For the past year, Biancha Szynal has been in the West End cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre, and during her time as Swing, she covered most tracks in the show as well as being made Assistant Dance Captain until the end of her run earlier this month. Biancha appeared in the Ensemble and as Cover Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at The Winter Gardens in Blackpool, and from 2015 to 2018, she had many roles in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical, including covering Miss Honey and Mrs Wormwood. We caught up with Biancha recently about her time in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, covering Miss Honey and Mrs Wormwood in Matilda and working in the West End.
Can you tell us about being Swing and Assistant Dance Captain in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie?
I had previously been a Swing on Matilda a few years ago so I knew how much work I had to put into the role. I was thrown on during the first week which turned into a full six weeks of shows which was crazy but very exciting so early on in the contract. What I feel is so wonderful about being Swing is the diversity of each track and each role is such a wonderful individual character to play. Becoming Assistant Dance Captain partway through the contract was a new aspect to my career that I am really pleased I was able to experience, the logistics of covers and cut shows can be logistically challenging but also a great insight into the creative side of the show.
Being a Swing and Assistant Dance Captain have at times been quite nerve-racking and demanding jobs, but having incredibly supportive cast makes all the difference.
Had you seen the show before being cast?
Yes, I had a couple of friends in the previous cast so I had gone to watch it in its first year and was blown away and straight away thought this is a show I would love to do.
In your time as Swing, which characters did you get chance to cover?
I covered the four girl tracks of Bex, Becca, Fatimah and Vicki. Fatimah was such an experience as I had never imagined I would play a Muslim character in a hijab in a show, I feel that Muslim characters are very unrepresented in musicals so it was a humbling and wonderful experience and I hope that I did the role justice.
I also played all but one of the boy ensemble tracks in the show.
You performed in Amsterdam with the cast and at West End Eurovision, can you tell us what these were like to do?
The festival in Amsterdam was a real highlight, not only my favourite city but the atmosphere was electric like no other I have experienced as a performer, just incredible, it’s a bit like Glastonbury but for Musical Theatre and the Arts.
West End Eurovision was on my bucket list, it’s a totally crazy night, each West End cast taking part choreographs and performs a Eurovision song to be judged by a celebrity panel, it was an amazing night raising money for such a great cause.
How was your experience in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical?
Matilda was three years of blood, sweat, tears and incredible memories. I started as a Swing, third cover Miss Honey, then Ensemble, first cover Miss Honey and second cover Mrs Wormwood and my third year as Acrobat, first Miss Honey and second Mrs Wormwood. It’s one of the hardest shows I have experienced both on stage and also because with children’s cast changes every six months you’re always in cast change rehearsals with them, but Matilda remains one of the most rewarding and incredible shows to be a part of and will always have a special place in my heart.
Can you tell us about covering the roles of Miss Honey and Mrs Wormwood?
Well it was quite possibly the best experience of my life. I never thought I would be a leading lady before the age of twenty-five and to be able to have played them both was a dream come true. No better feeling than stepping out on the stage to play these two incredible but very different parts.
Obviously, covering both roles as well my normal part meant there was not only a lot of script learning but also remembering the choreography, direction and props. I am so grateful for the Matilda company believing in me. Dream come true, once a Maggot always a Maggot!
How did it feel going from Third Cover Miss Honey to First Cover?
It was incredible! Obviously third cover was great but unfortunately, although I had learnt the role, I didn’t get to go on, I was given the opportunity to audition again for the role at the start of the second year and was given first cover, I remember crying down the phone to my agent when he told me. In the two years I was the cover, I played the part many times and each one was a total joy.
What do you enjoy most about working in the West End?
I love the routine and the fact that you’re working close to home so my loved ones can come to watch. Working in the West End as an adult actor was always a dream of mine and taking a bow, hearing the applause and seeing the audience on their feet is a priceless feeling.
You did the workshop for Our House, how did you find the experience?
I did, yes, it was so much fun. I had worked with choreographer Fabian Aloise previously so already had a working relationship with him and it was great to be in a studio with such talented people all workshopping and creating choreography which would go on to form part of the show.
What was it like as Ensemble and Cover Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz?
It was great, the show was at The Winter Gardens in Blackpool, a huge theatre which was a fabulous atmosphere. I’d always been a lover of the show and to be a part of a production was very special. Dorothy was such an iconic role to cover, I worked with the nicest bunch of people and met my boyfriend who was also in the cast, so it turned out to be a very special show indeed.
Have you had chance to see any West End theatre shows that you would recommend?
Yes, I try to see as many shows as possible, Come From Away and Waitress are my two favourite shows at the moment. Come From Away is jaw-droppingly good, raw, true and the talent is out of this world and I recommend everyone to see it. Waitress has always been a favourite of mine since I first watched it on Broadway and it is just as good in London, and one I would love to have the chance to be in, it’s just perfect.
How do you prepare for your first performance in a role?
Two deep breaths, and a friend of mine once told me ‘you’re not saving lives’ and that has stayed with me forever. Trusting that you know exactly what you’re doing and not to doubt yourself. Believe you can and you will.
Had you always known you wanted a musical theatre career?
Yes I did, I went to a fantastic local dance school five times a week, my first professional job was a Qdos Pantomime, Dick Whittington at The Cliffs Pavilion in Southend-on-Sea when I was nine years old. I had an agent and was used to auditions, and in 2005 was cast in the Original West End Cast of Billy Elliot the Musical, I was eleven years old when the show opened and left during my last year of senior school (I was very short so able to stay!), I knew that I wanted to work hard and try to get a career in Musical Theatre.
Was there anything that encouraged you to train at Italia Conti?
I auditioned and was given a place for the Junior School in Year 9 as it had been recommended to me by a few people at Billy Elliot, I then auditioned for the full time college course. Those six years at Italia Conti were very special and I can’t thank them enough for the support and opportunities given.
Now you’ve finished your run in Jamie, how will you be spending the next few months?
I went on holiday to Iceland straightaway and will be spending some quality time with my family, friends and boyfriend which can get lost when working West End hours. I am looking forward to having my evenings at home and watching TV, I bought my own flat nearly two years ago so it will be lovely to spend evenings there. I’ll be working in my ‘muggle’ job, auditioning and waiting to see what’s next but for now I’m enjoying my time.
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