Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Big Interview: Tamsin Carroll discusses her new roles in Casa Valentina & Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Tamsin Carroll is currently playing Rita in the European premiere of Casa Valentina by Harvey Fierstein which officially opens at the Southwark Playhouse tonight (16th September).

Based on real life events, Casa Valentina follows a group of heterosexual cross-dressers who leave their families, friends and city jobs behind to safely inhabit their female alter egos and release their inner woman.

It has recently been announced that after Casa Valentina, Tamsin will play Baroness Bomburst in James Brining's new production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in December.

Most recently Tamsin recreated the role of Ellen in the first West End revival of Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre. She premiered the English language version of 'Maybe', a new song written by Boublil and Schönberg for Ellen to sing in the second act. 

Her theatre credits also include: Chairy Barnum in Barnum (Chichester), The Magistrate (National), Emma Goldman in Ragtime & Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream (both Regent's Park), alternate Nancy in Oliver (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), Magenta in The Rocky Horror Show (Sydney & Melbourne) and Dusty Springfield in Dusty (Australian Tour).

Tamsin is from Australia where just a few of her theatre credits include playing Marta in Company, Isabella in Measure for Measure, Rizzo in Grease, Tracy Lord in High Society, Rose in Bye Bye Birdie and Sheila in Hair. She played Nicole in three episodes of EastEnders.

I recently spoke to Tamsin about the beauty of Harvey Fierstein’s work, memories of sitting around at the piano with Boublil and Schönberg whilst working on Miss Saigon and why she’s so excited about working on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…

Casa Valentina is an incredibly exciting play, what made you go ‘I want to do this’?
I’m a huge fan of the writer Harvey Fierstein, I think he’s an exceptional human being who has such a wonderful collection of work behind him. New work is always exciting and this is an ensemble piece which is one of the greatest things about it. It’s very rare that you get a cast of around nine or ten who all get their moment. It’s a real collaboration with big personalities and great stories! Also, it’s very topical at the moment. It’s a subject matter which has come to the limelight and deserves to be discussed in the limelight. It’s very interesting because it’s a topic some people may not have considered, I’ve learnt a great deal through being part of it. So for all those reasons I found it very appealing and, of course, the Southwark Playhouse has such a wonderful reputation and is a great venue to be at. We’re having a great time!

What do you think people can expect? Are we going to have our eyes opened?
Absolutely, I think people will definitely come out considering things in a different way and maybe even thinking about things they’ve never previously considered. I think it’s a very moving piece, I think there’s a great sense of humour to it but it’s also a very honest, brave take on a complicated situation. It’s a play about humanity – people trying to deal with something which has, for whatever reason, occurred in their life and trying to create a life that works in and around marriage and work and society and all those things… it’s hard but in and out of all those things are people who are just like you and I. It’s a very informative and brain tingling kind of show.

Tamsin in Casa Valentina

What has everyone been like to work with?
It is just a dream company! They are just such a lovely, lovely group of individual people – everyone’s so different which is what I love! We’ve got a fabulous collection of older members of this wonderful acting profession and then we’ve also got people doing their first show. From that point of view we’ve all got a lot to learn from each other. It’s a very happy company and I think we all enjoy coming into work every day… which is a really nice thing! You can’t always say that… [laughs], so it’s a very good thing. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time sitting around, watching people I admire and being amazed every day. It has been wonderful!

This marks the play’s European premiere; it must be exciting to be able to work on something which hasn’t been done over here before?
Oh absolutely, and I think our director Luke Sheppard started from scratch with it. I am assuming that people who perhaps saw it on Broadway will find this a very different take which I think is quite exciting because we can approach it as new work. There are so many different ways you could portray these characters and tell this story. We’ve been given great liberation to kind of do what we want with it which is great! But I imagine it also stays true to the essence of what Harvey wanted… he’s probably coming to see the show so he can tell you what he thinks [laughs]! I hope he enjoys our take on it, I’m certainly enjoying what we’ve discovered. 

Talking of Harvey, it’s a big week for him with Kinky Boots opening in the West End too! What do you think is the secret to his success?
I know! I think he writes at the heart of people. He writes wonderful characters who have normal relationships in terms of loving people and being part of a family amid extraordinary circumstances. I think that’s what it is – his work speaks to the everyday person. He’s a humanitarian and I think you can’t help but empathise and see a little bit of yourself in these people. He’s also got a great sense of humour; he’s a very clever writer and always stays very honest and tugs at the heart strings. 

Back in May you left Miss Saigon after a whirlwind year as Ellen. The show opened with such a bang which was then followed by the spectacular 25th anniversary celebrations. How does it feel to have left the Miss Saigon bubble? What’s it like to look back at your time in the show?
It was a fantastic time! One of the wonderful things about doing a Cameron Mackintosh production which has lasted twenty-five odd years is that you celebrate it. Cameron loves the fans to celebrate being a part of that journey. Miss Saigon is an extraordinary phenomenon and I wasn’t really prepared for that when I joined. The following and the history is just extraordinary! And like Casa Valentina, it’s such a relevant topic. The Cameron Mackintosh group do those celebrations so well and they keep their productions alive, always changing and moving with the times. It was an honour to be a part of reimagining the show and watching new talent like the extraordinary Eva Noblezada who was a little seventeen year old when she started! Then we were also so lucky to have Jon Jon Briones who was part of the original company and came in a full circle to now be playing The Engineer in this new production. Witnessing that kind of thing in theatre is just incredibly special and I was so grateful to be a part of it. I was very lucky!

What was it like to take on ‘Maybe’ which was new for this revival? It’s such a unique opportunity to be able to take on a new song in an existing show!
It was such a big honour to be given ‘Maybe’. I think that’s also testament to Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil as well as Cameron who always want to keep making sure they get things right no matter how long-running and successful a production is. They aren’t afraid to change things that they think could be looked at in a slightly different way. Reimagining a little part of Ellen’s journey and giving her, perhaps, a little bit more depth and backstory allowed a slight shift. It wasn’t a big dramatic change, but it was detailed and did make a difference. Obviously singing an original Boublil and Schönberg song was a big honour! Working with them in a little room around a piano was one of those moments where you just have to pinch yourself and make sure you’re not dreaming! It was very special.

Tamsin and Alistair Brammer in Miss Saigon

So hot off the press it has just been announced that after Casa Valentina you are going into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! How excited are you to be going into another incredibly iconic musical?
YES! I’m so excited! My father (Australian actor Peter Carroll) has just done a tour of it as Grandpa Potts in Australia and he said to me it’s one of the loveliest things he’s ever done because you can’t prepare yourself for the response that children give to the show. They just adore it! It’s such a favourite and, again, it’s a great company and we’re going to have a lot of fun… perhaps even a bit too much fun [laughs]. I think it’s going to be a very jolly time! I’m really, really looking forward to getting started. It’s such a classic.

Right, I’m sending you to a desert island and you can take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take?
Oh god, oh god! [laughs] I think for me they might possibly all have to be Sondheim! I need to be more specific… I’m going to go for ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ from Company, ‘I'm Still Here’ from Follies and ‘The Miller's Son’ from A Little Night Music. Can you tell I'm a Sondheim fan [laughs]?!

Finally, what’s it like to have so much dedicated support behind you from theatregoers?
It’s an extraordinary thing! The whole theatre world feels like an extended family. I think that’s particularly true of the Southwark Playhouse, the audiences that come here are people who are prepared for a great night at the theatre. They are committed to listening and involving themselves. That’s what art should do, you should talk about things and discuss and hopefully be changed by things, so the support is essential to the live theatre world! I think we’re all very grateful for the support, we’re lucky people!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Casa Valentina runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 10th October 2015.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2-3:  Robert Workman

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