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Ruthie answers your questions!  
Read the latest exclusive Q&A with Woman in White star Ruthie Henshall.
Ruthie Henshall

We put your questions to Ruthie in her dressing room as she got ready for the evening performance…

How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a musical theatre star, and did you do a lot of singing/acting when you were a little girl?

I don’t really know how old I was, but I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else, so I would imagine that it was when I was at primary school – probably about ten years old. I just loved dancing and I started off with ballet. My mother says I used to entertain – she promises me it wasn’t in a precocious way but I can’t think that a young child could perform otherwise! 

Of all the shows and characters you’ve played, which have you loved the most?

Polly in Crazy For You. It was the most enjoyable show, role and experience. It tops everything. But running a close second is Fantine in Les Miserables – I have never been tired of that show.

And are there any parts you have not yet played, but that you long to make yours?

I would love to tackle Mary Poppins at some stage. I have missed the opportunity a couple of times, but the thing with me is that I love to do new musicals – I like to create roles. There is much less pressure in coming in and taking over a role from somebody else which is quite a nice situation just after having a baby. But I do like the challenge and everything that goes with creating a new musical.

In Chicago you played both Velma and Roxie. Which role did you prefer and if you did that production again, who would you play?

I have played Velma twice now and Roxy only once so my initial reaction is to say I would want to play Roxy again. But I think Velma is the better part, if there is one. She gets far less stage time for far more impact. All her numbers are the “money numbers” so she has to work a lot less hard and gets all the pay off lines!

You’ve played in the UK and in the States; any desire to perform on other shores?

I would like to play Australia. I would love to see it and perform there. But I would also love to go back to Broadway again – that was a wonderful experience. At the moment my daughters are quite portable, they are two and a half and eight months old, so I am able to consider working out of the UK but once they reach school age I will have to really commit to working here.

How did you get the role of Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White?

It was rather nice – I was asked to come and see the show with a view to taking over the role. When they first asked me I thought I wasn’t really ready to come back as I felt that I returned to work far too soon after the birth of my first daughter, Lily. So my thoughts were that I would go and see the show, but doubted very much that I would want to do it. But I sat and watched it and by the end of the show I was really choked up because I realised that it was a role that I just couldn’t turn down and that it would mean time away from my girls so soon after Dolly was born. It was very bittersweet but it was one of those roles that you know don’t come along very often!

Is there any other role in the show you would have considered?

Oh no. Only Marian – I am not a Laura at all!

Any similarities or major differences between the character of Marian and you?

My determination is the same as hers. I won’t let anything beat me. I will figure it all out and resolve it – no matter what. Like her, I am quite an “out there” person so I suppose there are quite a few similarities. But I think she is the most appalling judge of character! She advises her sister to “marry this man, he’s fabulous” about Glyde, and to “trust Fosco – he’s trying to help us”. She’s continually making really bad character assessments and persuading her sister to make really ill advised decisions.

Which song is your favourite in the The Woman in White?

My favourite moments are all contained in the drawing lessons. I love that part of the show. It is so hopeful and a breath of fresh air. There are some beautiful melodies in it.

How do you like working with the unconventional set design?

You have to build in an extra element. Instead of just learning your lines and your moves you also have to time yourself and remember not to get too near to the screen, which I still forget! So it is quite a complicated set for an actor, but when you watch it it appears so simple and seamless.

How much do you see of it from the stage?

You see it, but you don’t notice it that much. The only time I am really aware of it is during the drawing lessons. There are a couple of moments when you are walking around and the scenery is moving as you do. It’s breathtaking.

Have you read the book by Wilkie Collins ?

I started to and then we were told not to because the adaptation is very different and that it wouldn’t be useful. I would like to read it later.

How do you feel about being back at the Palace Theatre? Is it a particular favourite?

I love it. It’s like an old friend. But I never, ever noticed those cherubs before! How did I miss them for 10 months when I was in Les Mis? Maybe they were covered over by the barricade scenery which jutted out into the auditorium!

What is it like playing opposite two different Fosco’s – how do they vary?

They are completely different! Poles apart. I loved Anthony’s (Andrews) Fosco and I thoroughly enjoyed doing the show with him. He is one of the dying breed of true gentlemen. He is also such a great company member who gets on so well with everyone. It is always hard when somebody you love leaves. And now of course Simon (Callow) has joined us and completely made the part his own. This is his first ever musical and because he is not a singer but a character actor he has put the meat on the bones of the role. A musical is so different from a straight acting role, it is not just about speaking the part. In a musical, it all has to be timed and you have to worry about so many other elements.

Which of the two Fosco’s do you think is the most sinister?

They both have the ability to be utterly charming and then turn into something really rather nasty.

What’s it like working with Trevor Nunn and Andrew Lloyd Webber again?

Well I only saw Andrew for about five minutes. He dropped in and out in rehearsal so I can’t really say I have worked closely with him on The Woman in White. But this is the first time in 19 years I have worked with Trevor Nunn. He obviously directed Cats but I don’t remember an awful lot about it. I recall him asking us to develop characters for our Cats but I remember more about Gillian Lynne from that experience. Now I have had the opportunity to work with him properly and you absolutely understand why he is so revered as a Director. He understands actors and text utterly, utterly brilliantly. It is as if you are eating burger and chips and after he has finished with you you find yourself tucking into a cordon bleu meal – all seven courses with truffles in it!

Do you get nervous?

Yes! Definitely. With this show, which I have been doing for almost three months, I still can’t just run on the stage and perform. The first number is really wordy! I find that sometimes the words only come to me at the last minute. Once I have done that number it’s not quite so bad. I don’t feel comfortable in the role, which is good.

How long are you going to be in Woman In White?

I am contracted to appear until January. But I can’t see myself getting fed up with this one!!

Have you any plans for your next production?

I am appearing on TV on a musical special which will be presented by John Barrowman and will be out of the show while I am filming for a few days. I will be singing songs from musicals. Andrew asked me if I would sing “Evermore Without You”. I love that song, it’s the one I sang when I appeared on GMTV. But I did point out to him that it is actually a man’s song!

Will you record soon a new album?

Yes. I have had a contract with EMI for about three years and we just get ready to work on it but I keep having babies! It looks like there will be an album ready to be released early next year.

Are there any tips or pieces of advice you could give to young hopefuls who want to make it in the Musical Theatre?

It has to be your passion. I never turned anything down when I was younger. I gained so much experience. You have to eat, sleep and breathe it if you want to be successful. In fact you can’t be good at something you don’t really enjoy. So as long as it is your real passion to do it and you are not doing it for anyone else, you will succeed. But at the same time you have to know yourself. If you have the looks for a character role and you keep putting yourself up for juvenile lead roles you will be rejected. You have to be realistic and know who you are, what you are capable of and what your limitations are. If the doors keep banging shut stop knocking on those and start seeking the ones which are open. It’s a wonderful business, an incredible, frightening, exciting world to be a part of.

Many thanks for your time Ruthie. Enjoy tonight’s show!

Posted on: 5th October 2005

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