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BWW Interview: Anoushka Lucas Talks JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

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She stars as one of two Mary Magdalenes in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical

BWW Interview: Anoushka Lucas Talks JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Anoushka Lucas as Mary in
Jesus Christ Superstar

Anoushka Lucas first played the role of Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in 2016. She has now returned to a socially distanced concert production of the show at the same venue, which is directed by Timothy Sheader.

This concert production sees the theatre's traditional 1,256 capacity reduced to 390 and the lead roles of Jesus, Judas and Mary all double-cast. BroadwayWorld spoke with Anoushka about performing theatre during COVID, the potential benefits of double-casting, and the challenges that come with performing in the open air.

What was your earliest theatre memory?

My earliest memory is going to Regent's Park Open Air Theatre aged six or seven. My parents had a friend in The Music Man. All these people came on stage and sang and it was so joyful. That, and I saw Oliver! at the Palladium. For both, I couldn't believe it was a job. Total, total joy at being entertained - is there anything better?

Can you talk about the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre as a performer and why it's great for Jesus Christ Superstar?

There's obviously a massive shift from Covid-19, but what's amazing about it is how well designed it is. It's integrated in the park, with enormous trees bending over the playing space. It feels a lot more collaborative than indoor theatre: the audience are as responsible as us for the energy they bring to the space. Here, it really feels like a coming together, hence why the show feels so cathartic given what has happened with Covid.

It's been really, really magical; there is a limit on the number of people, but we've had insanely supportive and receptive audiences. That people are sitting in separate groups reminds us of how important these performances are. That everyone - on stage and off stage - is giving their best makes the most amazing atmosphere.

You've mentioned being in collaboration with the audience, but the other entity you're collaborating with is the weather. How is it performing literally in the open air?

It's loads of fun! As a performer, the main thing you want to feel is engaged, and in somewhere like the Regent's Park, it's impossible not to feel that. One night it might hail, the next it might rain, and the next it might be 30 degrees. British people love putting themselves at the mercy of the weather and still having fun. The weather does stuff you cannot script. There's a big dramatic moment on stage wherein the plot pivots on this conversation; the other night, at the end of Act One, it started raining and the sky went purple and there was lightening. Lee Curran is a fantastic lightning designer, but you can't beat it.

As a performer, how does it feel looking into an auditorium that's a third full, knowing that the space is at its capacity when planes and pubs are packed?

It feels symptomatic of the Government's misunderstanding of our industry and the arts since the beginning of the Covid crisis. What I don't want to do is put blame on those in the pub or watching a snooker game. If the Crucible can earn some money renting out their space [as part of a pilot DCMS test event], then they should. My blame lies entirely with the Government.

Everyone in every industry, but particularly in entertainment, sport and hospitality, is doing everything they can not to go under. The Culture Secretary seems to have no understanding of how the theatre industry works and I think it's a shame. If there's one thing I've learned from the first four days of this production, it's that there is a profound hunger for our performances - the audience are excited to be in a theatre.

What were you doing when Covid hit?

On the Monday before lockdown, I was about to go into rehearsal for The Life of Galileo at Chichester, for which I've co-written some of the music with Matthew Scott. I was also workshopping a musical called Sparks, which won Best Musical at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018. We were about to get into the second round of workshops to see if something would come of it. But, on the positive side, I'd done a few jobs in the months before that, which meant I was not financially screwed.

The reality for everyone in the theatre industry is that it's a constant hustle. I recently met with a friend and neither of us could get over how tanned the other was - we realised this has been the longest time either of us has been in the sun in 12 years. Taking a break for longer than a week is unheard of if you are going from job to job or trying to set up the next job. At the beginning, people were slightly amazed at the opportunity lockdown afforded to briefly stop.

Has lockdown provided you with any writing inspiration?

At the beginning I was kind of stuck, but I found a little routine posting videos on Instagram of me singing Disney and cheery songs. I settled in a safe, small routine during lockdown - played piano and wrote songs. I did lose my ability to read, but I also started cooking and watched TV. I made my life smaller.

It was a bit of a shock going back to work, because I realised how small I'd made Covid to cope with it. It's really easy to always be trying to better yourself or create high art that is provocative, but actually what became clear was that people need art and storytelling just to manage life - and it doesn't have to be Shakespeare or Pinter to have value. If Katy Perry makes you feel better, then she has worth.

Looking at the rehearsal pictures, seeing the masks and screens, was unusual. As an actor, was it scary or were you just happy to be rehearsing again?

We got used to it quite quickly. Not hugging people is hard - actors are so tactile - but otherwise it has been so well managed by the theatre. They made it clear what they needed from us, and we understand the immense privilege we have to be working. There is such a good reason to stick to the rules and regulations. We were all rehearsing a show we'd performed before in quite a short space of time, so the focus was on relearning the songs!

When I think of backstage, it doesn't quite conjure images of roominess and space - how does being backstage work during Covid?

It's about being careful. The space is not designed for social distancing, so they have had to be mindful. Once we've run the show, there are numbered squares that have a particular route to get to, so people don't walk in a group. Because it's been so well planned, it hasn't been difficult; the challenge is to come off stage and not give the cast a hug.

How does it feel to double a role with Maimuna Memon?

It's strange but it's very good. Loads of things about it are interesting. There is a dearth of female parts in Jesus Christ Superstar - from a feminist perspective, it's great to have more roles for women. It's very interesting watching someone else play your part - we rehearsed in tandem. I've learned a lot from Maimuna: she's a talented and gracious performer, and how she inhabits the role is very different to how I do it. That's key across all the doubled roles. It'd be easy to put us all in competition, but we're all very different. The personal support of sharing a role is fantastic - I feel like I've got a new friend.

It sounds, then, a democratic method of casting? Could this be the way forward, especially for those shows that do lack female roles, as it doubles the number of employed women?

Yeah, I know there were conversations about this before Covid. Friends who are both actresses and mothers have wanted doubling in the past, but until now it wasn't thought to make sense. I think it pushes people to be the best they can be, but it also creates a much better environment. It's obviously dependent on finances, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the doubling.

Reprising roles in theatre is common - how is it returning to Mary and the show in such a different production?

It doesn't feel as different as you might expect it to. It's a creative team I respect and admire, and the band are shit hot. I think the big difference, for me, is that when I first did the show it was my first time as an actor. I'd been MD-ing a show and Will Burton encouraged me to audition. I did the show first in 2016 and I was very nervous. Now I've done more stuff, so there's a greater understanding of how the acting works. The main difference goes back to our discussion of essential workers: last time, I was focused on me, but now it's barely about us as actors. It's about theatre proving this is possible.

The people working the hardest is the ensemble: they're doing nine performances a week. Giving people 90 minutes of fun - well, we crucify him at the end, so 75 minutes of fun - feels important, magical and special. Previously, it was one show amidst a busy industry. This is the sixth time the creative team have helmed the show - the casts here are gathered from across various productions. It feels a bit like summer camp, with a reunion of four year groups.

Why does Jesus Christ Superstar work in concert?

It was written as a concept album, meaning it was driven by the music. It's also a rock opera that takes from a huge variety of styles of music that were massive during the 1960s and 70s. It's all meant to be a gig; this creative team leans into that. The lyrics are so good - they're so dense. There's so much biblical information condensed in a way that is fun to sing. When you see a gig, you like the band but you don't know the song orders - there's something more awake in gigs that comes through in this production.

Jesus Christ Superstar is at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until 27 September

Read our review here!

Photograph credit: Mark Senior


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