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20 Questions with ... Robyn North

Robyn North is currently playing Nellie Collins in Floyd Collins at the Southwark Playhouse, which continues until 31 March.

North was nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Takeover in a Role as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which she appeared in for over three years, and recently appeared in the show's birthday celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall.

She released her debut album Make Believe on Jay Records, and has since played Sophie de Palma in Master Class with Stephanie Beacham directed by Jonathan Church for Theatre Royal Bath and on tour, and appeared in Hustle on BBC1.

Date & place of birth

16/9/1983, Lincolnshire.

Lives now in

Wimbledon, London.

What made you want to become an actor?
Well I originally trained as a dancer, and eventually trained at London Studio Centre. But I didn’t consider a career as an straight actress until I had the experience to work with directors like Michael Grandage, Rob Ashford and Jamie Lloyd on Evita. That work was so fulfilling and inspiring, even from the ensemble, that my creative goals totally changed.

If you hadn’t become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I did work in a factory putting custard into doughnuts, to fund my way through college. And though I’m not sure what I would have done for a living if I hadn’t become an actress, I can tell you I wouldn’t go back to that! They played the same five songs on permanent loop on loud speaker, and I constantly smelt of stale custard.

First big break?
Although Phantom was my first job, I first joined the show as an understudy when I was 19. So technically my first lead role was Miss Dorothy in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Career highlights to date?

I can think of two that have come since I’ve returned to work after having a short break for the birth of my son, Charlie. One was my appearing in my first straight play Master Class, which I just loved every minute of, and the second was doing my first television job when I recently did an episode of Hustle. Watching actors like Robert Glenister and Mark Williams on set do their thing was a ‘Master Class’ in itself!

Favourite co-stars?

All of the girls in my dressing room (no. 9) at Evita, which I was in the ensemble of in Michael Grandage and Rob Ashford’s revival at the Adelphi. I’ve literally never had so much fun on any job – and I was in a seriously talented dressing room: the girls were Leila Benn Harris, Jackie Marks, Jodie Jacobs, Sarah Ryan, Kirsty Mather and Aoife Nally.

Favourite playwrights?
I think today London theatre is offering really exciting new writing. I love the work of Samuel Adamson (I’m not sure I’ve ever cried so much in the theatre as I did at All About My Mother at the Old Vic) and also of course Polly Stenham, and Abi Morgan for her screen writing as well as her theatre – I was a big fan of The Hour on BBC2.

What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
I promise I’m not making this up, but the first show I ever saw on stage was Phantom. After the show I went up to my dance teacher and said, “When I grow up I’d like to play Christine”. And she looked at me, understandably amused and said, pityingly, “Of course you will, dear”!

And the last?
Without a doubt, Matilda. The most perfectly made new musical I think I’ve seen in my theatergoing lifetime. The writing, design, choreography, perfomances, illusions… every element. And Tim Minchin is the only God I believe in. He must have now surpassed Stephen Fry as everyone’s ideal dinner party guest – he’s certainly mine.

What's the best advice you have ever received?
Marry your agent.

Are there any parts you would particularly like to play?
Of straight roles, I’ve always wanted to play Alice in Closer by Patrick Marber. In musicals, Clara in The Light in the Piazza, Glinda in Wicked, Miss Honey in Matilda. On screen: I wish I was Carey Mulligan in everything.

Favourite book?
The complete works of John Irving.

Favourite holiday destination?

Best holiday I’ve ever been on was my honeymoon to Thailand, by far. Although I do love a weekend away to Babington House or Cowley Manor.

Why did you want to get involved with this production?
Simply because the writer Adam Guettel is one of the most important new composers of his generation to emerge in musical theatre. I’m sure a good amount of your readers will know all about him, but for those who don’t he is the grandson of Richard Rodgers and was mentored by Stephen Sondheim. His The Light in the Piazza is one of my favourite musicals of all time.

Why should people come and see Floyd Collins?
Because it's a rare chance to see what Sondheim lauded as “the best musical written in the last 25 years”. It’s only been seen in London professionally once, at the Bridewell in 1999. I think it’s probably because on paper – it’s not obviously commercial – it’s a musical about a man stuck down a cave. Kind of like 127 Hours The Musical. But it’s potential to attract an audience lies simply in its brilliance. It’s musically and dramatically complex, but rewarding. Our director Derek Bond has cast a brilliant team of actors led by our Floyd, Glenn Carter. And in our production you are hearing the original orchestrations played by eight musicians.

Tell us about your character
Nellie is the sister of Floyd. She has just returned from a mental institution and is a troubled, but essentially happy soul. Her connection to Floyd is strong, both emotionally and spiritually, and she represents hope in the show.

What’s your favourite line in the show?
“This hill ain’t made for shafting”

Are you enjoying working at the Southwark Playhouse?
Right now, it’s one of the coolest places to work on the fringe. They’ve just been producing consistently good work recently, with musicals like Parade and Company, our producer Peter Huntley produced The Belle’s Strategem there, and I just really enjoyed watching Kali Theatre’s Tagore’s Women. Oh, and it has a great bar that stays open after the show.

What have you got lined up next?
I’m a very very small part in a feature film which I’m not allowed to name sadly – but I’m giggling with excitement at the thought of it. After that, who knows, although I’m always busy, as any mother of a two year-old will tell you!


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