Amanda Abbington: 'Theatre scares the pants off me'

The Sherlock actress talks about Andrew Lippa’s show, making her musical debut and wanting to be a Greenpeace warrior

Amanda Abbington
Amanda Abbington
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Best known to her legions of fans as Mary Morstan in Sherlock, Amanda Abbington is returning to the stage for the UK premiere of Andrew Lippa's A Little Princess, which plays the Royal Festival Hall on 28 May.

Her previous theatre credits include Abigail's Party at Theatre Royal Bath, God Bless the Child at the Royal Court, and Love Me Tonight at Hampstead Theatre. A Little Princess marks her musical theatre debut. She is also set to star in Jonathan Church's new season at Theatre Royal Bath, in the tenth-anniversary production of God of Carnage.

1. What is The Little Princess about?
It is an adaptation of a book by the same name, about a young girl sent away to live in a Victorian London finishing school, and how she is bullied by the head teacher and ultimately tries to find her way back to her father again.

2. What appealed to you about working on it?
I have never done a musical before, I can't sing, I was asked, liked the script and the people involved and thought it would be a challenge.

3. Are you nervous about doing a musical?
Yes. I am absolutely terrified and can't now think why I agreed to put myself through it.

4. What can audiences expect from the show?
I have no idea! Hopefully a good night out. We only had six days rehearsals and it has morphed into a full scale musical. So who knows!

5. They say don't work with children and animals. How have you found working with the children in the cast?
The girls are astonishing. Beautifully talented, professional and sweet. I love them.

6. What's Arlene Phillips like as a director?
She's great. Funny and interesting and so good at getting it all together.

7. It's been a while since you've done stage work, have you missed it?
Yes. I love theatre. It scares the pants off me but I love it.

8. The Sherlock gang have an avid fanbase, how have you found that?
Sherlock fans are the best. They are loyal, lovely and totally supportive. The best. Wouldn't be without them.

9. Are you going to return for the fifth series?
I don't even know if the show is returning for a fifth series! Do you know something I don't?

10. What is your earliest memory in theatre?
My next door neighbour taking me to see The Nutcracker ballet at The Royal Opera House when I was eight. It was a truly magical experience and cemented my yearning to work in this profession.

11. What do you consider to be your big break?
I think it would have to be Sherlock.

12. In an alternate reality, what would you do if you weren't a performer?
A director. Or a spy. I think I'd make a good spy. Actually, thinking about it, I'd be terrible. Perhaps a Greenpeace Warrior. I like the sound of that.

13. What would your dream role be?
Lady Macbeth, Sally Bowles and a zombie. Probably in that order.

14. What has been the most embarrassing moment of your career?
This, I think… Me singing in this show.

15. How would you describe your work ethic?
Work hard, be nice, be good, welcome everyone, do your job to the best of your ability with minimum fuss. But above all, be nice and be good.

16. Who are your idols?
Frances McDormand, Edie Falco, Judi Dench, Julie Walters, Bette Davis and Shirley MacLaine.

17. What have you seen onstage recently?
The Prudes at The Royal Court. An incredible play. Beautifully, beautifully acted and not a long one either.

18. If you could go back in time and change one thing what would it be?
Agreeing to sing in this show.

19. What advice would you give to aspiring musical theatre performers?
Do not give up. Enjoy your work. Be nice, be good and be professional but make sure you have fun. When it stops being fun, look for something else to do.

20. What do you do in your spare time?
Raise my two children and eat really good food with my boyfriend. And worry about when I am going to work again. Life really.