It’s time for musical and 90s boyband lovers to relight their fire as the Official Take That Musical, Greatest Days arrives in Manchester this May, and it won’t be ‘Back For Good’. Featuring a night of spectacle, nostalgia and a million love songs, the show is sure to be a treat. In celebration of its debut in Manchester, we sat down with actress Rachel Marwood (Figg & Dates) to discuss the role and her previous acting successes.
How did you first get into acting?
R: “I’m from Grimsby, which is a really small town, and at the time, there was no theatre anywhere near us. And apparently, at age two and a half, I announced to my family that I was going to be on the stage, and to which they were like, ‘okay, how do we know what to do with that?’
My family all do very normal jobs, and it was not a phase. I absolutely stuck to my guns on that. And so, I joined the amateur dramatics groups and did all that kind of stuff, had some singing lessons and then got a job.
I must have been maybe 14 or 15, and I got a job as a backing singer in a Blues Brothers tribute band, and so we did gigs around the North with that. I did sing from a really, really early age and then went to drama school, went to Birmingham School of Acting when I was maybe 18 or 19. But I think I came out of the womb ready to be on the stage. No idea where it came from, although I think my granddad was looking into his ancestry and apparently way, way back, like my granddad’s great grandmother was a comedy music hall actress.”
Have you got any particular inspirations?
R: “I have loads of inspirations. In terms of actors, someone like Sarah Lancashire who can do everything; she could sing, she could be on the stage, the comedy stuff that she does is golden. And then if anyone’s seen Happy Valley, they know that she can do everything else as well.
But I also think, the people I surround myself with, like my friends, are so inspiring to me in everything they do, especially my female friends who are just bossing life. And I don’t just mean mates who are actors. They manage their house, they’ve got kids, they’ve got amazing careers they and they still manage to live a really happy life and stay positive. I think that’s really inspiring to surround yourself with that.”
Aside from your role in Greatest Days, what’s been your favourite role so far, and do you see yourself in any of your characters?
R: “I see myself in every character I do, which is slightly worrying. When the last job I did was playing someone who gets committed into a mental health facility. But even that it was very much like saw a part of myself in that. And I think as an actor, for me, I think every part we play, we bring… well, I certainly bring a part of myself to that character and embellish that part of myself and make a character from that. So that’s where I start with acting. But yeah, every single part has got, has got a little bit of me in it.
“I think for this particular character [in Greatest Days], I definitely was similar in a way is to young Heather, maybe less so to older Heather. But I don’t know, I find myself sort of saying things or acting a certain way and going: “Oh, that’s what Heather would do”. In fact, all of us did. In fact, we were all sort of coming back from somewhere yesterday, and Holly [Ashton], who plays Zoe, was organising us all and making sure she had everyone. ‘Is everyone here?’… counting heads, and we’re like: ‘All right, Zoe!’.
“I came to musical theatre quite late, even though I sang from a really early age. I always wanted to do more kind of straight theatre. So my career has been mostly in a lot of comedy and non-musical stage stuff, and eventually Mamma Mia came along, and I was just about old enough to audition for it.”
Rachel told me she initially questioned going into musical theatre with her role in Mamma Mia! but was quickly relieved that she had done so:
“It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life on a job. Yeah. And I think I think partly that show, partly that I played Rosie, who is the Julie Walters part in the film, and that is pure joy. That is a brilliant role. Brilliant role. Yeah. So I was so lucky. And then I kicked myself for not having done musical theatre for my entire career because I’m having a lovely time. It’s just pure joy. I’m hoping it’ll be the same with this.
“At the end of the day, we love our job, but it is a job, and everyone in their job will sometimes go: ‘Oh, I’ll just go to work today’ or, ‘Oh, I wish I was at home’. But in Mamma Mia!, there was not a single day that we, all of us, weren’t like, ‘Yes, we’re doing the show today!’ Just so much fun.”
Do you have any pre-show rituals or any particular ways to prepare for a character?
R: “I don’t really have a pre-show ritual. Obviously, we come in, we do a group warm up altogether and that’s physical and a vocal. When I’ve done smaller plays, like a play I did just before Christmas, there was only three of us so we tended to do our own individual vocal and physical warm ups but that can be quite solitary and quite insular. But I do really enjoy doing it all together. There’s something about connecting everybody together.
“I’m not one really for wanting a dressing room on my own. I quite like sharing a dressing room, especially for a comedy, because, you know, you want to be getting the banter going and getting yourself, you know, in that kind of up sort of mood, and thankfully we all get on like a house on fire. So, you know, they are people I’d want to share a dressing room with. Other than that, I drink lots and lots and lots of water before a show to make sure that, you know, vocally [I] can sustain it. Also just keeping that energy up and making sure everybody else is keeping the energy up as well.”
How does theatre acting compare to your previous experiences? How different is musical theatre to theatre, and TV to theatre?
R: “I mean, I would say like TV, theatre and musical theatre are a similar kettle of fish, really – except for musical theatre. Well, every show that I’ve been in, it’s always been a much bigger cast than the plays that I’ve been in. Although obviously that’s not always the case. I would say it’s a relatively similar journey. Also, the musicals I’ve done have been very acting heavy. I’m not going to get cast in 42nd Street, sadly, because I’m not a tap dancer, but Greatest Days is very much a play with music. So, there’s lots and lots of character study and, you know, a lot as you would do a play.
“But with TV, it’s just a it’s a very different thing. You don’t get rehearsals most of the time. I’ve never been [in] anything sort of for a long period of time. So it’s always been you kind of going into an existing cast. There’s a lot of waiting around, but you do get to redo it, whereas obviously on stage, if something either goes wrong or you just think: ‘Oh, well, I’m not quite in it or I wasn’t quite in it at that moment’, you can’t redo that. The audience has seen it.
“It is what it is, so there’s much more pressure for theatre, but at the same time, the buzz that you get, I mean, it would be impossible to sustain, you know, that level of energy on a filming day because you do maybe 15, 16 hours. So there’s a technique to conserving the energy and then being ready, especially if you’re doing something emotional. Keeping yourself on an even keel and then getting yourself ready to to get onto set. So it’s quite, quite a different kettle of fish.”
How would you describe Greatest Days and your character in the show?
R: “Greatest Days is pure joy from start to finish. It’s nostalgic for anyone, especially my age, who was Take That fan fan because it follows a group of friends from when they were 16, in 1993, singing into their hairbrush and watching Top of the Pops through to 25 years later when they meet up to go to a reunion tour. So there’s definitely a level of nostalgia and there’s a really beautiful moment in it. There’s definitely a few, a few tearjerker moments. Tim Firth writes those in beautifully. You laughing one minute and then all of a sudden you sort of hit with a bit of a lump in your throat. But you’ve got five part harmonies from the boys which are just mind-blowingly gorgeous, some epic dance routines and then just a really gorgeous story.
“And Heather, as a character, she is bold and sassy. She’s got a very dry sense of humour. She sometimes pushes it slightly too far which I can relate to sometimes. But I think the overall thing about this show is that there is so much heart in it , nd it’s just a gorgeous show about friendship that could apply to anyone. Even with the band, obviously, it’s all Take That songs, but they’re never referred to as Take that, it’s always: the boys or the band, which is a clever way of including people, like my mom’s generation who were Beatles fans. So it’s definitely a show with tons and tons and tons of Northern Heart.”
So, I’m guessing you’re already a Take That fan!
R: “Yeah, I mean, the show could have been written about me really! I think I was slightly younger than the 16 year old gang was, maybe like 11 or 12. But Take That really got me into pop music, Top of the Pops, and watching music videos. And obviously then, when they split up, it was absolutely heart-breaking; me and my friends all cried, and then they got back together where we were a bit older. So, it’s a weird thing. It’s kind of can’t really think of another band that have done the same thing where they have been like throughout my life. And now I’ve got a little boy who’s one and a half, and Shine is his favourite song. So, you know, it’s gone into like the next generation. It’s really gorgeous. 90s boy bands were the best!”
So, what do you do outside of the theatre?
R: “I’ve got a little boy, so that takes up a lot of my time. And he is pure joy. He’s got a lot of energy. No idea where he gets that from”. (She laughed).
“So when I’m not working, I’m mostly looking after him. He’s coming on tour with us so he’ll be seeing all of England. Apart from that, I’ve actually just finished doing a Masters in psychology that I started over COVID since all the theatres were closed. I’ve always been massively interested in psychology. So I started doing that, and then everything reopened and I started working again but of course I was still doing this Masters, and then I had a baby. But now I’ve finally got a bit of downtime to binge-watch interior design masters and any boxsets.”
Have you got any plans for the future?
R:” I don’t make plans for the future. COVID taught me not to make plans for the future. I have no idea. I’m going to stick with this job for as long as they’ll have me and as long as I’m enjoying it. And who knows what’s next? I think living moment by moment, week by week, month by month is is the way forward, and doing things for as long as it makes you happy.”
You can catch Rachel Marwood as Heather in Greatest Days, which begins its UK tour at Churchill Theatre, Bromley, where it plays from May 6 to 13. It then transfers to Palace Theatre Manchester from May 16 to 27. The musical is currently touring the UK until late November, with more dates to be announced announced, taking the tour into 2024.
After recent events at another jukebox musical, ATG have released the following statement:
“We politely ask that you show consideration to your fellow audience members by ensuring the professionals on stage are the only people entertaining us with their performances.”