Friday, 25 September 2015

Interview: Christina Bennington, starring in The Smallest Show on Earth

Christina Bennington is currently originating the role of Marlene Hardcastle in Thom Southerland’s stage production of The Smallest Show on Earth.

Based on the StudioCanal Peter Sellers/Margaret Rutherford film, The Smallest Show on Earth also stars Liza Goddard, Brian Capron, Haydn Oakley and Laura Pitt-Pulford.

The production, which contains some of Irving Berlin’s greatest songs, premieres tonight (25th September) at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester before visiting Coventry, High Wycombe, Glasgow, Plymouth, Crewe, Swansea and Malvern. 

Christina recently understudied Laurey in the UK touring production of Oklahoma. Her theatre credits also include: Marilyn/Sovereign in A Christmas Carol (Birmingham Repertory Theatre), Sharon in Finian's Rainbow (Union Theatre/Charing Cross Theatre), Hamlisch (St James Theatre) and Children of Eden (Prince of Wales Theatre). 

I recently spoke to Christina about the beauty of Irving Berlin, which co-star her mum is particularly excited about, learning the ropes of touring theatre and listening to the Jesus Christ Superstar overture daily…

What did you think when you found out about the stage production of The Smallest Show on Earth?
I’ve always loved Irving Berlin’s music – it’s so classy. I’d heard of the movie, quite a lot of my family knew about it. Then when I found out about the creative team I was instantly drawn to the show.

What can audiences expect?
I think it’s a really beautiful, heart-warming musical. It’s nostalgic and has got something for every generation. There are some amazing, big dance numbers and it’s really funny. There were lots of giggles during the read-through on day one that I don’t think most of us were expecting [laughs]! It’s going to be a really fun night out.

The cast of The Smallest Show on Earth in rehearsals

There are so many classics – ‘Blue Skies’, ‘Shakin’ the Blues Away’, ‘Let Yourself Go’ – do you have a personal favourite at the moment?
Well I am singing ‘Steppin’ Out With My Baby’ with Sam O’Rourke who I play opposite. It has a huge dance break in the middle which goes through every dance style I have ever done in my life [laughs]! It’s massive in scale, so that’s a lot of fun. I also sing ‘Let Yourself Go’ which has many a key change and a big finish which is always fun [laughs].

Everybody loves a good key change! What has it been like to be a part of something totally new which has never been done on stage before?
It’s been really exciting! Thom (Southerland) our director has been really wonderful, he said from the beginning that he was going to change things around, play with it and make it work for us. I think the relationships between everyone in the cast is really lending itself to the process, it’s been really nice because everything is coming together quite organically. We’re so lucky to have our creative team!

What has everyone been like to work with?
Well I’ve always looked up to Laura Pitt-Pulford; she’s a wonderful woman and it’s really inspiring to be working alongside her. It’s something which has come sooner in my career than I thought it would. And also, I have to say my mum is a huge fan of Corrie… so Brian Capron is a personal fave [laughs]. I used to watch him when I was younger; he is just the nicest man! He’s so talented and so hardworking! It’s quite funny to have gone from watching him as a child to now be working alongside him!

I love that – how did your mum react when you told her you would be working with him?
I think I phrased it as “He’s my new best friend” so she loves it [laughs]. 

She’ll be in the audience every night! So you’ve just finished Oklahoma, has it felt like a contrast going into this?
I loved Oklahoma! I thought it was quite a refreshing version. I feel very lucky to have gone from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Irving Berlin! There were a lot of challenges for me in Oklahoma, covering Laurey and learning the whole dream ballet and all of Drew McOnie’s incredible choreography. It was a beautiful show to be a part of and I feel very lucky to have done it!

How do you find life on the road?
I have to say, a few people did laugh at me in Oklahoma… It was my first big tour and I found it quite difficult to get to grips with the fact that the wings were always different but then you’d walk on stage and the set would be the same. I know it sounds like it’s obvious [laughs], but every time you run into the wings you run for the exit to your dressing room… but it moves every week. I had to get used to it; there were a lot of more seasoned touring professionals who had to show me the ropes [laughs]. 

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?
Okay… Does this one count as a song? I would have to take the overture from Jesus Christ Superstar!

Overtures are definitely allowed!
Ah good! The Jesus Christ Superstar overture was a massive part of my childhood. Me, my brother and sister used to watch the Glenn Carter movie version every day. Neither of them are even interested in musical theatre, but we still watched it all the time! So that has to be one… let me see… what else?! I like too many songs! This is a bit random, but I would take ‘Easy to Love’ from Anything Goes. I just think it’s a beautiful, romantic song and I’ve always loved it. 

And your last one..?
Ok… I would have to take a specific performance of this song – Cynthia Erivo performing ‘I’m Here’ from The Color Purple. I didn’t know the song, but seeing her performance made me fall in love with it and since then I’ve really enjoyed listening to that song. That’s a really random three!

Christina in Oklahoma

I think it’s a good three!! Lots of variety! Looking ahead is there anything you’re itching to do?
I always want to push myself to doing something I didn’t think I would be able to do. With The Smallest Show on Earth it’s all the tap breaks and then in Oklahoma it was the ballet. So I need to find my next challenge – the bigger thing… the harder dance… something which keeps it interesting. I’ve always loved Carlotta in Phantom but I’m obviously too young. I would love to do a big sing role. 

What’s it like to have so much dedicated support behind you from theatre fans?
It’s really lovely! I think all performers need to remember that we were that person once… I was that college student who waited at the stage door to meet my hero. I think it reminds you how lucky you are to be on the other side now. The support is amazing! 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The UK tour of The Smallest Show on Earth visits Colchester, Coventry, High Wycombe, Glasgow, Plymouth, Crewe, Swansea and Malvern between 25th September and 28th November 2015. Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2: Alastair Muir 
Photo Credit 4: Pamela Raith

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