Amy Griffiths is currently preparing to star as Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the West Yorkshire Playhouse this Christmas.
Next year she will reprise her performance for the first leg of the musical’s UK tour. Stephen Mear is choreographing the new production with direction from James Brining and design by Simon Higlett.
Amy recently played Sarah in Rufus Norris’ film adaptation of London Road. Her credits for the National Theatre include Everyman, Medea and The Magistrate.
A few of Amy’s extensive theatre credits include: understudy Christine & Mandy in Stephen Ward (Aldwych), Martha in The Pajama Game (Chichester), Lucinda and understudy Witch in Into The Woods (Open Air Theatre) and The Producers (UK tour). She understudied the role of Irene in Crazy For You at the Open Air Theatre before taking over full time for the musical’s West End transfer to the Novello Theatre.
Amy’s screen credits include: Les Miserables (Working Title), The Trials of Jimmy Rose (ITV) and Spotless (Canal Plus). She has recorded voiceovers for Sky Movies, Panasonic, Thumbs Up Productions and MTV.
I recently spoke to Amy about how it feels to be taking on such an iconic role, why this new production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang feels so fresh and being kept on her toes by her younger co-stars. We also discussed how she convinced casting directors that she was right for the London Road film, how she has avoided becoming pigeonholed and why variety is such an important part of her career…
Truly Scrumptious is one of those roles so many actresses dream of playing! Is it a part you’ve always wanted to do?
Absolutely! When the audition came through I read the script and saw the ballsy side of her which I hadn’t really thought about before. She’s a single lady, in her late twenties and had no children in the early nineteenth century – she’s a strong independent woman to be in that situation in society! Not only was it a dream role for me, but I have discovered this new layer to her that excited me even more. It’s very exciting!
You have an amazing creative team working on this new production. Are James Brining and Stephen Mear freshening things up?
It feels really fresh! Day one was so exciting – the show has been completely redesigned which has shifted everything. Originally I think it was set in 1910 and now they have decided to set it post World War One in 1919. Specifically for me that’s been amazing because I have been able to research into the whole suffragette movement and the role of women post World War One – when the men went off to war the women took on their jobs and then the men came back and the women felt completely displaced. It has added an amazing new layer! The design is so exciting and really fresh… I mean… we’ve obviously still got the car [laughs] – that hasn’t dramatically changed. We’ve really played on the fact that Caractacus Potts is an inventor; there are a couple of surprises! We’re also working with the amazing Stephen Ridley who is orchestrating it and adapting bits to fit our production.
Amy in rehearsals with Jon Robyns
What is Stephen Mear like to work with?
I’m so lucky because this is my fifth time working with Stephen Mear! It was lovely walking into the room with him because he just fills you with so much confidence and I am in complete awe of him. He’s magical! It’s always nice to see a friendly face on your first day.
What moments in the show have been standing out for you?
At the moment I cannot get enough of Sam (Harrison) and Scott (Paige) who play Boris and Goran. They’ve got a big vaudeville showbiz number called ‘Act English’ which is near the beginning. Their comedy timing is amazing! I think that’s what I love about the show so much – it has got so many characters in it that you can’t get bored because the plot is continuously moving and there is something for everyone. Also, Stephen has choreographed an amazing tap routine for ‘Me Ol' Bamboo’ which looks incredible… bless them, they all look like they’re going to die by the end of it [laughs]!
And what about your bits?!
I’ve kind of lucked out because I don’t have to do that much choreography! I think ‘Toot Sweets’ is my favourite at the moment. For this production we have decided to put ‘Lovely Lonely Man’ back in – it usually gets cut out. I’m really happy they’ve kept it in because I feel like it’s the only one moment Truly gets to tell the audience how she’s feeling about Caractacus. I’m really chuffed! It means I’m able to show her softer side earlier on.
You have an incredible cast for your run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. What has everyone been like to work with?
Gorgeous! Really lovely! I'd worked with Tamsin (Carroll, Baroness Bomburst) and Don (Gallagher, Lord Scrumptious/Baron Bomburst) before at the National so already knew I was going to get on with them brilliantly. I had never worked with Jon Robyns (Caractacus Potts) before and he is lovely… although we recently found out we once sang at a wedding together [laughs]! It’s worked out well, everyone really gets on! The kids are doing brilliantly.
Are they keeping you on your toes?
Hmmm… I would say they are actually! They were definitely off book before I was [laughs]! It’s quite funny because they’ve got their confidence up so if you get a line wrong or something they’re so quick to go “Can we just stop because Amy got her line wrong” [laughs]. They’re amazing, it’s so embarrassing to be told you’ve got the wrong line by an eight year old!
After your run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse you’re heading off on tour with lots of new faces. Are you looking forward to hitting the road?
Definitely! I’m doing the tour until April. It’s so exciting getting theatre out to regional venues, especially a production like this because people get to experience a show which absolutely could be on in the West End. I’ve toured twice before and the difference in audiences between different venues is quite vast. They always react to different things completely differently which I love. It will be so sad to say goodbye to all the people who aren’t coming on tour, but it’s also great having new people come in because it keeps the production alive and fresh. Different actors bring different things which is so important when a show is going on the road for such a long time.
“...I’m not ready to say goodbye to musical theatre – I don’t see why anyone should have to pick or choose!”
What do you think is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s secret? Why do people love it so much?
I think it’s because it’s all about imagination and believing anything is possible. For a kid that is the most exciting thing ever and even for an adult it’s a show that allows you to escape. There is something so beautiful about the story which makes it applicable for all ages and I think that is why it has been such a huge success. I dare anyone to leave without a smile on their face.
Right, are you ready for a stagey question? I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
Oh no! Ok three songs? Right… ok… number one is going to be from Into The Woods, ‘Stay With Me’. I was really fortunate to do the show at Regent’s Park and I don’t think I watched Hannah Waddingham sing that once without crying. It’s the most beautiful song and I am a massive Sondheim fan. I need to try and make this diverse because I could easily take three Sondheim songs! My second is going to be ‘All That Jazz’ from Chicago. I know that’s a really obvious boring one, but Chicago was the number one show that got me into musical theatre.
How did it get you into musical theatre?
I remember seeing it as a kid and I was like ‘what on earth is this show?!’ I just remember it being so unusual - it has all these components I had never seen in a musical before. It’s also a show which was designed for strong women – I can’t think of another show which has been so commercially successful for women.
And for number three… think think think! I want to go for something really arty to impress people [laughs]! What have I seen recently? I need to think about this. I’ve got a morbid one and a sassy one, so maybe now I need something fun! I’m going to go for ‘Keep It Gay’ from The Producers! That one always makes me laugh and reminds me of when I did the UK tour ten years ago.
Your CV is incredible because the work you’ve done is so varied. You’ve done lots at the National as well as some big musicals, some screen and voiceover work and so on. Is diversity important to you?
Yes! I think fundamentally I love acting and that can be applied to any form of art; whether it be a play, a musical, a film, a voiceover. You need to be able to act to do any of those things and acting is what I love doing, so if I can apply it to as many forms as possible then I’ll bloody well try! Don’t get me wrong, it’s really challenging having graduated with a musical theatre degree to keep your CV diverse because you get pigeonholed.
How have you avoided that?
I’ve been really fortunate to work with certain directors who have then moved on to work at places… like the National. For example I owe a lot to Tim Sheader; I worked with him at the Open Air Theatre on Into The Woods and then Crazy For You. He then directed The Magistrate at the National which opened up a door to get me into that building. It’s completely a combination of luck, who you know and constantly trying to learn and educate yourself. I have been so lucky with the jobs I’ve done at the National and the actors I’ve worked with. I’ve not had massive parts there, but my biggest, biggest inspiration to date was working with Helen McCrory on Medea. She was out of this world, the most wonderful company member and a force of nature onstage. Her rehearsal process is something I will never forget. I think it’s about being open to constantly learning and knowing that there is no right or wrong to this industry. I think so many actors who start out in musical theatre want to try other things but so often we’re not given the opportunity to!
I think it’s so strange – musical theatre has some of the hardest working actors you’ll ever find!
Exactly, I think we’re looked at as happy-clappy singers and dancers who like to do musicals which don’t require a brain. I think that’s rubbish. Fundamentally we’re all actors and should all be treated as equals because we all just want to create. I would love to do more TV – I was really lucky to get a part in the London Road film with Rufus Norris.
Amy with Jon Robyns at a press event
What was the film like to work on?
Oh my god it was incredible! I watched the play and was blown away by it. I heard that they were going to make a film and was like ‘I have to be in it’. I knew what part I wanted to play and I remember my agent telling me when the breakdown had gone out. They were really wary about bringing me in for the audition because I wanted to be seen for one of the prostitutes who were big drug users and had really sad lives so were very underweight and malnutritioned. So I guess with my ‘glam’ headshot [laughs], they didn’t think I was right for it.
I said, “Listen, if I prep for this audition physically and you get me in the room I promise I can do this”. They agreed so I went in and I bought a pair of blokes joggers and jumper so that I was swimming in these clothes and looked a bit anorexic. I got the old blusher out and put it around my nostrils and put some purple eye shadow under my eyes plus I put a baseball cap on – I basically looked like a load of crap! When I went on the tube to the audition it was so funny because nobody would sit by me! Then when I went into the toilets at the National beforehand I was washing my hands and this lady who was drying her hands literally went and grabbed her handbag away from the sink. I was like ‘this is brilliant’! I felt so isolated and went into that audition and was like ‘here I am’! I don’t think they expected it [laughs]. I was so lucky because I got the job.
I should think so to!
Rufus was a dream and I would give anything to work with him again. He is the most beautiful director and such a nice person. It was so amazing being on set with all the cast who were originally in the play! It was so lovely to be a part of something which you could tell was so dear to them. The song I did was with Kate Fleetwood who I think is another incredible female actress. Even watching her on set was a complete learning curve. Working on London Road has given me a taste of filming now, so I want to try and do some more! Of course I would love to go back to the National. At the same time I’m not ready to say goodbye to musical theatre – I don’t see why anyone should have to pick or choose!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opens at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on 10th December 2015 (previews from 2nd December) and runs until 30th January 2016.
Amy stars in the musical's UK tour between 10th February 2016 at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton and 24th April 2016 at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend. Please visit www.chittythemusical.co.uk for further information, full tour dates and tickets.
Photo Credit 2-5: Antony Robling