Interview from Issue 33 of Masquerade

No Way To Treat a Lady with Tim Flavin and Paul Bown

What is your musical background ?
I come from Lancashire and by the time I was six I was doing music festivals, standing up and singing in front of folk and I was fairly good at it And then my singing teacher became too old and frail to give me lessons and I tried another teacher but it didn't work out and I was all for giving it up. It was just a hobby, my passion was medicine, I wanted to be a brain surgeon! Then came word that this girl Sharon who was well known in the area as a singer and who had been away at teacher training college studying music, was coming back .to the village and she was going to be teaching. So I became her first pupil arid she became my mentor. She was at that age, halfway between me and my parents, ten years older than me, and she was a very strong influence on me. But it was still a hobby, I had no interest in theatre. We didn't go to the theatre, my parents were farmers. At the festivals people would ask me "who is your drama teacher?" and that planted a seed and I took a Drama Foundation course but there were too many distractions and academically I suffered. At the end of two years I had to make a decision where to go and I made up my mind I wanted to act not to sing. I wanted to go to an acting school. I didn't want to spend three years in a leotard. At this time I had never been to London and I was a bit terrified at the prospect and I didn't apply for the London schools. I got into a great school, Bristol Old Vie Theatre School, but looking back.. London I could have gone to all the theatres which is important when you are learning your craft but in Bristol there was just the two theatres. But it did give me a very good acting training and I knew I had done it the right way. I knew I could sing and with an acting degree on my CV it meant I could do either straight plays or musicals. That said I have done practically nothing but musical theatre!

What was your introduction to the West End?
Well I was very, very lucky. My second ever part was a lead. It was playing Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz at the Chichester Festival and the choreographer of Me and My Girt saw me. They were having difficulty in finding a Sally in Me and My Girl and they asked me. I stayed on and did a couple of plays at Chichester because they cast these things early and then there I was in the West End playing opposite Brian Conley and I had a fantastic time. And once you have been a leading lady you are seen as a leading lady and I was asked to do Lady Be Good at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park and because of those two roles I got seen and landed Julie in Carousel at the National. So luck and timing had an awful lot to do with it. Apparently Nick Hytner saw me and decided he had found his Julie but I wouldn't have been seen nor would I have had the confidence to do it if I hadn't landed those roles.

How different was it to do Carousel at the National and the Shaftesbury?
Size wise there was an enormous difference. The Lyttleton Theatre is hugs and the wing space is huge so they could truck on the sets in their entirety. The Shaftesbury is smaller and the wing space is phenomenally smaller and we lost some of the cast because we had problems finding a suitable theatre. So there was a hiatus and a four-month gap when we lost some of the cast and I think we suffered a little from that because they had managed to cast it so perfectly. And then we lost Michael Hayden to be replaced by Hal Fowler who was also very good. Very different but very good.

The sound was rather different ?
Well the National always want to use your abilities as an actor in all ways, to project yourself .so that your performance was all-important. Likewise with the sound. You had to use your skills and your expertise and to project basically. The National wanted a sound that didn't slam the audience in the face. It had to be proper theatre and you had to listen. I've been to so many musicals where the sound was so over the top and so artificial and it's a shame because you do come out with the impression that it's all just a bit false. And Carousel was wonderful in lots of ways because they had gone back to the book and it was much darker than earlier productions.

Was there no possibility of any of the rest of the cast going to Broadway as Michael Hayden had done?
Well I was a bit disappointed about that. We had taken on an American so we assumed that they would take at least one token member of our cast but it was not to be. But of course it would have meant doing Broadway rather than the West End.

That lead on to landing a part in A Little Night Music?
Yes I think so. Again directors had seen me in that I still had to do an audition of course but they probably had a bit of trust in me. A Little Night Music was an unusual experience, some very odd casting and Anne Egerman is a very hard part, a lot of effort for very little reward. Until then I seem to have done a lot of strong female roles, survivors, fighter, tragic heroines and that was a bit of a challenge. And the audience doesn't empathise with you at all. They just want to slap you and say "silly little chicken". She is standing in the way of the heroine getting her man and not just any heroine but Judy Dench! But it was great experience. And on the strength of those two roles, Richard Eyre asked me to play Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls and the biggest compliment an actor can get is someone asking you to play a role. He came up and said "on the strength of what you've done before will you play Sarah?". I went "you're asking me if I' II play it?!!!" And Guys and Dolls was just amazing, a brilliant production. I could have done it forever with joy. Of course, their earlier version had become legendary and it is difficult to try to re-create a legend. A director if he is going to do something with it must be able to turn it around and must be confident that he can cast it better. Vocally I think it was stronger the second time and we had Clive Rowe doing "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" which with its gospel feel was just stunning.

How was it work with Sondheim?
He was wonderful and strange at the same time. He can. be Very forceful. He gave some very, very specific notes about phrasing and the like. But he was supportive of me. He had seen me in Carousel and had liked what I had done and he acknowledged that Anne was a hard role. And just a small compliment, to say you're on the right lines, from Sondheim is terrific because I am a great fan of his work

Did not think of auditioning for Oklahoma ?
Well I wasn't seen for Oklahoma! Trevor (Nunn) came in and he had very much his own ideas about the show and the part of Laurey. You know how normally you have a double to do the dance sequence well Trevor had the idea to use the same girl. Interestingly Josefina Gabrielle who is playing Laurey was in Carousel with me and I could see then she was destined for greater things. And it would have been a bit like "oh, its her again" if I had got the part. I believe it was a good thing for this part (Bertrande) has challenged me more than I think Laurey would have. This has been a huge challenge especially vocally. I'm on stage most of the time and it's an emotional rollercoaster. The biggest job has been pacing myself to do eight shows a week. Bristol set me up very well for that though, they had a very work-a-day approach.

This is a very different Martin Guerre to the one that closed in London.,br>
Yes, I wouldn't have been interested in doing it if they hadn't convinced me that they were going to go back to the drawing board. Interestingly they weren't content just to let it go. They brought in an excellent new director in Conall Morrison. It was interesting to have an Irish director on a show dealing with a Protestant/ Catholic conflict! It was one of the most creative rehearsal periods I ever had and I was given so much room to contribute. I became part of the creative process and I was almost free to carve out the character of Bertrande. Alain (Boublil) and Claude-Michel (Schonberg) gave me the chance to make small changes and suggestions and I have never had that before. It was like they respected me and it was terrific. They realised that the emotional core was her story and they built on that.

By touring production standards, this one is pretty impressive.,br> I'm glad to hear it! But this really is a new show. There is so little of the original it is rather like a new show based on the same story. You see in this business if you are interested in playing principal roles you have to be very careful how many take-overs you do. When I say take- overs I mean stepping into a role in a show that has been running for a long time. In the West End if you do that you get known as a take-over person. So with some of the long running shows they have real difficulty casting them so you tend to get much younger, less experienced people playing the roles. I am not suggesting that they are not capable just less experienced. So you end up with people like Gareth Snook and Maurice Clarke appearing in a show like this where they get the chance to create a new role.

Is there (my chance of getting to Broadway this time7
I doubt it. We are going to London although only for six weeks but I believe they are already casting for Broadway and I haven't been approached. I am not sure I would have it in me by then having done a show this demanding for a year

You did the Musical of the Year competition a couple of year's back.,br> Yes that was really interesting. We were over in Denmark and we had this great group of actors and it was a real experience. I really thought that The Three Musketeers would make it in the West End it was such a super show and a great score but nothing seems to have happened. I cannot understand why the work of George Stiles is not better known. He is just such a great writer. The work he has done for Peter Pan is just amazing

What about No Way Treat A Lady?,br> Well I did it because I liked the piece and it was a new writer and it was absolutely dished by the critics. Not one writer said "this piece has flaws but this guy has potential" It was very low budget and we had a very strong cast on the strength of the piece.

How did you enjoy doing Hey Mr Producer?
It was just wonderful. The chance to do a little piece of Carousel again, especially the porch scene which is very special to me. And with a fifty-piece orchestra, bloody hell! But when the strings start it gets me every time. And what an amazing event I have never been an autograph collector but there was this one dressing room and it had Julie Andrews, Judi Dench, Berndette Peters, Elaine Paige, Julia McKenzie. It was amazing and I went in there and I just had to get autographs and what was really sweet was that Judi Dench turned around and said "I'm doing the same!"

Masquerade is published by Mike Gibb, 32 Woodhill Road, Aberdeen,Scotland. Tel: 00 44 (1) 224 313113
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