📷 : Vanessa Valentine
Earlier this year, Rachel Lumberg finished a run in Take That’s musical The Band as lead character Rachel Ditchfield, where she toured the UK and Ireland and performed at West End’s Theatre Royal Haymarket over Christmas 2018. Having previously appeared in This Is My Family, Rachel reprised her role as Sian in April, returning to Chichester for their 2019 Festival Season after being in the cast of Katherine Howard in the late 1990s. Taking time to chat with us, Rachel tells us about starring in The Band Musical, taking This Is My Family to Chichester and returning to the role of Sian.
How did your run in This Is My Family go?
This Is My Family is one of the most beautiful pieces of theatre I have ever been lucky enough to be part of. Chichester was our third outing for the show and we opened the 2019 Festival Season. We did a seven-week run in the Minerva Theatre and it was utter joy to be back playing Aunt Sian. An Auntie I think everyone should have in their family.
We were sold out before the show even opened and in today’s climate, that is a rarity so the entire cast, creatives and crew felt incredibly blessed. It was a wonderful run with a very happy and laugh-filled cast and crew. I miss it.
What was it like reprising your role of Sian?
Aunt Sian is one those women that some can take in only short intervals. Some might even say she’s a bit ‘brash’ but I think she’s just honest and doesn’t take fools gladly. Whilst she may suffer from a little bit of ‘potty mouth’, she has the most enormous heart of gold and the love for her family (and the various male characters she encounters) is paramount. Reprising her was an utter privilege.
Had you worked with any of the cast previously?
Myself and Clare Burt (who played my sister, Yvonne) were two of the original cast and have been involved in all three productions. But the rest were all new and it was a wonderful dynamic.
You performed at Chichester Festival Theatre in the late 1990s, what was it like returning to the theatre and how different was it this time round?
The town and theatre itself hasn’t changed much at all. It’s still as friendly as it was back then. Chichester is very much a theatre town and the Festival Theatre truly is at the heart of it. The theatre team are phenomenal at Chichester and I’ve wanted to play there again for many years so I was thrilled to go back there with such a gem as This Is My Family.
Can you tell us about your time in The Band?
The Band was one of the most phenomenal experiences of my career, so far. It truly was incredible. I think I can honestly say that none of us; cast, crew or creatives, were fully prepared for its incredible success or the effect it would have on the thousands of people who saw it. It was truly humbling at times.
I talked about it with Gary (Barlow), Mark (Owen) and Howard (Donald) many times and they know how wonderful their fans are but even they weren’t prepared for the effect this would have.
Over the eighteen-month run (almost three years from the first workshop), I played all 514 shows at thirty-four theatres across the UK and Ireland. I had 2056 costume changes and travelled over 4000 miles on planes, trains and automobiles. And I loved every minute of it and would do it all again in a heartbeat.
The roar of the crowds when the curtain went up on the final night was utterly breathtaking and left it very difficult for me to even speak the opening lines. The noise was deafening and the lump in my throat was the size of a melon.
I have so many memories from that show that will stay with me forever but of them all, it is the love and commitment of the 1000s of fans that will forever warm my heart. That and the beautiful image of my mum and sister, on the opening night in Manchester, singing Never Forget together… Well – that melon-sized lump is back again, just thinking about it!!
How would you describe your character Rachel and what was she like to portray?
Rachel Ditchfield we all know. She’s our buddy with a heart of gold and a story she keeps to herself for the fear of what emotions it may bring back. Trust me – we all know or have a friend like Rachel. Funny, warm, honest and reliable.
Rachel was the protagonist of the piece really and her true self came back to life when back with her old school friends. Those who absolutely knew her best… And she them…
It became evidently clear very early on in the run that there were many a Rachel Ditchfield out there in the audience at every show. And I know this because they took the time to let me know. And I loved that. It happened to us all. The school girl and adult women of the show… it leaves a huge responsibility on your shoulders knowing that the women you’re portraying are actually out there and you’re telling their story. But it’s also a massive privilege. We were there for them… We were telling their story. And thanks to the skills of all nine women playing each of the roles and stunning observations and beautiful writing of the genius that is Tim Firth, we told the stories of each and every one of those women beautifully and truthfully.
I loved Rachel. Simples!
You appeared on The One Show alongside Faye Christall and Take That, what was this like and what other shows did you promote the musical on?
Faye Christall is an absolute firecracker. Both on and off stage. Sharing the role of Rachel Ditchfield with her was just an utter joy. And the press calls we got to do together were some of my absolute favourite times on The Band. We had a wonderful, laugh fuelled time on The One Show. Albeit rather brief. We’d launched the West End run of The Band that day and in the morning had performed on the roof of the Haymarket Theatre in London so all in all it was a busy day.
It’s always an utter pleasure and a good old laugh doing promotions or performing with Take That. Its also a ‘pinch me’ moment and you never truly get used to it. But my goodness what an absolute honour it is. They’re incredible fellas and the love and continued support they had for The Band was wonderful.
Did you notice much social media reaction to the show and your character?
Absolutely. It was huge. I’d never been a fan of self promotion on social media. I’m a very private person as a rule but the PR department for the show suggested that it was now time to join Twitter so reluctantly I did and in the space of ten minutes had over 1000 followers. It just goes to show what an impact it can have. And I’m very pleased to say too that with the exception of maybe a handful of tweets, none of it was negative… Just good old fashioned love for the show and its message.
You played the role of Jean on the National Tour and West End production of The Full Monty, can you say more about this?
Goodness… that was a wonderful show too. Written by the Oscar-winning Simon Beaufoy. Produced by the indefatigable team that are David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers (also producers of The Band) and again with the superb direction of the immense Daniel Evans (Director of This Is My Family) this again was a huge hit. We toured the country for almost six months and then did a West End run. We opened in its hometown of Sheffield and it was evident very early on that the effects of that time and the closing of the steelworks in Sheffield was still very palpable.
A terrific cast and crew; many of which I’m still in regular touch with. Jean was a dream of a role and to play opposite the wonderful Roger Morlidge as Dave was the cherry on top.
How was it at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre for your time in Romeo & Juliet?
I have some of my fondest theatre memories in Sheffield. A fantastic city with staunch theatregoers makes it a very heartwarming and happy place to be and perform.
The Nurse was a role I’d always wanted to play and had finally become the age where I was able to. She’s a force to be reckoned with and oddly enough I’d used a speech of hers to audition for drama schools so to finally be able to play her in her entirety was a dream come true.
How did it feel winning awards for these shows?
Very humbling as some of the awards I’ve won have been nominated for by the public and that is a very special thing. We’re nothing without our audience so thank you to each and every one of those audience members that have ever voted for me. It truly means the world.
You’ve filmed many screen roles including Casualty, how different do you find this to stage work?
TV and film are a very different ball game. When I first started out, prior to filming beginning, you were lucky enough to have rehearsal time but were not so privileged with that now. You’ll get camera rehearsal on set but time is money and for ‘continual dramas’ such as Casualty etc, the turnaround is very fast so it’s always best to turn up and be ready. That’s my experience anyway. One-off dramas are a little different and of those I’ve done you have a little more leeway.
I’ve been extremely blessed in my career so far to have done both film and TV and whilst my heart may lie in theatre, I do love the challenge and change of skill and craft that is required when developing a character for the screen.
What advice would you give someone starting their acting career?
I have a mantra I use – and I use it quite often and that is… ‘know your worth because you’re worth knowing’…
This is a question I’m often asked and I could go down the ‘it’s a gorgeous job’ route… and don’t get me wrong here as it absolutely is… when you’re working…!! But PLEASE – absolutely want to do it and know that this is the only thing for you. And also develop a very strong backbone as a good 95% of the time you’ll be looking for work.
I was working with a very famous actress once who was absolutely adamant that you should always have something else you love doing… just in case: whereas her husband was adamant that you shouldn’t have something else to fall back on as then you would not have the drive to succeed in this one – the latter I disagree with as if you love this job and know it’s truly for you, and know your worth, then you’ll do what you have to do in order to make it work for you and whilst you’re waiting for the next role to come along, add another string to your bow that you can maybe utilise whilst you’re waiting.
Whoever said that actors ‘rest’ when they’re not working was clearly not an actor as trust me – this career is an absolute hustle on a daily basis… but I absolutely love it.
Over the twenty-seven years I have been doing this, I have always had a different job away from my chosen profession. I was a sommelier for ten years, a skill set I still use today. I’ve worked as an Operations Manager at The Actors Centre for almost ten years and loved every minute of that too. A wide variety of jobs have supported me along the way and sometimes, the variety of people I’ve worked with have been portrayed in characters I have played.
If you feel this career is absolutely the only thing you want to do then go for it! I’m having a ball and have enjoyed (and still enjoy) the daily hustle that comes with it! Just be kind to yourself too and know that when a job slips through the net, not to take it personally… Just brush it off and attack the next casting… but never take the casting away with you. Leave it in the room and move onto the next one…
Finally – PLEASE – save for your taxes. I can’t emphasise that enough.
What are your plans now The Band and This Is My Family have closed?
Ah, that’d be telling… but firstly, after almost three years away from family and friends, time spent with them is at the top of my list… I’ve missed them… and them me.
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