Monday, 7 December 2015

Big Interview: Rebecca Trehearn

Rebecca Trehearn is currently playing Julie La Verne in Show Boat at the Sheffield Crucible.

Opening on 16th December (previews from 10th December), Show Boat is directed by Sheffield Theatre’s artistic director Daniel Evans who will succeed Jonathan Church as artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre next year.

Spanning 40 pivotal years in American history, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s musical features musical numbers such as ‘Make Believe’, ‘Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man’ and ‘Ol' Man River’.

Rebecca starred as Molly in the 2013-14 UK tour of Ghost The Musical, having previously understudied the role in the West End production. She went on to receive tremendous acclaim for her performance as Oolie/Donna in City Of Angels at the Donmar Warehouse and played Marcy in the UK premiere of Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse (a role she recently reprised for a one-off concert staging at the St James Theatre).

A few of Rebecca’s extensive theatre credits include: Martirio in Bernarda Alba (Union), understudy Jenny Cavilleri in Love Story (Duchess), understudy Rose Vibert in Aspects Of Love (Menier Chocolate Factory), understudy Elizabeth in Dirty Dancing (Aldwych), understudy Killer Queen/Meat in We Will Rock You (Dominion) and Cinderella's Mother/understudy Rapunzel in Into The Woods & Elizabeth in Whistle Down The Wind (both National Youth Music Theatre). 

I recently spoke to Rebecca about what makes Show Boat such an epic musical, why starring in Ghost marked a special part of her life and the huge response to the themes and issues in Dogfight…

How familiar were you previously with Show Boat? It hasn’t been done in the UK for a while!
It wasn’t new to me, I saw the black and white film and I think the colour one, which was made in the 50s, when I was really young. My dad loved it – he’s thrilled I’m doing it [laughs]! The songs are obviously standards, it would be hard to find somebody who didn’t know at least one of them. It wasn’t one of those shows I knew backwards and forwards so in some ways parts of it are new to me. It’s so exciting to be a part of it! As you say, it has been a long time since it was last done in the UK so it’s nice to be able to rediscover it.

It seems strange that it hasn’t been seen here for so long – it’s such an epic show!
That’s the perfect word for it! Epic is an overused word, but this show really is epic. It spans 40 years of American history. It’s quite daunting actually; there’s a twelve year gap in my character’s history in the show and then there’s everything that has happened before we meet her, so there’s a lot for me to fill in! We have been doing a lot of research which has been really interesting. 

Gina Beck and Michael Xavier in rehearsals for Show Boat

What is Daniel Evans like to work with in the rehearsal room?
He’s a joy! I absolutely adore him, as everybody does! He’s a fantastic director and incredibly bright but also a really warm as a person – it’s one of the warmest and most welcoming rehearsal rooms I’ve ever worked in. He’s so thorough and doesn’t miss a trick. Show Boat is perceived as being a piece that opera companies often do, so it’s nice to be stripping away the layers and making it a little more naturalistic and – I hope – more human. You get a bit of everything! As you said earlier, it’s an epic piece socially and politically – it covers pretty much everything you could hope for it to cover. You really do get a bit of everything. 

It has stood the test of time!
It’s just so well written! The show was a massive turning point – people often think of Oklahoma as being the turning point for the American musical in terms of the book and song being so intertwined. However, Show Boat predated that. The social and political aspect of it was so courageous for the time it was written – as far as I’m aware it was the first time black and white people were put onstage together which was a brave thing to do in the 20s. It has changed a huge amount over the years; there has practically been as many different versions of Show Boat as there have been productions – it’s constantly evolving and changing which is really interesting to look into.

Rebecca in City Of Angels rehearsals
How have you found taking on your character, Julie La Verne?
I have loved it! It felt daunting because – as I said – there is so much to fill in. There is a weight of responsibility because she’s living with an enormous secret which eventually comes out. She’s a wonderful character, there’s so much to pick apart and discover. Her backstory is fascinating and there’s so much to delve into which is a great challenge… but also slightly intimidating as well [laughs]. 

You are working alongside the most amazing cast full of West End talent! What has everyone been like to work with? Did most of you already know each other?
It’s a fantastic company! At first some of the calls were quite isolated because it is such a big show, so it was so nice when we all came together during the second week to put the opening together. I knew a handful – I did City Of Angels with Sandra (Marvin) this time last year. Gina (Beck) and I have known each other since we were teenagers, but this is the first time we’ve done a production together which is wonderful. I was also in Love Story about five years ago with Michael (Xavier) so I knew some of them, but there were a lot of new faces on the first day too.

How are you feeling about spending Christmas in Sheffield? There is always so much buzz surrounding the Crucible’s Christmas musical, and Show Boat has already extended its run due to huge demand!
It’s wonderful and such an exciting place to be! I had never been to Sheffield full stop, never mind the theatre! I had always heard such wonderful things and wanted to work with Daniel for a long time which was a huge attraction for me when the audition came up. A lot of our company have worked in Sheffield before and nobody has a bad word to say about it. 

Right… there are so many shows that we have to mention!
[laughs] Let’s go for it!

Ghost was a massive show for you – you understudied Molly in town and then took over for the tour. What is it like to look back at your journey with the show? It opened up lots of doors for you!
I’m so grateful for it! If I’m totally honest, I spent the first ten years of my career – aside from the odd job – understudying and, I’m not going to lie, I got really frustrated! So to be given the opportunity to take the role on meant so much to me on a personal level. I could relate a lot to Molly’s life experiences because we had a lot in common so it was a really important show for me personally as well as professionally. I think it changed people’s perception of me, they realised “oh she can carry a show” and, there’s never any guarantee of getting jobs, but I got a foot in the door [laughs]. I couldn’t be more grateful, it was a really special time in my life which I will always look back on with a great a deal of fondness. 

Rebecca with Stewart Clarke in Ghost The Musical

One of those doors that opened led you to starring in City Of Angels at the Donmar last Christmas. The run sold out within minutes and you went on to receive tremendous acclaim for your performance! Was it a bit of a whirlwind?
Yes! It was a bucket-list moment. I remember I did Into The Woods at the National Youth Music Theatre when I was in my teens which was around the same time the Donmar were doing their production so my parents, bless them, brought me up to London to see it. I was about fifteen at the time and ever since it has been on my list of places I would love to work at. To get to work there was just incredible, especially on such a phenomenal piece of musical theatre which is so beautifully written and so clever. That creative team – Josie Rourke, Stephen Mear, Gareth Valentine – and that company… it was like a gift from the gods! It was a really joyous piece to perform. After having spent the best part of two years doing Ghost, it made a really nice change to go into something which didn’t require the same amount of emotion [laughs]. 

Recently all the Dogfight cast got back together to perform a one-off concert of the show at the St James. What was it like to see everyone again?
It was wonderful! What took me by surprise was how much was still there in all of us which is testament to the show and our creative team. Matt Ryan as a director is an absolute wonder and I would love to work with him again. It was really special – I had never experienced an audience response like that before. 

It was crazy – everybody who saw Dogfight had a strong opinion about it!
It was something else! I have to admit, when the first batch of reviews came out I was really worried but the controversy surrounding it ended up serving us really well. It was such a relevant conversation – sexism is a hot topic. It was really great to get that kind of conversation going in the theatre world.

Rebecca in City Of Angels
Earlier you mentioned being in Love Story with Michael. It was such a brave, beautiful show. How did you find being part of a unique new musical like that?
It was a really lovely experience. I wasn’t involved in the Chichester run, I joined the cast when it moved to London so it already felt like a living breathing thing as Michael and Emma (Williams) had so much of it on their shoulders. As you say, it’s such a beautiful show! It is sad that it didn’t run for longer, but I think the blessing of it is that it is one of those shows which could easily pop into other venues because it’s so simple in terms of staging and technical requirements. It’s a really intimate story. I saw it at the Union recently and thought it worked beautifully because it’s not about flashing lights and a big set, it’s just at heart a really touching universal love story.

I’m afraid I have a very stagey question for you!
[laughs] Oh god!

I’m sending you to a desert island and you can take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
Only three? Ahhh… I love The Light in the Piazza full stop, I think it’s the most beautifully exquisite score. I think I would take 'Love to Me' because it’s so beautiful melodically, but I think what I love about it is the fact the language barrier is there and you’ve got this chap trying to articulate what it is he loved about this woman and finding it really difficult. For me it makes it all the more touching, I love the things he does manage to come up with!

What else would I take?! ‘Pretty Women’ from Sweeney Todd - I just love that song because of the yearning and underneath the tension of umming and ahhing about whether to slit the judge’s throat [laughs] whilst singing such a beautiful love song – your hackles rise and then it breaks your heart at the same time.

My last one? I’m really torn between two… ‘Somewhere’ or ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ from West Side Story for very different reasons. ‘Somewhere’ breaks my heart and I think ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ is one of the most perfectly songs ever written because it’s so witty, clever and heart breaking. I would go for ‘Somewhere’ at a push [laughs], but it’s a very, very close one!

Finally, what’s it like to have so much dedicated support behind you from theatregoers?
It’s incredibly lovely and really touching that people take the time to follow my career… and travel… right across the country sometimes! Particularly with Ghost there are some fans who have travelled all over the world to see it, and god bless them – we would be out of work without people like that! It’s a tough old industry and money keeps getting whipped away by the government left, right and centre so the support is definitely needed! I feel very, very fortunate, and I’m sure everyone else working in this industry does too, to have that support. We’re lucky!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Show Boat opens at the Sheffield Crucible on 16th December 2015 (previews from 10th December) and runs until 23rd January 2016. Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2, 3 & 5: Johan Persson

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