Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Interview: Alice Fearn, starring as Nancy in Oliver!

Alice Fearn is starring as Nancy in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury.

The new actor-musician production is directed by Luke Sheppard and runs between 31st July and 19th September 2015. 

Alice was nominated for West End Frame's Understudy of the Year Award in 2014 and 2012 for understudying Christine Colgate & Muriel Eubanks in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Savoy) and Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical (Drury Lane). 

Her theatre credits also include: Rapunzel and understudy Cinderella in Into The Woods (Regent’s Park), understudy Dolly in Annie Get Your Gun (Young Vic), Princess Aurora in Awaking Beauty (Stephen Joseph Theatre), understudy Fantine and Cosette in Les Miserables (Queen’s Theatre) and understudy Laura Fairlie in Woman In White (Palace). 

On screen Alice appeared in Tom Hooper’s film adaptation of Les Miserables whilst her workshop credits include: Hannah Brown in Easter Parade (ATG/ Jerry Mitchell) and Shazzer in Bridget Jones The Musical (Working Title/Julian Webber).

I recently spoke to Alice about why she was surprised to be cast as Nancy, how it feels to be taking on such an iconic role, her time in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and being woken up by fourteen geese every morning…

Was Nancy ever one of those roles you had your eye on?
Well it’s funny, I think they’ve always cast it differently – especially since they did the TV show a few years ago. I always sort of thought they weren’t really casting as me, they were either going a bit younger to get some innocence across or previously in the 90s they went much, much older. I sort of thought ‘maybe they’re just not ever going to cast it like the film’ because I consider myself to be a bit more like the film version than anything else. So I was actually quite shocked when I got it! I didn’t think this was ever going to happen! But when you get it and start singing it and start playing it you go ‘actually it’s very you and now you can get your teeth into it’. I actually do feel like it’s very me.

It’s such an iconic role!
It is! So that’s why I absolutely adore the chance that I get to play it for however short a time it is – I don’t care because it’s so nice to tick that box and say “I did that”. It’s something I grew up with, as everyone else did. I grew up singing those songs so to now be actually doing it is a massive thing for me, I must say.

Alive in rehearsals for Oliver!

With the actor-musician element, is this production going to be completely fresh?
Yes, it is its own beast! There is nothing similar about anything really. It really suits the style with everyone playing instruments; for example people playing instruments and singing ‘Consider Yourself’ just makes the whole thing feel very, very real! You would get buskers in the streets of London singing these old fashioned pub songs. So when all of a sudden you have someone playing the accordion and singing ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’, it just feels like it should always have been done this way. It’s very exciting to do something which is brand new and not just ‘the norm’. I think it’s really going to suit the style.

Have you been able to be creative in rehearsals?
Very much so, because of the instrument factor it’s obviously going to be completely different. We’ve had to find our feet with it and work out how the instruments would fit into each scene. It feels like a completely new process as opposed to doing a show that has been done so many times before.

How have you found putting your own stamp on Nancy?
Well I’ve not got a cockney accent or anything like that so the brashness of her is not very me, but the confidence and showmanship she has I find I can connect with quite a lot. I’ve found it very, very interesting and keep finding different things. She’s a lot more fun than I thought she was, and I’ve really enjoyed finding that.

And how are you feeling about ‘As Long As He Needs Me’? It’s the moment everybody’s waiting for!
[laughs] When we did the first read through and sing through it did feel like that moment you’re waiting for and I was absolutely quaking in my boots! I just want to do it justice because it’s so well-known and so iconic and one of the biggest moments in the show. I just want to make sure I do it in my own way but do it just as good as how it’s been done before. I absolutely adore the song, enjoy the sentiment and enjoy the direction that Luke has given me… it’s something a little bit different and not just hard done by girl getting beaten up by her boyfriend. There’s a lot more to it that we can find, because of who I am and my age we can find a lot more depth to it. I’m really enjoying finding that!

What has the atmosphere been like in rehearsals? Actor-muso casts are always crazy talented!
Exactly, everybody is just so stupidly talented! Me and Cameron Blakely (Fagin) actually play the least in musical instrument terms. Cameron, god love him, is learning a bit of percussion and I’m playing a bit of piano and keys at the beginning. I can’t believe everyone keeps jumping on to other instruments! They all play like four or five instruments! It just blows me away because I didn’t know that kind of talent existed – the ability to jump from a trombone to a trumpet to the drums to a piano and then back again… it’s an incredibly talented company! Then they get up on stage and start to sing and do their scenes and act with the children and each other and are equally brilliant at that as they are at their instrument. It’s so exciting to be a part of all that because it’s something I’ve never seen before.

People say working at The Watermill is like a theatrical retreat. How are you feeling about spending the summer in Newbury?
It’s almost like rehab! You get away from everything, barely have any signal – you sort of do have to sit back and go ‘I’m in some sort of priory’. But it’s wonderful! It’s really beautiful! Everyone is so calm and chilled. I’m sitting here now at a desk and there is this cat called Millie who you could move or do anything you want to and she would not be bothered. She’s absolutely amazing! She does sleep on keyboards and get in your way but she’s adorable. It’s just stuff like that – I get woken up at six o’clock in the morning by fourteen geese outside my window. The whole thing is surreal! When you come from somewhere like central London [laughs], where I’ve just been working on the Strand for a year and a half, it couldn’t be any more different. I’m from the country very, very originally so it’s a bit like going home in a way; it’s that sort of environment where it’s rolling hills, green, animals… and no signal [laughs]. 

Alive in rehearsals for Oliver!

How was your year on the Strand in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels? What’s it like to look back at your time in the show now?
I loved it! It was a massive, massive achievement for me because I covered Christine and Muriel, the parts were as diverse as can be! It was amazing to get my teeth around that. To work with Jerry (Mitchell, director/choreographer/producer) will no doubt be one of the highlights of my career. It was a fantastic experience; I made some lifelong friends and I met my partner as well. Do I miss it? I think I always miss a job a little bit, but I’m always pleased to move on because I like to always challenge myself and get my artistic brain working again. So I’m never particularly upset about leaving something, but it’s always sad to leave people and something that you’ve had such a great experience on. It was a great, great show! It had its ups and downs, but it was so great to be a part of!

And finally… I’m sending you to a desert island and you can take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three are you going to take and why?
Ok… I’m going to take ‘I Still Believe’ from Miss Saigon because it was probably the song I sang most growing up; even though it’s quite a tragic song it’s one I always used to sing. Ok that’s one… erm… two… would be from Big Fish the Andrew Lippa musical and the song would be ‘Time Stops’ because I think it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard and it’s quite new. For my last one… I’m going to go with… this is a little bit difficult! Which one will I go with?! Yup ok, I’m going to go for it and take ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ so I can belt it out and practise [laughs]!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Oliver! opens at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury on 6th August (previews from 31st July) and runs until 19th September 2015. Please visit for further information and tickets.

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