Most recently, Christina Modestou played Miss Bresslaw in the world premiere of the musical adaptation of the David Walliams novel The Boy in the Dress at Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, and last year, she made her National Theatre debut as Paulina in The Winter’s Tale. Christina’s other stage roles have included being the original Anne Boleyn in the London production of SIX the Musical which led her to recording the cast album, playing Ronnette in Little Shop of Horrors at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and for her first professional job, she was part of We Will Rock You in the West End as Ensemble and cover Killer Queen. Later this year, Christina will be performing solo concerts and, alongside her career, she has set up The Agony Actor, supporting workers in the industry. Speaking with Christina, we found out about playing Miss Bresslaw in The Boy in the Dress, being the original Anne Boleyn in SIX the Musical and creating The Agony Actor.
You most recently played Miss Bresslaw in The Boy in the Dress, what was the character like to play?
You have just reminded me that it was recently! This feels like so long ago now. I had great fun creating this character and being able to bring a heightened version of my own accent to the role was such a bonus. Miss Bresslaw is a stickler for following ‘The Rules’. Her main function within the piece was to keep watching and reacting to the action and to other characters on stage. She would have to pay close attention to the students to see if any were misbehaving or not wearing the correct uniform and she takes her Referee position at the school football matches very seriously. We don’t really learn anything personal about her character (apart from her smelly breath) but it was fun creating her and building her personality. She did keep me on my toes though. I would have very short windows in the music to react, give the audience key information and then signal for the action to restart. I had to learn to get comfortable with feeling out of control most of the time, as if anything went awry or fell slightly out of time it used to cause a small disaster for me. I really had to drill the speed of my reactions whilst trying to keep on top of what was actually happening on stage. I’ve never played a character with that kind of challenge before. I loved finding her physicality and working out her natural comedy. I did have to do a lot of research on the rules of football though…
What was the production like to be part of and what drew you to the script?
It was honestly an amazing production to be part of. The message of the show is that everyone is “Extraordinary”. We are all unusual and exceptional beings, no one is the same. We give ourselves ‘rules’ on how we should behave or what is deemed acceptable in society, which leads to all sorts of oppression and bullying, mostly to save ourselves from being the target. I think this show is needed and everyone can relate to it in some way. It was amazing working with an exceptional cast especially that group of young adults. There were a few particular highlights for me: the relaxed performance and the integrated BSL performance, it was actually such a shame we only got to do one of each. I hope these become more regular in theatres in general. Also, there were performances where I looked out into the audience to see fathers with their sons, both wearing dresses, sharing something special. That was particularly moving. How could you not want to be part of telling this story?
Last year, you made your National Theatre debut with The Winter’s Tale as Paulina, how was this?
I have always been a huge lover of Shakespeare and the National Theatre so this was an exciting one for me! Paulina is a role with so much light and shade. She is a strong woman and getting my teeth into that character was a complete joy. There was such a strong bond between the cast and creative on this project and I would genuinely get so excited to get to work each day. Most importantly this was for young audiences. A lot of people see Shakespeare as theatre for the elite. Most people who “don’t understand it” are a bit terrified of it. I believe when it is done well it can be understood by anyone, of any age and ability. I watched and listened to students as young as six relate to those characters and they didn’t just understand the story, they formed their own opinions on it too. One young boy even demanded a sequel!
How different did you find this to your previous roles?
You know, as someone who trained in Musical Theatre in the UK, you really do have to fight to be seen for Shakespeare, straight theatre and TV/film, which I think is bonkers because we are all actors. The difference between each genre is just that you use a different set of skills. However, there is rhythm and musicality to Shakespeare that you cannot ignore so the approach is similar to learning a song. The clues are all in the rhythm and punctuation, the interpretation is your own. The content for this character is rich, we see so many sides of her. In my professional career this was my first “meaty” role if you like. The Winter’s Tale is a Tragicomedy so you really do get the best of both worlds as an actor.
You’ve appeared in Shrek the Musical in 2015 and 2018, what was it like touring with the show and playing your characters?
Shrek is such an uplifting show. I got called with a few days notice to jump in and finish the tour in 2018 due to very unfortunate circumstances. Forever, the Dragon song, is one of my all-time favourite songs so it was great to be able to do it again. The show had altered quite a lot so it was like learning a whole new show in a week. The cast were amazing and very supportive. It was great to revisit those familiar characters and to create new ones too.
How was your time in Little Shop of Horrors at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre?
I loved this show growing up and I am the biggest fan of the Open Air Theatre, both were on my bucket list. So, when I heard this was happening I was desperate to be part of it. It was honestly the most amazing experience. Working with those people in that theatre on that show was a dream come true for me! I also loved that we were taking a well-known musical and doing something fresh and new with it. My character, Ronnette did not leave the stage. It was a huge challenge but so much fun! I would do it again in a heartbeat.
As the original Anne Boleyn in London in SIX the Musical, can you tell us about your time in the show and what’s it like seeing the cast album and Don’t Lose Ur Head become so popular?
This blows my mind every time someone mentions it. We had no idea it was going to be this HUGE. I feel very lucky to have been part of the original cast and to be on the cast recording. I still pinch myself!! Our version of the show at the Arts was very stripped back. The show didn’t have a set or a design yet, so it was just six women on a pretty bare stage giving it everything we had. We were spoilt with a large band of musicians though which was incredible. It was a rollercoaster of an experience and I will never forget that opening night. The audience went wild and from that moment we knew that people were going to love it and embrace it as a show.
What was it like being part of the RENT Anniversary Tour?
RENT was basically the soundtrack to my college years so getting to perform it every night with that amazing band was pretty cool! A particular highlight was playing Maureen at the Wales Millennium Centre, although that character does flash her ass… I’m not sure my family and friends were ready for that! I did fracture my eye socket on this job though… not my finest moment!
Your first professional theatre job was in We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre, what do you remember most about being cast in the ensemble and playing Killer Queen?
This was an epic first job. I honestly learned so much! Going on for KQ was unreal. Flying over the audience on that table belting out Queen tunes… what more could a girl ask for?! Someone mentioned the other day that I may still be the youngest person to ever play her which is quite cool! I was 21 at the time.
Can you tell us about some of your other earlier roles?
My favourite role so far was definitely Nina in the UK premiere of In The Heights. I loved the music, the character and everything about that cast, band and creative team. Working in such an intimate space at Southwark Playhouse was a gift and I learned so much. I would relive this over and over again.
Was there anything that encouraged your acting career and to train at ArtsEd?
Yes, my wonderful parents! I am very grateful to them for always supporting my love for singing and acting growing up. Without them, I’m not sure I could have done it and they are still wonderful supporters. I feel very fortunate.
ArtsEd was always where I wanted to go. I knew that they would push my acting and singing skills but, more importantly, my biggest weakness was my dance technique so I knew after completing that course I would be a lot more confident in dance auditions.
You are the creator of The Agony Actor, can you say more about this?
I am! This idea has been reeling in my mind for years so it feels amazing for it to finally be accessible. I have always felt that as actors we are very unsupported. We constantly put ourselves out there, mostly with no success. We face knock backs all the time and no one is there to build us back up again except ourselves. If your confidence is shot, where do you turn? So, I have always wanted to set up a support system. Agony Actor is a personalised mentor. It is there to listen to clients and help in any way possible. It’s for when you don’t quite need a therapist but you can’t really turn to your family/friends so it helps to talk to someone impartial. Performers get in touch to work on their skills, mindset or just generally for help or a chat. I absolutely love it and I have already met the most incredible people. I am overwhelmed at the support I have been shown in return.
What upcoming plans do you have for this?
Lots of plans. My aim is to always keep things affordable and helpful. Feel free to follow @agony_actor for updates and please do get in touch if you want to discuss anything. The first session is always completely free. Check out the website www.agonyactor.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
During lockdown, you’ve been involved with a few projects such as videos with the SIX and Rent casts, can you say about these?
It was amazing to be involved in those videos. I’m very proud of our industry. Let’s just hope we can all get back on stage soon. I have just announced a solo concert tour that will be starting in October, so I am very excited for that. I really do miss being on stage. I can’t wait to be with like-minded, hard-working people again.
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