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In Conversation With... Natasha O'Brien | Interview

In Conversation With... Natasha O'Brien | Interview

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Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Natasha O'Brien who is currently starring as Eve/Mama Noah in Children of Eden at the Union Theatre (which I reviewed here.) Natasha is an incredible performer and I got to pick her brains about all things stagey, see what we discussed below:

For anyone that doesn’t know, can you explain a little what Children of Eden is about?

So Children of Eden is, its a show in two parts, its almost like, each act, they're very closely related but they’re almost like two separate shows. The first act is the story of Adam and Eve and Father, the creation and act two is the story of Noah, and the Ark, and all the animals. But ultimately Christian Durham the director wanted to stray away from the tendency to get too religious with the show and he wanted to make the show about family and parenthood and what it means to create something and to raise something and ultimately the difficulty of letting it go to become its own thing.

Have there been any challenges with bringing this script to life?

I think trying to make this show palatable for a wide audience can be a challenge sometimes, especially nowadays the show has a tendency to be picked up a lot of religious amateur groups and it really lends itself well to those kinds of theatre groups but to take it into a broader arena maybe with a more professional cast and crew can be a challenge. I think Christian’s done a really good job making the themes very universal and just making the material watchable.


Are Eve and Mama Noah anything like you?

Yeah totally, we all bring elements of ourselves to our characters, you have nothing else to go on than your own experience. Mama Noah, she’s definitely very no-drama , she’s very chilled out, very grounded and i elected to make her that way because thats what I  immediately took from her and I mean that was just sort of my first impression and I branched from that to create her. With Eve I think her precociousness and her, I don’t wanna say petulance but just a little  bit of cheekiness, I really identified with that. More so in my younger years, I think that there’s a sense of wonder there that I just admire and love about that character, the way she's written and hows she's so flawed. I mean for all intents and purposes she is sort of the antagonist in the first act. You know, if she didn’t  eat that apple… there would be no show, but at the same time you love her for it  and you see the humanity of it and she is the embodiment of humanity and their flaws and how we have to learn how to love ourselves in spite of it all. 


What will the audience be thinking about in the car as they drive home after this show?

I think the show really goes out with a bang, from my experience, what I’ve witnessed and what people have said to me is that from ‘Ain’t it Good’ onwards you can tell that we’re rapping up the show and there are two really big, beautiful vocal numbers. You know, ‘Ain’t it Good’ is such a big piece, for me personally but just for the whole cast, energetically its really joyous and then ‘In The Beginning’ is just really vocally beautiful, the harmonies are so rich and we really get a chance to showcase the true chemistry and  love and fun that we are all having together as a company and that seems to really  resonate with audience members. I think vocals and the score are something people remember, they leave the theatre and they’re really happy and singing. At least I hope so!


Can you sum it up in 5 words?

Sum up the show in 5 words?! What! I just got so nervous, I just got so anxious! Okay, Family. Love. Encouragement. Belief. Trust. They’re off the top of my head without thinking too much about it which I shouldn’t anyway!


Have you found any differences between Canadian audiences and UK audiences so far?

Yeah! When I think about it the average theatre goer in Canada is  much much older and we don’t have as thriving a theatre scene in one city. In London theatre is so engrained in the culture and so much indie theatre is supported by so many age groups and people from different backgrounds, there’s theatre being produced that is really so marketable, like on the West End you’ve got the massive tourist attractions but on the smaller scale, the local community with come to smaller venues like Children of Eden at the Union Theatre and we just have a much more young, excitable and supportive theatre community here in London. Its incredible and its what helps to keep the theatre industry alive. Its struggling in Canada which is one of the reasons I left, we have such a small populations spread over such a huge land mass and in order to work in Canada you have to travel all across the country, which I did. I worked everywhere from Alberta to Montreal and everywhere in between. Whereas in London you can kind of keep it, if not London based then UK based and have an actual career because there are always interesting projects coming up. There’s an actual scene here. And without an audience there’s no industry, so the audience members are younger, more enthusiastic, more supportive, more critical as well. They’re just more seasoned.


Was being a performer something you always yearned for or did you have a different career path in mind when you were younger?

Yeah. I did my first musical when I was 6 and I just kind of always did musical theatre and have always known that was it for me. There was a brief moment in my life where I had a dalliance with the idea of maybe becoming a lawyer just because I liked the sound of my own voice and I considered quite strongly becoming a paramedic. I think its like that seeking of  thriving under pressure and drama, but ultimately I chose musical theatre. But it was definitely what I’ve wanted to do my whole life and something that I’ve always had as a part of my life. I’ve always done shows, I’ve always had music and performance in any form like speech competitions or saxophone exams, just always some kind of performance.


What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage?

You know what, I always look at myself in the mirror. Not like, “how am I looking?” but I spend a moment, have a sip of water and just focus. Its more to tune out everything around me, sometimes backstage before a show can be quite frenetic, the energy can be quite crazy and especially with this show the energy is so high and everyone is having such a good time and we’re all very much in love with each other but I need to make sure that I’m really focussed because the first act of this show goes by in like 10 minutes for me. I never stop so I just sort of stare and myself in the mirror for a few minutes and zone out, almost like an open eyed meditation in a way. Have a sip of water, make sure I pee and I’m good to go!


If you had a magic wand, what show would you do next?

Oh my god, if I had a magic wand! I would love to be in Wicked, oh god I would love it! When it first came out I was just starting drama school so it was just a part of a really magical, exciting time so my feelings attached to the music and everything, its visceral. And I mean, come on, its Wicked! It’d be amazing although part of me gets scared at the concept of that cause its like ‘oh god, every night!’ its a lot!

Alternatively I’d love to do Into The Woods, I mean any role, obviously I’m too old  and too tall to play little red now but I think the bakers wife and one day I would love to play the witch. I would love to do Into the Woods and I really love Urinetown! Its so clever and good and the music just takes the piss out of every musical ever written. I would love to be in Les Mis; speaking of musicals it takes the piss out of, it just rips into Les Mis and I would just love to do it because its just a classic and to play Fantine- have a Wicked first act and then boom done!


Whats your best piece of advice for an aspiring performer?

I will share a piece of advice that Nancy Sullivan and David Thaxton shared with me back in February. There’s this amazing company called W1 workshops who I heard about from my friend Carrie O’Dowd who's also a performer and they run these incredible intensive workshops that are super affordable and always in a centrally located area and Nancy and David are both incredible, well respected established performers.  

Anyway, the piece of advice that they gave and this resonated so strongly with me, they said: change your environment, surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do and join in. Do it. Do the workshops. Take the coachings. Go to the classes. If you want to be in this industry, put yourself in the thick of it and surround yourself with  people who are doing what you wanna do. 

Its really easy to shy away and get overwhelmed and to let our ego and jealousy kind of cloud us but the most important thing you can do is surround yourself with people doing what you want. Its inspiring, it kicks you in the ass, it gives you an idea of whats going on and from a very practical perspective, you’re networking which is so important. I think networking gets such a gross name but networking is really just talking to people, being a normal, interesting human being with something to say and if I can’t have a conversation with someone and  make them feel comfortable then I do not belong on a stage! If I can’t talk and make you feel comfortable, I am not an actor! 

So I think that is probably the best piece of advice and it is exactly what has  afforded me this opportunity. I mean, I’m brand new to this city, I knew no one in this industry when I moved here and it was just about throwing myself into these workshops, finding them online, going in, shaking hands, getting up with your rep and saying, “Hey Danielle Torento, we’ve never met but I’m gonna sing this song for you now” and you know, follow up emails and just do it! 

Change your environment. It might  be one thing you do differently a day, just one thing at a time and as you change your environment you start to develop this foundation and confidence in yourself that you are in fact, doing it.  Because being an actor isn’t just being on stage, its really hard  to explain that to people who aren’t in the industry. I don’t just show up somewhere 9 to 5 and have people tell me what to do, its all offstage. That [the performance] is the holiday, thats the treat, the bulk of the work is an unbelievable amount of groundwork, so, change your environment. That would be the advice… and its not even mine, I’m just passing it along because I think its a golden nugget of wisdom.

A huge thank you to Natasha for a wonderful chat! 

Children of Eden at the Union Theatre is booking until September 10th, make sure you book to see this fantastic show! Tickets are available here.

Read my review of the show here.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National Theatre | Review

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National Theatre | Review

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Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour
National Theatre, Dorfman Theatre
Reviewed on Thursday 18th August 2016 by Olivia Mitchell
★★★★

If you love the feeling of leaving the theatre in a mass of smiling, contented, glowing audience members then this is 100% the show for you. Its an hour fifty minute show with hilarious dialogue and exuberant singing which combines music by Jeff Lynne, Handel and more, all of which contrast and take you on the journey of these girls. The show, an adaptation of Alan Warner's 1998 novel The Sopranos is an absolutely joyous time and a celebration of life and living.

Children of Eden, Union Theatre | Review

Children of Eden, Union Theatre | Review

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Children of Eden
Union Theatre
Reviewed on Friday 12th August 2016 by Olivia Mitchell
★★★★

Inspired by the Book of Genesis, Children of Eden tells the timeless and beautiful story of bringing a child into the world and becoming a parent. It features stunning music and lyrics by acclaimed composer Stephen Schwartz,  who is perhaps most well known for Wicked which continues to play all over the world, and a book by the fantastic John Caird who along with Trevor Nunn, adapted and directed Les Miserables.

The Secret Garden, Ambassadors Theatre | Review

The Secret Garden, Ambassadors Theatre | Review

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What immediately struck me when I heard about this production was the mammoth cast. The productions features over 300 cast members mostly made up of children and young adults. Now of course all these people are not on stage at once, the cast rotates around for performances with only the few adults keeping their roles throughout the run, but there's something lovely about the casting. The programme doesn't feature individual cast lists for each performance but instead a large ensemble list; everyone is equal which just creates a lovely change to some shows nowadays where its all about who's in the cast as opposed to the show itself.

In Conversation With... Kerry Ellis | Interview

In Conversation With... Kerry Ellis | Interview

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Rewrite This Story caught up with the fantastic Kerry Ellis about her upcoming musical Murder Ballad, working with Brian May, Wicked and more. Check out what she has to say below:

For people that may not know about your career, what would you say some of the highlights have been?
There are so many highlights I've been very fortunate to do some incredible things I guess one of the biggest was playing Elphaba on Broadway which was a childhood dream, another was performing in Verona with Brian May live on Italian television in an incredible venue that is like the Colosseum in Rome.

Was being a performer what you always dreamt of or did you have a different career path in mind when you were younger?
I always knew that I wanted to perform I just didn't know how my career would work out, it sounds very cliche but it was in my blood and still is. 

I got to see you perform at the Hampton Court Festival with Brian May and you both seemed so natural and at home with each other… Why do you think you work so well together? What have you learnt from one another?
I think the reason Brian and I work so well together is because we both share the same passion for music and performing, or shows and albums and performance is now very simple it's all based around a voice and the guitar the things we care about so it just seems very natural. There is a lot of drama and atmosphere but also a lot of laughing and fun.

Lets talk about Wicked a little bit. Elphaba has become such an iconic character in musical theatre, what was your favourite and least favourite part playing her? Would you like to don the green paint again for the upcoming film?
Playing Elphaba was an incredible experience, in the West End and on Broadway, of course I would love to be involved in the film in some way and I can never say I wouldn't go back to the show ever again however I have such wonderful memories that will stay with me forever.

It's tough so it's like running a marathon eight times a week physically, emotionally and vocally it's tough but also one of the most rewarding roles I have ever played.

You’re an inspiration for many people hoping to get into musical theatre, whats your best piece of advice for an aspiring performer?

You have to love this industry, it can be so competitive and hard at times but also it's one of the best jobs in the world, there are many knock backs many tears but if you are strong enough and passionate enough it's worth the fight


You’re set to star in Murder Ballad from September, can you explain little about the shows storyline and how your character Sara fits into it?
I think you just need to come and see the show. I'm really excited about it it's a forehand are very intimate show something I've never done before. All the cast are stars and I think it's going to be show not to be missed.

Murder Ballad is set in a bar right? You’re used to performing in much bigger venues, how do you feel about performing in the more intimate Arts Theatre?
I'm a little nervous if I'm honest but I like the challenge and I always like to try new things, it's going to be a very new experience of performing so intimately as a character. 
Sam Yates will be directing us and I have full confidence that he will make this show incredible.

Can you describe ‘Murder Ballad’ in 5 words?
Dangerous passionate electric emotional and fun


A huge thank you to Kerry for taking the time to answer these questions!
Book tickets to see Kerry in Murder Ballad here
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