Monday, 26 September 2016

Big Interview: Sanne den Besten, starring as Sophie in Mamma Mia!

Sanne den Besten is currently starring as Sophie Sheridan in the West End production of Mamma Mia!, having taken over the role in June this year. 

Last year Sanne, who is from Holland, made her West End debut as understudy Fantine in Les Miserables (Queens Theatre). 

Her credits also include: understudy Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Dutch tour), The Humans (New York, Rotterdam and the Festival D’Avignon) and alternate Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music (Dutch tour). 

Mamma Mia! opened in the West End in 1999 and recently celebrated its 17th birthday. The Abba musical is currently booking at the Novello Theatre to 4th March 2017.

I recently spoke to Sanne about life in Mamma Mia!, what it was like to go from the West End’s heaviest musical to the West End’s sunniest musical and her journey from Holland to the West End…

Are you feeling settled into life in Mamma Mia!?
Yes, we’re up and running and everybody has settled in. Now we’re able to have more and more fun with it. It has been really good!

Sophie is one of those parts so many girls dream of playing, and former Sophies have gone on to do incredible things. Was the role on your radar?
I guess it was a part that I had been drawn to when I was younger; the film came out when I was twelve and I remember singing ‘Honey, Honey’ in my bedroom with my diary [laughs]. So as a young girl I had dreamed of playing it, but it’s funny because I’ve never had any sort of list of parts I really want to play – I like to wait and see what comes up. I went to audition and, especially because I’m not a dancer, I thought ‘I would love to play Sophie’. It was the only role in the show I could possibly do, so I think that made me go into the audition feeling really relaxed – I just had fun with it… and then I ended up getting it!

Sanne in Mamma Mia! with Amy Webb (Lisa) and Jemma Revell (Ali)

Is it daunting to come into a long running show and take over a role because there’s already a level of expectation, or is it comforting to know you’re coming into a well-oiled machine?
It’s quite nice to go into a show which is up and running because everything is very clear – the team already knows what works and what doesn’t work because they’ve been doing it for eighteen years. But they also give you the opportunity to make your own mistakes, and then find your own route. Obviously there is a pressure, especially during the first twenty minutes of the show – when it starts I’m alone onstage, every night I have to tell myself ‘it’s ok… just go for it’. Then when those twenty minutes are over I can relax, breathe and get on with the rest of the show. It’s really important to enjoy it!

Sanne & Linzi Hateley
What is the atmosphere like amongst you all backstage? You are a part of the most tanned cast in the West End!
[laughs] The tanning isn’t as glamorous as you might think! There’s a really nice atmosphere in the building. There are lots of young people in the cast who have just come out of drama school so they bring really fresh energy, and then because the show has been running for so long there are also people who have worked on the show for years because they love it. There’s a mixture of all sorts of different people, and a nice mixture of ages. 

You work very closely alongside the legendary Linzi Hateley who recently returned to the show as Donna. She’s such an icon in the West End, what is it like to work together?
Linzi is so great to work with, I think she’s such a great actress. I’m still young so definitely always learning from her – I love to just watch her from the wings and observe how she’s doing it all. 

What is it about Mamma Mia! that audiences love so much? Why do people of all ages still relate to it?
There’s so much in the show for every generation. Obviously there’s the Abba music, regardless of your age everyone knows these songs. Also there’s this storyline which features characters of all different ages that people can relate to. It’s just so much fun! We have a lot of fun onstage which translates to the audience. As a performer and as an audience member you can’t help but leave the theatre with a smile. 

What has it been like to go straight from Les Mis, one of the heaviest shows into the West End, into Mamma Mia!?! It’s such a huge change!
Yes, and that’s what I like so much about our job! A year is a long time to do the same show eight times a week, so after a year to do something completely different is great. I really enjoy performing both shows; yes Les Mis is a dark musical, and it’s nice to now be working on something so bright. It has such an effect on my mood when I go home, I can’t go to sleep because I have such a good feeling.

The 2016-17 cast of Mamma Mia!

Now you’ve left, what is it like to look back on your time in Les Mis? You covered Fantine which is another hugely iconic role!
I mean… when I was offered the job I was still in Holland and didn’t even have to think about my answer because it’s one of those classics. I was there for the thirtieth anniversary, so it was a special year to be in the show. It’s another show that has been running for a long time, so people know how it’s supposed to be. It’s such a vocal show which I love, I still remember doing our first sing through after our first week of rehearsals and it was so incredible. Every single person in that cast has such an incredible voice. It was an amazing experience to be in a show like that, and see people sing that score eight times a week.

There a few Dutch performers, including Willemijn Verkaik and Celinde Schoenmaker, who have been taking London by storm recently! What was it like to make the move from Holland to the West End?
In Holland there are not many shows running at the same time so you’re always looking at what’s coming next and whether there’s a role suitable, whereas over here there are lots of different opportunities. Holland is a small country, and I just wanted to have a go at auditioning for the West End… I wanted to give it a shot… and then I was lucky enough to get offered a job! It’s a different mentality over here, towards the theatre industry and performers. 

I have a stagey question for you now!
[laughs] I’m not that stagey!

Well you’re going to have to turn your stagey dial up for the next few minutes! 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?
Oooohhhh… this is a hard one for me! What would I take? Ermmm… I need to think quicker. I think I would take ‘Heaven on Their Minds’ from Jesus Christ Superstar because I just think it’s such a great show and I love that song. Oooh what else? This is hard! I would take something from Next To Normal… but what song? One of the ones with all the nice harmonies in. I’ll choose ‘Light’. Finally… my last one… I’m going to change my mind in a minute [laughs]! There are so many songs. Maybe I would take something from Parade! The duet ‘All the Wasted Time’ is beautiful.

Finally, there’s so much support in theatreland, especially when you’re in huge shows like Les Mis and Mamma Mia!. What’s it like to have that dedicated support behind you?
Les Mis has such a big fanbase, I remember before rehearsals there was already lots of support and a Twitter page set up… and now a few of those people who supported me then are coming to see Mamma Mia!. It’s so nice for us, in Mamma Mia! I love doing the megamix at the end because there’s so much interaction from the audience. When you see the audience having a great time you can’t help but have a great time yourself. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Mamma Mia! is booking at the Novello Theatre to 4th March 2017.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2-5: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

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