Weekender: Interview with the stars of hit musical Sweet Charity
It’s been more than a decade since Nottingham Playhouse produced a musical – but it’s bringing them back with broadway hit Sweet Charity including an Olivier award-winning lead actress and soap star in the supporting role. We chat with Rebecca Trehearn (Charity) and Marc Elliott (Oscar) about the upcoming production…
You’re both playing a leading role in Sweet Charity – tell us what drew you to the character you are playing?
REBECCA: I think Charity is one of the most fascinating characters in the musical theatre canon. She has this incredible wit, spark and resilience that go a long way towards hiding the fragility underneath. There’s so much to unpick with her; we know nothing about her background, where she comes from, what led her to the Fandango ballroom. Getting to create all of that for ourselves in the rehearsal room is one of the great joys of acting, I think.
MARC: The part is a really lovely, comedic role. Oscar’s a bit of a geek and you can’t help but like him. But it wasn’t just the part that drew me to the show – it was the fantastic writing and the brilliant people I get to work with. I’m really excited about working with Bill [Buckhurst] and Rebecca [Trehearn]. Rebecca is just brilliant and great fun!
What makes Sweet Charity such a special show?
REBECCA: The script by Neil Simon is a feast of incredibly sharp one liners, one of the wittiest I’ve ever read. The score is glorious; there’s a reason so many of the songs (such as Big Spender, Rhythm of life, If They Could See Me Now) have had such a well known life outside of the show. Add to that choreography that more or less instantly became iconic… What’s not to like?!
Many people will have seen the film version of the story – why should they book tickets for the stage version?
REBECCA: There is simply nothing like seeing a story brought to life before your eyes. Although we’re retaining the 60’s setting for our production, I’m interested to see how the show will be viewed by modern audiences. Some of the character’s attitudes towards women and sex have certainly not aged well, which in a funny way was one of the things that drew me to the show. How do you reinterpret this story and these characters for an age in which women are owning their sexuality and demanding rights which were denied to them for so long; rights which are still under attack, all over the world? It’s a question I’m looking forward to trying to answer.
MARC: If you enjoyed the film you’ll enjoy the stage version, but there’s something special about a live show anyway – it’s a very different experience to a film. I don’t think you can beat it!
Is there a lot of pressure when you are performing in a show that has spent time on Broadway and the West End?
REBECCA: I’m certainly aware of all the incredible interpretations of Charity that have gone before me. I try not to see it as pressure though; I’d rather view it with excitement that I get to join the club, as it were! I always avoid watching other people’s performances of a role I’m playing, if such footage exists; I haven’t seen the film and have never seen it onstage, which will make it easier to approach the character from a fresh perspective. It’s about putting your own ego and fears aside and serving the character as best you can, in the end.
MARC: I feel pressure on it being a great production, but not because of its history. It’s important not to compare your performance to someone else because you need to bring your unique take to each role.
What do you love about musicals, personally?
REBECCA: There’s no artform I find as moving, when they’re done well. Music is a shortcut to the heart of people’s emotions, you can tell so much about a character from watching them dance; it’s getting to play with all the toys in the toy box at once, and who wouldn’t want to do that? I’ve loved to sing and act since I was a child, so musical theatre allows me to utilise all of my skills.
MARC: As a kid we always watched musicals and I still love Disney and Pixar. Music seems to really get your emotions going and a musical allows you to feel shamelessly sad or happy. I also find as a performer you get really attached to certain songs – I’m really fortunate because every musical I’ve worked on I’ve loved and I’ve performed with amazing, inspiring actors.
What’s your proudest career moment to date?
REBECCA: Probably winning the Olivier award. It was so wonderful to be able to acknowledge the people who helped me get started when I was very young. A real, “ok I think I can say I chose the right career path now” moment!
MARC: I’m not sure I could name my proudest moment – every job has been special or important in some way. Whether that’s because I’ve learned something or made a great friendship from it. Even the horrible jobs I haven’t enjoyed I’ve taken something away from that has added to my life!
Have you worked or been to Nottingham before?
REBECCA: I was there for two weeks back in 2013, if I remember rightly, touring with Ghost The Musical.
MARC: I’ve only ever spent a brief time in Nottingham visiting friends at University, so I am thrilled to get a chance to explore the city and to be working at Nottingham Playhouse. It’s a beautiful theatre and what Adam Penford is doing there is really exciting. I can’t wait to perform in its first musical production for so long and know that it’s going to be such a special show.
[TO REBECCA] Why do you think musicals are so popular with the general public?
REBECCA: There can’t be many people out there who don’t love music, dance and a great story. Musicals are a great leveller, I think. There’s nothing elitist about them, everyone is welcome and there’s simply no better night out than a good musical, for my money.
[TO MARC] You’re originally from Warwickshire – what do you like best about home?
MARC: I’ve been in London for more than 20 years now and although I love the big city and all of the theatres, bars and restaurants, where you grow up will always be home. Stratford, where I grew up, is obviously steeped in theatrical history and that’s where my family are, so it will always be special to me.
[TO REBECCA] What did you like about the city and Nottingham Playhouse?
REBECCA: We were at the Theatre Royal with Ghost but having visited the Playhouse during prep for Sweet Charity, I love the warm feel the auditorium has. It’s a great size but no one feels too far away from you onstage, there’s a lovely intimacy to the place. Two weeks wasn’t really enough time to get to know Nottingham properly, but I remember everyone being very friendly and am looking forward to properly exploring the place this time!
[TO MARC] You’ve had some controversial and significant roles in some of our favourite soap operas. What kind of comments do you get from the public?
MARC: I must admit I am pleased that I don’t get recognised as often anymore. When the stories were at their peak on television people wanted to talk about my character, particularly EastEnders. The Holby City audience is a bit different and so I wasn’t stopped as much, but I enjoyed working on both shows very much.
[TO REBECCA] You’ve been performing all of your life, but do you ever get nervous before heading on stage?
REBECCA: Of course! There’s never a performance when I don’t feel nerves to some degree; most of the time they’re useful, giving an extra spark to the performance. Nerves generally fade to a degree over the course of a long run in a show, but I think the day they disappear entirely, it’s probably time to move on!
13. [TO MARC] How did you get your ‘big break’?
MARC: To be honest I was just really lucky. I tried to get into drama school but didn’t get in, so I was working at British Gas. Then one day my mum bumped into an old friend who happened to be the director of an am dram production of The Sound of Music that I had been in when I was 10 years old. He asked after me and told my mum that he was holding auditions for his theatre company. I went along, secured the part of Romeo in his touring production of Romeo and Juliet, and then managed to secure an agent from that production, and here I am today!
[TO MARC] You said in an interview ‘I didn’t know if I could sing’ – surely with so much experience under your belt now, you’ve realised you can?!
MARC: [Laughing] I can hold a tune – I’m now confident in saying that!
I never considered myself a singer as I’ve not been professionally trained, singing in the school choir was all I had ever done.
What’s next for you?
REBECCA: Not a clue. The downside of the actor’s life…!
MARC: After Sweet Charity I’ll take just one week off and then get back to grind – I can’t tell you any details except that it’s not a musical!
Sweet Charity runs from Friday 31 August through to Saturday 22 September.
Tickets are priced £45 – £8.50.