Tag Archives: Chess

INTERVIEW: Shona White

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With starring roles in Chess, Wicked, Les Miserables, Shout, Mamma Mia and Rocky Horror, Shona White is one of the most highly acclaimed Scottish stars in Theatreland. Shona generously agreed to answer some questions about her stellar career for Glasgow Theatre Blog. 

Did your interest in performing start at an early age?

Yes I started singing solos at school services and in my village church when I was wee.

At what point did you decide to pursue performing as a career?

I used to get The Stage delivered and it made me want to go to Sylvia Young’s but my parents thankfully wanted me to get a good education in Scotland first. I did my Highers then moved down to London to go to Italia Conti when I was 17.

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Shona as Eponine in Les Miserables

You went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music; what ambitions did you have when you left there, and since you’ve achieved a huge amount in your career, how have they changed?

Well my first ambition was to be in Les Miserables and I actually left RAM early as I got into my dream show towards the end of my training. (I still got my diploma but unfortunately had to sacrifice the cap and gown ceremony as I was touring with the show).

I then had to rethink my ambitions as I had achieved the big one so early on in my career. Things change constantly and different shows come and go so I guess my goals have changed with them along the way. My next show was Merrily We Roll Along at The Donmar Warehouse directed by Michael Grandage, where I rubbed shoulders with Sam Mendes and Stephen Sondheim which I will never forget.There are still plenty of dream roles on my list but after Eponine the next dream role that came along was definitely Elphaba in Wicked which has become one of the most iconic roles in musical theatre.

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Merrily We Roll Along

The roles you’ve been lucky enough to play have been diverse; can you explain how you go about preparing for a role?

The practical side of the preparation is to learn my lines, music and lyrics but I find this needs to come hand in hand with setting the show in rehearsals. It helps to be familiar with the material before I start so I can have a framework to build on but I tend to cement my learning as I’m getting the part into my body physically in the space as well as vocally and mentally.

It is important to research the character and find as much information as possible from the existing material to have a background as a starting point. Relationships to other characters is also important so I can see how my character fits into the story.

With roles that require vocal stamina I try to sing the part into my body as a lot of performing it will become muscle memory and the voice, being a muscle, needs to be trained just like any other muscles in our body. By the same token with a big singing role I also try to rest my voice as much as possible when it is not required so it has time to recover before it’s next workout. Rehearsal periods are tough but necessary to build up stamina and put together all the relevant components.

I also think about what the character looks like physically and sometimes become a bit obsessed by this subconsciously and it can cross over into my everyday life. I was constantly wearing 60’s clothes when I was in Shout, In Mamma Mia I got blonder and blonder and more tanned by the day and wore turquoise obsessively. Thank goodness Wicked didn’t manifest itself in the same way. It might have been a bit hard to explain the green face in Sainsbury’s!

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A glimpse of the turquoise Mamma Mia outfit!

What’s been your favourite role to play so far?

It’s a close call between Elphaba in Wicked and Florence Vassy in Chess.

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As Chess’ Florence Vassy

What’s the moment in your career you’re most proud of?

I think performing the end of Defying Gravity in Wicked the night my Mum and Dad were watching the show and seeing how proud and emotional they were afterwards.

I’ve interviewed many Scottish performers for this series, and something that rather a lot have in common is Wicked; you’ve played the ultimate role in the show, Elphaba; tell us what it’s like playing such an iconic part.

Yes a lot of us Scots have been in Wicked. I love this fact!

What can I say? Elphaba is the most iconic female musical theatre role we’ve seen for years. It was a huge challenge to get my teeth into and an incredible thrill to play. I love the journey she goes on through the show and the music is so powerful. My favourite song to sing was definitely No Good Deed.

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As Elphaba

Craig Revel Horwood’s new production of Chess has been very well received, especially your performance as Florence Vassy; what was it like taking the performance to Toronto? Did the audience reaction differ to the UK?

It was an amazing experience taking the show to Toronto. It’s a fantastic city and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. I hope to to perform there again one day. We were made very welcome by the people there. I don’t think they’d witnessed anything quite like Craig and Sarah’s incredible actor musician interpretation of the show. The arrangements were wonderful and the cast were amazing playing,singing and dancing simultaneously. If I had a pound for the amount of people who thought the music was on a CD I’d be a very rich girl!

Your album I’ll Bring You a Song, is fantastically diverse; tell us how you selected the songs.

It was nigh on impossible as there are so many great songs to be sung. I will just have to keep doing more so I can get through them all! My producers had a big hand in choosing the tracks thank goodness as otherwise I don’t know how I would have narrowed it down. We tried to make it as varied as possible and include a lot of new writing which I am huge fan of as well as songs people would be familiar with. I also really wanted a Scottish song on there too to reflect my roots.

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Part of the series is to give advice to aspiring performers in Scotland; what would you say to someone contemplating a career on stage?

I’d say it is very important to get a solid education first. I am very grateful my parents made me do this. It is a highly competitive industry with a lot of ups and downs so really make sure it is the route for you. If it is your passion and you believe you have a real talent then work hard and follow your dreams…

Is there any production past or present you wish you could have been involved in?

Not that I can think of offhand but I have a list of parts I’d love to play which I won’t bore you with now. I would love to play Ellen in Miss Saigon which is rumoured to be having a revival very soon.

What do you do to relax when you’re not working?

I like to spend time with my nearest and dearest, watch movies and I love cooking. I am a huge Come Dine With Me fan and would love to be on it one day.

Finally, tell us what’s next for Shona White in 2013 and beyond?

I have just recorded a Friday Night is Music Night with the BBC Concert Orchestra singing alongside Hadley Fraser. Available on BBC iplayer here until 12th April.

I have a few projects in the pipeline including solo concerts and a new show involving the other two Shonas in the industry (One Scottish, one Irish so both Celtic).

I am also now a voice-over artist so maybe you’ll hear me randomly on adverts or perhaps singing on the next Brave movie… You never know.

Besides that I am waiting for the next amazing theatrical role I can throw myself into. Watch this space.

For more information on Shona visit www.shonawhite.com

Follow Shona on Twitter @singinghaggis

INTERVIEW: Kieran Brown

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Over the past few years Kieran Brown has managed to firmly establish himself in the West End with roles in such blockbuster shows as: Love Never Dies, Wicked and the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary concert at the O2. As well as this Kieran is an established international concert and cabaret performer and pantomime veteran. Glasgow Theatre Blog had the chance to ask him some questions in a rare break from his hectic schedule.

You’ve just finished appearing in Scotland’s biggest pantomime as Prince Charming at The King’s Theatre; tell us how the panto experience compares to your usual musical theatre and concert work.

Well, I’ve done quite a few panto’s before, but nothing NEARLY as big (or important to me) as the Kings in Glasgow – it’s the one that I’ve wanted to do since I was a little boy, when I used to come see them as a child. It’s just been the most TREMENDOUS fun with the BEST company of people, who treated it with respect and care, which is what so many other panto companies and productions don’t do. The rapport that you get to have with the audience in Glasgow is second to none. Every friend of mine who visits Glasgow with a production mentions how “up for it” and friendly the audiences at the Kings are and it’s true!

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Jenny Douglas and Kieran Brown as Cinderella and her Prince Charming at this year’s King’s Theatre pantomime.

Who or what inspired you to become a performer?

Not sure really. Certainly I was encouraged by my old Drama teacher/Mentor, Bill Graham who died a few years back. He had a HUGE influence on me, from when he directed me in the Falkirk Children’s Theatre and throughout high school and my time with Tryst Theatre Company. He really gave me the very best base training, encouraged and prepared me for drama school. I’ll always be incredibly grateful to him for that.

What advice would you give to any aspiring performer?

Be realistic about your goals, don’t take anything personally, and persevere. If it’s really your passion, then take the knocks (and there are many!) but don’t give up.

You have a full CV ranging from musicals, concert performances, cabaret, as well as directing; where does your heart really lie?

At the moment it is still performing but I have done a bit of directing and I think certainly in the future it is where I want to go. I can’t see me ever wanting to give up performing, so if I can flit between then great. I am a bit of a perfectionist and a control freak and it is very hard when as an actor you are asked to do something by a director that you KNOW inside you is the wrong choice, but my job as an actor is to do what I am told. Directing however, is different, and a HELL of a lot more stressful, but it’s definitely what I want to do more of. I am currently assistant director for a very exciting new production of Chess at the Union Theatre. A very good friend of mine, Chris Howell is directing and I am enjoying watching his processes and reasoning as he guides his actors to get the best out of them and the piece.

You have been involved in mega musicals such as Wicked and the 25th anniversary Les Mis concert; what is it like to perform in something so big and so beloved by so many?

It’s quite surreal to begin with but the most important thing is to remember that these people love the piece and they have paid a lot of money to watch it, so you HAVE to do the best that you can do. With Wicked, it’s such a well oiled machine and is VERY carefully looked after by a brilliant team who know the piece inside out so you know you are in safe hands. It’s the same with most of the big, long(er) running shows. What I’d love though is to be involved in something new. That’s a real goal –  to be in the original cast  and create something that hopefully people will love in years to come. I am SO envious of all these amazing performers who were involved with the original productions of shows like Les Mis, or Phantom etc. That’s really a dream of mine.

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Wicked is known for its rather devoted fans; did you have any interesting stage door encounters with the super-fans?

They are really the most amazingly dedicated bunch and I have met some real sweethearts and lovely people at the stage door, who’ve become good friends! The support from some of them has carried on after I left Wicked – a few even come up to Glasgow to see me do Cinderella and came to my cabaret “A West End Christmas In Glasgow” which I was really touched about. It’s always a bit disconcerting when you walk out of stage door and you see people “greenified”! I usually didn’t get recognised as I had to have a shaved head for the show. You do get a few who are a bit pushy/rude and are only interested in the two lead females, but on the whole it’s a great atmosphere. Takes a bit of getting used to. On our last night (Rachel Tucker’s last) it was CRAZY! I’ve never seen so many people at stage door anywhere before! My favourite was at the last night of Love Never Dies. Hundreds of people, and one lady asked if she could have a picture with me. I obliged (of course!), and the woman behind asked if I would sign her programme. When I did, the lady with the camera came to me and asked if I was the Phantom. “I wish” I replied, then she said very disappointedly “Oh” and promptly deleted the picture of me right in my face…! I just laughed!

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Kieran as Raoul in Love Never Dies

I see you’ve worked extensively in Vienna as an actor, concert soloist, and as a director; can you tell us about that?

I spent 6 years on and off living in Vienna and dividing my time between there and the UK. It’s really one of my favourite places to be and like my second home so I try to visit my friends there as much as I can. There is a great theatre scene over there and I worked for the International Theatre, which is now sadly closed, and the Vienna Theatre Project (sic). I recently did a series of three cabaret concerts called “West End Winters” with a German musical star Caroline Frank, which sold out, so we are hoping to make them a regular thing and do some more in a couple of months. There is nothing like that on the theatre scene in Vienna and word of mouth quickly spread so by the last night we had 30 people queuing for returns which was a lovely feeling! Vienna also gave me an opportunity to direct – I did “Over The Threshold” (which I was also in) and “A Christmas Carol”. It was a great place to dip my toes in the directorial water and I really learned a lot from the processes.

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A Christmas Carol in Vienna

What ambitions would you still like to fulfil?

Well, to direct more, do a bit more TV again, and there are a few parts I’d love to play – Phantom in “Love Never Dies”, Joe in “Sunset Boulevard” (and there was me thinking I wasn’t such a Lloyd Webber fan!!!). I really want to do more plays/straight theatre again though. I’d love to do a period drama, like Bleak House, or Downton Abbey or something similar.

If you could create a fantasy production to star in what would it be and who would you cast alongside you?

Eeeek, this is a hard one! Well, ANYTHING with Dame Judi Dench, of course! Sorry if that’s a bit of a cliché but it’s true.

What do you do to chill out when you’re not on stage?

Not much! I find I have VERY little time – I’m always doing gigs or concerts so my spare time is somewhat precious! I’ve made a resolution to create more time for myself this year though, so we’ll see – maybe I’ll have time to discover a hobby!

Tell us what’s next for Kieran Brown.

At the moment, I have no idea! Chess will keep me busy for now, but I’m generally waiting on my agent to call with auditions! I will be back to Vienna I’m sure in the spring to do some more concerts, I am a guest performer for Annemarie Lewis Thomas (Principal and founder of the MTA in London), alongside the AMAZING Ria Jones, Shona White and Caroline Kieff at the Landor Theatre on Feb 15th.  Other than that… watch this space!

Finally, describe yourself in 3 words!

Sparkly. Ambitious. Scottish!

For more about Kieran visit his website at http://www.kieranbrown.com/

Follow on Twitter @LuciferBox

Chess is at the Union Theatre from 13th February – 16th March details here

*My interview with Kieran’s co-star Jenny Douglas here

REVIEW: Chess, King’s Theatre Glasgow 9th April 2011 starring James Fox, Daniel Koek, Shona White and David Eric

I’ve never seen this before, it’s probably one of the least seen Tim Rice musicals, written with Bjorn and Benny from Abba. This touring production has been re-staged and re-choreographed by Craig Revell-Horwood (yes him!).

“Two of the world’s greatest chess masters battle it out at the world chess championships but their greatest battle is for the love of one woman. Amidst political intrigue and international conspiracies, the American and the Russian fight to win the heart of Florence Vassy in a romantic triangle that mirrors the heightened passions of the cold war.” – so there!

The more familiar songs in it are probably ‘One Night In Bangkok’ and ‘I Know Him So Well’.

It looks very 80s retro – it is, of course, set during this time and at times the choreography bordered on the cheesy, but it was saved by the strength of the four leads; James Fox, Shona White, Daniel Koek and David Eric, who were all vocally strong, altogether an enjoyable few hours very well performed.