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20 Questions With ... Sarah Lark

Sarah Lark goes from Oliver!'s sympathetic Nancy to fiesty brothel owner Miss Mona Stangley in the Union Theatre's new production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which opens this week (20 October 2011, previews from 18 October).

Date & place of birth
Born in Cardiff on 28 January 1983.

Lives now in
South East London.

What made you want to become an actor?
When I was a little girl, I was the watching The Royal Variety Show at home in Wales and turned to my Mam and said "I would like to do that!" I was hooked from the very first moment of performing in primary school and I am blessed to have a wonderful, supportive family and have always had teachers and friends helping me along the way.

If you hadn’t become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I don't think I would ever have strayed too far from the theatre. If I hadn’t been a performer I think I would have run a little theatre of my own. I help out whenever I can at the Jermyn Street Theatre in Piccadilly and have done ever since I finished doing Snoopy The Musical there in 2003. I love getting a taste of what it’s like in all the other aspects of theatre.

First big break
I was very lucky at 16 years old to be cast as the Little Girl in the original cast of Cameron Mackintosh’s production of The Witches of Eastwick at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. It was an amazing job in which I learned so much, made lifelong friends and creating a role in the West End at 17 was a dream come true.

Career highlights to date
I’ve loved every minute of my career so far, but something I’ll always remember is the first live show of I’d Do Anything. Seeing my family and friends in the audience waving cut-outs of my head on sticks had to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen! The competition was a nerve-wracking experience but so exciting at the same time. To sing in front of a studio and a television audience was truly unforgettable.

Favourite co-stars
I’ve worked with a lot of amazing people over the years - it would take far too long to list everyone! It was a real treat to play opposite Rowan Atkinson when I went on for Nancy in Oliver! at Drury Lane. It was fascinating and inspiring to watch someone who is a true master of his craft in rehearsals. I’m really enjoying being with Leon Craig in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – we’ve been friends for years and have never worked together so it’s been a real joy.

Favourite playwrights/composers
As a musical theatre addict, I would have to say I admire the composers of all the classic musicals whose work has truly stood the test of time. I have recently been involved with recording the work of the next wave of composers which has been a joy. The future of musical theatre is certainly safe in the hands of lovely new writers like Tim Prottey Jones, Dougal Irvine and Michael Bruce.

Favourite directors
I have learned so much from every director I have worked with over the years as each is so unique. Currently I am really enjoying working with Paul Taylor Mills on this production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas as I am really being stretched. His approach to the piece has given us cast added layers and I think he had made this production really exciting.

What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you? And the last?
I used to come to London every year for summer school and our family treat was always to go see a musical. One year I was taken to see Miss Saigon and I was blown away. To see such an epic production at the beautiful Theatre Royal Drury Lane was mesmerising. I remember sitting in the stalls and feeling right in the middle of the story. It’s still so clear to me, especially when I listen to the cast recording. I had no idea then that one day I’d be opening in a show there myself. I recently watched a wonderful play called Belle's Stratagem at the Southwark Playhouse. It was such a innovative production in an intimate space.

What's the best advice you have ever received?
In this industry unfortunately you can have many knockbacks as well as wonderful opportunities. My Mam and Dad and family have always instilled in me to always believe and be true to yourself no matter what happens.

Are there any parts you would particularly like to play?
This year I’ll have played two very different roles – Miss Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and then I’ll be playing Snow White at the Churchill in Bromley over Christmas – I just really hope I get to have that sort of variety for the rest of my career. If I do I will be very happy!

Favourite books
I’ve really enjoyed David Nicholls’ books – particularly The Understudy. I’m also a huge fan of Sophie Kinsella's books.

Favourite holiday destinations
This year I went on holiday with my boyfriend to Majorca and it was beautiful! I would happily go back as it’s got something for everyone – you can sunbathe and relax but Palma itself has a really interesting history and a stunning Cathedral.

Are you still in touch with the other Nancys?
Absolutely! I love a good catch up with the girls from I’d Do Anything. I can't believe it's been over three years since we were in the competition. I’ve tried to see as many of them as possible in all the shows they’ve done since we all finished, and Sam and I go to Zumba together which is so much fun.

Why did you want to get involved with this production
The part I am playing, Miss Mona, is probably the furthest from my true personality that I have ever played. It is such a challenging role. As I still look very young, even though I am 28 years old, I often get considered for juvenile roles. Miss Mona is definatley a grown-up so will be a different role than people are used to seeing me play.

What’s the show about?
It is based on a story by Carole King that was inspired by the real-life Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas. My characther Miss Mona Stangley runs the Chicken Ranch, whilst taking care of my girls, I am also on good terms with the local sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd. Unfortunatley a meddling news reporter Melvin P. Thorpe decides to make the illegal activity an issue on the television and wants me to close the business down.

How does the stage production differ from the film?
I haven’t actually seen the film for a very long time. I absolutely loved it when I was younger but I made the decision not to re-watch it so I could keep my performance separate from Dolly Parton’s. I’m a huge fan of hers so I’d be terrified I’d end up copying her! A big difference between the film and the show is the relationship between Miss Mona and Ed Earl the sheriff.

What’s your favourite song in the show?
Oh, what a tough question – can I have two? It is so much fun singing my first song "A Lil Ole Bitty Pissant Contry Place" but I would also have to say the song which ends the show, "Bus from Amarillo" – it is a heartbreaking song to sing.

And your favourite song in any show?
That’s a very difficult question to answer! There are so many fantastic shows and even more wonderful songs. If I had to choose the one I like to sing the most it would still have to be "As Long As He Needs Me." It’s a perfect song for a woman to sing and I’ll never forget performing it at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane and on television.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas opens on 20 October 2011 (previews from 18 October) at the Union Theatre in Southwark and continues until 12 November 2011.


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