Zoe Rainey is currently starring as Kitty Baldry in the world premiere of Tim Sanders and Charles Miller's intimate new chamber musical The Return of the Soldier.
The production runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre between Tuesday 2nd and Saturday 20th September 2014. Directed by Charlotte Westenra, The Return of the Soldier is based on Rebecca West's celebrated 1918 novel.
Zoe’s first major theatrical role came when she was cast as Amber Von Tussle in the West End production of Hairspray (Shaftesbury). She went on to star as Nessarose in Wicked (Apollo Victoria) whilst understudying Glinda. Zoe’s West End credits also include: understudy Laura Fairlie in Woman in White (Palace Theatre) and Beth March in Little Women in concert (Theatre Royal Drury Lane).
Her extensive theatre credits include: Moira McFlaherty in The Famished Land (Greenwood), Hannah Ferguson in John Ferguson (Finborough), Hitchy Koo girl in Oh What A Lovely War (Theatre Royal, Stratford East), Finding Neverland (Leicester Curve), School For Scandal (Theatre Royal Bath), She Stoops To Conquer (National), Imelda in The Commitments (Workshop), understudy Gigi in Gigi (Regent's Park), Maria in The Sound Of Music (Larnaca Festival), Monteen in Parade (Donmar Warehouse), understudy Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls (UK Tour) and Jekyll and Hyde (UK Tour).
I recently spoke to Zoe about The Return of the Soldier’s tremendous story, what it’s like working alongside such a stellar cast and why she had a ball coming and going by bubble in Wicked…
I’m so intrigued by The Return of the Soldier! What were your first impressions when the part came up?
I actually had no knowledge of the book or film which is quite surprising as it’s a well-known story! When I first got the script through and started exploring it I thought it was fantastic that there is a story to do with World War I that has the views of the women and how it all impacted on them. There are three very, very strong female characters and it’s all about what impact Chris coming home has on them. They were left at home to keep things going while waiting for any sign of life – letters, a telegraph saying the worst, or someone appearing on their doorstep. After doing Oh What A Lovely War and finding out what it was like for the men in the trenches, to go and discover what it was like for the woman living at home was a major draw!
Chris comes home from the war and has lost the last ten years of his memory – he doesn’t remember marrying his wife and he doesn’t remember the birth or death of their child. Kitty has to deal with all of this stuff she’s been through with her husband on her own. When he comes back and doesn’t remember her she’s absolutely heartbroken. To make it even worse he remembers being in love with another woman. She’s devastated and doesn’t know how to deal with it. Kitty tries to stay buttoned up but it’s heartbreaking! For me it’s been about discovering who she was when she married Chris and went through losing their child as well as who she is now when he comes back.
What a tremendous story! How do you think people will come away feeling?
I don’t want to give anything away, but I think they will find parallels with their own love lives whether it’s something they are discovering through love for the first time or whether they’ve experienced it in the past. The backdrop of World War I and the horrors of what was going on is also heartbreaking. I think the audiences will go through a real journey with the characters and they will discover and decide what they want him to remember or what they don’t want him to remember! It’s going to be really interesting to hear people’s opinions because there are benefits for both!
How would you describe the score?
I think what’s so beautiful about the music is that there are so many different styles you can’t put it into a box. It’s been described as a chamber musical because there are just five people in the cast and there are very close harmonies. But it also has very atonal sections and then there are also ballads. The music is what will transform the story and break your heart. There’s unrequited love and then there is passionate love… and both are completely depicted in this beautiful music. The composer Charles Miller has done a fantastic job!
Are you enjoying being a part of such a small company?
It sounds so cliché but it has been wonderful [laughs]! I personally have watched Laura Pitt-Pulford in productions and have always been very keen to work alongside her… and I haven’t been disappointed! She’s very much my arch nemesis because she plays the woman Chris remembers being in love with. It’s nice to be able to play that alongside her. Literally everyone in the cast is phenomenal! I could gush about everyone! Michael (Matus) is adorable and hilarious and Stewart (Clarke) is this strong man who you of course fall in love with… and he’s got this gorgeous voice that comes out. Also what’s fantastic is that we have Charlie (Langham) who is a completely new graduate and she is just sensational! On the first day of rehearsals everything made sense, it’s really spot on casting and we’re having a great time!
Zoe as Hannah Ferguson in John Ferguson at the Finborough Theatre / Photo Credit Stuart Allen
You’ve starred in huge West End shows as well as more intimate off-West End productions such as The Return of the Soldier. How do the two compare for you? They are completely different!
They really are very different to perform in, but it’s funny because when the audience are literally right in front of you it is a bit scarier… but it’s also scary to know that there are 1,500 people in the audience! I’ve never performed at the Jermyn Street before, but I have in similar places – the Donmar and Finborough - and what’s beautiful about it is that you have an intimacy with the audience which would be very hard to maintain if they were at a distance. That’s kind of what I love. I love hearing people taking a breath or getting out tissues [laughs] and I feel like they are involved and they are going on the journey with us. I think that is what excites people when they come and see a production like this. It’s very special!
The audience relationship is just so different!
It is, I mean I also adore commercial theatre as well because you can tell your story to so many more people! But doing shows in these smaller theatres is always a lot of fun!
Well, talking about commercial theatre there’s one show we have to mention which is Wicked. You left a few years ago now so what is it like to look back at the experience?
If I’m honest it took me four years to be cast as Nessa and I was over the moon when they finally gave it to me [laughs]! I had wanted to play Nessa for years because I think the character is so brilliantly written. In many ways she’s not an integral part of the storyline, but she just has such an amazing journey. I used to have such compassion for her and she was a lot of fun to play! Of course the music is out of this world!
And having the chance to play Glinda several times must have been amazing?
I know! That was the icing on the cake really! They asked to cover Glinda and when you get towards the end of the contract you start to think, ‘I’m not going to get on!’ and then all of a sudden it just happened! It was so lovely to play that character; Glinda is probably one of the best written characters in musical theatre. I had a ball! I’m not going to lie, my heart was racing when I came down in that bubble [laughs]! But what an entrance! I don’t ever want to enter anything in any other way [laughs]! Wicked was a very special job.
Imagine you had to go to a desert island and could only take three musical theatre songs with you… which three would you take and why?
Oh… my… gosh! First of all whilst we’re on Wicked I would have to take ‘I’m Not That Girl’. You’re going to have to give me a wee minute! This is a good challenge! Next let’s go for… something like ‘Get Happy’ (Summer Stock). One more! I’m glad we’re not on a timer! I want to choose something I haven’t been in! I’m think ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’… actually no – maybe ‘Without Love’. Wait I’ve changed my mind! It has to be ‘All the Wasted Time’ from Parade!
Finally, it must be so nice to have such dedicated support behind you from theatre fans?
It’s the best because they are so loyal. A relationship is formed and having that support is invaluable. We’re all in this business to tell stories and to share the joy of theatre so to have support – whether it be from family and friends or fans – is the best! I’m always so grateful when people say, “I’ve booked to come and see your show!” It really does mean the world!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
The Return of the Soldier runs at the Jermyn Street Theatre until Saturday 20th September 2014. Please visit www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk for further information and tickets.