Having workshopped for Take That’s The Band Musical in 2017, Sarah Kate Howarth played Young Claire on the UK Tour and in the West End, and during her time in the show, she performed with the cast at Manchester Pride and on top of Theatre Royal Haymarket in London to announce the West End run. Since finishing training at Ecole Jacques Lecoq and Royal Academy of Music, Sarah Kate has had a number of roles which have included booking her first professional show, Tess of the D’Urbervilles at New Wimbledon Theatre in 2014, and the following year, she played Laurie in Whistle Down the Wind at the Union Theatre. We caught up with Sarah Kate about being cast as Young Claire in The Band Musical, performing at Manchester Pride and booking her first professional role in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
You workshopped The Band in 2017 before opening on the UK Tour, what was Young Claire like to play?
The Band tells the story of five young girls growing up in Manchester, united by their love of a boy band. It is written by Tim Firth and features the music of Take That. The musical also starred the winners of the BBC1 talent show – Let It Shine! – which aired in early 2017. I played the role of Claire Proctor, a sixteen-year-old athlete who hopes to compete in the Olympic games. I immediately connected with the role of Claire – she has a wicked sense of humour and that really appealed to my own impish character. It was inspiring to play someone so driven and focused – her fixation on sporting success reminded me of my own determination to succeed as an actor, and so I found it easy to empathise with her in this capacity, both paths requiring sacrifice along the way. It was also quite a singular experience to share a role, and I was blessed in having Alison Fitzjohn play the older version of my character – Alison is not only a brilliantly funny and sensitive actress, but has such a kind heart, and it was a pleasure to share the role with her, and develop the character of Claire together.
How was it being in the cast and performing the Take That songs?
Being a cast member of The Band was a real privilege. The Take That songs have an infectious energy about them, and you can’t help but feel good whilst singing them. The high energy factor of the musical meant that you could never stay in a bad mood for long! Even after a hard day, it was always a joy to go into work and immerse yourself in such a feel-good story based around music, friendship and youth. Working closely with Gary, Howard and Mark was undoubtedly surreal at times, but a once in a lifetime opportunity. Their reach as a pop band is huge; we quickly became the fastest-selling British musical of all time, and it was incredible to be part of a show with so much hype and momentum behind it. It’s also worth saying that they are just the nicest, kindest, loveliest guys around – it was a true gift to work with them on their show.
What did you know about the show before auditioning?
Before auditioning for The Band, I knew very little about the show! Due to the show’s casting process being linked to the BBC talent search Let It Shine, the details of the musical were largely undisclosed. I was able to get an idea of the narrative and the various characters from the scenes we worked on over the audition process, but when I went along to my first audition, all I knew was that the producers were looking for five teenage girls from the North West area to play leading roles in a new British musical. Not knowing how huge the show would turn out to be made the audition process a lot less daunting – I really had no idea of the scope of the project I was auditioning for, just that the role I was up for seemed very close to myself, and the script itself seemed likewise familiar. Something just “clicked” in that way – Tim’s writing felt like home – so I didn’t really feel nervous in the run-up to opening, just excited!
How was the experience at events like Manchester Pride and the Press Launch?
Opening in Manchester was particularly special, as it’s my hometown. I grew up attending performances at the Manchester Opera House and dreamed of performing on that very stage. After months of rehearsing in relatively clandestine conditions down in London, I remember stepping off the train at Manchester Piccadilly and seeing huge posters outside the station and everywhere around town. The buzz felt huge, and really hammered home the reality of the situation – we were officially opening a brand-new musical! Performing at Manchester Pride was an incredible experience – the opportunity to perform with the cast alongside Take That on a huge stage, to introduce our show to the people of Manchester, and to play our part in celebrating LGBTQ+ culture, was a brilliant experience. Looking out on the crowd and seeing thousands of people singing along made us feel very at home in the city; The Band champions a friendship founded on a shared devotion to music, and the spirit of the show was very evident in Manchester city centre that day.
How did you find performing in the West End and touring with the production?
Touring with The Band was a unique experience – exhilarating, exhausting and incredibly diverse. The opportunity to live, work and explore in every major city in the UK was incredibly appealing to me. Whilst living out of a suitcase has its own set of drawbacks (never pack sriracha hot sauce on the top layer of your suitcase), and turning up to your digs in the dead of the night after a few too many opening night drinks, swearing you’d be more sensible at the next venue, was never the most zen start to the working week, being on the road was – without a doubt – a lot of fun. Even when you pulled the short straw with your digs, you’d usually end up with an anecdote that would have the whole cast in fits of laughter backstage. In fact, as a collective, I’d say we had enough dastardly digs stories to write a novel.
I really loved being able to get a feel for all the different cities we visited. Bristol and Glasgow were my favourites, and I was sad to leave them behind. Being on tour also lets you get a feel for the country in a way I never had before – so, many Sundays I spent sat on trains, staring out at the British countryside whizzing past, excited to arrive at the next venue. I also began a blog (as yet unpublished, watch this space) comparing tap water across the UK – I will spare you the details, as the topic of tap water has proven immensely dull to anyone other than myself, but I will say that touring can provide some wonderfully niche knowledge!
The helter-skelter lifestyle and busy performance schedule did inevitably take its toll – I remember one time scrubbing at my face in the dressing room mirror, trying to remove some stubborn eye makeup – only to realise that the dark circles I was trying to erase were in fact bags under my eyes and not smudged eyeliner, as previously thought – but despite the exhaustion, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Blessed with a hugely supportive fan base, and a warm welcome in every venue, it really was a joy to go to work each day.
You made your West End debut with the show, can you describe how this felt?
Making my West End debut with the show was nothing short of a dream come true. What made it all the more special, was having been with the show since its inception. It’s relatively rare for a show to retain its original workshop cast all the way from development to tour to town, and I’m thankful to our wonderful producers and creative team for giving us that opportunity. The Theatre Royal Haymarket is an absolutely stunning theatre, and performing each night in the heart of the West End was a magical experience. Since being a child, it had been my dream to perform on the West End stage, and making my debut alongside such wonderful castmates, in a show so close to my heart, was very special indeed. It was also so nice to be back in London after eighteen months on tour, giving me the chance to catch up with friends, see shows and attend auditions in town over the Christmas period.
Do you have any standout moments from your time as Young Claire?
It was amazing to have been on board at each stage of the show’s development, from the original concept to the finished product. From listening to one of our tracks being played on Elaine Paige on BBC Radio 2, to sharing the stage with Take That and Lulu at the Manchester Opera House, to seeing the smiles on people’s faces at stage door – the whole experience was a dream come true and involved so many standout moments. I think a particular highlight was our West End press launch – standing on top of the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Take That, and releasing balloons into the air whilst performing live – and then watching it all back on BBC iPlayer afterwards – felt like a very surreal and hazy dream!
What was Whistle Down the Wind at the Union Theatre like to be part of?
Whistle was one of my very first acting jobs, directed by Sasha Regan. I was in the lesser-known musical version, based on the 1959 novel written by Mary Hayley Bell and adapted by Richard Taylor and Russell Labey. Their score is almost Sondheim-esque in its precision, wit and wordiness, but also features beautifully melodic instances such as Angels. Due to the intimate nature of the show, it was perfectly suited to the Union’s theatre space. I have a real soft spot for this show – the story is so heartwarming and captures a tragically fleeting childhood innocence. I’d always wanted to perform at the Union as I find the space so enchanting, so was really happy to have the opportunity to work in my first year out of drama school. Plus, it was nice to get the opportunity to work on a small-scale period piece, given that I would soon go on to work on a highly commercial, pop-driven show.
Can you say about playing Izz Huett/Musician in Tess of the D’Urbervilles?
Tess at the New Wimbledon Theatre was my very first professional acting job, and I was incredibly lucky to book it not long after graduating from RAM – leaving drama school is quite a daunting step, and so I was over the moon to have a project to throw myself into straightaway. I studied literature at university, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles was actually one of our set texts, so I was delighted to be working on the musical adaptation of this much-loved period drama. I’m an experienced flautist, and doubled as an actor-musician as well as playing the role of Izz Huett – a sparky and good-natured milkmaid, hopelessly in love with Angel Clare. The score had a heavy folk influence, which I loved. Whilst actor-musicianship presents quite the challenge (although granted, it is far easier springing about the stage with a flute than a double bass), not least in having to memorise an entire score, it was a privilege to get to play such beautiful music each night. Playing the flute in a Victorian corset, however, is something I do not miss one bit.
Do you have a favourite theatre show of all time?
Great question – and I definitely can’t answer that with just one show, sorry! My favourite musical score is probably Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza, which I saw last summer at the Southbank Centre. I’m a big fan of In the Heights and was truly blown away by the original Southwark Playhouse production back in 2014. I am a huge Sondheim fan – Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods are very much up there with my favourite musicals – but I’m also a hopeless Rodgers and Hammerstein nerd and have watched Julie Andrews in the film adaptation of The Sound of Music perhaps 90,574 times. Watching musicals again and again is a bit of an odd character trait of mine. Actually, when I was a kid, I’d watch Annie on VHS one day and Oliver! the next, and then repeat this pattern for months on end – I had a strange obsession with musical orphans it seems!
I adore Judy Garland – my friend Matt Ryan recently gave me a biography called Young Judy which was both a fascinating and heartbreaking read. At the risk of sounding like a nana, I’m also into more modern stuff, and do enjoy performing a one-woman karaoke dance party version of SIX in the shower fairly regularly. Having said all that, my favourite musical of all time, and one that I’d perhaps sell my soul to the devil to perform in, is Cabaret – such a masterpiece.
Sorry – I’m done now.
Can you tell us about training at Ecole Jacques Lecoq and Royal Academy of Music?
My training route was a little unorthodox in that I first went to university up in Edinburgh to read French and English Literature. Knowing I wanted to pursue a career in theatre, and given that I was required to spend my third year abroad in France on Erasmus exchange, I decided to apply to the Lecoq School in Paris. It seemed the perfect opportunity to both attend a prestigious drama school and improve my fluency in the French language. I was delighted to be accepted, and thus spent the third year of my undergraduate training in improvisation, mime, physical theatre and devising on the acting course at Lecoq. It was an incredible year – gruelling, challenging and, ultimately, character-forming. The training at Lecoq is tough, there is no other way to describe it, but I am so very glad I studied there. I’ve been grateful of this training at every single point in my career; it was an incredibly formative experience, and definitely instilled an innate sense of resilience in me – so very needed in the acting industry.
Upon returning to Edinburgh to complete my degree, I was increasingly aware of the path I wanted to go down following graduation, and so applied for postgraduate courses in Musical Theatre. I was delighted to be accepted at the Royal Academy of Music, as the recipient of the Ross Baker scholarship, and studied on their postgraduate diploma for one-year post-university. Being a student at RAM was a total and utter joy – the combination of supremely talented classmates, expert teachers, leading industry professionals coming in to do workshops and a general atmosphere of excitement, possibility and above all – immense passion. I’ve never felt more at home or fulfilled than at the Academy – finally pursuing my passion after years of academic study felt like coming home, and I’m so grateful to the faculty for providing us with a perfect springboard into the industry.
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