With Hairspray set to open in Spring 2021 at the London Coliseum, Lily Laight will be playing the role of Lou-Ann and will be first cover Amber Von Tussle, and she recently performed with some of the cast when they were guests on Britain’s Got Talent. Lily has worked with Babbacombe Theatre since she was six years old, and she made her West End debut as Amanda Thripp in the original cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical in 2011. Having screen experience, Lily has worked on productions including Doc Martin and The Comic Strip’s 30th Anniversary Film, Five go to Rehab, playing a young Jennifer Saunders. In 2014, Lily had her first red carpet experience when she played the role of Katie Dunne in feature film Love, Rosie alongside Lily Collins and Sam Claflin. Catching up with Lily, she tells us about being cast as Lou-Ann in Hairspray, working with Babbacombe Theatre and filming for Love, Rosie as Katie Dunne.
What are you looking forward to for starting your role as Lou-Ann in Hairspray at London Coliseum next year?
I literally can’t wait. This year has been so hard for all performers and creatives not being able to work. Our industry is suffering and I know theatregoers are missing it terribly too! It will be such a celebration when we can finally open. I was only seventeen when I was cast and literally could not believe that they had offered me the role! Lou-Ann is a red head so it will be really fun to play, as the transformation from me to her is really quite a change!
What’s it like being part of the cast and how are you preparing for the role?
We were only in rehearsal for a few days before we were forced to shut down and so I only spent a very small amount of time with the rest of the cast. But I can say those few days were some of the best days I have ever had working professionally. Since lockdown, we created a Hairspray WhatsApp group and we have hosted regular Zoom quizzes so we have all become quite close despite being at distance from one another. On what would have been our opening night, we had our own Hairspray Zoom party to raise a glass to each other. It was brilliant, the whole cast Zoomed in, even Jerry Mitchell from New York! I think in a way lockdown has united us all, we are all more determined than ever to make Hairspray 2021 bigger and better than ever!
We understand you’ll be first cover Amber Von Tussle, what do you think the character will be like to play?
It’s really funny because Hairspray was the very first musical I ever saw – with Michael Ball at the Shaftesbury Theatre when I was seven years old. I left the theatre and said to my mum I want to be Tracy Turnblad! She laughed and said she didn’t think I would be Tracy but if I worked really hard maybe one day I could play Amber! I cried all the way home to Devon from London because I absolutely did not want to be Amber because she was mean!! And here I am ten years later about to start the role and I am so excited. She really is very obnoxious and totally spoiled, I think I am going to have some real fun playing her.
You performed with some of the cast on Britain’s Got Talent, how did you find the experience and what was it like to be performing again?
I can’t begin to tell you how much that meant to me! We all needed it – the cast of Hairspray, the creatives, producers and the rest of the West End musical theatre world too! It was like a signal of hope, you can’t stop the beat and we will be back next year! The feedback from the entire industry has been immense! We rehearsed the routine via Zoom and video tutorials in the lead-up to the performance and just had a few hours on the day to clean and sort the spacing and staging which had to be socially distant of course. The stage was enormous and it all happened very fast but was such an incredible experience.
Can you tell us about some of the shows you’ve performed in at Babbacombe Theatre?
I started out at Babbacombe when I was six years old in the kids ensemble. I was just in a few numbers in the first half of the show. We were paid £3/show and I thought I had made it! When I was seven, the theatre hosted a talent contest and I noticed that the third prize was £100! I desperately wanted a laptop back then, but was £100 short of buying one from my savings, so I asked my mum if I could do the talent show – thinking if I came third I could get my laptop! The contest was mainly adult acts looking for an opportunity to break into theatre and there I was at seven years old but, I came third and bought my laptop! I was noticed by the theatre’s producer/ director Colin Matthews and he offered me a solo spot in one of his Christmas shows with a substantial pay rise!! After I had finished the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical in the West End, Mr Matthews contacted me again and said he wanted to do a West End Tribute show and would I be interested in being part of that! I have performed in two shows a year every year since then. It has been great and I have literally grown up on that stage over the last ten years, starting with songs like Naughty from Matilda and Castle on a Cloud from Les Misérables progressing to I Can’t Do It Alone from Chicago and Show Off from The Drowsy Chaperone!
What do you enjoy most about working with Babbacombe Theatre?
It’s like a big family. We are all very close and support each other. For me, I have had an amazing childhood being able to focus on my school education and yet still gain valuable principle stage experience at the same time. Colin Matthews has been very generous in his support and belief in me and allowed me the opportunity to sing a broad range of genres and styles from musical theatre to country, pop and soul. My mum has usually got some crazy idea of a routine or number for me to do and every time Colin would just say ok, I trust you, let’s do it!
Can you say about making your West End debut playing Amanda Thripp in the original cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge Theatre?
This was magical – what an experience! Lessons taught to me back then regarding preparation, discipline, warm-ups, mental and physical health I still use and refer to today. The training and guidance the RSC gave all of us maggots really was second to none! The show itself was so much fun to do. I auditioned the previous year when it had a short run in Stratford, but was only eight and told I was too young but if it transferred to London they would look at me again. I counted the days down until that audition and I was determined to be part of the show. I couldn’t believe it when my agent at Sylvia Young called to say I had been cast as Amanda Thripp!
What are some of your favourite memories from your time in the musical?
I have most definitely made friends for life! We are all still in touch today and have been over the years! In fact, three of us Ellie Simons, Izzy Molloy and I meet up regularly and we take an identical photo of one we took on the opening night! With regards to the show itself, everyone always asks how the Amanda Thripp throw is done but, of course, I am sworn to secrecy!
You played Katie Dunne in Love, Rosie, how was this?
I adored this job, I was so lucky as I got to travel to Canada and Ireland! Everything about this production was beautiful, the story, the script, the cast – Lily Collins (whom I am still in contact with), Sam Claflin and Jaime Winstone! Katie was a lovely character to play and the director Christian Ditter was brilliant. He really put me at ease and helped to bring out the best of me. We filmed through the night in Toronto on the rooftop of a skyscraper just Sam, Lily and I and I can honestly say I will never ever forget that night! The film is based on the brilliant novel Where Rainbows End by Cecelia Ahern and really is beautifully shot!
How was it attending the film’s premiere and what was the experience like on the red carpet?
This was very exciting! I was very nervous when the car came to collect me, but the moment I stepped out onto the carpet, the atmosphere was just incredible! People were calling my name asking for photos and autographs and I kept looking back at my mum and dad in disbelief. I remember turning the corner and suddenly there were about sixty photographers’ cameras flashing and they were all calling my name, it was surreal!
Can you tell us about filming an episode of Doc Martin and about your character Becky Wead?
This was great fun, and I live in Devon and it is filmed in Cornwall, not too far from where I live. I had a really meaty character to play, she was quite an opinionated little madam which was such good fun, I felt fortunate to have a guest lead role at such a young age! The turnaround on this show was quite fast and I think I completed all my scenes in about four days, quite a different experience to Love, Rosie.
What was it like being cast as Young Thérèse in In Secret?
When I was offered the role they insisted on dying my hair dark brown – much to my mum’s horror! So, I arrived on set very nervous that I would lose my blonde hair! But, luckily, Jan Archibald (who had won an Oscar for La Vie En Rose) took one look at my hair and refused to dye it! She had a wig flown in from the States so I got to keep my blonde hair! All of my scenes were with the incredible Jessica Lange – such an amazing actress. I was in awe of her – and working opposite her in my scenes is an experience I will cherish forever. The film was shot on location in Serbia, the country is very beautiful and some of my scenes were filmed on the River Danube. We actually found a puppy that had been dumped in the woods on location and the crew and actors all rallied round to look after it and take care of it between shooting scenes! I believe the first assistant director Dan actually adopted the dog and brought him back to live with him in the UK!
You’ve had other screen experience, can you tell us more about them and how you first got into it?
Well, the very first film I did was called Frequencies, and I think my mother just responded to an online advert looking for young actresses. I had to self tape for the role and the script was really hard as it had a scientific element to it, I remember tripping over all these complicated phrases! I was just eight years old but it gave me the opportunity to learn about my craft. It was a fantastic experience for me as a young actress working with a director and learning on a job. I also worked with The Comic Strip playing the Young Anne (Jennifer Saunders) on their 30th Anniversary Film, Five go to Rehab – a spoof of the Famous Five novels. This was quite different. The set was very upbeat and we were surrounded by comedy legends and geniuses! I recall having lunch with Rik Mayall one day, who was hilarious! He had a wicked sense of humour and encouraged us all to be a little bit mischievous!
Had you always wanted to be an actor and what do you enjoy most about your career?
Yes, I have, I think it’s in my genes, pretty much my whole family performs in some way! My mum and uncle on my dad’s side were performers in the West End, my nana danced and my grandad still sings in a band called Duke Johnson and The Scorchers! I feel very blessed to have experienced theatre, film and TV and loved them all for very different reasons. Nothing beats the excitement of live theatre, performing in front of an audience, with that instant response to your work, watching them go on that journey with you throughout the show! TV is fast, the filming schedules are very quick turnarounds and with film I have been fortunate enough to travel the world! I treat every job I do as a learning opportunity, a chance to develop and improve myself, and to work alongside different creatives to broaden my understanding and develop my creative skills further. Bizarrely, I also love taking class, my body actually misses it when I’m not in a dance studio. Classes give me a chance to try out new things and work on my weaknesses and it is really important that I keep evolving and developing as a performer.
Can you say about some of the projects you’ve been involved with during the time theatres have been closed?
Well, keeping fit was a priority! When we first stopped rehearsing, we had no idea how long lockdown would be for and I naively thought maybe four to six weeks and we would be back! How wrong was I? Online classes became part of normal life and I was very lucky to be able to join in some Zoom Classes with choreographer and mentor Debra Norris from Ballet Folk/Ballet Rambert School. Over the weeks, we worked on creative tasks inspired by emotions and images evoked by our local coastline and the sea. I was fortunate to be awarded a dance bursary from Dance In Devon Arts Council to support my work and mentoring sessions with Debra and, after approaching local filmmaker Daniel Bruce, we agreed to turn this work into a film. We welcomed folk artist Kitty Macfarlane on board to write an original song for the work and I became project manager to assist with the creation of the film alongside performing in it with pupils from Totnes School of Dance. Over a number of days in August, we shot on various locations on the beach and coastal clifftops! The film is currently in its final editing stages and we hope to have it ready by the end of November. The plan is to enter it into Film Festivals over the coming year!
Laura Bangay, who was the children’s MD on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical, contacted all the original Maggots from the West End show and asked us if we would come together to sing a lockdown version of When I Grow Up ten years on to raise money for the NHS! It was so lovely seeing so many people again, even if it was just via Zoom! Singing that song brought back so many special memories and I just cried watching the final video as we had all grown up! I was also invited as part of the Hairspray cast to perform on Matt Lucas’ Baked Potato song also for the NHS. This was very special uniting the entire West End with actors, musicians and performers!
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