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Hayden Thomas interviews Gypsy's Imelda Staunton
One of the West End's brightest stars has to be three-time Olivier Award winner Imelda Staunton. Currently wowing audiences eight times a week as Momma Rose in the first West End revival of Gypsy in over forty years, she may well be on the way to picking up a fourth Olivier! With the classic musical's limited engagement closing on 28th November 2015, we couldn't resist the opportunity for our reporter Hayden Thomas (Twitter: @WestEndReporter) to catch up with the leading lady herself.
Read on to find about Imelda's thoughts on today's fame-obsessed society, her own 'pushy stage mother' figure, and whether or not she could see herself treading the boards on Broadway:
Hayden Thomas: I know you previously watched 'Gypsy' on Broadway, starring Tyne Daly and then Patti LuPone. Mama Rose is such a polarising character, I was just wondering what your own initial gut reaction was to her, as an audience member?
Imelda Staunton: Ooh that's a difficult one. If you've seen something in the theatre, but then you end up doing it yourself, you have so many different views. I liked Tyne Daly's performance. I thought it actually was fantastic. I enjoyed the piece, but actually I didn't really get the play at the time, as much as I have done now - obviously having worked on it. I think anyone would say that to you. You get much more out of something if you've worked on it, as opposed to just seeing it.
HT: It's one of those shows that I have longed to see for many years and, obviously, the last time it was on in the West End was in 1973, starring Dame Angela Lansbury. Why do you think it has taken so long for a revival?
IS: I have no idea. That's probably a question for the now-departed Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book. I don't know why they didn't do it here. I've thought that to myself a lot - "Why haven't they done it here?" - and I think there have been so many other people who could have played it, but aren't I the Lucky One that they never did?!
HT: And it must have been pretty touching to have Angela Lansbury there backstage with you on Opening Night?
IS: Yes, that was pretty special. That was sort of as good as it gets, I think.
HT: 'Gypsy' could be described as a 'classic' musical, but the notion of the pushy stage mother seems just as relevant, if not moreso, in today's celebrity-obsessed society as it was in 1959. Have you found that has been reflected in the demographics of the audiences at the Savoy Theatre?
IS: I think you're absolutely right. And how forward-thinking it was back then! This was written in 1959 about the American dream and that stardom is the only important thing. The character of Rose is utterly empty and she thinks she can fill the void with success and of course, you can't. And as you said, today you have things like "The X Factor" and slogans like "Anyone can do it" and "Reach for your dreams." Well, dreams can be dangerous things. You have to follow it up with the hard graft. I think giving people the advice of "Anyone can do it" is a little bit dangerous.
HT: What would you advise those seeking success in the Arts yourself?
IS: For those seeking fame and fortune? Well, people even journeyed across to America seeking gold. Everyone does it, don't they? It all comes down to whether or not you have the ability to put in that hard graft, and also, as Rose says herself: "You've either got it, or you ain't got it." People can be famous for a couple of years and then they burn out. Dancers have short careers. Some opera singers have short careers. There are very different landscapes as an artist. I know it sounds like a bit of a cliche that if you work hard etc. because a lot of people work hard and never reach the level they want to reach. But then you have to ask yourself: "What am I looking for? What am I searching for?" All this unreachable stuff like having a private jet and all that and then I think "Do you? (Laughs)... Right, OK." I would say just get on with the work and if any success comes of it, count that as a bonus.
HT: I hope you don't mind me asking, but before you went to RADA, was your own mother actively encouraging you into the Arts or was it all your own decision?
IS: No, I had an elocution teacher at my school, who was also the drama teacher. It was she who made me audition for drama school. She absolutely did. I didn't know about drama schools at all. I was one of those lucky people who had a teacher who helped them with their lives and Jackie Stoker is that woman for me. She's still around today. We still see each other. Absolutely! So, my Mum didn't push me. She was neither for nor against it. She knew I was quite good at it because I'd been in all the school plays and she trusted my teacher, Mrs. Stoker, and so she thought: "Well, give it a go!"
HT: And the rest is history! And years later you have won three Olivier Awards and played so many iconic female stage roles - The Baker's Wife in Into The Woods, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Sonia in Uncle Vanya, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls - what roles are there left to play?
IS: I don't know and I don't care! (Laughs) I'm doing them and I'm not worried about what else am I going to do. I just do what's happening right now. I also like new writing. Jobs just seem to come up - like the film "Pride" - that came out of nowhere. I do like original pieces. I don't really have the mindset of "I have to play that part" or "I have to play this part" where the ground has already been trodden. I'm quite happy to do new things. So maybe that might be something I do next - something new.
HT: Have you ever had the desire to tread the boards on Broadway?
IS: Hmmm, No I never have done really. I've never particularly wanted to do that because I live here. They've had 'Gypsy' on Broadway already. We really needed it here. We hadn't had it in London for 42 years. They have it on Broadway every 10 minutes! So, it's lovely to be doing it here. Broadway isn't really on my radar.
HT: Well, you're off to the theatre now to perform to over a thousand people and I'm off to Lidl to do my weekly shop!
IS: I've just done my shopping too and now I'm doing this! What a good balance! (Laughs) Thank you for talking to me.
Gypsy is booking through to 28 November 2015 at the West End's Savoy Theatre.