Have you seen other productions of Sunset or the film?
Yes, I have. I saw it three times in it’s original conception at the Adelphi. Twice with Patti Lupone and once with Elaine Paige. Although I was a little too young for the role then I have wanted to play it ever since. I absolutely loved it. I saw the film a long time ago and then when I knew I would be playing the part I thought I must watch it again. It was a big point of reference for me. Don Black’s lyrics are loyal to the film and very cleverly interwoven into the show. I know this piece backwards but I haven’t seen the film for a while and when I saw it I thought, that is so clever. It fits in seamlessly.
How do you feel your interpretation of Norma varies?
That’s very hard to answer because I can’t sit out there and look at myself objectively. I can only do what I do out there and hope that she is sympathetic. I feel very sorry for her as an actress. I hope I play the part with sympathy.
Would you say Norma was a strong, or a weak character?
I think she is both. I think outwardly she is strong but she is a very fragile human being. A very sad human being.
Do you like her?
Yes. Immensely. I think as a person deep down there is a part of her that realises she is fooling herself, but she deludes herself.
You have played Eva and Norma, arguably ALW’s two strongest female characters….
Well I have to say I think I have played three – I also played Rose in Aspects of Love. Which I think is kind of overlooked but I think is a wonderful part! Andrew has given me three of the best roles of my career!
Do you think there is any similarity between Eva and Norma?
No. Eva was very strong and very driven. For example towards the end when she realised she had cancer and Peron was going through his second term in office she insisted on going in the cavalcade and had to wear a metal brace fitted around her to hold her in position in the car. And equally, her politics aside, someone to admire!
What do you think persuades Joe to make the pivotal decision to stay with Norma?
Well I think, firstly, it’s desperation. There is a part of him (Ben, who plays Jo, may say something totally different, it will be interesting to know how he answers this!) that is up against it and he needs the money, he needs the security. But also I think he falls in love with her a little bit. I read a lovely book by Sam Staggs called Close Up on Sunset Boulevard, a great book, in which he writes that a previous director said that he has to fall in love with her, even for the briefest of moments, even if it is just that moment, he does.
Speaking of directors, what is it like working with Strictly Come Dancing’s Mr Nasty? (Director Craig Revel Horwood)
Oooh. (Kathryn pulls a face!). Oooh. (she smiles) He couldn’t be nicer! He was absolutely a joy to work with and we do kind of work on a similar level because I started off as a dancer and he is a choreographer, was a dancer and so we were very much on the same wavelength. We didn’t have many discussions about the way I was going to interpret the role, it sort of evolved naturally. He would say “Why don’t you try that”, and it would be great. It was a lovely working experience. He is so laid back! I have never seen him lose his temper. And of course he was very passionate about the tango! I had a very nasty accident a couple of years ago and broke my leg and collarbone and hadn’t really done much since that so I was a bit nervous about what I could do. I said to him “It’s not going to be too full-on is it?” He said “No darling!” But of course it ends up being this quite full-on tango piece. Afterwards I asked him what score he would give us – “eight out of ten darling!”
The whole show does have to be choreographed, particularly at Newbury when you had such a small stage…
Absolutely. I think there is a big advantage to having a director from a choreographic background because it is difficult to have things going on like a double bass coming on and off and make it seamless and yet it does happen. A couple of people have said to me that after the first 5 to 10 minutes of thinking “What’s going on here?” you don’t even notice it.
What do you feel are the advantages of such a scaled down production?
I think, although the original big set was terrific, we don’t have that here so you have to concentrate on the characters, the storytelling, the lyrics and of course the fantastic score. I don’t think it loses anything not having a 32 piece orchestra there either. It was an interesting concept for me when I first heard about it. I had actually done one previous actor musician thing which, I wasn’t that taken with to be honest, but when I heard it was Craig and Sarah Travis who I heard such fabulous things about I was so interested to see what they would do with it and I just think it works a treat.
How does it differ playing it in the West End as opposed to Newbury?
Well it isn’t vastly different. I have to admit I am probably more at home in this setting. Newbury was scary! I had heard that it was small, and I thought well, I have done Bridewell, I’ve done the Donmar, but you are right THERE (Kathryn holds her arm in front of her to indicate the proximity of the front row). But after the first couple of weeks you got used to it! Unless somebody had their feet up on the side of the stage which was just the most irritating thing on earth and you think “I don’t have much space here anyway… for goodness sake!” But it was a great start. Craig, having done two or three productions down there, knew that you absolutely have to play it for real every single night. You are not in a huge place so if you don’t do it from here (Kathryn puts her hand to her heart) every time it shows. Even here at the Comedy it is still intimate. We were all worried whether it would make that transfer but it works equally well.
What is your favourite part of the show?
I have got to say it‘s when she goes back to the studio and I sing As If We Never Said Goodbye. It’s one of the best numbers I have ever sung on stage. I absolutely love it.
Have you ever had any scary moments in the show?
Yes I had one literally yesterday afternoon! I came off from my first scene in this little number (Kathryn indicates her long silver and black gown) and it caught in the set! I am sure the people on the left hand side must have seen it all. And the revolve is going round as well. So I got as far off as I could and started yanking at it thinking to hell with the bloody costume… but it wouldn’t come so I had to slip out of it and leave it behind me!
Were you asked to play an instrument for this production?
I don’t play an instrument. I learnt to play the flute at school but couldn’t afford to buy one when I left. My biggest regret is not taking my Grandmother’s offer up when she offered to teach me to play the piano. She had been a concert pianist and then went into teaching piano, but I chose to learn the flute! It is difficult to accompany yourself on the flute! Originally they said I didn’t have to play an instrument and then Sarah Travis suggested they might have me just tingling a triangle or banging a tambourine! But it just looked too token and I think there is great effect in Norma being the only character that doesn’t play an instrument. It keeps her apart from everyone else. Which is what she is. This lonely, deluded character.
Which character that you have played do you like the best?
I honestly think I am going to have to say this one. For a woman of a certain age roles like this don’t come along very often and I am so proud that I have done it. The big bonus for me is that it was just going to be a summer job to see if I could get on stage again. I did lose a lot of nerve when I had the accident and Craig just asked for me, I didn’t have to audition. To be honest if I had had to audition I don’t think I would have done it. But I was undecided, it was in Newbury and we live in Suffolk and my husband said, “Do you want to do it?” and I said “YES!” so he said then do it. So it has been a big bonus and then being nominated [for an Olivier] after 30 or so years in the business! It would be great to win – but honestly just being nominated is really special. It truly is.
What is your favourite ever musical number?
I have a really soft spot for a number in Evita called Rainbow High. Technically I couldn’t sing it now because it is so high in chest, and as you get older the voice drops and I wouldn’t be able to get up there now, but I had 5 auditions for that and each time I had to sing that number – along with Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, which is actually reasonably easy compared to Rainbow. It was a big kick to do that number every night. Every night it was a challenge!
Do you get nervous before a performance?
Yes, I still get a bit jittery. Only just before the first entrance. I am not on for the first 15 minutes and I don’t sing much before the first big number. So to prepare – I know all the lines to everyone else’s numbers, if they ever go off I could cover for them! – I tend to sing along from my dressing room.
How would you like to spend your perfect day off?
Although I am staying at a friend’s flat in London, I live in Suffolk and I have six dogs. I have four standard daschunds, two of which my husband and I bred together and kept two of the puppies which we saw being born. It was the most fantastic experience and I miss them horribly. So my favourite day would be to get home to Suffolk and spend time with the dogs.
Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
Do you know what, I honestly don’t know. I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess. I am a bit of a pessimist about these things. I am in a nice place personally at the moment. I had semi-retired, I was finding it more important to be spending more time at home. My husband is also in the business. If I was to take every job I was offered I would never see him or my home. He works a bit and I work a bit and it works fine and I am not in the least bit ambitious anymore. I just want to do good roles.
Are there any roles which would really tempt you?
There are a couple which I would really love to play. One is Mrs Lovett [Sweeney Todd], and I should love to have a go at Dolly Levi [Hello Dolly].
Who’s your biggest fan?
Who would make you starstruck if you met them?
Loads of people! I suspect I will go along to the Olivier Awards ceremony and be completely overawed! I was totally starstruck actually at the opening night party [for Sunset] because I am an addicted Strictly [Come Dancing] fan! I have watched every single programme so, because of Craig – although I had worked with him very briefly before on a benefit that we did about 12 years ago – there were a lot of the Strictly judges and dancers there. And Graham Norton as well. I am a big fan of his and he was there.
Do you get many celebrities coming to see the show?
I always say to our Company Manager don’t tell me who is in the audience. It puts me off! Of course you get days when you feel you have been better than others and that just happens, it’s irritating but there is nothing you can do about that, but I don’t need to be told that you have to do a good performance because someone is in. If I thought that George Clooney was sitting out there…. !! But I would have no problem if he decided to put his feet up on the stage. No problem at all!
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