Monday, 6 July 2015

Interview: Gabriella Williams, starring as Sophie in Mamma Mia!

Gabriella Williams recently took over as Sophie Sheridan in the West End production of Mamma Mia! at the Novello Theatre. 

Marking her West End debut, Gabriella stars alongside Mazz Murray, Jo Napthine, James Darch and Dianne Pilkington as her mother, Donna Sheridan. Having recently made her professional debut as Chris in Carrie at the Southwark Playhouse, this summer Gabriella will graduate from Arts Educational Schools. 

I recently spoke to Gabriella about stepping into such an iconic role, her favourite Abba song, why she looks up to Dianne Pilkington and her fond memories of Carrie…

Sophie is a massive dream role for so many actresses in musical theatre – was it a part you had your eye on?
It was certainly a role I wanted to play, but I don’t think I expected to be so lucky so early on! I haven’t graduated yet so it’s all very overwhelming for me. It’s an absolute dream role, I get to sing amazing songs with incredibly talented people. It’s a really, really lovely part – you get some of the best songs in the musical, in my opinion anyway [laughs]. It’s an absolute dream!

What was it like to go into rehearsals for such an established show?
Everyone was so welcoming. The cast who were staying on could not have been any more lovely or full of advice and kind words. You wouldn’t actually believe how much freedom you get from the creative team. I think this is the show’s seventeenth year in the West End and I expected to turn up and be told “you have to say this line this way and be stood in this light” but it’s not like that at all. They really give you free scope to do what you want with the part. You can make it your own, and I found that really exciting. It was great fun!

What is the secret to Mamma Mia!’s success?
It’s Abba [laughs]! There’s no other group like them and I don’t think there ever will be. People will pay a lot of money to hear those songs sung well, and then the story is so magical – you invest so much in it and really get behind all of the characters. There’s no ‘baddy’ or villain – there’s not a character that you don’t want to support and win the day. I’ve only just started this contract, but so far even in midweek performances and matinees the entire audience is stood at the end swaying and dancing. It’s totally magical! The music is totally captivating. 

 James Darch (Sky) and Gabriella in Mamma Mia!

At the moment, what’s your favourite Abba song?
That’s so hard! Erm… I really enjoy singing ‘The Name Of The Game’, I think it’s beautiful. I love that song!

What is the atmosphere like behind the scenes at Mamma Mia!?
Oh my god it’s so much fun! Everyone has such huge personalities. Not even just the cast, but the dressers and the backstage crew – they’ve all been there for years and know the show inside out and it’s like this well-oiled machine, they are all absolutely lovely people. It’s one massive happy family, it really is!

Dianne (Donna) & Gabriella
Has Dianne Pilkington taken you under her wing?
Yes, she’s amazing! She’s incredible! The first time we set ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ was so special and just standing there on my own on the stage being able to listen to her sing a song like that was totally breathtaking. Absolutely everybody in the cast… if you mention Dianne’s name – oh my god – everyone has so much respect for her. She takes herself to this incredible emotional place every single night. This is her third year in the part and she is so amazing every night, I hope I will have the chance to learn a lot from her this year. 

You’ve had a whirlwind few months having just made your professional debut in Carrie at the Southwark Playhouse. Did you have a chance to take it all in?
I mean, that will always be my first job and I absolutely adored it! Again, it just so happened to be that I was very lucky to be a part of a very welcoming cast and creative team. Everyone looked after each other and really invested in what was known as the biggest Broadway flop of all time [laughs]! We all came together and wanted it to be something really special, and I think it was. I will always look back on it with fond memories. What an amazing musical! I love it anyway!

Final question, 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?
Oh noooo [laughs]! Am I going to get judged horrendously for my answers?!

Maybe [laughs], but everyone has to be a bit stagey when it comes to this question!
[laughs] Ok so my first one has to be ‘Grasslands Chant’ from The Lion King because that became a bit of a chant for my year at Arts Ed – it became kind of like our mantra throughout the year [laughs] so it has sentimental value to me. My guilty pleasure song if I fancy some really dramatic musical theatre is ‘Madame Guillotine’ from Scarlet Pimpernel. I love it! My third one would have to be some sort of tear jerker… I’m going to go for ‘Falling Slowly’ from Once. It gets me every time!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Mamma Mia! is currently booking at the Novello Theatre until 23rd April 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

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