Lizzy Connolly interview - 'You'll have never seen a Sweet Charity like this before'
Josie Rourke's final production of her seven-year tenure as artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse opens this week, as she directs Anne-Marie Duff in Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields and Neil Simon's Sweet Charity.
Alongside Duff's Charity, an optimistic New York dancer-for-hire with terrible luck with men, is Lizzy Connolly as fellow dancer and friend Nickie. Connolly makes her Donmar debut having previously starred in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Savoy, On The Town at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre and the world premiere of Anne Washburn's The Twilight Zone adaptation at the Almeida.
In rehearsals for the production, Connolly took some time to chat to us about working with two great women like Josie Rourke and Anne-Marie Duff, why she's so different to her character, and how Rourke is pulling out all the stops for her final Donmar show.
It's the first time Sweet Charity has been in London since the Menier production transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2009, what are your past experiences of the show been?
I was a massive fan of the film when I was growing up. I thought Shirley MacLaine was heartfelt and sweet, which are all the same qualities as Anne-Marie has in our production. I've had friends in the West End productions too, but this version is completely different. I've had a lot of fun making it.
What is it that makes this production stand out? Why is it so different?
When you have such an inspirational choreographer as Fosse, the choreography will often fall back into that style, but this is absolutely Wayne McGregor's own inventive language of genius. Together with Josie and Rob [Jones, designer], they've formed this incredible team to bounce off each other. The show has been changing daily, and it really works off our bodies and the way we work as human women, not as dancers that can be manipulated in all different ways to do different things. Wayne sees things very interestingly; he has a genius eye.
Have you worked with Wayne before?
Never, but weirdly, when I was doing GCSE dance, he had choreographed the dance that was on the video. It's weird when stuff like that comes full circle. I'm obviously a big admirer of Josie as well, it's so nice to work with a female director at the top of her game and absolutely flying. She's one of those strong ladies paving the way.
It's Josie's final production at the helm of the Donmar, is she pulling out all the stops?
Honestly, you're going to die. I feel like I'm around magic. I think she genuinely loves it. She loved doing the musical City of Angels, which obviously she did a brilliant version of, and she wanted to work with Anne-Marie and Anne-Marie has always wanted to do a musical. She wanted to work with Wayne and gave him a challenge to get him interested. She wanted to put together an incredible team and she really has.
How have rehearsals been going?
To be in a room with these people has been amazing, it's a really cool process. Anne-Marie Duff is a bit of a friggin' legend, to be honest. You'll have never seen Charity played like this before. It's such beautiful work, beautiful acting, and she's a beautiful human as well. I can't speak more highly of her.
We're all laughing to the point of tears almost every day. Debbie Kurup is a booming talent, but so supportive of everyone so I'm thrilled to be working with her on my stuff. Arthur Darvill is just fucking cool, he and Anne-Marie are a really perfect team.
Tell us a bit about the character you're playing.
Nickie is a very broad character. She is very different from me: she has a lot of natural gravity and weight to her in everything she says. She truly believes that she is the funniest person with all the answers. She's such a contrast to Charity because Charity has hope, but Nickie doesn't have that. There's this part of her that just wants to be as deluded as Charity is, but she just isn't.
You had a surprise musical number in the Almeida production of The Twilight Zone, have you seen the show since it transferred?
I actually went to watch it recently and I was so pleased. Natasha Barnes is doing the part now and she was so inventive and does it so differently. She hadn't seen it at the Almeida, so she took the lines and had a completely different interpretation.
It's practically sold out now, but if you can get a ticket through the ballot - because it's practically sold out - why should someone come to see Sweet Charity?
Young people can get tickets through Young+Free where people aged 25 and under can get tickets for free on Fridays, which is amazing. It makes sense because you don't make any money when you're at uni, so it gives them a head start on knowing what's going on in theatre. The arts are always reflective of what's going on in the world and what society needs at the time. And we need art more now than ever!
Rehearsal photo credit: Manuel Harlan. Production photography: Johan Persson
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