The next interview in our stagey chat series is with the sensational cast of brand new musical, Opening Night. We sat down with Sheridan Smith, Hadley Fraser, Amy Lennox, Benjamin Walker, Shira Haas, Nicola Hughes and John Marquez. Opening Night the Musical opens at the Gielgud Theatre on 6th March 2024.

Get yourself comfy and join us for the next segment of Stagey Chat!

Opening Night
is a show about actors playing actors, which must come with some challenges and some advantages as well. Can you talk a bit about what that process was like?

Sheridan Smith: It's an amazing process, it's a mad process. Playing an actor, playing an actor, and then there's a play within a play - it gets very confusing sometimes. But the way Ivo van Hove, who's, you know, incredible, the way he works is he sets up all the stage, you're off book from day one, you're in costume, so you get to just kind of play. And even though my character goes to some really dark places, he doesn't like you to live in the angst, so once you're off, when you're not in rehearsals, you try and shake it off. But like you say, it's got its challenges. I'm looking forward to it all being set and then you kind of just leave it on the stage.

At the minute we're just finding it and because it's brand new, it's your own interpretation of it, which is really freeing as an actor actually, but at the same time pretty scary because there's no stability in it. But it's fun, you make it your own and you're not, just copying someone else's performance. It's just all brand new, so, scary but fun.

Amy Lennox: We are very much in the nitty gritty of it. We're very much in that process. We haven't yet finished figuring out Act Two. We're still blocking. We're still sketching things out. It's very parallel and very close. We know what that world is and the trials and tribulations that come with it. 

Hadley Fraser: I'm not sure there are disadvantages, I don't think. You know, because we're so close to it and it's something that we recognise and you kind of got a bit of an in there, really, into the world of it. I think it can only be advantageous.

Benjamin Walker: I think the challenge is more the perception of it. I won't speak for all actors, but we're not really that interesting. It's kind of a job like any other job. And once you accept that, that it's a craft, like a carpenter or, you know, anyone else, it becomes just a human story of people at work. And people that have a past history, and people trying to do something as a collection of personalities. 

Shira Haas: I also think, as for your first question, like, I know Cassavetes is the film director, originally. I know many of his films, were written as a thought of maybe to doing them as a play, actually. I mean, so much within the movie is very theatrical, so it works really well. I think everyone can actually relate to it. That's what I think, hopefully. 

Nicola Hughes: Really good question. Because, being an actor, in order to do that, you need to feel safe, you need to feel that people have your back, and that you're a team. And in this piece, when somebody goes off piece and does their own thing, —it would be awful if one of us dropped the ball on purpose. There were also some of Rufus's lyrics are just really hippity. A singing duet with Myrtle (Sheridan's character) about the business as a whole. And how it can make you feel fantastic one minute and the next minute it knocks you down. And it was quite personal for us both. We both got quite teary singing it. 

John Marquez: There are also benefits obviously in knowing what happens within. I'm playing a producer, I've worked with a lot of producers, so I'm aware of it. It's not too much of a challenge in that way, as a producer now. It's not too much of a challenge in that way, because we know the environment we're in, so it's easy to get into it.

What would you say is the most exciting thing about this production?

AL: I mean, it's written by Rufus Wainwright and Ivo van Hove's directed it and conceived it and, I'm always really excited about anything that Ivo does. Visually and creatively, it's always really exciting. I've worked with him before and it's always a wild experience. The creative team are so lovely, like it's such a safe environment, for me, as an actor, I think the most important thing is when you're in that rehearsal process that you feel safe and you can try anything. And, you know, nothing can be wrong or if it's wrong you're not judged for it. It's just nice and I think that makes us do our best and it's that kind of room which is wonderful. 

And also, I'm excited to get the audience and see what they make of this thing that I've sort of known about and been part of for years. I'm excited to see how it lands. I'm excited to see what happens in previews when we'll change things, probably. There'll be tweaking, and we don't know fully how it's going to be completed until we have the audience to kind of tell us. They're the ones, that's the final jigsaw piece. So I'm really excited about that.

HF: It's a very original piece. There's so many shows, I suppose, that make their way into the West End, or otherwise these days, the intellectual property, the pre-awareness, isn't perhaps the most original, you know? It's stuff that we know. And although this is from a film that is available, and people may have seen it, they won't know it all that well, I don't think. So it feels like a very original, very new thing to be able to bring to people. And there's great joy in that, I think.

NH: Think it's just that it's new! That it's never been done before. There is no right or wrong answer to anything, at the moment. We were exploring, (and) you can't say, "oh yeah, when I did it in such and such", this is our show, and there's an excitement to that. It's not often that you get to have a role in a new production, so it's very exciting to be part of it. 

JM: And it's Rufus Wainwright, I'm a massive, massive fan. I've been for a long time, Sometimes he just sits at the side of the stage. and just hums how it should be and you just want to stop everything and just, can you do that? Can you just do that just once more? 

We are called Stage to Page, but if you could turn any book from page to stage, what would that be?

SS: Ooh, that's a good question, oh gosh, that's a really hard question. I mean, I've always wanted to play, and it will never happen because she's American, but Dolly Parton, or Dusty Springfield, or any of those amazing performers. But I mean, a book to, oh gosh. What's yours? Oh! I turned it back on you! I'm so terrible, I'm trying to think of a great book... there's so many great shows up there already. I mean, I've been so lucky that I've played so many lovely parts. This is, I mean I don't know if I'll be able to stop playing this part because it's so brand new, you know? And because it's so close to me. But I'm going to think on that. Yeah, I need to start reading some books once the show's open. 

AL: When I was at drama school, I read the book The Lovely Bones. And I know that got made, but I did a screenplay of this before the film was written as my dissertation. And when I saw the film, I didn't really like what they did with it because I had a version in my head of how it should be. And actually, delving into like the whole idea of what heaven is; it's easy in a book because you've got an imagination to do whatever you want, but how would you do that on a stage? It'd be hard, but I'd be intrigued to give it a go. Or workshop it perhaps. 

HF: I'm reading a book at the moment all about, it's a non-fiction book, but it's about how a family took a piece of farmland, that was being very intensely farmed. It's a true story. And they did this process, which is now very well known - the word rewilding has been used and picked up a great deal. But it's about taking land back to its more natural state, I suppose. And I think there's something really intriguing about non-fiction. Putting it on stage, I'd love to see someone do something like the Sun Tzu's Art of War. Something that I wouldn't immediately see and think, how do I make a story out of that? So yeah, I'd go down the non fiction route.

SH: Wow, wow, wow, look at that question. I do think Stefan Zweig is like too hardcore for a stage. It'd be tough to watch. It's really hard. But it's such a psychological sad, complex, interesting book that really affected me, so maybe that. But it would be such a hard adaptation. But worth it, if someone wants it, call me.

BW: I mean, so many of them have become musicals. That's complicated because I'm a big fan of books being books. Can we think on that and come back to it? Cause that's a great question. Probably the best question we've had all day. I'm thinking of like, children's books and stuff. I think they should make a musical, The Shel Silverstein Poems. Kind of, like almost Dr Seuss-ian, Where the Sidewalk Ends or something. Or you know the book The Giving Tree? That would be beautiful... and end in a nice way - let's do that. And it would be heart-breaking, am I right? Especially if you're the tree. 

NH: I don't get to read much now, but this is a really good question. John, you do this. 

JM: I'm trying to think because most of the Thomas Hardy ones have, haven't they? It's good, because I'm a massive Thomas Hardy fan. Have they done Perfume on stage yet? They've done a few, but I don't know whether they've done Perfume or Dear Grape. Oh, that's quite a stretch.

Can you sum up the show in three words?

SS: It's exciting. Intense. Full of heart. I know that's not one word, but, yeah. Heart, heartfelt.

SH: Fresh. 

BW: Psychological. 

SH & BW: Exhilarating.

JM: I'm going to say hard. 

NH: I'm going to say embarrassing. Unique. It's embarrassing for the people in it, not for the people watching.

You can book tickets to see Opening Night the Musical at Gielgud Theatre from 6th March, here.

Interview by Luma

**Photography by Jan Versweyveld**

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