Best-known for playing the inconsolable Rhiannon in the BBC drama series Waterloo Road, actress Rebecca Craven is taking her talents in a new direction, making her professional theatre debut as Tracy Turnblad in the new production of Hairspray at Leicester’s Curve theatre.
Playing the teenager with high hopes, huge ambitions and even bigger hair, Craven will work alongside ex-EastEnders actor David Witts and Curve artistic director Paul Kerryson, highly respected for his musical theatre productions at the venue, including Hello, Dolly!, Piaf, Gypsy, The King and I and 42nd Street. The production continues until April 5.
Musical Theatre Review’s Polly Sisley caught up with Craven just before opening night.
This is your professional musical theatre debut and it is a big leading role – are you excited and nervous at the same time?
I am absolutely delighted to be playing Tracy in Leicester Curve’s production of Hairspray. It is my professional debut and I am very nervous, but being part of a truly wonderful and supportive company has made the entire experience a really enjoyable one. Nevertheless, I know I’ll have huge butterflies the moment the overture starts.
Leicester Curve has an impressive reputation for staging musicals, what has it been like being part of the production and working alongside several very experienced musical theatre performers as well as director Paul Kerryson?
It has been a privilege to work with such experienced performers whom I have learnt from and been inspired by every day for the last four weeks. The great reputation of Paul Kerryson and the Curve’s productions precede them and, although a little daunting, this is a reputation that I hope to be a small part of in years to come.
What do you like about the character of Tracy, do you admire her?
She sees the good in every aspect of life and the world and she deeply dislikes people being treated differently because of the way they look. Obviously I admire Tracy, who wouldn’t? She’s awesome.
I read that you trained at the Mark Jermin stage school and then at Trinity Laban, have you played Tracy before?
I played her in a stage school production when I was 17!
Did you leave your training early to take on the role in Waterloo Road?
Yeah, I left half-way through my training. It was the best decision I ever made and have been so so lucky ever since.
What has been the difference in your approach to playing Tracy Turnblad and Waterloo Road’s Rhiannon – they are very different.
TV and film is a very different discipline to theatre. Tracy Turnblad is an extreme version of a character, everything is larger than life, and as it’s a stage performance everything is a lot bigger. Performance choices have to be bigger and bolder to reach to all the audiences. When acting for camera it has to be a lot smaller and subtler. When you’re watching TV you pick up on every reaction a person has, so you need to make sure your performance for camera is a lot more naturalistic. Tracy and Rhiannon are worlds apart!
How does working in theatre compare to your experience on Waterloo Road?
Working on Hairspray is a lot more physically exhausting. Rehearsing massive choreographed production numbers is very tiring but also rewarding. Both aspects of performing are mentally challenging but so enjoyable. I couldn’t choose which one I prefer. Getting to do something you love for a living is just the best experience.
Was there someone who inspired you to get into performing?
I watched The Sound of Music when I was three with my nan and ever since then I’ve just absolutely loved performing. I started playing the piano at three, so I’ve constantly been surrounded by music and theatre from a very young age.
What advice would you give someone who wants to get into theatre?
Never give up!!! Take criticisms and use them positively. You’ll never ever be too old to learn!
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