In March this year, Claire-Marie Hall started her latest role as The Innkeeper’s Wife in the world premiere of The Wicker Husband at The Watermill Theatre, which came to an early end after only five performances, when theatres around the world closed until further notice shortly after the musical’s press night. Claire had only recently finished her run at Southwark Playhouse in the sold-out run of Operation Mincemeat and another one of her recent projects was her first experience acting in a play, in The Colours. Starting her musical theatre career at a young age, early credits for Claire include playing Gabriella Montez in the hugely popular run of High School of Musical, at both Hammersmith Apollo and the UK Tour, performing as Tuptim in The King and I and making her West End professional debut in Les Misérables as Cosette in 2007. After a break from acting in 2014, Claire returned to theatre a few years later, with her first big production back being at Trafalgar Studios for The Grinning Man. Recently talking to us, Claire speaks about opening in The Wicker Husband, performing to sold-out audiences in Operation Mincemeat and playing Gabriella Montez in High School Musical.
Can you tell us about your time as The Innkeeper’s Wife in The Wicker Husband which had just opened at The Watermill Theatre before productions globally were put on hold?
It was far too brief! We had all worked tremendously hard in rehearsals to create this utterly beautiful show, not to mention the creative team who had literally been working for years to get the production to this point, then we sadly had to close the day after our press night. On the up side, we were indeed lucky enough to do a press night (I know a lot of other shows didn’t even get the chance to open) and get some lovely reviews in. It’s a show that I really hope we all get a chance to revisit however, as it genuinely deserves a longer run, plus I loved being around the people involved and just the whole unique experience of working at the gorgeous Watermill.
How was it playing Jean Leslie in the sold-out run of Operation Mincemeat at Southwark Playhouse?
Jean is this brilliant feminist character that properly grows in confidence and comes into her own by the end of the show, plus she has some killer songs to boot, so I absolutely loved playing her. The job for me was a proper best of both worlds as Spitlip have done a fantastic job of marrying very well-written comedy with proper emotional content, so you get to do the serious stuff mixed with funny, which for me is the dream.
What drew you to the production and what was it like seeing the great response to the show?
I’d heard a lot about the show back when it did its first run at the New Diorama, and although I didn’t know everything about it back then, I knew it had lots of multi-roling, silliness and music from lots of different genres, all of which sounded right up my street. Then when I got the audition material through and I got to hear a taster of the music for the first time, I knew I really wanted to get the job and be involved.
In terms of response, I already knew the show was popular as the run had sold out before I was even cast, but I didn’t expect the audience reaction that we got; I think we had a standing ovation every show, which obviously felt great! The Southwark Playhouse run in May was ultimately cancelled due to the pandemic but it had also just about sold out before lockdown began, again, mainly all through word of mouth with no major promotion. It just reinforces how good a show it is and how much potential there is there.
You workshopped Terror at the Sweet Shop at The Other Palace last year, what can you tell us about playing Mrs Tarrant?
That was another fun comedy role. She’s a slightly self-involved, neurotic woman who has thrown herself into yoga, meditation and fitness since her husband left her, meaning she doesn’t really pay her son the amount of attention she should. She also gets a heartfelt duet though with the father of another child. It’s the kids that really take centre stage in the show though, and rightly so – the children they cast for the workshop were insanely talented!
In the summer, you performed at Soho Theatre as Erica in The Colours, how was this?
That was a really special job for me as it is was my first ever play rather than a musical, plus everything about it was just an incredible experience. It’s a verbatim piece done through recorded delivery, so rather than memorising a script, we’d hear recordings of the actual people we were playing through headphones and then speak the lines aloud as we heard them. I’d never worked like that before which was terrifying at first, but then became something that I found really worked for me. The play itself really touched me in terms of subject matter (it is formed from interviews with staff and terminally ill patients at two hospices in South Wales) and the whole rehearsal process was extremely creative. It’s probably one of my favourite ever jobs if I’m honest.
You were in the cast of The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios, what was this show like to be part of?
It was such an experience. I stopped performing around early 2014 and became a publicist for a few years with no intention of going back to acting, but then I found I missed it all and ended up doing a full circle. The Grinning Man was my first big production back so everything felt really new and exciting. It was such a classy show and I was really proud to be part of it.
What was it like understudying the roles of Dea, Queen Angelica and Lady Trelaw?
I never got to go on for Queen Angelica, but I managed to go on for Dea quite a bit as that was my first cover, and then Lady Trelaw a couple of times. The first time I went on for Dea, I had only rehearsed a couple of the scenes as it was quite early on in the run, so it could have been really nerve-racking. However, because there literally wasn’t any time to worry, it actually made things easier looking back. I did love playing Dea; acting blind was always difficult and the puppetry was tricky, so there was always something I wanted to improve on each time I went on, which made it challenging in a good way.
Can you tell us about playing Tuptim in The King and I both at Leicester Curve and on the National Tour?
The part itself is a joy. She’s a strong female who ultimately risks her life for what she believes and the man she loves. It’s a proper hard sing though. I always used to get nervous before My Lord And Master as the last segment of that song is by no means an easy feat! The tour was of the same production that had played at the Curve the previous year, so although we did rehearse again as some of the cast were different, the majority of my part remained the same. The production itself was extremely elegant and slick. We had a phenomenal MD so the music was always on point; I felt like I learnt an awful lot from that show. The dancing in particular too was always impeccable.
In 2008, you started your role as Gabriella Montez in High School Musical at Hammersmith Apollo, what was she like to play?
That whole job was just a massive whirl. I was doubling up in rehearsals as I was still doing Les Misérables in the evenings, so the whole hype of the show didn’t hit me till we started performing. Then suddenly you realise you’re performing to 3000+ people who are all singing along with you and want to meet you after the show. I think we all felt like mini rock stars! Gabriella as a character actually felt pretty close to myself growing up; I was shy and did well in school so I think I ended up bringing a lot of myself as a teenager into in my interpretation of her.
The following year, you toured as Gabriella, what was it like seeing the audience response to the show?
The same as above really. There was such a strong following for the show, it was nothing like I’d ever experienced before.
What do you remember from making your West End debut in Les Misérables as Cosette?
Les Misérables was one of the first shows I fell in love with back when I first discovered musicals. I’d never trained classically and had been more of a belter throughout college so the role of Cosette was truthfully really tough for me vocally, but to be in that show was just a dream come true. I remember my agent at the time called me to his office to tell me I’d got the job and I burst into tears. I’d done countless auditions for various shows up to that point and got close to a few things but never quite landed the job, so it all felt really worth it when I got that news.
Alongside acting, you’re also a singer, can you tell us about this part of your career?
I sing with a number of function bands outside of performing contracts. It’s something I first fell into when I was sixteen – a big show band back in Newport where I’m from, ended up recruiting me as one of their lead singers after they saw me on a TV programme. I sang full-time with them when I studying for my A Levels and then on and off with them over the years whenever they needed someone to cover. Now I dep for about five or six bands in total, all different sizes and music genres. I love it! I find it really freeing as people are there to enjoy themselves rather than solely to watch you, so you can just completely lose yourself singing and ultimately have a good time.
What music do you like listening to?
Anything and everything, although if we have to put a radio station on, I mostly always go for Jazz FM. You can’t go wrong with good jazz music.
Did you always know you wanted to be an actor/singer and how did you get started?
I wanted to be a lawyer all throughout school. Acting and singing was something I’d always done as a hobby, but it was only around the time that we had to select universities did I properly sit down and consider it as a career path. I ended up applying for a few drama colleges outside of my UCAS choices, got into Mountview with a DADA scholarship and ended up convincing my parents to let me study there.
Can you say more about your involvement with On Hope: A Digital Song Cycle, The Show Must Go Online and Bard From The Barn Series?
They’re all projects that I took part in during lockdown. On Hope is a three-part song cycle hosted online by The Other Palace and is made up entirely of new music submitted by composers from all over the world. I got to sing a beautiful new song by Keurim Hur and Tidtaya Sinutoke called Grandma’s Song which was livestreamed in the third and final instalment.
The Show Must Go Online is a series of rehearsed Shakespeare readings that are performed and streamed live each week. I played Montague in their latest reading of Romeo & Juliet which was a lot of fun to be involved in. Everyone participating was extremely enthusiastic and dedicated, and the productions themselves are always very innovative and different, so I’d wanted to do one for a while.
Bard From The Barn is another Shakespeare series, this one set up by The Barn Theatre. I’m taking part in the second part of this project, which consists of duologues between graduates and established actors, with each piece having a modern spin on it. We’ve just finished filming ours so am very much looking forward to seeing it all come together!
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