For her first professional stage role, Maiya Quansah-Breed played Catherine Parr in SIX the Musical, making her West End debut at Arts Theatre, and during her time in the show, was nominated for numerous awards and performed on TV and at events such as Britain’s Got Talent, Tower of London and Olivier Awards. After leaving the West End production, Maiya returned to play Catherine Parr during the UK Tour due to cast illness at the end of last year. Maiya performed at the West End & Friends concert alongside Kerry Ellis in November and had her debut solo concert at The Crazy Coqs in January, and will be performing another solo concert later this year in London as part of Monday Favourites. Having been announced to play Sophia in the new musical CASES, Maiya performed with the cast at The Theatre Café and was due to open at The Other Palace last week before theatres around the world closed their doors until further notice. Recently answering our questions, Maiya speaks about playing Catherine Parr in SIX the Musical, training at Guildford School of Acting and her solo concerts.
How did it feel joining the cast of SIX as Catherine Parr?
I had no idea what SIX was when I first got my audition through, and I was up for three parts, Boleyn, Cleves and Parr. But when I got the offer of Catherine Parr through I was so happy, I loved learning and singing I Don’t Need Your Love in the audition process so I was so excited to be part of this musical. Even more excited for my first job to be with Grace (Mouat)!
What was it like being part of a show that became so successful?
Blood, sweat and tears went into the making of this show, so it was so nice for all the hard work and the long hours for the fruit of our labour to be recognised. Such a grateful feeling, and doing it together and going through the process that we went through to get it to where it is now, no better feeling.
How was it making your West End debut at Arts Theatre?
I didn’t realise how much of a big deal it was until it happened and I was like oh my, I have actually done it, I have dreamed about this for so long and it’s actually happened, it was such a whirlwind because, before we opened in London, we were at the Edinburgh Fringe and we so got swept up with all that so when we hit the West End it was one of those moments where you don’t realise it’s happening until it’s over and it’s a WOW, pinch me NOW!!
Can you say about the SIX Flashmob at the Tower of London?
SO MUCH FUN, and a really lovely day for us to do it, the sun came out and so did all the fans of the show from near and far and it was just so much fun, we did run back to the Arts after the flashmob, as no rest for the wicked! But it was so nice to see everyone’s faces and them singing and dancing with you, as that’s not something we could always do at the Arts unless it was the Singalong! (Which was also one of the best days of my life and I’ll never forget it).
How was the atmosphere on your final performance and is there anything you miss most about being in the production?
I can barely even talk about that last performance if I’m honest, even though I have been back (which I know is the question to follow) but nothing since has felt like that. I cannot even explain it to you, it’s the best show we have ever done, we were never more all together, in it together and I never wanted it to end, but then I wanted it to be over because for the whole thing I was fighting down a lump in my throat, and it’s SO hard to sing with a lump in your throat. I just couldn’t comprehend that that was the last time I was doing this show that the girls and I had worked so hard on for so long and was finally coming to close for this chapter in my life. I gained a whole new family, and we are stuck for life now!!
You returned to the show to cover illness on the UK Tour in Salford, how was the experience?
Crazy. I was in Covent Garden, just about to sit down for some late lunch, and my agent calls, this was at 3pm, by 4pm I had picked up my costume and everything I needed from the Arts and was on a train to Manchester by 4pm, I didn’t even have time to get nervous, I just had to remember the show I hadn’t done in two months! And things had been changed since I left too, so I had to go over the changes on the train, people were looking at me very strangely as I was mouthing the words and the lines and doing the dance moves! I arrived in Manchester around 6pm-ish and went straight to the theatre, and before I knew it I was on stage, I didn’t even get nervous as it didn’t hit me I was just like, right I’ve got a show to do! It was the same when I travelled to London from Manchester to do it in January as well because of illness, but I was alright at that point as it was long since I did it in Salford! And Salford was amazing as I didn’t get chance to do the run when we were on tour as I was really ill, so I only managed to do five shows there, so that Salford show was my sixth show there!
Can you tell us about performing on TV and at events including West End Live and Britain’s Got Talent?
West End Live the first time was amazing, I feel like we put ourselves on the map with that performance! And all the TV appearances were extremely surreal, I was the most nervous for Britain’s Got Talent, like even more so than the Oliviers and I thought I was nervous then, but nothing came close to BGT, I was literally shaking! But they were both so much fun, all the TV things we have done have been so much fun.
What’s it like being nominated for awards and attending award ceremonies?
If you would have told me when I left drama school that this was going to be in my future, I would have told you to get out of here, it’s crazy, it’s still crazy even thinking about it. I just count myself incredibly lucky, and I have been grateful for all the nominations and just being noticed for doing what I love.
You had a show at The Crazy Coqs for your debut solo concert earlier this year, how was this?
I would do that night all over again. The love and the support in the room was overwhelming, it took me about a week to get over it. I was exhausted, I don’t know how people do it! I was so emotional after it was over! It was perfectly imperfect and I couldn’t have been happier with how it panned out.
How was it being involved with West End & Friends with Kerry Ellis?
My good friend Luke Bayer called me in the September and was like “mate, by any chance are you free?” as he was supposed to be doing it however couldn’t get out of prior commitments, and I was totally up for it. Kerry Ellis is one of my idols and I met her the previous year as she came to the Press Night of SIX when we opened in the West End and she remembered me when she arrived and I had a mini fangirl moment and then pulled myself together. But just to be doing things with people like Kerry makes me feel so inspired, because I look up to her and I hope it makes other musical theatre kids out there strive for their dreams too.
What do you enjoy most about performing at The Theatre Café?
The intimacy! Everyone is so close to you and it’s just such a great hub for theatre and meeting lots of people, I think it’s a great atmosphere and a lovely place to be to connect with other theatre folk while getting yourself a tea and cake!
What drew you to a musical theatre career?
I have always sang, but never wanted to go on any talent competitions or anything like that, I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it, but I knew it was something I was good at and that I could sing. I got a singing teacher age nine and she would host summer schools over the summer for nine days and we would put on shows that her and her husband and friend had written, and they were some of the best summers of my life when I was young, I met some of the greatest friends that I still have to this day. And I realised I loved performing and was like, you know what, I’m alright at this, but it wasn’t until I was twelve when I went to London and watched Oliver! at The Drury Lane and Kerry Ellis was Nancy, that I thought, that’s what I want to do, I could do that, and ever since then I was just like, I don’t know how I’m going to make this happen, but I am! I’m thankful that I never gave up in the moments I wanted to.
Can you tell us about training at Guildford School of Acting and about some of the performances you did whilst there?
Some of the best, most challenging years of my life, you grow up a lot between eighteen and twenty-one, and even more so following those years, a lot can happen over the course of three years of training and it’s wild. But I was so fortunate to get a place at GSA and I cried real tears when I found out I got in. The training was vigorous but rewarding, and you always had the feeling that you want to work hard as you want to improve, that’s the reason you train, to gain a toolbox of things that you’re going to take out into the world when you get the chance. Third year was my favourite, when we started doing our shows. Cats was a highlight for me, as we did that as a whole year and there was no better feeling than completing the Jellicle Ball together, I’ll tell you that for free!! Hair was another show that I adored when we did it, I sang Aquarius and I relearnt how to play the flute so that show really made me work my brain and skills! I found that I just never stopped learning when I was in training, and I’m still learning now! That’s the beauty of it, training never actually stops!
You were announced to join the cast of CASES, was there anything that drew you to the role?
The music is just stunning, I cannot tell you how much I love the music by Dominic Powell and the lyrics and just getting to sing those gorgeously composed songs. I hope this production gets to be seen more by the world as it’s got the most beautiful score. And the character of Sophia is, just like all of us, trying to pave our way through a very unforgiving but rewarding career when your hard works gets you to where you are with your failures and successes.
You’ll be performing another solo concert in June as part of Monday Favourites at The Other Palace, what are you looking forward to for the show?
I’m scared!!! More so than the one I did in January, well a mixture of excited and scared, it’s just a bigger space! And just little old me. But it’s going to be a good one, and I have my good friend Conor on the piano and he played for me the last time, and my bestest friends Mary-Jean Caldwell and Natalie May Paris joining me, along with another special guest who is yet to be announced! I may have some more tricks up my sleeve but we shall see! Tickets are on sale!
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