In the 1990’s I was as regular a theatregoer as ever, thanks to theatre-loving parents – but one production captured my imagination above others, courtesy of one performer whose portrayal of Maria equalled that of Julie Andrews, in my humble opinion.
Obviously, The Sound of Music was the show in question and the actress? Liz Robertson! I’ve followed her career and watched her play Madame Giry in The Phantom of the Opera and Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray, as well as many other roles over the years. So it is with great pleasure that I present my Spotlight On… Liz Robertson!
Recently you’ve played Valerie Hobson, performed your one woman show Songs from My Trunk and taught a masterclass. How are you enjoying the variety? And what have been your highlights over the past twelve months?
One of the great things that comes with age is the knowledge that if you don’t try things now they may never come your way again. Valerie Hobson as a one-woman show was very scary, no one to bounce off and no songs to hide behind, but I can honestly say it has been a piece I am very proud of. I am about to take the show to Southwold Festival and revisiting her after a year has been illuminating. I have found different aspects of her character since the first performance over 2 years ago. Performing cabaret is another leap of faith. It has challenged me but the trick is to be yourself up there, and that’s not easy when you hide behind the role you are playing. I am working on a new show called Lerner without Loewe. I start rehearsals in New York in July and will perform it in that great city at 54 Below in October. Masterclasses are a joy. To see that raw talent in front of you is so exciting. The pupils are like sponges soaking up your ideas and comments.
You are THE Madame Giry for me. What are your memories of appearing in Love Never Dies. And how did playing Madame Giry in Phantom compare with playing her in Love Never Dies?
Playing Madam Giry in Love Never Dies was testing. I was the only principal cast after the album had been recorded so the first day of rehearsals was terrifying. We started from the top of the show and ran through to the end and as you know it is all sung through, I just about held my own. However, having said that, working with Jack O’Brien was one of the best experiences of my professional life. To be in at the birth of a new show is thrilling and to have a director who is so sympatico was heaven. Playing Madam Giry in Phantom at Her Majesty’s was a completely different experience. I was the God knows what number takeover, so the directorial needs that an actor craves were sadly, lacking. It is completely understandable, as important as a new cast is the finer points are often glossed over due to lack of time, or ennui. Thank goodness for Gillian Lynne who cracked the whip when she came to rehearse us. She opened my eyes to a role I had been playing for at least a month. Performing the role for the 25th Anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall was a highlight in my long life in showbiz. The attention we all received was bar none and, I think it showed.
What has been your favourite role to date and are there any particular roles you still have an ambition to play?
My favourite roles are Eliza and Mrs Anna. Both are feisty ladies and yet each completely different. Where as Higgins is the catalyst to make Eliza bloom she also changes the professor. Anna though is trying to bring the King into the western way of thinking and it doesn’t work.
Do you have a best-loved musical number to sing?
My favourite song is whatever one I am singing at that moment. I am looking to find new ways to present old songs. It’s fun.
What are the main differences you find between working with a company and a one woman show and do you prefer one or the other?
Working in a company you have a ready-made family who you live and depend on. A one woman show, you are on your own but then the only person you can let down is yourself. There are both enjoyable in their own ways.
When you take on a new role, how and where do you start? Do you have a personal process?
Every role starts with the script which I devour trying to get a handle on the character. But with me the wig and costume is the day I hopefully find her. I would love to revisit Eliza, I was 24 when I was cast and very inexperienced in acting. What I would do with her now! But I am too old. Heigho.
If you hadn’t become a performer, where do you think you career might have taken you?
I had briefly toyed with becoming a speech therapist but luckily for any future patients that never happened.
Favourite things (can I have your first reactions to these questions, please?):
I Know Where I’m Going starring a young Wendy Hiller.
Favourite time of year?
Favourite holiday destination?
Well I am loving Italy where I am now
My husband’s kitchen!
Thanks to Liz for sparing the time to make this blogger’s dream come true! Wishing every success to you with your projects.