Monday, 22 December 2014

Big Interview: Katy Secombe

Katy Secombe is currently playing Mrs Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Rose Theatre Kingston which is one of the most successful selling productions in the Rose’s history, second only to A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring Judi Dench.

Katy’s West End credits include playing Brenda in I Can't Sing (London Palladium), Madame Thénardier in Les Misérables (Queen’s/Palace) and Rosie in Mamma Mia! (Prince of Wales). She recently appeared in Tom Hooper’s Oscar winning film adaptation of Les Mis. 

At the National Theatre Katy has been in Mother Clap's Molly House, A Winter's Tale, Twelfth Night and Guys and Dolls. Her theatre credits also include: Mama Morton in Chicago (UK Tour), The Lyons (Menier Chocolate Factory), Alice Challice in Darling of the Day (Union), Cinderella The Midnight Princess and Hay Fever (both Rose Theatre Kingston), Hannah in A Chorus of Disapproval (New Wolsey) and The Music Man (Chichester).

I recently spoke to Katy about her latest stage role, why she loved working on I Can’t Sing and how she managed to secure so much screen time in the Les Mis movie…

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is breaking records at the Rose Theatre Kingston. Are you feeling the buzz?
Yes! It’s lovely to play to a packed audience, especially when the kids are so wrapped up in the story! There’s very little shuffling about which is lovely for us. They’re very involved! We’re telling a fantastic story anyway so we’re on the right track before we even start. Everyone has done an amazing job and we’re all very proud of the kids in the show.

It is so different to everything else you’ve done recently! What first attracted you?
Well I’ve worked at the Rose a couple of times so I’m always very happy to come back and work here – it’s always a joy. It’s something nice to do at Christmas and it is such a beloved children’s story, it’s one of my favourites. Also I run a children’s theatre company, we go into schools and work with kids, so I’ve had the chance to expand my horizons. Watching Ciaran (McConville) the director and Eamonn (O’Dwyer) the composer and everyone at work with the kids has been very interesting. Working with fifty-seven children is quite a big deal [laughs]! 

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is so perfect for Christmas, what do you think makes it so timeless?
On one level it’s brilliant for all ages from grandparents to children. Everyone has probably read it in their youth so it’s familiar. It’s got all the elements of a great adventure – there’s a little bit of threat, good vs bad, there’s a journey, there’s mystery… I think it’s sort of the original Harry Potter! It starts during a terrible time when the children are evacuated because of the war. Four children learn to grow up and conquer adversity. 

Katy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

What can people expect from this production?
I think it tells the story brilliantly. It’s not cosy storytelling – the threat is very much there. The threat of the witch’s reign over Narnia is quite apparent and all the creatures who live in Narnia are terrified of her. It’s very much played up, it’s not cosy. The narration is mainly done by the children, they have a line each. It’s a really great adventure!

I’ve been thinking about all the different things I’ve seen you in over the past few years from Les Mis to The Lyons to I Can’t Sing… you’re always unrecognisable! Do you purposely look for that variety or does it just work out that way?
[laughs] That’s very kind of you! I have a great agent who understands that I like to do as many varied things as possible. We understand each other very well… sometimes she’ll put me up for something in the West End or sometimes a project at the Chocolate Factory or a few years ago I did something at the Union Theatre. It’s whatever floats my boat. Every job I do is really interesting to me as a person; because I love my job that’s the way I want to attack all the roles that I do. Everything brings in a different discipline and is a different challenge so therefore I am never bored [laughs]! Sometimes I think a job will be good for my comedy skills or something might be good for my ensemble skills or for my singing… there’s always something I know I can brush up on by doing a job. I never stop learning.

When I do these interviews so many people tell me that they want to create a new role in something completely original which is exactly what you got to do in I Can’t Sing. What is it like to look back at the experience? It must have been a bit of a whirlwind!
Well it was a whirlwind experience. I was very proud to be a part of it! I was there from the second workshop onwards so felt like I had quite a big hand in it. I was very lucky to work with such a brilliant group of people such as Harry Hill and all the people who wrote the music and so on… they were incredible and it was very funny. To get on stage at the Palladium is everybody’s main aim [laughs]! It was a shame it closed early but I am still so proud that I was a part of it! Who knows… it would be nice to do it again somewhere! 

We also need to discuss the Les Mis movie because I think you were in it more than Hugh Jackman!
[laughs hysterically] Oh my goodness!

Lots of theatre actors popped up in the background throughout but it felt like you were in the forefront of every scene! What was it like to work on such an epic film?
It was amazing! I was asked to audition when I was doing the show and I had my initial meeting with Nina Gold and then I had a final audition in front of eve-ry-bod-y! Just everybody! When I got a part in it I was just over the moon. I was thrilled to get an actual named part. I played Madame Huchloup who was actually in the book. Tom Hooper was very kind to me and put me in a lot of shots [laughs]. He used to say, “Alright Huchloup?” 

Katy in the West End production of Les Mis

I love that!
I think he quite liked the character and liked the fact that there was this woman on the barricades, because there weren’t many. I filmed the barricades over about four weeks so it was quite a long process, but an amazing process. It was like nothing I’ve ever done before! I’ve never done a movie before so it was fairly incredible to be at Pinewood. We were the first people on the Richard Attenborough sound stage. The set was just incredible – it took your breath away. It was a real crash course in how to make a movie and how to act on screen. What I would try and do as much as possible was say to the camera man, “Ooo, what do you do here? I don’t know what I’m doing here at all!” and ask things like what was the best way to get into the light… so maybe that’s why I ended up in so many shots [laughs hysterically]! I just thought, ‘I’m going to make the most of this opportunity!’ 

Right, I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three are you going to take and why?
I am going to take ‘Boy For Sale’ from Oliver! for obvious reasons… my Dad sang it in the film and I love the way he sings it (Katy is the daughter of Harry Secombe who famously played Mr Bumble in the 1968 film adaptation of Oliver!). I would definitely take ‘Master Of The House’ because my association with Les Mis has always been happy and longstanding. Ummm… a third one… I think I would probably take ‘I'm Still Here’ (from Follies) because I still am [laughs]! It would get me through!

Amazing! And finally, there is so much dedicated support from theatre fans who will see you in one show and then support your next project and so on. It must be nice knowing you have that support behind you?
Oh it’s wonderful. The fans from Les Mis I know very well indeed and we stay in touch. There are fans from Mamma Mia too and it’s always lovely if someone does something on Twitter or sends you a message, there’s always that support network out there and then people will come and see a concert you do or a cabaret. I did a Sondheim cabaret at the Pheasantry in July and some people came along – they come all that way and it is very much appreciated and never forgotten! If people like what you’re doing then that’s great – that’s what it is all about. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe runs at the Rose Theatre Kingston until Sunday 4th January 2015. Please visit for information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2: Mark Douet

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