entirely for the tour. It pushed us all, but I have very happy memories from The Watermill, bonding over what seemed like an almost impossible task at times. However, it was rewarded by incredible reactions from audiences; at The Watermill, on tour and finally at The Other Palace, which was a real gift at the end of all the hard work. The way the story touched people, and made connections, was always very humbling. I love theatre and storytelling as it unites people; it makes the world feel less vast and less lonely, giving comfort and strength. Amelie is a brilliant example of these things, and was so important to so many people, myself included.

Rachel (second from the right) and the cast of Amelie. Photo by Pamela Raith.

Q -  Is it a harder experience working on an actor-muso or is that a challenge you thrive on as you get to combine two skills you're great at?
A - I love actor muso work. It of course involves lots of memorising, multitasking and can at times feel overwhelming. However, when all the elements come together and you manage to waltz, whilst playing the cello and singing a totally different harmony, it feels incredibly satisfying. This to me is why the ensemble feeling amongst an actor muso company is like no other.

Q -  Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - I love yoga, swimming, getting lost in a really good book, and cooking/eating lovely food!

Q - Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I live by the seaside which is absolutely my favourite thing.

I'd like to thank Rachel for her time and for taking part in this interview. If you'd like to follow her you can via her Twitter

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