The Birmingham Repertory Theatre in association with Bill Kenwright are presenting a new stage production of The Exorcist, adapted by John Pielmeier from the novel by William Peter Blatty. The prod...
Hayden Thomas interviews Beverley Knight
After successful outings as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard and an Olivier-nominated performance as Felicia Farrell in Memphis, Ms Knight is making quite the name for herself in the West End, so we got our reporter Hayden Thomas (Twitter: @WestEndReporter) to catch up with the lady herself to talk all things feline, her next album and tour, Dreamgirls and whether she is actually a cat or a dog person.
Hayden Thomas: So, this is your third back-to-back West End stint after 'The Bodyguard' and 'Memphis.' Are you completely shattered?
Beverley Knight: (Laughs) I am! I'm happy and shattered! But I have to say - I did think to myself that Cats is such an ensemble piece, where everybody gets to do their bit and everybody gets to shine and it doesn't rely all on one person, which is absolutely true. But of course, me being me, when I'm not on stage in Cats, I'm busy writing the next record. I'm just creating more and more work for myself, when I could, in theory, be chilling out a bit more.
HT: Is that what you're doing whilst you're in the wings waiting to come on and sing "Memory"?
BK: (Laughs) When I'm in my dressing room, I've always got melodies popping into my head, so I always think I better capture them while they're there. I take my phone out and record it and then I can work on it outside of theatre time. It's a bit mad when the show is going on though and a melody pops into your head that you start singing that instead.
HT: I quite like the idea of the sleeve of your next album being full of pictures of you writing all the songs, but dressed from head to toe as Grizabella in your dressing room in every shot.
BK: (Laughs) That would be amusing!
HT: So we've always known that you are one of the UK's most talented singers, but what would you say are the main things you've learned about the method of acting in these past few years?
BK: Well, when I was of school age, I did lots of acting outside of school, but this is obviously an entirely different experience being on a West End stage. I think even if a show has a lot of pace and drive to it, like 'Memphis' and 'The Bodyguard' did, if you really take time to really feel the emotion before you deliver the line, you make it real for the audience. They don't want to see Beverley Knight playing the role of... They want to look at you and see Rachel Marron or Felicia Farrell or Grizabella. You have to take that time to remember - who is the character? What are her personality traits? How would she feel and respond to what is going on around her? - and then you deliver those lines. That to me has been the most crucial thing. Then I really feel I'm getting somewhere.
HT: And is there a particular access point for Grizabella? Anything you particularly identify with?
BK: Oh, absolutely! I'm so glad you asked me that. The way Sir Trevor Nunn explained the character of Grizabella was that she is a cat who has been around, seen a lot and is now completely down on her luck. Being in the music industry, I know so many people - male and female, historically and personally - who have been your archetype Grizabellas. I have seen people pull themselves back from the brink. They could have been really, really desperate at the last chance saloon. I'm thinking of someone like Boy George whose life has completely turned around. There was a time when he was in real trouble. And there's other people who sadly didn't make it, who I have known personally, and I'm thinking of Amy Winehouse. So there are people I have known who I see have aspects of Grizabella and I have known them for long enough to be able to incorporate that into what I'm doing here.
HT: After all these years, what do you consider to be Cats' biggest selling points yourself?
BK: I think there's a kind of duality with this show. On a superficial level, kids lose their mind for it. They can understand everything that they are looking at on the stage and some of the themes portrayed, and if they see it as a child, they never forget it. So what happens? They grow up and twenty or so years later, they're bringing their children to see it. Then as adults, they appreciate some of the more adult themes. The aristocratic Bustopher Jones, Macavity, who definitely has no good intentions, Grizabella for all the things we just talked about, and the wisdom that Old Deuteronomy delivers - that is what draws people of all ages. People love to have that suspension of reality - seeing adults dressed up as cats and dancing unbelievably. Everybody loves a bit of escapism. Those are the ingredients that get people to come back and back again. And of course, there's those songs, especially "Memory," which I love singing every night. It's just fantastic!
HT: Having said all that, are you more of a cat or a dog person, Beverley?
BK: Honestly... I'm a dog person! (Laughs)
HT: (Laughs) Brilliant! For some reason, I was hoping you'd say that.
BK: I'm playing a cat every night, but I'm actually a dog person.
HT: So I know you've got a new album coming out next year and a tour already announced. You'll actually be back to do a concert at the London Palladium on 25th May.
BK: Yes! I'll be out of the building and back in there before I know it.
HT: "Cooey! It's me again!"
HT: Will you be singing any showtunes as part of the concert?
BK: To be honest, I doubt it because it will be more about promoting the new album and doing some of my older songs, but there might be some songs from shows I have been in, but it won't be a concert of showtunes. It's going to be me being me.
HT: So you'll be having a break from theatre. Do you think you'll return to it in the future? And if so, are there any roles you'd love to have a crack at?
BK: I'll definitely be back to do theatre. No doubt about it. I've looked around and I wouldn't say there was a plethora of strong, central character roles specifically for women or women of colour. Some roles just transcend colour thankfully, like Grizabella, which is wonderful. But if the right thing did come along, then I'd absolutely be all over it without a shadow of a doubt. We'll just wait and see.
HT: Are you a fan of 'Dreamgirls'?
BK: Oh yes! It's fantastic! I obviously wasn't quite old enough to see it on Broadway, but who hasn't watched those clips on YouTube of Jennifer Holliday absolutely bringing the house down?! And I also thought the film was great. I really enjoyed the film interpretation. I do love 'Dreamgirls,' but I'm not sure if I'd be right for it. I'm not sure what they're looking for. I don't know. We'll see.
HT: Oh I think you might be doing yourself a disservice there, Beverley. I think you'd make a lovely Deena.
BK: Maybe, but they're supposed to be very young and inexperienced. That's what I mean when I say I'm not sure I'm right for it (Laughs). But it is theatre, isn't it!
HT: And the years have been very kind to you, Beverley!
BK: (Laughs) Well, thank you!
HT: And my final question, which musical would you like to see revived in the future? 'Cats,' 'Memphis' or 'The Bodyguard'?
BK: All of the above! There's no way you're not going to see another revival of 'Cats.' That is a given. 'The Bodyguard' certainly as well. That was kind of cut off before it really had a chance to show what it could do. It hasn't had a chance to go to Broadway yet. With 'Memphis,' that actually broke my heart last Saturday when it all came to an end. Even though I had already left to go into 'Cats,' that was a fantastic example of a new musical with original songs and original book. I thought - that's not right and it's not OK.
HT: Yes, I'm also always crossing my fingers for new and original musicals. Sweet Lord above, please let there be plenty more to come.
BK: I agree!
HT: Well, I'll let you go now and get your whiskers on. I wish you all the very best for the remainder of the run, for your next album and for the tour next year. Ooh, you are busy! Crikey! I'm exhausted just thinking about it!
BK: Thanks so much! There's a lot going on.
HT: And don't forget those album sleeve pictures in full Grizabella glory!
BK: (Laughs) Yes! Multiple grizzy pictures! Excellent!
The West End revival of Cats is booking through to 2 January 2016 at the London Palladium.