BWW Interview: Gemma Dobson Talks A TASTE OF HONEY at Trafalgar Studios
Gemma Dobson is currently making her West End debut in A Taste of Honey alongside Jodie Prenger at the Trafalgar Studios. We caught up with Gemma to chat about her career so far and her role in the play.
Who inspired you most growing up?
The thing for me growing up was comedy, so people like Kathy Burke - I was in love with her growing up and still am - and Peter Kay were big inspirations to me. I used to like making people laugh, which is where the desire to perform came from, I guess.
Can you remember your first trip to the theatre?
We used to go to the pantomimes at Christmas time, which was my first taste of theatre. I thought they were amazing. I loved the whole event of watching a show. It wasn't until I was 16 that I had my first trip to a "serious play".
What drew you to performing?
Aside from the affirmation I got from making people laugh, I grew up wanting to be a dancer. My mum says I was dancing before I could walk when I was a toddler!
How does it feel to be making your West End debut?
I can't even put into words just how excited I am. It won't truly sink in until I get into the theatre, but I really never thought I'd see the day. I just can't believe it. It's a "pinch me" moment. Am I dreaming?
What is A Taste of Honey about?
Without going into too much detail, it's about a young girl called Jo, who I play, and her mother Helen, who is played by Jodie Prenger. Helen is a single mother and the story follows their complex relationship with each other and the men in their lives after they've just moved to Salford.
It was originally a two-hander but the playwright, Shelagh Delaney, realised the importance of the men in the story as well, so the piece expanded. It's a fascinating play that, at the time it debuted, unconventionally puts multidimensional, working-class women centre stage.
What's your favourite thing about playing Jo?
Jo is quite fearless in a lot of ways. She really doesn't care, she isn't bothered. She literally says "I don't care" in the play. She doesn't conform to societal structures in the choices she makes.
Her emotions are all over the place. You see the flaws of each character in this piece, including Jo, and she's fascinating to play.
It's also been great working alongside Jodie Prenger. I've always looked up to her, and so getting to work with her now is just fab.
You've had a relatively unconventional route to where you are now. How did you shape your craft for a career in acting?
I went to a High School in Leeds which specialised in the performing arts. Then I did BTEC and A-level qualifications in drama, by which point I knew that was what I wanted to go into. I thought about starting to apply for uni and I don't know exactly what it was, but I felt like I wasn't a particularly academic person so didn't think I'd fit into drama school.
Instead, I took classes at the Manchester School of Acting and, after three years of taking evening classes etc., I got an audition for the BBC. I had no clue about how to organise headshots and the like.
I think if I had gone down the traditional route of training, that opportunity might not have happened. It all happened at the right time in the right place - a casting director took a shine to me and asked me to audition for their project.
It confirmed I was meant to be in this business, and I ended up learning a lot of the technical things that come with being in a show on the job, which for me was a better way around of doing it. I was like an excitable sponge soaking up all this new information.
Any advice for aspiring performers?
Don't be afraid to be yourself. Embrace who you are, flaws and all, and don't try to be someone else. We are all unique as performers. In auditions, you want to dazzle people with your personality, so that they want to work with you. It's hard to be an actor and not be influenced, but generally I've found I've had more success from being more open.
My other advice is not to give up. So many people want to be in this industry and it's hard, but don't. No one will believe in you if you don't. You have to make it happen. You have to dig deep and depend on yourself. You will have your down days where you aren't working, but keep pushing.
Why should people come to see A Taste of Honey?
People should come to see A Taste of Honey because it's a mixture of everything. The two-and-a-bit hours of the show have you from the get-go. It's packed full of different things. The main story, the extra scenes, the music - we have a live jazz trio on stage, which I just love! - it's just an extraordinary play.
It was written by a fantastic woman at a time when it was rendered a snapshot of her time. It will make you laugh, cry and think as well. So much hard work has gone into it.
Gemma Dobson in A Taste of Honey at Trafalgar Studios until 29 February, 2020
Photo credit: Marc Brenner