Anna O’Byrne is about to open in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman In White at the Charing Cross Theatre. We caught up with her for a chat about the show…
You have previously appeared in Love Never Dies and Phantom of the Opera playing Christine Daae in both. What do you enjoy about Lloyd Webber’s music?
I just love singing Andrew’s music. His storytelling through melody, and his creation of atmosphere and drama through music is, I believe, unparalleled in modern musical theatre. His writing for the soprano voice is particularly thrilling and expansive, and I find it a joy to sing in such a way.
You were also in My Fair Lady as directed by Julie Andrews, the original Eliza in the musical. How was it working on the show with the originator of the part?
It was wonderful, and utterly surreal. She was incredibly encouraging and generous, and wholeheartedly gave me the mantle of the role whilst allowing me to create my own Eliza Doolittle. The character and production bonded us, and I feel very lucky to share such a special and unique relationship with her. I just adore Julie, and the experience I had with her will remain with me forever.
The Woman In White is a revival; the show was last seen in London in 2006. How is this production different to its previous incarnation?
I can’t comment on any specific differences as I never saw the 2006 version. However I understand the piece has been significantly revised since then – and continues to be – as we receive musical, lyrical and structural changes during previews! The focus of our production has been to emphasise certain plot points and clarify the various narrative arcs. Thom has incorporated some subtle non-naturalism which I believe enhances the humanity and truth of the story. Our production is also very low-tech – using essentially Victorian theatrical conventions and techniques to create the visual language of the show.
The show was first staged at the Palace Theatre. Charing Cross Theatre is a lot smaller and more intimate. How does that affect the dynamic of the piece?
Our director Thom Southerland is a specialist in taking large scale shows and distilling them down to their most potent form in smaller spaces. The Charing Cross Theatre is beautifully intimate and it’s quite exciting to be telling such a sumptuously emotional story in a more confined space. The Woman In White is classic Victorian melodrama, but in a smaller space we have to find the inner truth of the piece without embellishment or bombast. Andrew’s sweeping score is gloriously romantic and highly atmospheric. Thom’s direction has realised this inherent musical storytelling in a really inventive way.
Having played Eliza and Christine, two iconic roles in musical theatre, do you have another stage icon you would love to play?
To be honest, I don’t really think about my career in those kind of terms. I have adored every role I’ve played, and it’s an honour to be associated with iconic characters like Christine, Eliza, Maria, Cunegonde, and Sarah Brown. But I’ve never been driven by the concept of a “dream role”, and subsequently some of my best and most memorable professional experiences have come unexpectedly from left field. I’m drawn to roles and projects that push me in a different direction, or provide a new challenge.
Has Andrew Lloyd Webber been along to any rehearsals and did he offer any advice?
Andrew has been with us in the rehearsal room, for orchestral workshop and Sitzprobe, and several times during our preview period. It’s invaluable for us as a company to have the composer present to guide us. He and orchestrator David Cullen have significantly reworked the orchestral and musical texture of the piece, so most of his advice has been regarding the delivery and “ebb and flow” of particular sections – when to sing with more classical legato line, and when a more sprechgesang or intimate quality is required, and so on. We all feel extremely fortunate to have Andrew involved in such a hands-on way.
The original novel was described as a ‘mystery sensation.’ What is sensational about the show?
The term was initially coined to denote the literary blend of romance, realism, mystery, and melodrama. The source material in Wilkie Collins’ novel is inherently dramatic, so with the addition of Andrew’s beautiful music (played and sung wonderfully by our orchestra and company), our gorgeous set and costumes, and a little smoke and mirrors, hopefully we’re creating a little corner of Victorian gothic magic at the Charing Cross Theatre.
Why should people come and see The Woman In White this Christmas?
Christmas is the perfect time to indulge in a Victorian classic! We have already had so many repeat customers in our audiences and I think people are really taking this show into their hearts.
Thanks for having Tea With Wilma
Interview by Harrison Fuller
Check out my video interview with Anna O’Byrne from when she starred in The Phantom Of The Opera…