📷 : Picture Me Photography
Since playing the role of Matilda in the West End hit show, Violet Tucker Steel has gone on to perform in other musicals including as Jane Banks in the Mary Poppins UK tour as well as touring internationally with the production. Violet’s most recent stage appearance has been at London’s Southwark Playhouse in Tackroom Theatre’s Why Is The Sky Blue? which saw support from the likes of Emma Thompson and Gemma Arterton. Chatting to the actress recently, Violet tells us more about appearing as Matilda, performing in Why Is The Sky Blue? and celebrity guests.
What age were you when you started performing?
I had just turned nine when I played Blossom in Dick Whittington at a local theatre near my home in Essex.
How did you find your first ever performance in front of a live theatre audience?
My debut in a professional show was playing Matilda. I don’t think I really understood how big of a role this was until only recently. I remember hiding under the table in the opening scene of the song Miracle and then the table parted and I came out and walked down the middle of the stage all by myself. I was so scared and felt a huge adrenaline rush and thought that everyone could see my face was hot! Craig Els, who played Trunchbull, made me feel really confident backstage between scenes and didn’t treat me at all like a maggot! The audience were incredible, it was the first night of a whole cast change so lots of family and friends were watching. Funnily, after the first scene I forgot anyone was there and at the end of the performance, the whole theatre were standing up, I will remember this for ever.
What do you enjoy most about touring in musicals?
They are happy days and everyone who comes to watch a musical is in a good mood. Touring means changing venues a lot, so the audience participation is always enthusiastic. It’s really fun to be away with the other girls who share the role and I’ve made some very close friends. I also get to be a tourist a lot and see new places that I may never have thought of visiting. Every stage is quite different in each new theatre, so it’s good experience because I have to remember a lot.
How did you find the international tour of Mary Poppins?
Zurich was such a contrast to Dubai, complete opposites as I went to Zurich during the winter and Dubai in April and May which was so hot. In Dubai we had an extra Jane Banks because it was so far away so we all shared a room which was fun. The Dubai Opera House, where I performed, was unbelievably big and so extragavant. We spent a long time there but had lots of time off and I found it very interesting and educational as we went on some great trips to learn about the culture. In Zurich we had a fun trip to make chocolate. I am a chocoholic! It all went very quick, I don’t get homesick and used to always FaceTime my mum twice a day. Mary Poppins is a very special production and lots of children came to watch with their families in Zurich.
How different was it to the UK Tour?
The main difference was we didn’t come home as frequently and we had more pairs rotating the role when we were abroad. In the UK we did less hotel standbys. Cardiff was a stand out place I performed in the UK, the Millennium theatre is really unique and it was Christmas so surrounded by Christmas trees! The show is the same wherever we go and everyone is excited when there is a venue change on tour.
How long were you in rehearsals to play Jane Banks?
About six weeks, partly in Southampton and London. Some of the Jane Banks actresses had longer to rehearse, but because I was the first to perform on the schedule, I started first in Norwich with my stage brother Finley.
Where did you get to perform with Collabro?
Collabro are so lovely and I got to perform at the London Palladium which was a first for me and one of the biggest theatres I’d been to, actually the biggest. It felt very different as it was a concert performance. A really brilliant atmosphere.
You got to perform at the Houses of Parliament as Matilda, how did that go?
I didn’t know until a few days before that I was going to Parliament. Jo Hawes, the casting agent for Matilda, called my mum up and asked if she could get a licence in place quickly to go and sing the solo Quiet. It was for a small audience who were raising awareness for funding of the Arts Council. It felt very important and it was just myself and Laura Bangay, the pianist from Matilda. The room was small compared to a stage and completely silent. The chairs were very close and I was standing on the letter box cube, so quite an unusual set! Everyone was listening very carefully and afterwards they were all so kind and nice and asked me lots of questions about playing Matilda in the West End. Afterwards I got to see some of the rooms in the Houses of Parliament but my mum had to wait outside as she wasn’t the chaperone. It was a really special occasion and I received a letter thanking me after from the Arts Council.
What was the atmosphere like at the Olivier Awards, and how was it being nominated?
Being nominated didn’t seem like it could really be true as so many other musicals in our category are super fantastic. I remember being backstage with our chaperone Tom and he was teaching us how to be graceful if we didn’t win but also how to be completely humble if we did. Myself and the other Matildas performed the four-girl Naughty track and we were all holding hands praying to win. Wicked won and we were so happy for them as they had been on a huge UK tour and deserved it. Covent Garden Piazza was packed with people and we had so many cheers when we came on stage to perform. It was really fun.
You’ve appeared at West End Live in 2015 as Matilda, have you attended the event not as a performer?
I’d never heard of West End Live before I joined Matilda but the day before my performance, which was on a Sunday, I went to watch Anna Louise, who was the other Matilda, perform at West End Live and I was in the audience quite close to the stage and it all felt very huge when I looked back at Trafalgar Square and all the thousands of people. I met Beverley Knight on the day of my performance backstage and she gave me some fantastic advice. She said, think of it like you’re performing at your own concert and enjoy every second. When I came out on stage, the square was packed out and my performance was being streamed on the big TV screens around the edges, it was amazing.
Out of all the events you were able to do while playing Matilda, which stood out the most?
Definitely the solo performance for Friday Night is Music Night for the BBC Concert Orchestra. I had the opportunity to perform with a 60-piece band and it was the most incredible atmosphere. It was live on the radio, but for some reason I felt very calm. During the tech run I was stuffing blueberries and chatting with Caroline Sheen, who was singing a beautiful solo piece just before my performance. My grandparents and Mum were in the audience and my mum said she cried the whole time. I was the only child in the whole concert so it was a honour to be there and it was my first ever radio experience.
Did you enjoy playing the role of Brigitta in the UK tour of The Sound of Music?
Yes, very much, it was my first tour and I got to perform with some of the cast I already knew from other shows. We were like a big family and because there were a lot of Von Trapps, it felt good to be part of a team. The costumes were so different to the school uniform I wore for Matilda. I got to dress up in posh dresses and even wear a playsuit made out of curtains. Mr Von Trapp, Neil Roberts, later went on to be my dad, Mr Banks, when I played Jane in Mary Poppins.
Have you done other workshops apart from The Boy in the Dress and would you like to do more?
This was my first workshop and when I arrived at the rehearsal rooms I saw about five or six friends I’d worked with before and none of us knew we were going to be there. It happened very quickly, we got the call on the Thursday and it started on the Monday. It was an intensive three weeks and quite a privilege to be able to hear the first ever songs that Robbie Williams had written for the production. The script is fantastic and David Walliams, who is adapting his book for the musical, came to watch a one-off performance that we did at the end of the rehearsals. It’s really interesting to be part of an early draft of a workshop and yes, I’d love to do more.
What was it like acting in Why is the Sky Blue? opposed to your previous roles?
It was totally different and a challenging subject and I had to really connect with my feelings so that I could do the piece justice. It’s a really important piece of theatre created by Abbey Wright and Shireen Mula. I think being a teenager now and learning about how other young people are affected by things that you may not have experienced is important. It was great to not play a part but to portray verbatim lyrics and the songs are really unique.
📷 : Marc Brenner
Do you hope there will be another run of the production and would you like to be involved?
It would be great if it went to the National for a week or two and yes, I’d like to be included. I made some lovely friends with different young people who I may never have otherwise met.
What was it like performing at the Southwark Playhouse?
We performed in the tiny theatre at the Southwark Playhouse which was really intimate, I liked it a lot. It felt like the audience were up close and sharing a lot of the feelings of the play. It was not an easy subject to perform as it is serious stuff but there was so much humour from the audience because some of the research is actually very funny that we performed.
Have there been any celebrity guests in the audience of any of your theatre performances?
It’s been lovely to meet lots of people who have seen me perform. I remember Ella Henderson and her family watched me twice in Matilda and spent time chatting to me after the show. Hanging out with Tim Minchin at the cast parties was awesome, he’s so quirky. I’ve met Alex Lawther, Tanya Burr and Michelle Collins. In Dubai, the Royal Saudi Princesses took up almost the front row in Mary Poppins. Of course, having Sir Cameron Mackintosh watching press night was nerve-racking! Filming the trailer for Mary Poppins in Zurich was great too with Swiss News. I’ve been very lucky to be supported by the Realising Dreams Foundation (they are a small charity based in Scotland) who have helped me to attend Arts Educational Schools in London where there are so many talented pupils, and when I found out Zizi Strallen, who played Mary Poppins, used to be a student, I wanted to go there too.
What are your acting plans for the next few months?
I am recording the album for Why is the Sky Blue? shortly and auditioning for TV and film roles through my agent Andrew Braidford at Braidford Willoughby Hutton. I’d love to appear in a feature film, playing someone gritty or maybe a thriller.
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