BWW Interview: Actress Dawn Sievewright Talks OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR
Lee Hall's Olivier Award-winning stage adaptation of Alan Warner's novel The Sopranos, about a raucous group of teenage girls in Edinburgh for a choir competition, hits the West End following an acclaimed tour (read our review). Dawn Sievewright, who plays leader Fionnula and a host of other characters, shares her experience.
What was the first show that inspired you?
I couldn't tell you exactly the first thing I saw, but I remember the show that made me want to do this for a living. I saw a production of Miss Saigon at the Playhouse Theatre in Edinburgh when I was 14 and it blew my mind. The sound that came from the group of singers on stage was so unbelievably moving. I just thought "I'm going to do that".
When did you decide to pursue acting as a career?
The day I failed my maths exam was a slight push! I've just never really thought about doing anything else. And to be honest, I don't think I can.
Where did you train?
Dance School of Scotland and GSA Conservatoire.
What was your first professional acting job?
I played Monkey in the UK tour of Quadrophenia. One of the best and most fun jobs I've ever been part of.
How did Our Ladies come your way, and was it a long audition process with the singing element as well?
I was offered to do a workshop in the very early days. Sadly, I couldn't do it and when I found out they were auditioning, I emailed Vicky Featherstone, our director, about 20 times. There was absolutely nothing like it and once I had read the novel I just knew I needed to be part of it.
I had my first audition in London and met Lee Hall, Vicky and Martin Lowe, our MD. We had to sing "Lift Thine Eyes" a cappella and then were all given the same speech to read, which I guess would help them decipher which character we were most like. The funny thing is when we came to our recall Vicky said that when she had asked us what character we most connected with, we all said the characters that we ended up playing.
What's your musical background, and did you find some of the styles easier to perform than others?
I was trained in musical theatre. But the level of musicality that's needed in this show is unlike anything I have ever known. To be asked to sing classical songs like Bach and Mendelssohn and then have to riff and belt ELO is a very unique pairing. It was a lot to take in, but Martin is an unbelievable arranger and MD and the music was the first thing we attacked, so that when we came to looking at the script, the music was solid.
What's it like being in all-female ensemble?
It's unreal. It's powerful and wonderful and has taught me a lot about what kind of actress I want to be and, to an extent, what kind of human I want to be. Our creative team are the most supportive people, and the girls that I have the pleasure of sharing the stage with are some of the bravest individuals I've ever met.
It's a very special thing we've made together, and we have a massive responsibility as a bunch of young women in the West End to show girls that being honest and being yourself is what it's all about. It's what people want to watch.
Do you think the production is significant in how it tells girls' stories?
Definitely. It's honest and raw and doesn't put a marshmallowy frill around what it's like to be a young woman growing up. These girls talk about sex and cock and they swear beautifully, not because they're showing off, because it's the way they speak. And that is honestly it.
What's it been like taking the show from Edinburgh through to the West End? Has it changed much in the process?
I've been with this show for two and a bit years and it hasn't changed massively since we opened at the Traverse. I mean, the body of the piece has stayed the same, but since travelling the show all over the UK and to America and Australia we have found things that work and some other things that don't. We've also found a lot of interesting extras about our characters, their journeys and their relationships.
Do you have any future dream roles or collaborators?
Finally, what do you think audiences will get from Our Ladies?
I think every single member of the audience, whether they're young, old, male or female, will connect with parts of this story. Even if it's a tiny bit. Everyone has been young and has gone through the adventure or horrific ordeal of growing up. Everyone has done it. So it's a universal story.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour at the Duke of York's Theatre 9 May-2 September
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan