At the end of 2019, Marley Quinlan-Gardner was playing Baby June in Gypsy at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, with the production closing in February, and she had made her West End debut as Lavender in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical in 2018. Having worked on a number of commercials, Marley has been involved with Nationwide, EPSON and a UNICEF campaign, and with her training at Stagebox, she has had experience in a range of events including Magic at the Musicals and Marisha Wallace’s UK Tour. We chatted to Marley about playing Baby June in Gypsy, making her West End debut in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical and her ongoing training with Stagebox.
You played Baby June in Gypsy at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, what was the role like to do?
The role of Baby June at the Royal Exchange was an incredible experience. My favourite part was doing a quick change in a box onstage and I loved wearing such big costumes! The theatre is so amazing. I love performing in the round because you feel a lot closer to the audience and there’s never a dull moment.
What did you enjoy the most about being in the cast and how did it feel finding out you’d booked the role?
I enjoyed how friendly and welcoming everyone in the whole production was. The Royal Exchange is like a family so it doesn’t matter where you work in the theatre. We were all supportive of each other and worked together whether you are in the box office or in the cast or at stage door. It was great being in a show with such a diverse cast and to see diverse actors playing so many roles. Getting the opportunity to work with Ria Jones was incredible. She is so supportive and encouraging of everyone and I couldn’t believe that I would get to work so closely with her. When I booked the job I was so happy and excited. It’s an incredible feeling because whenever I leave an audition I tell myself that I’ve done my best but I probably haven’t got the job and I just put it to the back of my mind because there are so many things that can happen even if you’ve done your best. So, when I found out that I did actually get the job, it was just so exciting because I wasn’t expecting it at all.
Can you tell us about playing Lavender in the West End production of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical and what was it like making your West End debut?
Oh my goodness, playing Lavender was such an unforgettable experience because I was only nine when I booked the job and I never imagined I’d make my West End debut when I was so young. My favourite number was When I Grow Up because I loved going on the swings over the audience, especially when my castmates pushed me really high. I still remember my first night under the Miracle table before the show started. I felt sick and was so scared I’d forget everything we’d rehearsed. I looked at Eric and he smiled and then the music started and we had the best show ever.
Had you seen the musical before being cast and was there anything that drew you to the role of Lavender?
I saw the show when I was five. Cristina Fray played Matilda and I remember telling my mum after the show that I wanted to do shows like that when I was older. When I saw Trunch, I was quite scared because of how big she was and I remember being petrified of chokey!
I’m definitely a Lavender out of all the roles in the cast! The year before I was cast I got through to the recalls as Matilda but the role of Lavender definitely suits my personality more. She is such a bubbly and energetic character which is basically the same as my personality!
How was it being in the cast of The Wizard of Oz in Sheffield?
Being in The Wizard of Oz was my first professional show. I was eight and I played a Munchkin in the Lullaby League. The thing I remember most is doing my round off flick across the stage. I’d just finished competing in the Team Gym British Championships in Liverpool so it was awesome to get to do tricks onstage. I was really little but I don’t remember being nervous. The whole cast were so lovely and we got to play with Toto in the intervals which I loved. The whole team was really supportive and it was definitely a great experience for my first professional show.
Where does your love of performing come from?
My love of performing comes from watching lots of different shows because I’ve always gone to the theatre since I was little. When I was seven I’d already seen Wicked, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical, Singin’ In The Rain and The Lion King. My mum found me a dance class when I was two because I always had so much energy and it just grew from there. I wanted to do more and more classes to be like the “big girls”. Then, when I was seven, I started training in the Stagebox Elite Team so I’ve always had people to look up to who have pushed me to be the best I can be and give me amazing opportunities since I was little. I’ve loved performing on stage and now my next goal is to work on screen.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch and are there any you’d like to see but haven’t had the chance to yet?
My favourite theatre show I’ve watched was Everybody’s Talking About Jamie because I love the message and how it is based on a true story. I think it’s really cool to be able to tell your own story on stage. I can’t wait to watch Hamilton live, I’ve seen it on Disney+ but I want to watch it in the theatre because I would love to play Angelica and Eliza when I’m older! After lockdown, I also want to start watching plays and not just musicals.
Do you remember how you felt performing to a live audience for the first time?
Not really because I was so young and I don’t think I really understood that the audience was there. I was just having a great time onstage! I always love the feeling of the first night of a show though. It’s so exhilarating and I wish I could do it all the time.
You’ve worked on commercials previously, can you say more about these?
I did a Nationwide commercial when I was six and I played a ballerina. I remember dancing around the room with ribbons and playing games with the other girls. I also filmed a UNICEF campaign which was really cool. They recreated a refugee camp and there were big storage containers, tents and campfires. It was strange filming there and getting dressed into dirty clothes and it was so cold! I also did a campaign for EPSON and got to work with a green screen for the first time which was really exciting! The team would describe what was happening and I had to imagine it when we were filming so it was so cool to see the video after and see everything come to life!
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
When I’m not acting or dancing I love going to school. My favourite subject is science and I’ve got some really great friends there! I love being out in nature so I love dog walks and exploring the woods with my dog Stitch. I also like baking and I love to make food from different countries, especially Japanese food. I love sushi and my favourite dish to make is poke bowls!
You train at Stagebox, what’s this like and can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on with them?
I train at Stagebox and I’m represented by Stagebox Management. Stagebox is one of the best opportunities because you get to work with lots of amazing creatives who have worked in the industry for years. We learn different techniques and learn how to strengthen our weaknesses and keep improving our strengths. I’ve done lots with Stagebox, my first live performance was Magic at the Musicals UK Tour, I’ve also done Live at the Royal Court, West End Does and as we went into lockdown last year I actually performed in the Marisha Wallace UK Tour. It was really strange being in a theatre when my West End friends were finding out that their shows couldn’t go up. It’s definitely something I’ll always remember. I’ve done lots of videos with Stagebox too. My favourite one was the Mini SIX video where I got to be Catherine Parr. We filmed in the same place they film Victoria so it was like a palace. It was gorgeous and we filmed with a live orchestra!
Do you have a favourite aspect of attending Stagebox?
I’ve got two. One of my favourite aspects would be being in an environment with people who are passionate about the same things as me. It means that we’re always pushing each other to be our best. Working so hard together with people builds really strong friendships. My other favourite aspect would be all of the opportunities and support I get with Stagebox Management. I’ve been with Stagebox Management since I was seven and they have helped me so much with my self tapes and they always give me advice whenever I need it. I thought that I wouldn’t get to do much when COVID started but I’ve had loads of opportunities from Management and I’ve been really busy even in the first lockdown! Since the first lockdown started I’ve had lots of self tapes, I did a screen test, I’ve workshopped a movie, I’ve had lots of auditions and recalls on Zoom and in person too.
How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?
I’ve been doing lots of different online classes. I’m lucky because I have a trampoline and an airtrack so I’ve been working on my tricks at home. I’ve also got a mini studio so I’ve got lots of space to do my classes. Online school is actually really good too! Our teachers let us FaceTime our friends so we can still work together so I still get to see them every day. I’ve done lots of baking like everyone else but I haven’t made any banana bread yet!
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