Nottingham born and raised actress Rosalie Craig is currently appearing in the West End of London in the lead role of Bobbie in Stephen Sondheim’s newly revised production of Company directed by Marianne Elliott. The show and Rosalie alike are getting rave reviews, winning prestigious theatre awards and having daily standing ovations for this brilliant female led adaptation. It seems as if the whole world is talking about Company the musical and I was lucky enough to interview Rosalie about her early life in Woodthorpe Nottingham, her training and her successes in the theatre.
As Rosalie relaxes in her dressing room at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue with a cup of mint tea by her side we begin our interview. After some pleasant conversation about the pending snow – which she loves – I bring up the name of Nikolai Foster the artistic director of Curve Leicester. Nikolai directed Rosalie in a production of a positively reviewed A Christmas Carol at Birmingham Rep and Rosalie tells me that she loved working with him as Mrs Cratchit, and had an amazing time on that job. She asks me to send him her fondest regards.
Rosalie confesses that she has a phobia about looking at any reviews until the show is over. We laugh that when Company finishes at the end of March that she will be spending several weeks just reading all the hundreds of glowing reviews. She says “It will be a nice way to remember it for sure.”
I mention that I recently interviewed National Theatre artistic director Rufus Norris for Nottingham Post. Rufus directed her in the musical wonder.land and also the London Road musical. Rosalie recalls “That’s right, and I did my first ever production called Table with him in a building called The Shed which was outside the National for years. His wife Tanya Ronda wrote that. In fact I was just speaking to Rufus as we’ve just been to the Critic’s Circle Awards in which Company won Best Musical and Best Set Design. Rufus is a lovely man and I am privileged to say that he is a good friend of mine. I think he s one of the best people you’ll ever meet.
We turn to Rosalie’s childhood in Nottingham and her early theatre influences. “My mum and dad live in Woodthorpe and that’s where I grew up until I was eighteen and went to London to study at Rose Bruford. I grew up in Nottingham in a very supportive family. Nobody was involved in the arts. It was just something that I was really interested in. I went to Arnold Hill Comprehensive and they had a brilliant music department and I just fell in love with music, singing, acting – all of it. We went to Nottingham Playhouse a lot as a child and we’d go religiously to the panto every year. Every time we came out after the panto I’d think ‘that’s what I want to do!’ I was completely starstruck by everything to do with theatre; the smell of it, the feel of the programmes, the atmosphere before you go in and so on. Growing up in Nottingham I felt like I had such a wealth of places to incubate my passion. I went to Notts Educational Theatre Group from about thirteen until about sixteen and then I joined Cantamus Girls Choir who were based in Mansfield. They primed lots of people to go into the opera world but I thought no – I had to go into theatre. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. You know, and this is funny, as a child I’d be in the back garden dancing around with Adam Penford who now runs Nottingham Playhouse! How funny is that! I never thought I’d get to do this for a living!”
We speak briefly about being employed and paid to act professionally and Rosalie says “One of biggest questions I get asked in interviews is are you a professional? That’s crazy isn’t it? Some people just can’t believe that performing in musical theatre is a profession.”
After leaving Nottingham Rosalie gained a place studying for a BA in actor-musicianship at Rose Bruford and after graduating she debuted at the RSC in a musical version of Alice In Wonderland. Rosalie relates her shock at such good employment luck. “I couldn’t believe I got into the RSC. Not only that but the fact that someone wanted to hire me and also pay me! You get this thrill every time somebody offers you a job as an actor and it never leaves you. It’s a famous thing in the acting community that even Judy Dench says that as soon as you finish a job you are convinced no-one is ever going to employ you ever again. Some actors are so superstitious they won’t tell you if they’ve got an audition in case it doesn’t come to anything. Their friends will invest in it and keep asking how its going. They are just making the pain of not knowing twice as bad. Saying that, my parents have been amazingly supportive with me in this self led acting quest of mine. They’ve been with me through the highs and the lows and always love to come and see me perform. They are part of it and they come to all the opening nights. It’s just amazing being on stage and knowing that they are out there. I think they are also impressed that I can now pay the bills with my type of work!”
Asked about the highlights of her drama and musicianship training Rosalie smiled and expressed that she spent three very happy years at Rose Bruford even though she had no idea what the course was going to be. “I was quite green when I started college and went there solely because at the time I was just constantly writing music as a child and teenager. Just on the piano and the guitar and I thought this is great – I can compose and train to be an actor as well. What was so amazing about that particular course was, let’s say I was in a production of A Taste Of Honey, I would also be writing the music for it as well. Then I’d have to teach the actors who may have never played a musical instrument in their life how to play them and how to perform the score. I don’t think I have worked that hard – ever. I suppose when I left home to go to university I didn’t know what it would be like. I thought maybe a few lectures and then off to the pub! My degree really set me up for the industry because I worked such incredibly long hours – like fourteen hours a day – and the profession is the same thing. You work all the hours available to get the production on stage.”
Rosalie Craig has gone from success to success in major productions such as National Theatre’s The Light Princess, the multi-award winning The Ferryman, City of Angels at The Donmar Warehouse, Aspects of Love and As You Like It. As Rosalie said “When I saw our poster for Company I knew something very special was happening and the teenager I used to be would have screamed with delight. Every night in Company my character sings of the joys of being alive. It’s certainly a great time to be that.”
We continue to chat about her role as Bobbie in Company and rehearsal schedules for stage shows.
“You give everything to it. You have six weeks if you are lucky.”
I expressed that rehearsal period wasn’t a long time.
“No it’s not. Even with plays. When I went into The Ferryman we had four weeks. It was just absolutely terrifying. I made sure I learnt my lines before the rehearsals! Didn’t have time to learn them on the job.”
Has anybody particularly influenced you in relation to your theatre life?
“I’d have to say Rufus Norris really. He’s championed me from the start and put me in the production of London Road when I had just turned thirty. It had been my absolute absolute dream to work at the National. Just to walk through those doors to go to work. Can you imagine? I was far too young to be in the production cos there were people a fair bit older than me depicted in the community portrayed. I’m in the DVD too but it is quite different from the stage production where we each had thirteen roles and all different ages. Rufus is very faithful to people and he just auditioned me and I remember him saying ‘Well I’m glad you came in today and I’m glad I now know you.’ And I thought what a lovely thing to say. I waited weeks and weeks to hear from him and I remember getting a phone call from my agent saying ‘yeah you got the job’. Then I stayed at the National for years dong different things in the National Theatre studio where they work on very new ideas. It’s how all their productions start really. They get tried out and may get green lit or not. They spent five years working on The Light Princess.”
The Light Princess was directed by Marianne Elliott, was it not?
“Yes Marianne had a huge impact on me as well. She has given me my biggest job of my career to date. You meet people along the way really. You meet lots of different actors who influence you or inspire you. People that you never thought you’d know or heard of before and they become huge mentors in your career. Patti LuPone has been a huge mentor for me and I didn’t ever expect Patti to be a friend or indeed a mentor. It’s incredible to learn from someone like her. She’s been through the wars in this industry. She’s a living legend of Broadway and when she first sang that song ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ in the first rehearsals we were all totally in awe of her.”
I saw her in the original cast of Les Mis playing Fantine. She was an incredible acting and vocal talent. We are talking late 1980s. Like anybody of that generation of musical theatre goers I was obsessed with Les Misérables and Phantom.
“Of course. They were hugely influential. Still are.”
You’ve had a fair amount of ongoing success and awards but would you call yourself an ambitious person? I don’t mean in a greedy way.
“Yes, I know what you mean. I am ambitious but purely in a way that I love what I do and I don’t want to stop doing it – ever. As I have said before – you have to have a really big suit of armour to work in this profession and get through the first ten years at least. Erm, yes and to keep going. I’m passionate about it and I believe in it. That makes you hungry to do different work, new work and exciting challenging work. So I feel like its a never ending hunger that I’ll have because there is always something new to do or someone to work with or something to achieve. I want to just keep doing it for as long as I possibly can. As long as the profession will have me.”
Brilliant. What would you say are the five best things about being in Company?
“I’d say – definitely the cast. I absolutely just love them all and can’t imagine a nicer company to work with. Then there’s the show itself. I’m so proud of it and I believe in it and love performing the show. The music is sensational. There are the Stephen Sondheim songs that I’d never imagined that I’d be able to sing as a woman. The West End too. It’s really a privilege to be able to be in the West End and because its a Stephen Sondheim musical that are not usually seen on Shaftsbury Avenue. They are usually seen in subsidised houses. It’s a real thrill to see it full every night and perform his work and see the reaction that people are getting from it. Number five? Of course – the audience! Me and Mel Giedroyc were saying the other night that it is an absolute privilege to perform to these full houses. You just don’t get it normally. You just don’t get that response – that continual response from an audience like we are getting. The reaction and the passion that you guys seem to feel audience-wise is inspiring. The joy of what you get from what we are doing is paramount. We wouldn’t exist without an audience because we are only there to do it for you guys.”
I have been to see the show twice and on my initial visit in October 2018 I was keen to see how a show that I loved in its original form had evolved to the piece it is now from a female turning thirty-five perspective and all that means socially and sexually. What impressed me the most from both visits, including one on Jan 2nd this year, is the audience points of contact with the work. They seem to have such an affinity with Sondheim’s songs of love won and love lost and all the tender moments in-between. They clapped and cheered on every single number and laughed a lot throughout. Perhaps more so than they would have done with the original male led Bobby casts good as they were. I know it has been said a few times but you really can’t imagine the show without a female Bobbie now.
“Phil, it feels incredibly humbling to be standing up there. Also because we feel that as … how can I explain this… as soon as we get a reaction like that – it makes you want to be better. It makes you want to better for the audience to have as good a night as you possibly can.”
A bit of an odd question but when I came to see the show in January this year a thought occurred to me mid performance. That thought was this. I wonder how many red dresses Rosalie gets through in a week? How many are hanging there waiting to be used in a week of shows?
“Hahahahaha! I only have one red dress but I went through quite a number when we started to put the show into the theatre. We just couldn’t get the fabric right or the look right and they came to us with ‘that one’. The designers made the perfect dress and they’ve tried to replicate it and it can’t be done! So that IS the dress. I’ve got lots of red shoes which I seem to going through like wildfire though.”
What play or musical would you seriously love to be in if it/they ever came up?
“Gosh, this is a really difficult question because I genuinely don’t covet plays or musicals because I daren’t in a sense because if I think that I saw in my head a ‘this is what I would really really love to do next’ and it didn’t happen, it would just be, well, very painful. The profession lends itself to making you feel slightly let down at times so I don’t really want to set myself up for a fall if something’s not happening.”
“And if I had ever imagined that I would be playing the female Bobby/Bobbie, and it didn’t happen it would be something to wrestle with. I don’t covet anything. I never have done. It’s a strange one. If I do get a role I tend to be insanely passionate about it and working on it. But only once it is in the bag.”
Do you have any pre-show routines before the show goes live and do they differ on a two show day?
“ Oh yes, so right. In a musical as an ensemble we will always do a pre-show physical and vocal warm up. I would never ever go out on stage without doing a warm up vocally and physically. And that’s the same for a play and a musical. Warm ups are much more intensely rigorous for a musical which makes sense. I personally tend to like a bit of quiet before I go on stage and because I am on stage all the time with this one, I always have a cup of mint tea in the interval without fail. I will sit down and have ten minutes quiet before I go out. Obviously a lot of the cast in this are on and off stage a lot of the time so they get their little breaks. I don’t have any. I don’t think I’d be able to do a second show on a two show day if I didn’t rest up. Just the sheer energy it takes to do one is fatiguing so you just have be careful and a bit savvy about it all. When I have done less demanding shows I’d be off gallivanting round the West End between shows dipping into the shops and cafes but not with this part. It’s quite solitary.”
So you have the new Company soundtrack coming out as a download on Feb 1st. That must be exciting. It is an historically different show so therefore the newly adapted text and character changes are included. People aren’t just buying a soundtrack but investing in a real piece of theatrical history.
“ Oh God I am beyond thrilled that it is going to be available to download as of Friday 1st February. It’s a real achievement artistically that we are all proud to be part of.”
Well thank you very much for your time today Rosalie and break legs until the end of your run on March 30th.
“Thank you very much Phil. It’s been great. Take care. Bye.”
This interview took place Tuesday 29th January 2019.
A reduced version of this full interview will be published in the Nottingham Evening Post Friday 8th February 2019.