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Brief Encounter with... The Sound of Music's Charlotte Wakefield

Actress Charlotte Wakefield, who has previously had roles in Spring Awakening and Mamma Mia! is currently appearing in the Open Air Theatre's Sound of Music, which runs until 7 September

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Charlotte Wakefield as Maria
© Hugo Glendinning
How did you find the rehearsal process?

Really good. It's been brilliant to take The Sound of Music and to strip it back and kind of start again with it. We have a lot of creative input - even though these characters are so famous, we have a great capacity to be able to create and discuss. It's really exciting and Rachel [Kavanaugh] is a brilliant director. We all have so many ideas bouncing off each other, it was a great rehearsal room.

The role of Maria is so iconic, are you doing anything to try and make it your own?
Definitely. I'm playing her young, because Maria's supposed to be 21/22; she has been played by people much older than that, but to be actually 22 playing this role, I feel like I'm really bringing to her the sense of having such a free spirit. She is all of the things that the nuns say about her in "How do you Solve a Problem like Maria?". She's a child, she's a flibbertigibbet, she's a will-o'-the wisp, she's a free spirit and she can be delightful but she can be annoying. I'm just really enjoying creating this character for myself instead of playing off the film or other productions.

Has the dynamic of the show changed because you're playing it younger?
I would say so. There shouldn't be much of a difference in age between Liesl and Maria, which is why they relate so well to each other. Faye [Brookes] and I go back years, we went to high school together, so there is already a great relationship there. It's different in that it's much freer; it's much less of a traditional Sound of Music that you are used to. It still has those elements, it's still set in the same time and the same place, but we are really using the script and stripping it back and thinking very literally about it. Instead of it being a fluffy musical it's more like a play with very prestigious music, so the dialogue is just as important as the songs, which is great.

In the rehearsal period did you spent an equal amount of time on the dialogue as well as the songs?
Yes, and we incorporated them right from the beginning. So we do everything together, which is very useful. We have vocal calls with Steve [Ridley] to work specifically on the music but we tend to put everything together from the beginning, which is really useful because a lot of the songs in the show are songs that are meant to be actually sung, like "Do-Re-Mi" for example. Maria is actually singing it to the children, to teach them to sing. So it's an extension of the scene in a way. And it's so much fun working with the 18 children because they bring a whole different aspect to it.

Is it nice to work with people you've worked with before?

Yes, definitely. I think it's important because, for example, the Mother Abbess and Maria, the relationship between those two characters is very personal and they have no fear with each other. Having worked very closely with Helen [Hobson] in Mamma Mia! – she played Donna, I played Sophie – we had already crossed those initial lines where you don't quite know someone and you don't know what their boundaries are. So actually we were able to throw ourselves into rehearsals with no inhibitions which was really useful.

Were you a fan of the film before you took on the role?
Oh definitely. I've watched that film a million times. It's interesting when you actually get the full script, when you get the songs through and you are like ‘oh I didn't think that's what those lyrics were'. When I think of The Sound of Music I think of Julie Andrews, so in that sense I feel the pressure because I know what people are expecting but I feel like I can bring something extra to that role, in that I'm putting my own spin on it. I'm not directly copying someone else, which is really exciting as a young actor and someone that's still finding their niche and what's comfortable.

Charlotte Wakefield and Arthur Gledhill-Franks in rehearsals
© Johan Persson

Do you think performing at the Open Air Theatre will add to the show?

Entirely. I think that's what's going to make it so special. I think for a show that's set in the mountains, in Salzburg, which is such a beautiful place, to actually be outdoors amongst the trees and the birds is just going to add so much to the show and the ambience. Just being outside in somewhere very natural, because it is a very natural show; it isn't bright lights, big city and that's what makes it so beautiful. With the live music outside and the beautiful score that we have it is going to be magical.

Do you have any favourite songs in the show?

Well, in fact, I love all of them. You just can't get them out of your head - I've been singing "Lonely Goatherd" for the past three months now. I couldn't choose because they are all very different and that's part of the beauty of it. I get to go from singing "The Sound of Music" into singing "I Have Confidence" into "Do-Re-Mi" into "Favourite Things" and they're all so different. It's a challenge but the music is just beautiful and it's lovely to sing.

What are a few of your favourite things?
Oh god. That's a really hard question actually. My job. Am I allowed to say that? I love what I do very, very much. My family, they have got me to where I am. Just doing what I'm doing. I'm having a lovely time.

Do you have a preference between TV and stage?

I like them both for different reasons. I really enjoy theatre for the live aspect and what you get immediately back from the audience, but there's something really lovely about TV. You get to experiment on a day to day basis, and also you don't know what the end product is going to be like until months after you have finished, and it is exciting to watch yourself on TV. But I think for me theatre is something that I will always just love and have a passion for. Live theatre is so special for an actor because you get to create and you get to rehearse but you also get to perform for people live every night and you get to hear the music live and you might want to try different things each night and it just makes it really personal and I just adore it. I can't say anything else other than that, I love it with a passion - I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't.

Do you have any dream roles?
I've been very lucky in my career, to have played a lot of my dream roles, which is flukey, but parts like Belle in Beauty in the Beast and Mary Poppins I'd love. I'd love to do some more original musical theatre as well. I love creating, I love playing with characters.

Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring actors?

I would say just don't give up; this industry is full of rejection and so take that rejection and use it as fuel for getting better. Never stop learning, go to classes - there's always something new you can learn about your voice, or a new style of dance you can learn, or you can just get better at something. I think it's persistence, that is what it is really, you can work for many years and always get better.

What's next? I don't know yet. I'm auditioning, there are a couple of things in the pipeline but no plans as of yet, which is quite exciting actually because I've been working solidly for three years so it is quite exciting not to know what is coming next.

Come on our hosted WhatsOnStage Outing to The Sound of Music on 20 August 2013 and get a top-price ticket, free programme, free drink and access to our post-show meet and greet with the cast for just £35.00. Click here for more information.