Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Big Interview: Carly Bawden, starring in McQueen at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Carly Bawden is starring as Dahlia in the West End transfer of McQueen by James Phillips, replacing Dianna Agron who played the role during the play’s premiere at the St James Theatre earlier this year. 

Most recently Carly starred as Squeaky opposite Catherine Tate in Jamie Lloyd’s revival of Assassins at Menier Chocolate Factory. In 2012 she received tremendous acclaim for starring as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady alongside Dominic West at the Sheffield Crucible. 

Carly’s theatre credits also include: Zenka in The Natives (Old Vic New Voices Festival), Polly Peachum in Dead Dog In A Suitcase And Other Stories (UK tour), Whitehands in Tristan & Yseult (UK/US tours), Polly/Lucy in The Beggars Opera (UK tour), Susan in The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (Kensington), Catherine in Pippin (Menier Chocolate Factory), Genevieve in The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (Leicester Curve/Gielgud), Bella in Sleeping Beauty (Wakefield), Castiza in Vice (Arcola), Swallow in Whistle Down The Wind (UK tour) and The Mistress in Evita (UK tour).

Her workshop credits include: Mandy Rice-Davies in Stephen Ward (Sir Richard Eyre), Exstasis in Paradise Lost: Shadows & Wings (Rupert Goold), Lydia/Mary/Anne in Pride & Prejudice (Laurie Samson) and Althea in The Light Princess (Marianne Elliot).

I recently spoke to Carly about why she’s so excited to be joining the cast of McQueen, her favourite Alexander McQueen creations, why she likes to be kept on her toes and which song she would want to belt out at the top of a tree on a desert island… 

What drew you to McQueen? Did you manage to see it at the St James?
Yes! I actually managed to catch it during its last week – I went to the final matinee and thought it was pretty amazing. Then, having a read of the script I just became instantly attracted to it and felt like I really wanted to give it a go. I was also just bowled over by everyone involved in the show, especially Stephen (Wight) who I’m very excited to be working with. It’s so exciting to now be a part of the company!

What has it been like to come in and join the cast? There’s a nice mix of new and continuing cast members.
Well it’s quite nice actually to not be the only new one! Even though the company are so generously kind and welcoming, it’s good to come in with a few other new people. It’s probably quite nice for the original cast members to have this new energy brought in too – it shakes it up and everyone can find a couple of new things. It’s been wonderful! 

Carly and Stephen Wight

The show is still being tweaked and changed, an interval is being added and several scenes, I believe, have been rewritten. What have rehearsals been like? Have you been able to be quite creative? 
From day one there have been lots of open conversations. The first week of rehearsals was very focused, Steve and I had the chance to really look at the text and talk about it. It was great to have James (Phillips), the writer, in the room because I had the chance to ask lots of questions – it’s so helpful being able to bounce ideas off everybody. There are some new bits and some new tweaks, it’s been a great process. 

Everyone is fascinated by Alexander McQueen, what do you think people can expect from this play? Will people be able to view him in a different light after seeing McQueen?
What James has done with the play is amazing, it’s not a biography – it’s not “Here’s Lee’s life”. There are a lot of references to his work and his shows – it celebrates his mind and his creativity as well as his darker side and what made him so incredible and what made people feel so compelled by his creations. It’s also a visual feast, as it should be [laughs]! It’s very detailed and very focused, very personal and kind of gives you the best of both worlds. It will be really satisfying for people who know and love his work, there are so many references. It will be equally exciting for people who don’t know so much.

Carly as Dahlia
How much did you previously know?
Well I’m a fan of fashion and I follow it but I did not know half as much as I do now! When I went to watch the show I was completely enthralled the whole way through! 

Do you have a personal favourite Alexander McQueen creation?
Ummmm... something that I think is special is this golden coat that he created – with golden feathers – because of what it represents. He was always attached to misogyny and things like that when all he really wanted to do was protect women, give them power and make them feel strong, he said his clothes were like armour. This golden coat provides this striking, beautiful armour for women and I think it’s quite a special piece. But then on a more accessible level, I remember everybody was desperate for one of his skull scarfs – I know I would have loved one! They’re amazing! Then also there’s the armadillo shoes that he created which Lady Gaga wore, even people who don’t know much about his work will know about those shoes. 

Recently you were in Assassins at the Chocolate Factory. It was a sell out and the talk of theatreland, what’s it like to look back on now? Could you feel that exciting buzz from the inside?
For sure – it was so exciting to be a part of that show! It was so full of joy, for us as a company we were all just so happy to be there… like quite genuinely. We all had such a blast and it was such a brilliant company of people. We were seriously proud of it, I can remember that quite clearly; we were so proud to be sharing the show with all these people that were coming. It was a brilliant feeling!

Assassins could not be any more different to McQueen! Do you like being kept on your toes? Is variety important to you?
Yes… yes completely! Variety is what drives me. I love and find real satisfaction in being challenged and getting stretched in different directions and seeing what I’m capable of and can achieve. I love looking back on what I’ve done and seeing how different everything has been – I feel like I really benefit from it as well. As an actor and as a person it’s so satisfying.

Carly and Catherine Tate in Assassins 

So after doing a musical like Assassins will you turn around and go ‘right, I want to try and do a play now’?
I mean, as an actress it’s so tricky to look ahead [laughs]. We’d all quite like that luxury, but at the end of the day it’s the nature of the beast so we never quite know what’s around the corner. It’s a double edged sword because it’s also quite exciting. I’ve had the most amazing time in a lot of these brilliant shows where I’ve sung as well. It’s not just about me going ‘I fancy doing this now’, it very much depends on the project that comes up. I’ll read through it and see if it’s something that really gets me – sometimes you’ll read something and go ‘Oh my gosh I have to do that!’ 

What projects have made you feel like that in the past?
Hmmm, I remember the first time I really, really felt that quite strongly was when I read the script for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg which I did at the Gielgud. I read it through and watched a few clips of the movie on YouTube and I felt so strongly about wanting to do it! I just said to myself, ‘I have to do this’, I really wanted to be a part of that so getting it was the best thing ever. So I try and seek things like that, projects which really excite me and get me going in whatever avenue that may be. I’m always up for variety!

I have a stagey question… are you ready?
Go on…

Carly in rehearsals for McQueen
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?
[laughs] That is VERY stagey… but I like it!

Wow, wow, wow. I guess I would have to take…. it’s a bit predictable, but I would definitely have to take ‘I Will Wait For You’ from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, without a doubt. Then I would have to take something from My Fair Lady, that’s a given! Which one would I take? Oooo… it’s got to be ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ hasn’t it?! You’ve got to climb to the top of a tree or hill and just belt that out [laughs]… your arms out, all the clichés in one go [laughs]. So that’s in! What else would I take? Does it absolutely have to be musical theatre?

Hmm, we can maybe bend the rules a little bit… What you thinking?
I would take something from Kneehigh Theatre Company, a song called ‘Black Polly’ from a show we did last year called Dead Dog in a Suitcase. It’s a great old belter!

That’s allowed, you’ve got a good three there – you would be sorted on that desert island!
You reckon? Yeah, I think I’d be alright [laughs]. They would help me through!

Finally, theatre fans are so loyal and so dedicated, what’s it like to have that kind of support behind you?
It’s the best! The whole reason we do this job is because we feel so passionately about the work and about being a part of this kind of theatre community – I think that’s a big part of why I got started in this business, because it feels like a second family. When people are coming to your shows and are also getting this joy and excitement from it and they’re excited and passionate about it, it’s really amazing! To have that support is like a wonderful reward. It’s wonderful to have that effect because that’s what we do it for!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

McQueen opens at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 27th August (previews from 22nd August) and runs until 7th November 2015. Please visit www.mcqueentheplay.com for information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2,3&5: Specular
Photo Credit 4: Nobby Clark

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