Having joined the show prior to its 25th anniversary celebrations, Layla Harrison is currently preparing to bid farewell to The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
As well as appearing in the ensemble, Layla understudies the role of Meg for which she finished as the second runner-up in West End Frame’s 2014 Understudy of the Year Award.
Layla’s theatre credits include: The Ragged Child (UK Tour/New York/Canada) and the National Youth Music Theatre’s production of Oliver! (Edinburgh Fringe).
Her dance work includes: her professional debut as Young Aurora in Sleeping Beauty (Kirov Ballet Company), Cinderella (Royal Ballet Company), Fireworks (Ballet Ireland UK and Ireland tour), dancing with Adam Cooper and Oxana Panchenko in Peter Darrell’s Jeux (gala), Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Giselle and Romeo and Juliet (English National Ballet Company), Sleeping Beauty, Carmen, Cheating Lying Stealing, Pennies from Heaven, Rubies, In Light and Shadow, The Nutcracker, Spring Season Fairy in Cinderella and Dormouse in Alice (Scottish Ballet Company) and working with Will Tuckett on a performance at Buckingham Palace for Prince Charles (Royal Opera House and Van Cleef & Arpels collaboration).
On screen Layla has appeared in: Poirot: The Dumb Witness, The South Bank Show, Blue Peter, Ballet Russes, Filth & Wisdom, Margot and 3D feature film Streetdance. She has also worked extensively as a teacher having established Dunsford Performing Arts.
Layla chats to West End Frame about why leaving Phantom is going to be emotional, what it was like to work so closely with Gillian Lynne on the show’s 25th anniversary and what other shows she’s itching to do…
Can you believe that your time in Phantom has almost come to an end?
Not at all! So much has happened in the four years I've been there, yet it feels like it's flown by too.
What are you going to miss most about the show?
I have some really special friends at the theatre, from different departments, who I will miss seeing every day. Of course I will make sure I see them plenty, but it's never the same as when you work with someone every day. The production itself is so special and I've always been so proud to be a part of it and will miss the feeling of belonging to it. The curtain call is another novelty that never wears off. There's a lot I will miss.
Absolutely! I have shed many a tear lately and there are certain moments of the show during which I get a bit choked up when I remember I won't be doing this every night. It's a huge emotional journey and I will be very sad on that last show.
Why do you think audiences still adore Phantom and go back to see it time and time again? What is its secret?
The designs of the late Maria Bjornson are stunning and the music is so beautiful. The theatre has housed the same production for twenty-nine years... it's the very definition of a classic!
Do any memories from your time in the show stand out? What have been your highlights?
I think the 25th anniversary stands out for me. I'd only just joined and was lucky enough to work with Gillian Lynne with only one other girl to workshop everything she wanted to do for the concert. It was an amazing experience and having so many previous cast and crew members involved was pretty cool. Also, my first show playing Meg was just amazing. I was terrified and thrilled at playing a role on the West End Stage but my family and friends were there supporting me and the final climb down was so cool. I wished my grandparents had been around to be there too.
What’s it like taking on such an iconic character?
I have loved my shows as Meg. I've done 308 performances in the role since I took over as first cover in January 2012. It felt a huge honour to be playing the role and finishing the show with the mask was the most amazing feeling each night.
|Layla & Sierra Boggess backstage at |
Phantom's 25th Anniversary Concert
For playing Meg you were nominated for our Understudy of the Year Award last year. What was the experience like for you? The support was crazy!
I know! That was very unexpected... especially as it's a smaller role compared to what some of the others were nominated for. I think those who'd been to see the show just appreciated my interpretation of the role and enjoyed the fact that I always tried to play her slightly differently each show. I have been humbled by the amount of people who've booked to see me play Meg and I always make an effort to thank people if they stop me at stage door.
What’s next for you?
I've just signed with a great acting agency so am excited to see what other opportunities come up but I have no set plans. I would love to keep performing and stay creative.
I believe you teach and run a performing arts course on top of doing eight shows a week?
[laughs] Yes, I teach and choreograph a lot anyway and I've been running the course for seventeen years now! It's a rather wonderful experience for my students and I learn a lot from organising something like that.
You must get a lot out of it as well as the kids?
Yes, I learn so much and build it each year. I have other friends from the West End, the commercial dance industry and the Royal Ballet, ENB come down to work with the students. It's so inspirational for everyone involved.
Are there any other shows or roles you’re itching to do?
Oooh, I would love to play something like Demeter in Cats or to be in An American In Paris. My school friend Leanne is playing the lead in that production and it looks such a beautiful show. I very nearly did Dirty Dancing and West Side Story before joining Phantom... both of those appeal. I would love to do something that contrasts the other work I've done. I'd like to let my hair down for something or play a baddy!
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?
Oh goodness, but on a desert island they should probably be upbeat and I tend to fall for the heartbreakers. Well, ‘Defying Gravity’ would be a great one. Anything from Les Mis to wallow a little and then probably 'Wishing' as it reminds me so much of my Grandad.
Interview by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Layla Harrison appears in The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre until Saturday 5th September 2015. The show is currently booking to Saturday 26th March 2016. Please visit www.thephantomoftheopera.com for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit 2: Johan Persson