Brief Encounter With ... Victoria Hamilton-BarrittDate: 8 November 2010
Flashdance The Musical, the latest in a long line of screen-to-stage musicals to hit the West End, high-kicked its way into the Shaftesbury Theatre on 14 October 2010 (previews from 27 September).
The iconic film starred Jennifer Beals as Alex Owens, an 18-year-old Pittsburgh welder and exotic dancer who dreams of winning a place at a prestigious dance school and becoming a professional ballet dancer. The show features music by Robbie Roth, lyrics Robert Cary and book by Cary and Tom Hedley.
On stage, Alex is played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt alongside Busted’s Matt Willis, making his West End and professional theatrical debut, as love interest Nick. It’s directed by Nikolai Foster and choreographed by musical theatre veteran and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips.
I spoke to Victoria about creating the role of Alex Owens on stage and bringing the show into the West End after its national tour.
Can you tell me a little bit about the show?
Flashdance is about a girl in her late teens, growing up during the 1980's recession in Pittsburgh. It has been hard for her, growing up in a single parent family, and money has been very tight.
I play the part of Alex Owens, her father left her mother when she was a kid and its been pretty tough for the two of them but they look out for each other. She aspires to go to a ballet school, but she doesn't think she would ever make it. Although she's confident in many ways, she isn't in many others. But the love interest comes into her life, Nick Hurley - played by Matt Willis - and he turns things round for her and makes her realise that she could do it. She eventually makes it to the audition which is the peak of the show and she really comes into her own!
Can you tell us a little bit about working with Matt?
Its great, I mean we get on very well, he's a very likeable character, and its fun working with him. We also share the same birthday! So I suppose we're quite similar in a way. I'm not sure if we'll manage to get to celebrate together, I was actually planning on getting married on that day because I'm not very good at dealing with the attention on me on my birthday. Who knows, lots of venues are booked up, so maybe Matt and I will end up having a big shindig the two of us instead!
What is it like working on a musical of such a well known film?
I didn't want to watch the film too much because I wanted to bring my own thing to the musical. The show is not the film on stage, the writers have gone that little bit further and made the story line a lot more deep than it actually was in the film. The musical is a lot more dramatic, there's more substance, more light and shade, and there's a lot more story. The last thing I wanted to do was just copy the performance in the film. You have to feel that you're bringing something to a piece otherwise you're just copying really.
The show is set against the backdrop of a recession, does that seem to resonate with audiences at the moment?
I think its totally appropriate for everything which is happening now. Flashdance is an upbeat show and as well as all the glamorous bits it can be slightly dark, with some dark scenes. I think people will be able to relate to it, especially with what is happening at this moment in time.
You got to create the role on tour, how does it feel being able to bring the show into the West End?
I thought that I would have some sort of heads up bringing the show into town, that it would give me some sort of preparation, but its a completely different show. When you've got a completely different set of actors behind all of the characters, because they have artistic licence to do what they want with it, its completely changed the show for me. It feels like I'm getting to create the character once more, into any bad habits from the tour. Its been great to rediscover this character.
Can you tell us what it's like working with Arlene Phillips?
I've known Arlene for almost ten years now, having worked with her doing shows like Night Fever and Grease so we know each other pretty well, she's great and she kept my confidence up. I had to relearn a completely different audition dance for "What a Feeling" and I found it quite daunting, there's quite a lot of pressure on such an iconic number at the end of the show and I put a lot of pressure on myself. But I can talk to her about anything, and I know her pretty well by now and she knows me. She's a pleasure to work with, my mum and her a very similar so I warmed to her very quickly.
Does the show bring back memories for you auditioning to get into a ballet school?
I can totally relate to this character and some of the things which she is going through. I guess any girl or guy growing up auditioning to get into schools does, being successful with some and not so successful with others. As you grow up it becomes a bit of a blur, there are so many episodes in our lives and there's always something coming along next. I do remember auditioning for the Central School of Ballet in Farringdon, and really wanting to get into the school, but not knowing if my parents would be able to afford the fees. The same thing happened when I auditioned for the Urdang Academy when it was in Covent Garden, luckily I got a grant, because there was no way that my folks would ever have been able to afford to pay for my training. I managed to get a grant and a scholarship so it all sort of came together in that sense, it worked out for me in the end.
I'm glad those days are over to be honest, being a kid wasn't fun for me. I think I was quite an awkward child. I was painfully shy and very much a people watcher. I've kind of come into my own since I've grown up but growing up I was a bit of an odd ball.
So how do you progress from awkward child to professional actress?
Dance is always something I've done. I picked it up aged three or four. I think the other things kind of came later, finding my voice at 12 or 13, starting acting at nine or ten. Acting is always something I loved. Its been long journey, its been really nice that I can put all those bits into my life now and into my work. I've managed to do pretty well from it. Its a bit of a relief.
What do you think of industry and people wanting to get into it at the moment?
Dance is really fashionable, with all of these reality TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance? and the musical casting competitions like How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?. All of it has suddenly become really popular. Its great for people who work in theatre because it encourages people to come and watch. It encourages kids to get offline and away from their computers and TVs and actually become a little bit more cultural and aware of live theatre. You can't beat live theatre. You can watch as many programmes as you want but you can't beat coming to see a live show.
How is your routine different now that the show is in the West End?
On tour I did eight shows a week, but I've got an alternate now, so I take Saturday matinees off. I still do two shows on a Friday, but I do get a little bit of a break now. On tour it was a little bit intense. We toured to some venues for one week at a time, all the moving around was knackering. I've got it a little bit easier this time round.
Dancing professionally is tough, and it will always be tough, but its got to be something you enjoy. If you don't enjoy it then there's no point in doing it in the first place. Sometimes your confidence might get a bit weak, and you might get a bit tired and you might call out and say that you don't want to do it any more but I think that's to be expected, in any profession, sometimes you get a little bit fed up with things. They get a bit intense after a while.
I really enjoy what I do, I love it. I get to discipline myself and put myself to the test.I like the discipline which I get to place on myself. I feel ready for it. Maybe when I was younger not so much, because I've got stronger as I've grown. I think most people get wiser and get the knack of the industry as you get more experience under your belt. I think I can deal with situations now far better than I did say ten years ago. It feels right now, that I'm playing a role like this at this time of my life.
Flashdance The Musical opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 14 October 2010, (previews from 27 September) where it is currently booking until 26 February 2011.