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REVIEW My Fair Lady, Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

There are few things more magical than a classic Hollywood musical: a lavish spectacle with characters to adore and songs to die for. And there are few more beloved than My Fair Lady, one of the last golden age musicals, in which a snooty phonetics professor vows to transform a Cockney flower girl into an English rose. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion, the film starred Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins and featured iconic Lerner & Loewe songs like ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’. It’s a classic for a reason – and, direct from the West End, the Lincoln Center’s dazzling new revival is here to remind us just how loverly a show this is.

Charlotte Kennedy and the My Fair Lady ensemble (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Lerner & Lowe also brought us the musical delights of Camelot, Gigi, and Brigadoon (not to mention the vastly underrated Paint Your Wagon) – but it’s easy to see why My Fair Lady is their most beloved work. Directed by Bartlett Sher (helmer of the critically-acclaimed revival of The King and I), this new production – the first major revival in fifteen years – comes with revitalised sets, costumes and musical arrangements. The score has never sounded as magnificent does here under the musical direction of Alex Parker, and you won’t find a finer chorus this side of the Edwardian era.

Michael D. Xavier, Heather Jackson and Charlotte Kennedy (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Having made her professional debut in Les Miserables in the West End, Charlotte Kennedy puts her own instantly-iconic spin on the beloved character of Eliza Doolittle. Her powerful voice and equally powerful performance makes her the beating heart of every scene she’s in – and her hilarious conversation with the aristos in Ascot is truly one for the ages.

Michael D. Xavier, Charlotte Kennedy and John Middleton in My Fair Lady (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Two-time Olivier Award nominee Michael D. Xavier (who performed opposite Glenn Close to great acclaim in Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard revival) brings a haughty charm to Henry Higgins, pitched somewhere between David Tennant and Dickie Attenborough. Xavier brings a beautifully self-aware silliness to the totally oblivious Prof, especially in ‘An Ordinary Man’ and ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face’. His rapport with Emmerdale’s John Middleton as Colonel Pickering is especially fun to watch – and their ‘Eureka!’ moment with Kennedy during ‘The Rain in Spain’ is a joy.

Adam Woodyatt and the My Fair Lady ensemble (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

EastEnders’ Adam Woodyatt is perfectly cast as the lovably roguish Alfred P. Doolittle, a role he was born to play – in his hands, ‘With a Little Bit of Luck’ is delightfully puckish, but it’s the barnstorming ‘Get Me to the Church On Time’, culminating in an exceedingly camp can-can, which really brings the house down. Woodyatt flexed his dramatic chops the last time he performed in Cardiff, to great effect – but it’s brilliant to see him really let loose here.

Lesley Garrett, Michael D. Xavier, Charlotte Kennedy and John Middleton in My Fair Lady (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Tom Liggins brings a boyish charm to Freddy Eynsford-Hill (and a sublime rendition of ‘On the Street Where You Live’) while Heather Jackson, known to many as the West End’s Madame Giry (The Phantom of the Opera), brings gravitas even in just a few scenes as Mrs Higgins, as does world famous soprano wonderful Lesley Garrett, who – if slightly under-utilised – brings warmth to the role of Mrs Pearce, and lends her beautiful voice to some of the show’s best numbers. And kudos to Tom Pring for stealing scenes as a sardonic butler.

The My Fair Lady ensemble in full swing (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Michael Yeargan’s sets are nothing short of an architectural marvel and make an ingenious use of the Millennium Centre’s impressive stage. Especially extraordinary is the way in which Higgins’ luxurious London townhouse rotates during musical numbers to show off an elegant hall, a stylish study, a chic bathroom and a leafy alcove within which an amorous young couple meet by midnight. The sets transport you from the East End to the Embassy Ball, aided by Catherine Zuber’s exquisite costumes which capture every inch of the scale and grandeur of the classic film.

The My Fair Lady ensemble dressed to the nines for a day at the races (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

While there are a few aspects that might benefit from a modern touch – the decision to keep all of Higgins’ unpleasantness towards Eliza does threaten to undercut the budding romance and has an impact on how you view the ending – the sheer talent on display makes My Fair Lady an unmissable night of sumptuous entertainment. With a little bit of luck, you’ll not only have a bloomin’ loverly time, but you’ll dance all night too!

Touring throughout the UK, My Fair Lady is performing at the Wales Millennium Centre for 3 weeks only from 9 – 26 November. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

GET THE CHANCE INTERVIEWS ROBERT WILFORT ON SPIKE (UK TOUR)

Get the Chance Community Critic Barbara Hughes-Moore speaks with actor Robert Wilfort, who plays the title role in SPIKE, a new play by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman which charts the rise of Spike Milligan and The Goons. Milligan was the head writer and one third of The Goons, a working-class British comedy trio which also comprised Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe (and, later, Michael Bentine), who took the nation by storm in the 1950s. Despite frequent run-ins with the BBC, The Goons’ avant-garde silliness inspired countless comedic greats from Monty Python to Mischief Theatre. The UK tour ends its run in Cardiff, playing at the New Theatre from 22 – 26 November (you can find out more about the production and book tickets here). Robert chats about what it’s like to play such a beloved icon of British comedy, and why Spike aficionados and newcomers alike will leave the theatre laughing!

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today, Robert!

Thank you for having me.

Tell us a little bit about SPIKE.

The Spike of the title is Spike Milligan, played by me. It’s a new play written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman written about Spike and The Goons, particularly focusing on the time round about when they were starting to become popular in the 1950s. For those of you who don’t know who Spike Milligan is, he’s a hugely influential comedian, writer, poet, performer who burst onto the scene in the early 1950s with this anarchic radio comedy show called The Goons which was quite unlike anything that came before it. It was hugely popular and hugely influential, so this play is exploring the development of that time and a celebration of his work.

How surreal does the play get? The Goons toyed with that kind of comedy.

They did! They were absolutely mad; they took these huge surreal logical leaps. We’re not too surreal: we try to tell the real story of his life, but we do have some fun surreal moments in the playing of it. Spike breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience quite a lot, and the staging is quite fast and fluid, and funny, strange things happen; we mix scenes together. There is a nice surreal thread running through the show.

How do you bring that into the creative process: is the comedy quite regimented or do you keep it quite loose?

We keep it fairly loose – if we interact with the audience we do have room to go off a bit, but we do tend to stick to the script! It’s a great script – the play is very fast and snappy so that was the thing we were trying to capture the most, because The Goons have a huge energy to them. Most of their clips are on BBC Sounds. They’re fast, snappy, they don’t let up with the jokes and we try to capture that energy in the play. If you don’t like one joke, there’s always another one along in a minute! I think what Ian and Nick wanted particularly to capture is that, when we see things on tv that talk about comedian’s life it’s often quite dark, tears of a clown – and Spike did have that side to him; he did have that side to him. He got shell shocked in WWII and had serious mental health issues throughout this life which he was always very honest about. We deal with them but we don’t dwell on them: the tone of the show is joyful and silly and happy, because I think that’s what people need at the moment.

Was it important then to bring those two tones together in the show?

That’s been the big challenge: finding when Spike is ‘on’, which he kind of always was. He was always funny and always telling jokes, he just couldn’t help it. But he could also be quite argumentative and difficult to work with and worked himself into a breakdown. He used to write an episode a week, thirty episodes in a series, and he pretty much did it on his own. It was his passion project, so he would just work and work and work. We showed the effect this had on his marriage. For me as a performer it was about finding the moments of being real as opposed to the jokes.

There are a lot of jokes, a lot of Spike’s jokes – Ian and Nick will freely say that they wrote this show because half of it was written already! We do also act out parts of Goons’ shows as well, with the microphones as if we’re recording them. So there’s a lot of original Spike material in there. It was all about finding the pattern, finding a real person in amongst all the jokes and the tomfoolery.

How do you even begin to approach playing a real person who is so eccentric, unique and beloved? What is your way into that?

When I was offered it, I thought ‘what a great part!’ then I started to get slightly worried because he’s one of the funniest people who has ever been – no pressure! I tried not to let that worry me too much. It helped that I was a fan and I knew his work, my dad was a big fan and he grew up listening to it first time around. I felt like I knew the style of the comedy and then I read and watched a lot about him. I knew his performing style but I wanted to try and find footage of him from the time. I think a lot of people have an image of him as a grumpy old man figure, but he was quite young when he started. So it was about trying to capture his energy and essence without trying to do a picture perfect impression. It’s our version of Spike, our story we’re telling. Ad it was really good fun to research – lots of silly videos!

How do you interact with the other cast members playing The Goons, and get that sense of camaraderie?

Luckily, everyone in the company is really lovely and naturally funny themselves, so it hasn’t been that much of a challenge to look like we’re having fun. It’s about getting the speed and the timing right so it feels like it’s flowing. We have some scenes where they are just messing about in the pub, because that’s how it started (and how a lot of great comedy starts: good friends messing around together in a pub!) Jeremy who plays Harry Secombe is fantastic; Paddy Warner who plays Peter Sellers is fantastic too – so it’s not been hard, we just kind of keep throwing things around and see what works. We still try and play around with it, never try to do it exactly the same every night but tweak it a bit and catch the other person off a little bit. It’s about trying to make other people laugh!

Is that one of the joys of touring this kind of show? That you not only play the different interpretations on the stage every night but different audiences react differently?

They do! That’s the fun: that every theatre presents a new challenge, and a different space and size. You have a different experience depending on where you are. We definitely notice that different towns have different feelings to them – I’m sure Cardiff’s going to be the best, though!

All my friends and family are coming to the Cardiff shows – I’m from Porthcawl so I grew up only half an hour down the road.

Have you ever performed in Cardiff before?

I haven’t performed onstage in Cardiff since I was in the National Youth Theatre – I’ve done TV and radio in Cardiff since but never a play, so I’m really looking forward to it. We’re there the last week in November, we finish on the 26th.

Just before Christmas!

Come and do your Christmas shopping on Queen Street and then see our show – it’s a great day out!

The Goons in 1956

Even if people didn’t grow up with The Goons, they will have grown up with those who were influenced by them, like Monty Python, Mischief Theatre and the Horrible Histories crew.

We acknowledge that at the end of the play, actually: just how many people have been influenced by him. The Goons started in 1950, so you had people like John Lennon and Paul McCartney listening to it, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, as well as all of the Pythons. I don’t think you would have had Monty Python and all of these people without Spike. You can hear the influences in later classic sketches, like ‘Don’t tell him your name, Pike!’, there’s a version of that on The Goons twenty years before Dad’s Army. People would gather round listen to it on the radio. It was like the rock and roll of comedy: the parents didn’t understand it, but they did. I think Ian and Nick thought Spike may have been forgotten – I’ve actually explained who he was to a lot of people my age.

Is that part of the impetus behind the show: to find out more about this person who influenced so much?

Yes! Also, it was an interesting and important time: all the Goons were in the army, and they would go and entertain the troops. The Second World War helped to create this whole generation of working-class actors, writers and performers. I can’t think of the same happening now: three working-class lads having their own sketch show seems like it would be rare now. It was an interesting and important time, and we want to celebrate that. Spike died 20 years ago, a whole generation have grown up not really knowing him, other than maybe doing his poems at school. We have had all ages in the audience! It’s a good night out for anyone whether you know the Goons or not.

Why is theatre suited to telling this story?

You get the instant reaction, the laughter. It could absolutely work as a TV project, it might have originated as that. Because there’s been no theatre for such a long time, and because there’s that communal feeling you can sense as the show goes on. Being in a space with other people all enjoying the same thing, I don’t think anything is quite like that.

What’s your favourite moment that’s happened so far?

We had a couple of drunk ladies in the front row the other week! That’s the joy of live performance – they were really enjoying it, and joining in. we had a strange moment in Brighton where a few kids broke into the theatre and were running around the royal boxes trying not to get caught! That’s all part of the joy: you never know quite what’s going to happen. The best moment for me is just having an audience being happy and entertained.

What makes you laugh like that? Who are your comedy influences?

My favourites are Vic and Bob! They were my heroes, along with people like Chris Morris (The Day Today, Brass Eye) and Steve Coogan. They have a special place in my heart: pure silliness, pure nonsense.

Speaking of Chris Morris, I often quote “Peter, you’ve lost the news!” out of context, totally unprompted. Do you have a favourite Spike Milligan joke that you find yourself dropping into conversation?

His poems always make me laugh: he has one that goes ‘There was a young man called Wyatt, whose voice was incredibly quiet, and then one day, it faded away, [mimes the rest of the line silently]’. It’s always the strange experimental moments in The Goons that make me laugh most: there’s a scene where a spy has been sent to the Secret Rendezvous, and the code is to knock the door six thousand times. It goes on for ages and the knocks get faster, then the door opens and he asks ‘Is this the Tea House of the Orchard Moon’? ‘No, next door’, and then he does it all over again! What the show deals with is how much Spike had to fight the BBC to get stuff like that on, because the bigwigs at the BBC didn’t understand the comedy. The core of the play is Spike’s battle with the BBC to get the show, and its special effects, how he wanted it.

He ended up transforming BBC sound effects. He’d ask for the most ridiculous things like Big Ben falling off Beachy Head, or a Wurlitzer organ travelling through the desert as fast as it can go. He was constantly pushing and challenging, and out of that came the radiophonic workshop and all the amazing things they did on Dr Who. He wasn’t just an influence on comedy but on radio and sfx as well.

What do you think is the secret of comedy: is it that boundary-breaking rebellion against authority that Spike embodied so well?

I think it is that. It can be saying the least expected thing or breaking the boundaries. Spike would find the surreal or the silly in anything: any turn of phrase he could make a pun out of. I think it is having a way that looks at the world that turns it on its head, that makes it come to your point of view. It doesn’t have to be taboo busting, though there is a place for that in comedy.

Spike wasn’t an overnight success: like all the best kind of artists, he spent years out on the comedy circuit and then people slowly came round to his style. I think the world came to Spike as opposed to the other way round; he didn’t emerge fully formed. He was aways funny; his war memoirs are always a great read because they’re very silly.

He has a joke even on his grave – “I told you I was ill!” – there’s not many people who could do that, and make you laugh long after they’re no longer with us.

And there’s not many people who could have got away with saying what he did to Prince Charles!

What do you want audiences to come out of this play, this theatrical comedy experience, to feel when they leave the theatre?

If we send people out there to explore his work who maybe wouldn’t have before, and to go back to The Goons as a lot of people haven’t listened to them. We just want to send people out happy, really. I want people to go out and say “That was the best actor I’ve ever seen in my entire life! Nothing will ever top that!” Send them out happy, and then dip their toes into this amazing world of comedy.

I’m sure they will, Robert – we can’t wait to see SPIKE!

Please come and see us, we’re really looking forward to Cardiff. My mum’s bringing a coachload of her friends to the Wednesday matinee. Fifty pensioners from Porthcawl!

I don’t think you could have a better audience!

The UK tour of SPIKE ends its run in Cardiff, playing at the New Theatre from 22 – 26 November (you can find out more about the production and book tickets here).

REVIEW Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

The buoy band that breams were made of! Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical, written by Amanda Whittington and directed by James Grieve, is based on the true ragfish-to-riches story of the best Cornish export since the pasty: an acapella group comprised of local fishermen whose chart-topping rise to fame saw them playing the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2011. The musical, which draws on the screenplay for the 2019 film starring James Purefoy and Daniel Mays, includes a raft of sea shanties (including lockdown TikTok sensation Wellerman) alongside original songs written for the show by musical director James Findlay. Having premiered in Plymouth in September, the UK tour drops anchor in Cardiff this week.

The UK touring cast of Fisherman’s Friends 2022

The story centres around the band’s discovery by Jason Langley’s Danny, a disgraced record producer who wants to use the Fishermen for his comeback, and who ends up falling for them hook, line and sinker. With the team at Island Records sceptical of the band being able to find an audience, Danny lies his way to London with the Fishermen in tow. A classic fish out of water, Langley’s interactions with the Fishermen – and his budding romance with Alywyn (Parisa Shahmir), ‘The Taylor Swift of Port Isaac’ – are hugely entertaining to watch.

The UK touring cast of Fisherman’s Friends 2022

This is in no small part due to the energy and enthusiasm of this wonderful cast, who are onstage together for most of the show. Kudos to the actors who play the titular Fishermen: James Gaddas, Robert Duncan, Anton Stephans, John O’Mahony, Hadrian Delacey, Dan Buckley, Dominic Brewer, and the double act of Dakota Starr and Pete Gallagher who won the toughest-fought battle of ‘having the most fun onstage’ I’ve seen in a while. (You can check out our interview with Dakota here). Mind you, everyone onstage (and in the audience) lit up during the scene where the Fishermen hit the Soho club scene – and if you were wondering whether you can disco-ify a sea shanty, then wonder no more.

The UK touring cast of Fisherman’s Friends 2022

The team have done an excellent job at translating the story and sense of place to the stage. St Piran’s Day is duly celebrated and Bodmin duly sassed, and Lucy Osborne’s gorgeous set took my breath away when the curtain went up, and the spectacular opening scene – where the Fishermen sing ‘Norman’s Blood’ on a stormy ocean – is something you truly have to see (or ‘sea’?) for yourself. With such a huge cast, the show nails both the raucous group numbers (like the jolly ‘South Australia’ and any scene in the Golden Lion pub) and intimate two-handers (like the first tentative steps of courtship between Langley and Shahmir, where they circle slowly around each other singing ‘Sloop John B’). Meanwhile, Cornish actors like Susan Penhaligon and Robert Duncan bring a sense of mischief, gravitas and authenticity, and Shahmir lends grace and passion to the stage in ‘A Village by the Sea’.

The UK touring cast of Fisherman’s Friends 2022

The sense of warmth and affection among the cast is sure to reel you in, as will the top-notch singing – these shanties have never sounded better. While you might struggle to remember every Steinman lyric or Osmonds riff, these call-and-response songs are easy to pick up and sing along to – the pitcher sings a verse, and everyone joins in on the chorus. Shanties originated as working men’s songs, designed to help sailors keep to a strict rhythm during everyday tasks on the ship, and to keep up morale. So if you’re feeling even the teensiest bit down in the dumps, a couple of bars of ‘John Kanaka’, ‘Drunken Sailor’, or ‘Blow the Man Down’ is sure to lift you up.

There really is something for everyone in this show. The songs have a sense of history and humour that make them a rich live experience. As one character says: these songs are for anyone with a heart, a soul, and a taste for adventure. Set sail for Fisherman’s Friends and you’re sure to have a fin-tastic time!

Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical is playing at New Theatre in Cardiff through to 29th October (you can find out more about the production and book tickets here).

The UK touring cast of Fisherman’s Friends 2022

PREVIEW AN INSPECTOR CALLS, NEW THEATRE 18-22 OCTOBER

This is a syndicated interview for An Inspector Calls, which is performing at Cardiff’s New Theatre from 18-22 Oct 2022. The death of a young woman at a high-class dinner party summons Inspector Goole to the scene of the crime in JB Priestley’s classic thriller. Stephen Daldry’s multi award-winning National Theatre production returns to embark on a sweeping UK. Stars George Rowlands and Evlyne Oyedokun, discuss why it’s the ultimate theatrical thriller.

Did you study An Inspector Calls at school? If so, did you enjoy it when you first read it? Do you think your appreciation of the play is different as an adult?

George: I did read it at school, although I can’t really remember much of it. But I did always like it. I always think at school when you sit down and analyse every single word it can make you go a bit crazy, and I always thought it ruined books and plays. But now that I’m an adult, or more importantly now that I’m an actor, I definitely have more of an appreciation for it.

Evelyn: I actually didn’t study An Inspector Calls at school, I studied To Kill A Mockingbird. I’d heard about An Inspector Calls but I didn’t really know what it was, or really anything about it. It wasn’t until I got this audition that I actually read the play for the first time, and I still didn’t quite understand it. It took me a while to realise how many layers this play actually has.

This production of An Inspector Calls is now 30 years old and yet still as popular as ever. What do you think makes the play so timeless and this production so engaging?
Evelyn: Well, the fact that is has three timelines helps. It’s set across three timelines – you’ve got 1912 which is where the play is set, then you’ve got the future, which is the Blitz, 1945, and then you’ve also got the current now, 2022. It’s amazing. You’re flicking through the past, present and the now constantly, and it’s so reflective on humanity so it makes it so relevant, and people can really see themselves.

George: At the end of the day, at its centre it’s a play about somebody in distress, and that doesn’t get old, does it? I think at different points in time when we’ve put it on over the last 30 years, it’s been relevant. And this time around I think it’s more relevant than ever because of what’s going on in terms of the strike action and housing crisis.

Can you tell me three facts about your character?

George: Eric is well educated because he’s been sent to public school. He enjoys a drink, probably a little bit too much. The third fact is that Eric really wants to be respected by, namely his dad. Unfortunately, the combination of those three facts results in some pretty catastrophic things.

Evelyn: Three facts about Sheila… well she’s absolutely besotted with Gerald. She is very self-absorbed and in her own world, as she’s been brought up that way. She absolutely adores clothes. It’s hard to give facts without spoiling it!

What made you want to be an actor?

Evelyn: Oh gosh! With me, I actually didn’t ever want to be an actor, it happened by accident. From a young age I was struggling with people, and I never really spoke – I was pretty much mute to people I didn’t really know. My mum advised me to go and see a youth company at the weekends, so I did that, and I didn’t realise how natural it was to act as it is to live in the real world. I was a lot freer. That’s how I realised it’s the only thing I can do. Drama school taught me how to speak, and acting taught me how to be more of a human than I ever was.

George: I think it beat doing any other boring job. I did find out quite early on in Year 6, for the end of school plays we did Wizard of Oz and I completely rewrote the script because I thought it was rubbish, and obviously made my parts the best. I like storytelling and I like the creative and artistic aspect of it. With this production it has enabled that part of acting, and it’s been a really good creative process.

What’s the best part of about going on tour with a show?

Evelyn: It’s exciting to share a relevant story with so many people. We come to you guys, and you stay where you are.

George: Being able to play in these amazing theatres, I’m really excited to do that, and bringing the story to people.

Do you have any particular venues on this tour that you’re most excited to visit?

Evelyn: To be honest my main one would probably be New Wimbledon Theatre because it’s the one my mum will get to see.

George: Well, I’m excited about them all. But Bromley Churchill Theatre I have a funny connection with because I did a play there last year, in the studio. I was doing Macbeth at the time, and I think Jon Bishop was playing above us. They’d hired security and there were loads of people, and we were underneath doing sweaty Shakespeare in a room. And now cut to a year later and I’ve gone up, literally upstairs. I’m excited to do that, and I also love Bromley as I lived there for a while.

What advice would you give me about going on tour? Are there any essentials to have in your dressing room, or top tips for making yourself feel at home in each town/city?

Evelyn: I’m really bad at this stuff, a lot of people tend to make their dressing rooms cosy with nice blankets and things. I just bring everything that I have in my bag and that’s pretty much it. Some people put up fairy lights and flowers, but for me I’m very simple. With autism, as long as I’ve got really comfy clothes, a phone charger and headphones to cancel out sound, I’m all good.

George: I’m sharing a room with Simon who’s playing Gerald. I don’t know… I think a bottle of water goes a long way. A bottle of water and some Vaseline is not a terrible idea – for the lips, obviously. I get chapped lips.

What’s the most challenging part of being a performer?

Evelyn: For me it’s not being able to see your work or the story you’re creating because you’re so involved and living in the moment of it. You don’t really see the end result. I feel that the end result is mainly the response from the audience, if they got the story then we’ve done our job. I think that’s the most challenging part of it.

George: With other jobs you can put a direct amount of work in, you can work more, you can do this this and this and your results will be better because of it. Like if you’re studying for an exam, the more you revise the better the result. But with acting it doesn’t work like that because being good is so subjective – there’s no grade. I think that’s quite hard. Putting lots of work in and not knowing really how it will go.

Evelyn: One of the sayings at RADA was, ‘plan it, know it and forget it’ – it’s the hardest thing to do, but it’s the most rewarding thing to do.

If you could swap roles with the other person for a performance, would you?

Evelyn: If I had to be someone out of all the characters it would definitely be the inspector, because I’m obsessed with crime documentaries and serial killers, everything to do with murder, unsolved murder, unsolved mysteries, death row, all of that! I’ve pretty much seen everything and I rewatch it to
go to sleep.

George: If I could pick any character I’d probably pick Edna. I would love to play the role of Edna. If you haven’t seen this production, there’s a special thing that Edna is part of – a little bit of magic. She’s amazing. My second choice would be Mrs Birling. I really like Mrs Birling, she’s got such sass, and doesn’t have the insecurities that Eric is stuck with.

An Inspector Calls is playing at Cardiff’s New Theatre from 18-22 Oct 2022. You can find out more about the production and book tickets here.

Barbara Hughes-Moore interviews Rhys Jennings on When Darkness Falls

Get the Chance Community Critic Barbara Hughes-Moore speaks with actor Rhys Jennings, who is part of the touring cast for the When Darkness Falls. This spooky stage thriller is written by James Milton and Paul Morrissey, and is based around the legend of ‘Guernsey’s Ghosts’. The show is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 11 – 15 October (you can find out more about the production and book tickets here). Rhys chats about understudying the two lead roles, how the cast keeps it fun behind the scenes, and why you might just walk away from the show believing in ghosts yourself…

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Thank you for taking the time to sit down and speak with me today, Rhys.

Thanks, Barbara!

Tell us a little bit about When Darkness Falls.

When Darkness Falls is a two-hander ghost story set in the modern day but which brings up lots of stories of the past and hauntings and ghosts. It’s set on the island of Guernsey, so it takes all this local mythology and weaves it into a two act play over the course of one night. It aims to provoke debate about what ghosts are and what the paranormal is, but also with a few scares. It’s good fun!

So what is your role in the play and how did you get involved?

So I have a very interesting role. As I said, it’s a two hander and I am the solo understudy in this show. So it’s your classic two hander where you get an older and a younger actor so they needed someone halfway between through the two! It’s a very odd experience, actually: I’ve done a lot of understudying before, but this is basically an entire play, and you’re always on edge in case someone gets ill or is off, and up you go with not much rehearsal.

It’s really interesting, and it’s lovely to be part of such a small company as well, this is a very tight-knit group of people. We’re only a few weeks into the tour at the moment and everyone’s very close, and it’s a really fun company to be part of.

Peter Duncan and Daniel Rainford in When Darkness Falls

How do you manage to keep it fun behind the scenes when you’re in such a scary show?

I think the guys have really managed to just enjoy the text of it, because there’s lots of storytelling which could easily become very drab and dreary. It’s about two people interacting with one another, and how a story can trigger more memories. It’s been really fun to be part of that process and to be able to offer some input as well to the guys as they work.

Do you have a favourite role out of the two?

It’s tricky! Peter Duncan, who is famous for many things but many have a soft spot for his Blue Peter days, is playing the older part, and there’s an incredible young actor in his 20s called Daniel Rainford. So I think perhaps you’d put me in the younger part but I’m looking forward to one day playing the sort of roles Peter Duncan does. I do overall prefer the older role that is a storyteller and who has a bit of a mental breakdown throughout the course of the night. That’s more interesting to me, I think.

Have you performed at the New Theatre before?

I’ve performed in Cardiff before but never at the New Theatre! I’m really looking forward to coming to Cardiff, because I trained at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. It’s really nice to make a return visit because I haven’t done anything that’s come back to Wales for a good few years. I’m really excited to show the guys in the company around Cardiff.

Daniel Rainford and Peter Duncan in When Darkness Falls

What do you think Welsh audiences will take from the show?

While it’s set in Guernsey, it has a similar bucolic, rural feel and a lot of similar folklore and ghost stories. I think Welsh audiences will enjoy it for that. It’s quite a universal debate the characters are having over the course of the evening about what a ghost is: sometimes it’s repressed trauma and guilt, so a lot of that is very universal. It’s an interesting thing to watch.

Without spoiling anything, is there a particular moment you would want audiences to look out for?

That’s a really good question, because it’s one of those plays where audiences might think they know what’s going on – but if they pay attention they’ll be able to see the ending. It’s a bit like an Agatha Christie mystery: if you’re canny enough, by the end you get that real satisfaction of figuring out the ending. So listen and see if you can pick out a few of those themes that are repeated. Do a bit of detective work as an audience!

That’s a great challenge to give audiences! What do you think the secret is to make a good thriller in the theatre?

It is tricky! I think it’s all about suspense and rhythm, and also having two little stories going on: one where the audience might know a little more than the characters at certain moments and vice versa. It’s about who has the information, and you can gift that to an audience, make them feel that they know something that even the characters don’t. That can be really exciting for a thriller. Or you can have an object that has been in the background the whole play, and eventually pays off – in fact, we might have one of those in ours!

Peter Duncan and Daniel Rainford in When Darkness Falls

The last ‘spooky’ show I saw at the New Theatre was Ghost Stories, which was also made into a film – I didn’t sleep for a month!

I was involved in the film! I had a very last minute call from my agent asking me to fill in for an actor on the day of the cast readthrough. I’m still fairly early in my career, and I’m not in the finished film, but I was reading lines with Martin Freeman and all these amazing actors. I don’t know how I managed to get a ticket into that room, but that was a great experience.

So you were like a ghost: an unseen presence that kept the whole thing going?

Yes! I like the acting profession for all these strange little moments you have – it’s never boring. I straddle a bit of writing, a bit of acting and voiceover, and I like constantly dipping my toe into different things. You get all these strange, wonderful little anecdotes.

Does being involved in such different mediums – film, voiceover, theatre – give you different shades of ‘acting’?

Yes, and the things you learn from one thing help you in another. I got very into puppetry for a while and toured the world doing it, and it’s only much later when you’re doing something more text-based, that you suddenly realise the connections. Through the course of your career start putting things together in unexpected ways. It’s really fun. We’ll be performing in Guernsey a couple of weeks after Cardiff, and it’ll be interesting to see what different audiences react to. Different places have a different sense of humour. I’m really excited to see how Cardiff audiences will respond to it!

Daniel Rainford in When Darkness Falls

Is there something that really surprised you about being part of this show?

In the early part, I thought it was going to be very lonely as there’s not many people backstage. And while it can be lonely at times, I’m surprised by how much warmth and humour there is; a real camaraderie to the show and I feel very included in that. Theatre can sometimes be quite hierarchical: my first job was understudying in a show that had enormous stars all the way down to new graduates fresh out of Drama School, and there was quite a lot of hierarchy to that. Here, though there’s a difference in age between all of us, it feels like we’re working on this together. Especially after everything we’ve been through the last few years, it’s nice to be part of a family again.

What’s it like working with a household name like Peter Duncan?

I’m not quite in the generation that grew up with Peter, but in my generation of Blue Peter presenters they would talk about his adventures, like him scaling Big Ben. There are lots of stories and ancedotes that Peter is just brilliant at: listening to him, you get the sense that Peter would go over to someone and say ‘I’ll give you a Blue Peter badge if you help my friend’. It feels like a skill we could all do with!

What’s coming up for you after this tour?

I’ve spent a long time writing a musical called The Wicker Husband, which opened at the Watermill Theatre earlier this year, and hopefully it will have a future life as it’s a beautiful thing. Do keep an eye out for it: it’s about an old basket maker deep in the swamp who weaves creatures out of wicker who come to life, and he weaves a beautiful husband for a girl who everyone thinks is ugly, so much so that she thinks herself that she’s ugly. Throughout the course of this beautiful musical, she learns that there’s no such thing as ugly; that ugliness isn’t something you can see.

Three words that sum up When Darkness Falls for you.

Surprising, suspenseful, curious.

Do you believe in ghosts?

Do you?

Yes.

Do you really? That line actually pops up in the play.

Do you think that audiences will believe in ghosts after this show?

I think those that are skeptical will be more open to the idea that ghosts can mean. ‘What are ghosts?’ is an interesting question to go in with.

Thank you, Rhys – we can’t wait for the show!

INTERVIEW WITH JAY OSMOND, THE OSMONDS: A NEW MUSICAL UK TOUR

What follows is Vicky Edwardssyndicated interview with Jay Osmond.

Jay Talking
They say you should never meet your heroes, but seriously? I mean, asking a 70s kid to interview an ACTUAL Osmond? The guy who sang Crazy Horses?  WILD horses wouldn’t have stopped me.

Any fears about heroes having feet of clay prove unfounded. Jay Osmond is lovely.  Meeting me to chat about the World premiere of The Osmonds: a New Musical, I’m curious about the show he calls a ‘living memoir.’

“I wrote this book called Stages about my life. It turned into more of a travelogue, so I always wanted to do a backstage version that included not only the good times, but the bad and sad times too,” he explains.

A friend and producer of Jay’s had an idea. “He said ‘why don’t you write a living memoir and put it on stage?’ And I thought ‘Exactly!’ I have always loved the stage – for me it was one last frontier to conquer.

“I wrote it from the heart. It was hard; I had to play my drums a lot to get my emotions out, but it all boiled down to this: why did we do what we did? It was because we wanted to help people; to use those talents to do some good in the world. I wanted to put that purpose into the show. I think you can do almost anything in life if you have a purpose.”

And you’d need a sense of purpose to get 30+ songs and Jay’s story into a two-hour production.

“It was a challenge,” he admits. “It’s about the four brothers who were at the start. I was one of them. The story starts at the 50th anniversary and then goes way back. Each of us has a different perspective, so this is very much my perspective; hard times, fun times, why we did what we did and how we did it as a family.”

The result is a show that, by all accounts, has broad appeal. Great music and a great story, in which Jay pulls back the curtain to reveal the real family behind all these hits – parents George and Olive Osmond and their nine children; it taps into something richer and is a show that will speak to everyone.

Shrugging modestly, Jay concedes only that “Our music really is multi-generational.”

He’s more effusive, however, about the show’s creative team, praising them and recalling the moment during the workshopping process when he realised that they had created something special.  

“To see people laugh, cry and sing along – I knew then that it would work. We have been so blessed with the talented people involved.”

Jay started his barbershop quartet with Brothers Alan, Wayne and Merrill. They had no idea they would go on to become one of the most famous groups in history. Singing initially to fund hearing aids for their two older brothers, Virl & Tom, they were discovered by Walt Disney in 1961. Mentored by Walt, they were invited to appear on The Andy Williams show, achieving global fame. Adding brother Donny to the group, international tours and high profile TV appearances followed. Selling millions of records worldwide, earning dozens of awards and more than fifty gold and platinum records, The Osmonds remain pop royalty.

And even though he was voted one of the top 10 drummers in the country during the 1970s, co-wrote many of The Osmonds’ hit records and choreographed their shows – as well as being an accomplished TV producer – Jay brushes off his achievements. And again, the modesty is authentic. Our Jay is not a man who puts on an ‘interview’ persona. The kindness and warmth is sincere – and never more so than when he talks about the fans.

“We call them friends, not fans,” he corrects me gently, “and we hear them when they tell us that our music helped them at difficult times in their lives.”

Their ‘friends’, it transpires, were a big part of the decision to premiere the show in the UK.

“This is where our family was so welcomed. Osmond-mania kind of happened everywhere, but there was something about the UK; our family was so accepted and so loved here. We have been to almost every place on the tour list at some point and they are places that hold so many memories. We’ll go to Canada and America too, sure, but it feels right to begin here.”

It also feels like the perfect show for a world emerging from the misery of the pandemic.

“I think it really is,” he says, smiling. “I want it to be a celebration of helping people out. I want people to walk out of the theatre feeling lifted and excited about life; to feel joy. That’s my goal. I am humbled by the fact that we have been blessed with people who have loved our music and that we might have played a small part in their lives when they have faced challenges. I want them to know how much they have helped me and my family. They are part of The Osmonds. It will feel like a high school reunion when they come to the show!”

Or as one ‘friend’ said to Jay recently: “This is not just your story; it’s ours too.”

And that’s something he’s very respectful of. But then respect has always been important to The Osmonds.

“It’s a really big part of our belief system and of our perception. We had talent, but we didn’t do what we did to be famous or to make money; we did it to serve people. When we collected our People’s Choice Award, immediately after, Mom and Dad reminded us to do our chores. Our parents always reminded us what was important: Do what is right and the consequences follow. We have had to make a lot of choices along the way, but it’s been a great journey.”

Ah, but it’s not over yet, Jay. Next stop the show. And it looks set to be a spectacular jaunt down Osmond memory lane.

Take 5: five quick-fire questions for Jay Osmond

What’s your favourite Osmonds song and why?

Love me for a Reason. Because ‘let the reason be love’ is a message that is so powerful. But Crazy Horses would be my next choice.

You did karate as a young man. Still doing the fancy kicks?

No, not nowadays. But I keep fit. I’m a walker – I love to walk. And I love football. I’m also doing the Pure Trim diet at the moment. It’s organic and very pure and I have lost 30lb in the last 6 months.  

Big families usually mean hand-me-downs. Did you have hand-me-downs?

We had so many clothes thrown at us in the 70s that we didn’t need to hand down. But when I look back at some of the things we wore – wow! But hey, it was the 70s and we all wore crazy stuff. I can’t wait for people to see the costumes in this show!

What’s your most memorable moment of being in The Osmonds?

So many, but one that stands out is the night we went to watch Led Zeppelin in concert. We were introduced to the guys and they were just the nicest people! Robert Plant asked us to join them on stage for Stairway to Heaven. We weren’t sure that their audience would appreciate us, but eventually we said OK. Robert introduced us as his brand new friends. I played percussion and conga. It was incredible!

What is your philosophy for life?

Go about life and do good. Because when you do good, you feel good. And have a purpose. Be a light to others. To me, that’s the goal in life. It’s the key.

How do you want people to be feeling when they have seen your show?

I want people to walk out of the theatre feeling lifted and excited about life; to feel joy. That’s my goal.

The Osmonds: A New Musical is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from Tue 4 October – Sat 8 October

REVIEW Bat Out of Hell! The Musical at New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through as Bat Out Of Hell!, the electrifying, award-winning hit musical featuring the greatest hits of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, hits the highway to Cardiff’s New Theatre this week. I grew up on the music of Meat Loaf, but I’ve been burned by jukebox musicals before. Bat Out of Hell!, though, is a different beast entirely: it actually began life as a futuristic rock opera in Jim Steinman’s college days, a punk spin on Peter Pan called Neverland. Steinman turned his unfinished opera into his magnum opus: Bat Out of Hell, one of the best-selling albums ever made – and now it’s back in its original form, bigger, better, and more bombastic than ever.

Martha Kirby and Glenn Adamson in Bat Out of Hell!

Set in Obsidian, a post-apocalyptic Manhattan that’s a long way from Neverland, Bat Out of Hell! follows Strat (Glenn Adamson), immortal eighteen-year-old leader of ‘The Lost’, a biker gang locked in a deadly war with the tyrannical Falco (Rob Fowler). When Strat falls in love with Raven (Martha Kirby), Falco’s rebellious daughter, the game is on and all bets are off.

Glenn Adamson as Strat

Operatic in scale and anarchic in spirit, Bat Out of Hell! is an adrenaline-fuelled rollercoaster ride through some of the most iconic songs ever written, from It’s All Coming Back to Me Now to I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That). They’re also some of the hardest songs to sing – but this peerless ensemble make it seem like second nature. Not only are these the best voices I’ve heard on ANY stage, they bring every drop of emotion to songs that demand nothing short of everything: high concept Wagnerian epics that are as a high risk as they are reward. A slew of talented people have trod the boards at the New Theatre, but this might just be the most exciting cast ever to do so.

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby in Bat Out of Hell!

Adamson and Kirby bring charisma and complexity to roles that could have become rote in less capable hands. Their chemistry is even more scorching than the real flames that shoot across the stage during the performance of the legendary title track – which is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced in a theatre. They make the star-crossed love story into a symphony.

Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton in Bat Out of Hell!

This is a show that is in on the joke and wants you to laugh right along with it. It’s hard to tell who’s having the most fun, but that honour might just go to Rob Fowler and Laura Johnson (standing in for Sharon Sexton) as Falco and Sloane, Obsidian’s answer to Burton and Taylor. Their version of Paradise By the Dashboard Light might be the most fun you can have with your clothes on (even if theirs weren’t!)

The 2022 UK touring cast of Bat Out of Hell!

Meanwhile, Joelle Moses and James Chisholm bring gravitas to their powerhouse rendition of Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, while Killian Thomas Lefevre’s Tink steals the audience’s hearts with Not Allowed to Love, one of the ballads written specifically for the show. (The other, What Part of My Body Hurts the Most, is sung by Fowler and Johnson in an affectingly tender moment for their characters).

The 2022 touring cast of Bat Out of Hell!

The songs are mini epics in their own right, self-contained sagas that lend themselves perfectly to the stage – and their unique sound is captured by South Wales-born musical director Iestyn Griffiths and his superb live orchestra in. Coupled with  Jay Scheib’s kinetic direction and Xena Gusthart’s inventive choreo, the music underscores the immersive fever dream of the stage (designed by Jon Bausor, also responsible for the fabulous costumes), a world half dreaded and half desired.

The 2022 touring cast of Bat Out of Hell!

The spectacle of this show is second-to-none. If you’re not a fan of the songs, you will be by the time the curtain falls – and if you are one already, you’ll be in paradise (by the dashboard light). The men who brought them to us may be gone, but the beat is theirs forever – and with Bat Out of Hell!, it’s ours now too. With a little faith, trust and pixie dust, your rock and roll dreams can come true – so get yourself all revved up, because you’ve got somewhere to go – just watch out for the sudden curve!

Bat Out Of Hell! is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 27 September – 1 October, and across the UK through to April 2023.

PREVIEW Bat Out Of Hell! at the New Theatre Cardiff 27 Sep – 1 Oct

You took the words right out of my mouth: Bat Out Of Hell!, the electrifying hit musical featuring the greatest hits of Meatloaf and Jim Steinman, rocks and rolls its way to the New Theatre this week!

Bat Out Of Hell! is a post-apocalyptic Peter Pan set in a dystopian version of Manhattan (aka ‘Obsidian’). It’s the stomping ground of Strat, immortal eighteen-year-old leader of ‘The Lost’, a biker gang locked in a deadly war with Falco, Obsidian’s crooked commander-in-chief. When Strat falls in love with Raven, Falco’s rebellious daughter, the game is on and all bets are off.

Winner of the audience-voted best musical at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards, Bat Out Of Hell! features iconic songs like ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’, ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’, ‘Dead Ringer For Love’ and the legendary title track that will have you rocking and rolling in the aisles.

Glenn Adamson as Strat in Bat Out of Hell!

Bat Out Of Hell! is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 27 September – 1 October, and across the UK through to April 2023.

Cher and Cher alike: An Interview with Director Arlene Phillips

What follows is a syndicated interview with The Cher Show director Arlene Phillips.

The Cher Show is a brand new musical which tells the life story of the legendary recording artist, and is packed with 35 of her biggest hits, including ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’, ‘I Got You Babe’, ‘The Shoop Shoop Song’ and ‘Believe’. With book by Tony and Olivier Award-winning Rick Elice (Jersey BoysThe Addams Family), direction by Arlene Phillips (Saturday Night FeverStarlight Express), choreography by Oti Mabuse (two-time Strictly Come Dancing champion) and costume design by Gabriella Slade (SixIn The Heights), The Cher Show is playing at Cardiff’s New Theatre between 23 – 27 August and continues touring around the UK and Ireland through to 1 April 2023.

Both have successful decade-spanning careers. Both are driven and fiercely independent. And then there’s the mutual love of sequins. Arlene Phillips talks to Vicky Edwards about Girl Power, refusing to act her age and why The Cher Show is an unmissable and fabulously feel-good extravaganza.

“I loved Cher’s music from the first time I heard it, but it’s more than that;

Cher is an icon,” says Arlene, confessing that she is thrilled to be directing The Cher Show.

“I am so excited! Cher is a woman who right from the start of her career was ahead of her time. She’s had hits in every decade, she’s a great actress and she’s whip-smart. She has also been a great pioneer for women’s rights. If there’s something to shout about then Cher shouts about it.”

All of which results in an international following that transcends age, gender and race. And now the show that carries her name seems set to do likewise. Having debuted on Broadway in 2018, earning two Tony Awards, Arlene’s production of The Cher Show marks the European premiere. Telling how Cherilyn Sarkisian went from truck driver’s daughter with big dreams to the Oscar-winning Goddess of Pop and Queen of Reinvention, Cher takes the audience by the hand and introduces them to the influential people in her life; from her mother and Sonny Bono to fashion designer and costumier Bob Mackie.  Recalling how she battled the men who underestimated her and defied convention, the story is told, Arlene explains, as if Cher is looking back on her life.

“There is a great story running through as she looks back at the moments where she made an impact, whether through a relationship, a hit, a movie or fashion. We want the audience  to embrace her story and have a good time.”

And a soundtrack of all her hits? Arlene is quick to reassure:

“Oh yes. There are so many hits and the show will have a great party feel to it, as the story builds and builds, finishing in a full-on full-out concert.”

And if all that weren’t enticing enough, joining Arlene on the journey are some impressive names. Written by Olivier and Tony Award-winning Rick Elice (who also wrote Jersey Boys and The Addams Family), choreography is by double Strictly Come Dancing champion Oti Mabuse.

 “Oti’s choreography is SO exciting! She is really gifted and people are going to see something that hasn’t been seen before,” promises Arlene, who as one of the world’s most respected choreographers is, let’s face it, pretty well-placed to make such a pronouncement.

And of course you can’t possibly tell Cher’s story on stage without fabulous costumes. Enter costume designer Gabriella Slade, the super-talented creator of costumes for international smash hits including Six, In the Heights and the 2019 Spice World tour. 

“The impact Cher has made in fashion has been enormous. She isn’t afraid to say I want to stay as young as possible for as long as possible and she isn’t afraid to wear the fantastic clothes and look as glamorous as can be. We have phenomenal costumes from Gabi – the details are incredible. It’s a feast of costumes!”

With a female icon as the subject of the show and Arlene, Oti and Gabriella all adding their superpowers to the mix, there’s definitely a whiff of Girl Power about the show.

“I love that,” beams Arlene, who admits that directing rather than choreographing does require a gear shift.

“It is different, but mainly it’s about how you tell the story. With choreography you look at the story, but you listen to the music. As a director you look at the story and then you use the music to help you tell the story; you’re really conscious of seeing the arc all the way through. The audience have to fall in love with the star and find things out about Cher that they didn’t already know.”

Both she and Cher are fiercely independent women. Does Arlene identify with, as well as admire, Cher?

“I totally identify with Cher in that I want to continue doing what I do for as long as I can and not be defined by my age. I am enjoying life and if I can make an impact in some way then I will.” 

With over 100 million record sales and heaps of prestigious awards, including recognition from The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Cher has certainly influenced popular culture more than most. 

“The invention and the reinvention and the ability to use her body in a powerful way is inspirational,” sighs Arlene, going on to tell me that The Cher Show has had a little reinvention of its own, having been reworked since its award-winning Broadway run.

“We have clarified every detail and I can’t wait for people to see it,” she says, passing me a list of the venues that the show will play.

“There are so many theatres on this tour that are special to me, but every theatre is making sure that they are Covid-safe and that audiences feel confident about visiting them. I hope people will support their local theatre. There really is no substitute for live performance and I urge people to go and feel the love and warmth of this show.”

Adding that she sees the production as being “absolutely a show for now,” she continues:  “Escapism is a wonderful mind-healer, and that’s what you get with The Cher Show.  We’re all more fragile than we’ve ever been before and the future feels unsure. This is a show that brings pure post-pandemic joy.  People will go home having laughed, possibly having shed a tear and dancing up the aisles. They can put aside their worries and in that moment they’ll be wrapped up in this extravaganza of a show!”

The Cher Show UK & Ireland Tour is produced by ROYO with Fiery Angel, Cuffe & Taylor/LIVE NATION and Playing Field in association with Tilted, Aria Entertainment and JONES Theatrical Group. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram: @TheCherShowUK

Here, Cher and Everywhere: An Interview with Choreographer Oti Mabuse

What follows is a syndicated interview with The Cher Show choreographer, Oti Mabuse.

The Cher Show is a brand new musical which tells the life story of the legendary recording artist, and is packed with 35 of her biggest hits, including ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’, ‘I Got You Babe’, ‘The Shoop Shoop Song’ and ‘Believe’. With book by Tony and Olivier Award-winning Rick Elice (Jersey Boys, The Addams Family), direction by Arlene Phillips (Saturday Night Fever, Starlight Express), choreography by Oti Mabuse (two-time Strictly Come Dancing champion) and costume design by Gabriella Slade (Six, In The Heights), The Cher Show is playing at Cardiff’s New Theatre between 23 – 27 August and continues touring around the UK and Ireland through to 1 April 2023.

A bundle of zesty energy, Oti Mabuse may be on a rare day off when we meet but she’s still operating at warp speed. But then the double Strictly Glitterball champion has good reason to be so happy and animated.

Currently revving up for the hotly anticipated brand new production of The Cher Show, directed by national dance treasure Arlene Phillips and with a book by Tony and Olivier Award-winning Rick Elice (of Jersey Boys fame), Oti will be choreographing the show, which will tour until April 2023.

Telling the story of the Armenian American truck driver’s shy daughter who rose to global stardom, The Cher Show charts superstar Cher’s meteoric rise to fame. And of course there is a cracking soundtrack. Packed with 35 of her biggest hits, it’s part show and part party. 

“It’s the story that so many women connect with, but it’s also the songs and the clothes. It will be epic!” beams Oti, adding: “It has to be bigger than anything because it’s her; it has to live up to Cher’s iconic status. Shehas been such an inspiration to so many people and this musical is going to be a celebration of everything people love about her.”

And so it’s down to Oti to weave that star quality into the choreography – a challenge that she is absolutely thrilled with.

“What I love about choreography is that, when I’m dancing, I am only part of the picture, but when you are choreographing, there are so many elements that are so exciting. Creating a storyline through dance means you go through the smallest details – is there a connection or a secret between the dancers that we need the audience to share? What props are there? What is the dancer at the back of the stage doing?”

As for the music, Oti’s exuberance ratchets up yet another notch when we start talking about Cher’s hits.

“I grew up with a family that always listened to music and we all loved Cher’s music. Her songs have stories behind them and I LOVE choreography that has a story behind it! It has an intention you can then give to the movement. It makes everyone in the theatre part of the story. And everyone connects to Cher’s music because it is timeless. SHE is timeless!

“The show starts from the beginning of her life and comes to present day, so if you don’t know Cher’s story you will learn it. There are so many great songs that will make people feel uplifted too. And the show is going to almost every theatre in the country because Cher is an international phenomenon!”

But while she won’t be on the road with The Cher Show, Oti will be touring with her own dance production, I Am Here.

“This is very exciting because it’s my first official tour. It’s such an honour. It’s going to be loud, funny and truthful, and people will meet the real me. We have a live band, great music and a cast of great dancers.

“I love touring and the audiences make it for me. People have paid to come and be entertained and it’s lovely to do that; to create a memorable moment in their lives.”

And, it seems, Oti relishes the educational aspect of touring life.

“I love learning and when you tour in the UK you learn crazy things like whether you put cream or jam on a scone first! I love hearing the different accents and the different way people greet each other depending where you are.”

With an infectious chuckle she adds: “I think touring is the best way to understand human beings!”

“All the theatres my shows are visiting are so supportive of people who come to put a show on; they are so welcoming and so, so hard working. After lockdown and the terrible time that theatres had, it is so lovely to be taking The Cher Show and Here I Am on tour.”

But even with two stage shows hitting the road, human dynamo Oti is still thinking ahead.

“I have a lot of things that I want to achieve in life and I am lucky that my parents raised me to be driven and ambitious. But my goals come from a good place and I really enjoy the journey of pursuing my dreams. Anyone who hires me knows that I will be the hardest working person in the place. For instance, there were very few books about dancing for children, so I wrote one.”

And that’s by no means all. Born in South Africa in 1990, Oti has been dancing since childhood. From making a name for herself in South Africa as the undefeated  eight-time South African Latin American champion, she also managed to train as a Civil Engineer while competing in dance competitions. Winning awards and championships across Europe, TV soon beckoned and Oti joined the German version of Strictly Come Dancing. After two successful seasons, she joined the original BBC version of the show. Winning the coveted trophy in 2019 with actor Kelvin Fletcher, the following year Oti became the first Strictly Pro ever to win the Glitterball two consecutive years, alongside her partner Bill Bailey. TV and theatre work continues to flood in, which she juggles with running The Oti Mabuse Dance Studio, but, I ask, was performing always the dream?

“I wanted to go into Musical Theatre straight from High School, but my mum said I should be first academic and then pursue my passions. Since she was paying the bills, I didn’t have much choice!”

Reflective for a moment, she adds: “Engineering and dance are both about problem solving and precision and I love them both equally. I’d love to do a TV show about it.”

 A TV show about engineering told through the medium of dance? If anyone can pull that off then it’s Oti. Stand by for the Reinforced Concrete Rumba…

The Cher Show UK & Ireland Tour is produced by ROYO with Fiery Angel, Cuffe & Taylor/LIVE NATION and Playing Field in association with Tilted, Aria Entertainment and JONES Theatrical Group. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram: @TheCherShowUK