BWW Interview: The Cast Talk FALSETTOS at The Other Palace
A tale of love, loss and laughter, Falsettos is currently running at The Other Palace. Cast members Oliver Savile, Gemma Knight-Jones and Laura Pitt-Pulford spoke to BroadwayWorld about being part of the show.
Who inspired you most growing up?
Oliver: It was my dad. I don't think I'd be doing this if it wasn't for him. I suddenly found a love for theatre when I was about eight or nine. It was when we went to a show, and I asked him about the people on stage. When he explained to me that they were actors, and that was their job, that was when I decided it was what I wanted to do.
Then when it got to auditioning for drama schools and stuff, he'd drive the car. He wasn't pushy, per se, but he made did make it a lot easier for me to go to auditions. I'm forever grateful to him that I get to dress up for a living.
Gemma: My inspiration wasn't so much famous people; it was closer to home. While I was at stage school, it was the older girls in the higher classes. I just thought they were fantastic dancers. I always remember thinking "I can't wait to be that age and get to do their dances", because their routines just seemed like the best.
And now I suppose it's the people I'm working with. Endless inspiration comes from who you're around creatively. Everyone is different and brings something new to the table - be it directors, musical directors or fellow actors. I still go to the theatre and am in awe of those on stage, even though it's what I do as well.
Laura: I would definitely say my parents. When you tell your parents that you want to be an actress, they will probably respond in two ways: they either support you or tell you you're ridiculous, and you should train to be a doctor instead.
They inspired me by supporting me in this, letting me become my own version of who I wanted to be. They also allowed me to fail - an amazing thing for a parent to do, which I think I would find very hard!
Also, while I was training at Stratford-upon-Avon College, I was lucky to have some amazing teachers and people who will stick with me. Without those people who believed in me, I don't think I'd be here.
Why did you want to be part of Falsettos?
Oliver: I love it when I get this question. As much as I would love to pick and choose what I did in any show, it just came about the usual way. I got a phone call from my agent saying I had an audition for Falsettos, and I thought "Amazing!".
I went into the audition, and, luckily, they gave me the job! Being part of anything new, or not done before in Europe at least, as part of an original cast is really exciting. It's what all actors strive for: to do something new. So, I'm really excited to be a part of the UK premiere of Falsettos.
Gemma: When I got the call from my agent about Falsettos, a massive pull for me was that I've worked with some of the creative team before. So, I thought this would be a particularly nice job to be involved in.
Auditions can be the worst situations ever, but in this instance - which doesn't happen very often - I knew the creative team, which brought a level of comfort, and in the room, I felt very supported from early on. Knowing the creatives didn't get me the role, but it meant I went in feeling more settled.
Laura: I had previously worked on Little Miss Sunshine, another show by James Lepine. I completely fell in love with the show and his writing. Then I heard they were doing Falsettos, and as I did my research, I was struck by how juicy the role of Trina was. There was so much potential in her.
What she goes through is quite extraordinary. She was a Jewish woman in 1979 - her husband leaves her for another man, they have a kid, and that's the situation at the start of the show! It's incredible to ask, "Where do we go from here?", "How do you even tackle that?", but that's the beauty and the challenge of acting.
How familiar were you with the show beforehand?
Oliver: I wasn't that familiar, but I did know the show, and it had been in my music library for ages. When I was at drama school, our repertoire included numbers like "Falsettoland". So, I at least knew the material, but I didn't know what a beast this show is. It's very intricate. It's incredible. It's two musicals put together. It's amazing.
Gemma: I was not familiar with the show beforehand, but when I got the part I started researching. I downloaded the 2016 Broadway revival cast recording to learn more about my character, and I was delighted to find out Tracie Thoms had played this part as well.
I'm a big fan of hers, so it was really nice to hear her on the tracks. It's sort of put a little pressure on me because it's so easy to make comparisons, but ultimately, I'm quite delighted to be following in her footsteps.
I really like the music. I love the story. It's very relevant and one you don't find being told, per se. There are a lot of layers in this show, and it's been great to delve into them in rehearsals.
Laura: I genuinely didn't know much about it. Before rehearsals, I looked into what it meant to be Jewish; what it means to come from a background like that; what the restrictions are or aren't.
I always think of going into rehearsals is like having a blank canvas that you need to populate with elements, but you can only add what you know. So, I worked to make sure I knew as much information as I could to help me with rehearsals.
What's your favourite thing about who you're playing?
Oliver: I play a character called Whizzer. He's great. He's sort of loud, out there...he's hard to put into words. He's just really fun to play. He gets to sing some beautiful tunes. I get to have a good amount of time on stage and I go on a nice character journey, which is always good to get as an actor.
I did a show at the beginning of the year called The Last Ship, where I got to play a real person. I've had a career of playing cats, princes and French revolutionaries, all of whom I loved playing, but to actually play a human with real problems, rather than living in excess, is just a treat.
Gemma: With Charlotte, I love that she's a strong woman, perhaps the strongest of the three women on stage. She's a doctor, and she also works very hard, plus it's really nice as a black woman to be playing a successful doctor, being the breadwinner etc. It's a role I am happy to portray as a black character.
I'm also enjoying playing opposite Natasha [J. Barnes] in a romantic relationship, which is something I haven't done before. It's another lovely element to explore. She's openly gay and, given the time of the piece, it's really early days in terms of society opening doors to homosexually, but I don't think that bothers Charlotte. She doesn't care that people might judge her kissing Cordelia in public. She just does it because she's massively proud of being gay and being in love with Cordelia.
Laura: Trina has incredible strength. She just suffers in silence. She's so good at putting on a brave face, as people with sons often are. For me, it's her fight. Her constant fight with what her family would think of her, the pride and shame she feels. She just has to function in the best way possible for her son Jason, who is everything to her.
How was the rehearsal process?
Oliver: It really came together. Losing Matt [Cardle] was tough on everyone, but it happened for all the right reasons. The poor man was doubling up. Falsettos isn't a show that you can do during the day and then just go home and not do any homework. There are so many lyrics and so many harmonies to bed in.
I can't imagine what having to go do a show on top of that was like, or even two on a Wednesday or Saturday, let alone Jesus Christ Superstar of all things! Now we've got Joel [Montague] in, and he really hit the ground running. He's been incredible, and we're in a really solid place.
When stuff like this happens, it brings you closer together as a company. You just deal with it, and we've all come together as a massive team. Everyone from Tara [Overfield Wilkinson], our director, to Richard [John], our MD, everyone in stage management etc.
This is one of the hardest shows I've ever done by far. I've done workshops where you have to learn a lot of stuff in one or two weeks, but even though we've had a few weeks' rehearsal, this show is something else! It's not just lyrics; it's not like every song goes verse, chorus, repeat chorus...it's a whole other thing. You have to strike a balance between landing the moment as well as nailing the most incredible, yet quirky harmonies on top.
We've been piecing it together slowly in rehearsals. Sometimes, I've nailed the moment but lost the harmony, or vice versa. It's a really tough gig, but amazingly rewarding when you pull it off. While I enjoy being in The Other Palace, I've really enjoyed our time in the studio.
Gemma: We've reached an exciting point. It's been a really quick process. While rehearsals always ebb and flow, within two days we'd covered Act I, and then after a week, we'd covered the whole thing. It's like being on a moving train. Now we know what we're doing and how the music fits, which means we can now delve a bit more and ask ourselves why we're making certain choices.
This is also the first time I've done a sung-through musical. There's something massively different about that in that you're telling a story, but with no speech in between numbers to inform the audience you're....having an argument, say! It's all in the songs, and there's a challenge there for me definitely. I'm digging deep to try and find the best way of telling this story with no speech.
It's going well. We're really enjoying it. It's such a small cast, so we've connected really well. I was absolutely buzzing when I found out Joel was taking Matt's place, as we're really good friends. It's been an absolute joy coming back to work with him every day.
Laura: It's a big show, so it's important to work out how to survive it both physically and emotionally. What I find interesting is every time you perform a show, you find something else, or you suddenly realise what a particular moment means, and I think that's going to keep happening for a while. We'll keep finding things, and the beauty of theatre is that we get to do it eight times a week.
As a performer, you tend to grow into your character over time, but hopefully not too much! Just like how things become stronger when you're in a relationship, the more you spend time with them and get to know them.
Are there any particular moments in the show that you're looking forward to?
Oliver: Yeah, there's a few. I wouldn't want to give away my favourite one as it would spoil it for those who don't know the plot. It's a story about love, and it's a story about acceptance. I'd say Act I is a very different animal to Act II. It's also a really funny piece.
Gemma: I've never performed at The Other Palace, so I'd really been looking forward to working there. I'm also looking forward to people's reactions to it. Every time a little piece of video is posted online, there's this buzz! People are ready for it.
In rehearsal, you eventually stop laughing at the funny bits and don't find the sad bits as sad after a while, so getting an audience in gives it new life. Every day is different because of the different audience that's in. You can really feel that, especially with a small audience. We know when they're with us, what they find funny etc.
Laura: At the moment, I'm excited but a little bit terrified! I love being on stage with everyone. There's a definitive ensemble feel that comes with being a really small cast. It's really joyous when you're on stage with your peers, producing something like Falsettos.
There are moments that will excite me that scare me at the moment, but that's completely normal. I'm really looking forward to "breaking down" too. There's a real brokenness in that song. It has its own process, and it's been really interesting to work it out.
How do you think the UK theatre is doing in representing modern society on stage?
Oliver: From what I've seen, I think it's doing a good job. It's a weird one because I've been in a few shows recently, I haven't got to see a lot of the new stuff that's on. I don't think I've seen enough to be able to fully comment and say "Yes, theatre is doing this right and this wrong".
Obviously, there's still a long way for us to go with all of the various things going on, but I think as a whole, we're representing a lot more people on stage and telling a lot more stories that are now more widely accepted.
I think it's also much better for young people for seeing their peers in the film and theatre industries which leads to them deciding "You know what? I want to do that!". So yeah, I think it is more representative in a wonderfully good way.
Gemma: I definitely feel we're going in the right direction, 100%. The appointment of certain creative people recently has been really good for the theatre - and also for telly, which is a different story. Having people like Kwame Kwei-Armah at the Young Vic has really helped to rewind a couple of disappointing years of theatre.
We can always say there's more to be done, but now there are more people in the positions that can make things happen and be that voice for those who don't have one. It all makes for a more diverse place, which is what you want in a place like the UK. It's so multicultural. You have so many cultures and classes, and it's encouraging to see representation across those things is happening.
Laura: I think we're doing much better than we've ever done. The opportunities seem vaster than they ever were, and doors are being opened for stories to be told that have never been told before - or rather, there are now more stories that we previously thought people didn't want to hear, but that's certainly not the case.
People have become much more open to diversity, which naturally leads to so much more excitement and possibility on our stages. People aren't scared to not have a fluffy world anymore. We don't just have to create nice entertaining art, even in musical theatre.
Are there other stories that you think should be told on stage today?
Oliver: Again, I have not seen enough recently to know what is or isn't out there. I guess it would be great to hear more stories from around the world. In terms of stories I'd personally love to tell, I'd love to play Gaston in Beauty and the Beast once day.
Gemma: That's such a hard question. There's certainly an argument for all stories to be shown. I recently saw Elliot Warren in Flesh and Bone, and it's really stuck with me. I found that so refreshing as a piece of work. There were no airs and graces, not a lot of light or "fun stuff", no revolving stage...none of that. Yet, it was the most hard-hitting, exciting, funny show. It had everything.
I also think it's not necessarily about the specific stories, but also the way people are telling them. That's the kind of work I'm excited to see, particularly the sort that counteracts the big-budget musicals people expect.
Laura: I think we're more open to hearing stores about all different issues going on around the world these days - not just stories that will make us feel happy. We're lucky we have spaces in London that are supportive of these stories, like the Young Vic and The Other Palace, where we're performing Falsettos.
These spaces are very open to new work, and doors seem to be being held open more for that larger conversation about what should be shown on stage. I think as long as that keeps happening, then we're heading in the right direction.
Any advice for aspiring performers?
Oliver: Love what you do, make mistakes - the usual tips. I'm so grateful I get to do what I do. I thank my lucky stars every day that I get to do something that I just utterly love.
I would say though, just because you want to do something, that doesn't mean you should do it. You've got to need to perform. It's not the easiest industry in the world, but if it's what you feel you were made for, then go for it. Doing something you love is just the best thing in the world, which makes up for those times when you're out of work.
Gemma: Don't give up would be my number one piece of advice. I didn't formally train at drama school, but I've always sung and danced from a really young age. I did my GCSEs and A-levels and went to uni to study media and performance. Even then, I still wasn't entirely sure whether I wanted to be upfront, on stage performing or behind the scene working in post-production in something like TV.
Then I decided I very much wanted to give theatre a go and see if I'm good enough, and thankfully I've managed to forge a career out of something I love. I suppose I was very lucky in my upbringing in that I was exposed to lots of things and I was given a choice about what I wanted to do.
I also worked very hard and eventually, I figured out that singing and acting were at the core of what I wanted to do. If you haven't trained, don't feel like it's the end of the world. I've done various training off my own back, taking classes etc.
It's also important to make sure you are a strong person. There are a lot more 'No's than 'Yes's in this industry, and it's important to know your worth. At the end of the day, you rarely miss a gig because you weren't good enough - it's just that you weren't the right fit.
Laura: I would say, be bold. Stick to your guns. It's very hard to be told that your way isn't the right way, but then with performing, is there really a right or wrong way to do something? Be brave and be bold in your choices, and for heaven's sake, be a nice person. That will get you into many places and keep you open to many opportunities and stories.
Why should people come to Falsettos?
Oliver: It's never been done over here before. It's something new, and it explores an aspect of a culture that's really interesting. The music, the words, the intricate bits of the story...there's so much to it. I know we have Phantom and Les Mis that are also sung-through, but it's not what you expect. It's a great story about real people. We're all having a blast.
Gemma: People won't have seen anything like it before. They're going to laugh, they're going to cry, they're going to be taken on a bit of a rollercoaster. It's a musical about so many things. There's unconventional love in there, HIV and AIDS are being talked about...there's so much for people to grab onto. You will not regret getting a ticket for it.
Laura: I'm sure you'll relate to at least one character, maybe all of them! It's just a thoroughly entertaining piece on every level. Falsettos is incredibly moving and human, which is what I love about it.
Falsettos at The Other Palace until 23 November
Note: the cast was interviewed before Selladoor's statement on diversity in this production of Falsettos was published.
Photo credit: Matthew Walker