After many years of stage performances in shows such as Horrible Histories and Gangsta Granny, Alison Fitzjohn can be seen touring the UK with Take That’s musical The Band. Currently, the show is on a break until September, where Alison reprises her role of Claire when they head off to Cliffs Pavilion in Southend and continues touring until March 2019, with the final date being at Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. Talking to Alison, she tells us about meeting Take That for the first time, what she enjoys about playing Claire in The Band and appearing at the West End.
How much did you know about the character Claire before auditioning for The Band?
In any audition you are given a ‘breakdown’ of the character, which is a small summary of what that person is about and so I knew she was someone who hadn’t fulfilled her dreams and that she had physically changed from when she was sixteen. I also had the added bonus of clues about the character as for the audition I had to perform Claire’s monologue. An interesting fact is the monologue in the audition room is not the monologue that ended up featuring in the show! It developed through our three week workshop period. So, I actually knew quite a lot about her! I always look for as many clues as I can to be able to deliver the best audition possible.
Did you realise how successful the production would be once you’d read the script?
In a time when theatre is a hard business to be in you never really know if something is going to be a success. However, when I read the script I thought Tim (Firth) had written an amazing story. It was even more poignant when I heard that it was actually based on a true story. When I was watching the boys dance and sing I was filled with the same excitement and buzz that comes from watching musical theatre and live gigs. I was then reduced to tears watching rehearsals of the younger versions of ourselves during the more emotional scenes and so I thought: wowee! This musical has it all – singing, dancing, laughing, crying – there’s really no reason why it wouldn’t be a success.
How long were you in rehearsals for?
I think it was seven weeks but we had a research and development workshop three weeks earlier in the year. I didn’t think we would need seven weeks, but boy we so did!
What do you remember from the first read-through?
I remember being wowed at how fantastic the boys sounded when they sang. I remember thinking how good at acting everyone was and how rubbish I felt in comparison. I remember mucking up lines quite a bit because of how nervous I was. It was a really unique experience to be working for three weeks on a script and you didn’t know if you were going to be offered the role and the tour at the end. It was very intense to be honest. A lot of pressure. In fact, when you think about it, it was a three week audition. They wanted to make sure the chemistry was right with the groups of friends in the show and so I think it was a fantastic way of figuring that out!
What do you enjoy most about playing Claire?
Oooo what a great question. Well, first and foremost I like who she is as a person so it’s lovely to be able to perform her every day!
I also love that I get to share the role with the beautiful Sarah Kate Howarth who plays Claire when she’s sixteen. It’s not often you get to play the same character in the same play as someone else!
I adore being on stage with an incredible five-piece live band!
I love what Claire stands for in the show and in the theatre world. In a world of size 10’s here I am! Diversity hitting you right in the face and that is met so positively by how she inspires the audiences that come and see us.
I am also really inspired by the women I perform with. They are all more experienced than me and so performing with them means I get to learn from them. I never take this for granted and it’s something I’m so thankful for.
Did you watch Let It Shine when it was shown on TV?
No I didn’t actually. My audition was the day after the final of Let It Shine so I watched the final for research. Since then I have seen all the boys auditions on YouTube. It makes it more fun now that I know them!
Are you looking forward to the production going to the West End and have you performed in Theatre Royal Haymarket previously?
I am very excited about performing in the West End! I love being in the hustle and bustle of London’s theatreland. I have to say though I think I have a different view to most performers. Touring has been my life for nearly fifteen years so the gorgeous Grand Opera House in Belfast or the beautiful Grand Theatre in Leeds is just as exciting to me as a theatre in the West End. The Theatre Royal Haymarket is an absolutely stunning theatre. So beautiful. I can’t wait to perform on that stage.
The only time I have performed at the Haymarket was when we did the West End launch with Take That on the roof! That was certainly something that I’ll always remember! You can watch it here! https://youtu.be/lvxCGHeb10E
How do you think you and the rest of the cast will feel on the final date at Mayflower Southampton?
Oh goodness! Don’t! We just broke up for our summer break and it gave us all an indication of how it’s going to feel. It’s going to be totes emosh! It’s been my favourite job in my career so far for so many reasons. I’m sure there will be an element of us all needing a rest from saying the same words for nearly two years and some people will be desperate to get back to their families by that stage as we have a few mums in the cast but all in all I think it’s going to be a very sad day to say goodbye to our characters and some of the best people I have met in a long time. Also, I’ve never known fans like ours so it’s going to be sad to say goodbye to them as well. The loyalty and support they show creates such an amazing atmosphere.
If The Band did an international tour, would you like to reprise your role?
I would certainly consider it. I love being part of the show and I love travelling the world so I can’t see why not!
Do you always try and meet fans of the show at stage door?
Yes I do if I can and if I’m not too tired. I like to keep grounded and remember that they are the audience I am performing for. They are the ones buying tickets so it’s nice to offer them something a little extra if they want it. I remember waiting at stage door with my mum getting autographs of people in shows and some of the memories of people I met have stayed with me forever so I realise the value and importance of that meeting.
I like meeting the audience as in the show Claire is a boyband fan! For research purposes it’s good to find out about these people, to know who I am representing in the show.
I do think it’s important to say, though, that meeting people is not part of our job and there have been occasions recently that I have read about of fans starting a hate campaign against someone because of not stopping to meet people. There are so many reasons why someone can’t stop or does not want to stop to say hello after a busy day. Stopping is an added extra, a bonus and respect must be shown regarding this.
What’s the social media response been like to your character?
It has been the most surprising thing about the job for me! I remember being sat in our dressing room in Manchester and Jayne McKenna and Emily Joyce (who play Zoe and Heather) told me I was going to be an inspiration to many people on this job. I didn’t realise then what I know now. I get letters, social media interactions and face to face conversations about the positive impact the character has on the individuals that have seen it. People say things such as ‘thanks for telling my story’, ‘thanks for giving me the strength to realise I need to change’, ‘thanks for representing a different body shape’. I appreciate every one of them and I feel so honoured that I am able to play a character who is changing the way people think about themselves. I think all the characters are totally relatable which is why the show has such a loyal fan base!
Are you enjoying your time off from tour?
Loving it! I love being home and it’s fab to be able to catch up with everyone I’ve abandoned for the past seven months whilst being on tour! Bit of travelling, watching a few shows, lots of sleep! Glorious!
You starred in the Horrible Histories stage show for many years, would you like to return at some point?
I owe Horrible Histories so much and I feel that the stage shows are part of me and I of them. I never say never as I love the way they combine education with comedy and performance. I love the Birmingham Stage Company and they are one of the best companies out there for family shows. It’s been an honour to be involved in their productions for so many years.
What was it like being part of the Gangsta Granny stage show?
I was taking on a new role in Gangsta Granny. Not only was I performing in the show I was also Resident/Assistant Director. I found it very hard to juggle the two roles and I learnt so much about myself and about how you need to approach people when you’re RD/AD level. I probably wouldn’t want to be in that duel position again but I am grateful to have had the experience. I went on to Assistant Direct Horrible Christmas at The Lowry which I enjoyed and would love to have more directorial positions in the future. That being said, it was fantastic being part of the original cast of the world premiere of the show and I love how some of my ideas are still in the production.
Your Instagram is dedicated to your craft; how do you find time whilst touring to work on these projects and how long have you been doing crochet?
I make sure I make time. Having toured for years I have learnt you HAVE to have something to do outside of the show for mental well-being. It’s essential and my top tip for touring. If all you have to think about is a show on the road then it can become unhealthy. So I crochet/cross stitch/colour to relax and zone out. I often get inspired by the wonderful people I am on tour with. A gorgeous friend called Amanda Wright got me hooked on cross stitch many years ago whilst touring with Horrible Science and then three/four years ago on Gangsta Granny I got the bug for crochet from the all-round fabulous Millie Else who inspired me to get involved. I have been so lucky to work with some great people.
We understand you are a massive Take That fan, how did you feel about being cast in their show?
It really is a dream-come-true. I’m a massive musical fan, big Take That fan and this combines both of them with added extras of a great cast, great script and great production company! One of my all-time favourite memories is performing Shine in the show and looking to my right and seeing Mark Owen waving to us from the wings. There’s a picture of it on Mark’s Instagram. Unbelievable.
What was your first meeting with them like?
A bit surreal. I just couldn’t believe it. I still can’t really. They walked in the room and I grabbed a kettle and said I needed to fill it up with water to compose myself. They’re very supportive. They want the show to be right for the audiences so they are really invested in it.
Once The Band comes to an end, would you like to continue in theatre, if so, will you have a break before your next role?
The big hole of what’s next is a really exciting prospect for me. I would love to work with producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers again as I’ve had such a great time on The Band.
All I ever want is to continue making a living out of being an actress and so I hope I am able to sustain that for many years. I’m sure I will have a break but who knows what will happen between now and next March! That’s one of the great things of being an actor – you never know what’s around the corner!
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