Having been cast as the lead character in the West End production of Annie, Ruby Stokes had the chance to perform in front of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at The Royal Variety Show, before transferring to Toronto where she continued in the role. Ruby toured the UK as Brigitta in The Sound of Music, and earlier this year, workshopped a new production of Wind in the Willows Junior. Meeting up with Ruby, we chat about her time in Annie, touring with The Sound of Music and her recent workshop.
Earlier this year, you performed in the workshop of Wind in the Willows Junior, can you say more about this and how did it go?
Wind in the Willows is so much fun, I loved it. There were about 35 kids from Stagebox, which were hired by Jamie Hendry Productions to try and get Wind in the Willows Junior licensed to places around the world. There was quite a lot of pressure because Jamie Hendry was watching, and George Stiles and Anthony Drewe came to watch as well. I was playing the villainous character, Chief Weasel, which was really interesting because I’ve never actually played a villain before. It was quite hard because I had to have an evil laugh, and it took me a while to get it. Everyone was making fun of it because it just wasn’t working, but I got there in the end! It was really interesting because they said I had to move like a weasel, so I had to try and channel my inner weasel and my inner evil, which was fun and complicated!
Can you tell us about some of the other projects you’ve been involved with this year?
I’ve done a few concerts, such as the WhatsOnStage Awards, and I also did The Magic of Animation concert at Cadogan Hall. I sang a solo just before Carrie Hope Fletcher, and I remember after I sang it in the dress rehearsals, she came up to me and said my voice was beautiful and gave me a high five – I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day! Recently, I’ve been dancing a lot and training at Stagebox.
In 2017, you were cast in the title role of Annie in the West End revival of Annie at the Piccadilly Theatre, how did it feel booking your role?
It was the most surreal moment. I remember there were three actual auditions, and I was told by the casting directors we had a final recall, so I went up to London and there were only three of us in the room, and then Ian (Resident Director) came in and congratulated us and said we’d got the part! I was so close to crying with happiness because at the first audition, I wasn’t hopeful at all.
What was the Piccadilly Theatre like to perform at?
I really liked the Piccadilly Theatre. It’s not the biggest London stage, but I liked how cosy it was backstage, and our dressing rooms were close to the stage, so that was nice and handy! I like the location of Piccadilly because I like being in the buzz of London. I know London a lot better now than I used to.
What do you remember from meeting the rest of the cast for the first time and did you know any of them previously?
I met most of the kids in the auditions, and I recognised a few of their faces because it’s the same sort of circle. I’m still really close to some of them, and we try and meet up as often as we can. I didn’t know any of the adults prior to Annie, but they were all so lovely. Throughout the rehearsals, they were saying how amazing I was, which was wonderful to hear. I still go and support them and watch them in shows, which is really nice, and they do the same for me.
During your time in the West End, you performed on TV for Tonight at the London Palladium and The Royal Variety Show, how were these to do?
All of my TV appearances with Annie were so exciting because it was a new experience for me. I hadn’t even done my first show when Tonight at the London Palladium was recorded, so I was extremely nervous! I’d never done it with the dog, or even on stage, but it went really well. Bradley Walsh was hosting it, and he was so lovely to me, made me feel comfortable and took away my nerves. I absolutely loved it.
The Royal Variety Show was lovely because I got to do it with all my orphan friends. The actual night was scary because it was the night of the terrorist scare at Oxford Circus. We were all at the theatre and my parents were waiting, and after, my mum told me that everyone was shouting and running. It was horrible, and it meant the whole show was delayed, which added more pressure, but luckily, it went really well.
How did it feel performing for Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and did you get chance to meet them afterwards?
I did meet Prince William and Kate. I was the only one that stayed as all my orphan friends had gone home. Prince William shook my hand and congratulated me – I was so starstruck! Kate was really lovely, she came over and asked about my experience as Annie, how old I was and how long I’d been in the acting career.
You transferred with the musical to Toronto to reprise your role of Annie, how did you find the experience there?
I really, really enjoyed Toronto, it reminds me of London so much. My three chaperones were absolutely amazing, we went to Niagara Falls, the CN Tower, and so many educational places. The local people were really helpful, and the Canadian chaperones told us loads of different places to go, so that was really kind of them. The audiences in Toronto were very different to London because they didn’t really like our American accents!
Can you tell us about performing on Breakfast Television?
It was early! I woke up at 5:45am and was probably still a bit jetlagged. My parents had just left from visiting me the night before, so I’d been a bit emotional. I was nervous because singing Tomorrow at 8:15am is quite hard work for the vocal cords! Luckily, it went really well, and the lady who was presenting the show was so lovely to me. Everyone I met on my journey was so lovely and helpful.
You played the role of Brigitta in The Sound of Music, what was this like?
Brigitta is always a special role in my heart because it was my first ever professional job. She was the usual nine year old, she was quite mischievous, but she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. It was quite nice having the family of Von Trapps because I have three younger sisters so I’m used to a noisy household and I could empathise with how they felt.
What did you enjoy most about touring with the show?
To be honest, for the first two months of the show, I found it really hard touring when I was eleven. I was quite a homely girl, I got really, really homesick and it stressed me out a lot. I got used to it, and I think that really helped me mature as a person. Doing that at age eleven was quite daunting, but that was the reason I was able to go to Toronto with Annie as I’d already had that experience. I got a lot better in the last three months of The Sound of Music and started to enjoy the show a lot more.
How did you get into performing and can you tell us about your first acting experience?
I took part in my local dance school shows when I was about four or five, and I started singing lessons when I was six. When I was ten, I took part in Annie Jr with The British Theatre Academy at the Arts Theatre, I was in the chorus, but I instantly loved it. I only did three shows, but I wanted to carry on, so my parents signed me up with a local agent, and it all went from there.
Have you seen any theatre shows recently that you would recommend?
I went to see SIX in July and, honestly, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life. It was so funky, it was more of a concert than a musical. All the Queens’ voices were amazing, so if you can go and see the show, I would really recommend it. I’m going to see Hamilton for my birthday, so that should be really exciting and I can’t wait to see that, I’ve wanted to see it for so long.
Do you have any roles coming up that you can tell us about?
At the moment, it’s quite quiet because I’ve just started my GCSEs, and my age and my height are restricting what musical theatre jobs I can book. There is not a lot of upcoming TV at the moment, so I am still here, but auditions have just gone quiet. I’m concentrating on training, and as soon as I can, I will be back into it!
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