In 2019, Aoife Clesham was in the cast of FIVER where they performed sold-out shows at Southwark Playhouse, with the cast reuniting last year for an online concert streamed live once again from Southwark Playhouse, and earlier this month, they released the cast recording, which reached number one in the iTunes Soundtrack Chart. Other roles for Aoife have included Gloria in new British musical Gretel! at The Other Palace, touring with Peter Pan and, most recently, she performed in the streamed musical concert The Secret Society of Leading Ladies. Aoife recently chatted to us about being in the cast of FIVER, performing with The Secret Society of Leading Ladies and her time as Gloria in Gretel! The Musical.
You are part of FIVER by Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees, what drew you to the musical and can you tell us more about the show?
FIVER is a beautiful British musical where a five pound note is the central character. We follow the note as it weaves in and out of the lives of a wide collection of people. It’s a very relatable show, ultimately about human connections. I think there’s something for everyone with this show and that’s been evident in the reception the show has had.
The show had a sold-out run at Southwark Playhouse in 2019, what was it like performing in the production?
Manic! The show was very full on. Almost every time I went on stage it was as an entirely different character. Which, of course, is an actor’s dream. But the show was made with love and passion and we all formed very close bonds as a result of it. So once the first week was over, we all really settled into it and adored every single moment. It was thrilling to see after the first weekend the theatre was packed for every show. None of us knew it would have the reception and success that it did, but it’s fair to say we are all incredibly grateful for the life the show has been given thanks to all the support.
During the pandemic, the FIVER cast performed an online concert streamed live from Southwark Playhouse, how was this and what was it like reuniting for the event?
It was actually quite emotional. Everyone had been deprived of theatre for so long and here we are lucky enough to be back together, the original cast, performing this gorgeous show again with an amazing full band. We streamed the show live, so those “show nerves” were definitely still there. If you muck up, there’s no time for do overs! Also, it was very strange not to applaud each other at the end of each song, so at times it felt quite eerie. But, ultimately, I would do it again in a heartbeat, we felt incredibly lucky to reunite in such uncertain times. FIVER trended on Twitter on the opening night, so we must have been doing something right!
The FIVER cast recording was released earlier this month, how was it seeing the listeners’ response to the release?
I was anxious for it to be released because fans had been asking for this since July 2019 so it was so anticipated. But people have loved it! I think it was right to use the live recording from the livestream because there was no hiding behind any tricks or gimmicks there. It was just raw, organic storytelling that I feel the show and this cast was excellent at.
How did it feel seeing the album reach number one on the iTunes Soundtrack Chart?
It felt like a pinch-me moment. We knew how much we loved this show, but could we be sure the fans would be as supportive as we hoped? And they were! Alex James Ellison and Tom Lees have written an incredible score and have put so much heart and passion into this, I was so happy to see them get the recognition they deserved. And now, we’ve gone international! All those people who couldn’t come to London and enjoy the show have now got the entire show at their fingertips!
Can you tell us about your recent show The Secret Society of Leading Ladies?
Oh, it was an absolute joy. When Ryan Carter asked me to be involved and I saw all the ladies CC’d into the emails I couldn’t believe the line-up he had assembled. I love playing comedy so getting to be Lauren from Kinky Boots for an afternoon meant I was a kid in a playground. The concept was so original and I feel that’s what we should be championing right now. Any attempt to keep theatre alive and interesting has my vote and Ryan did an absolutely stellar job. It also helps that he’s a super amazing person, so filming was a complete joy.
What was it like playing Gloria in Gretel! The Musical and can you say more about the show at The Other Palace?
Gretel! was another new British musical which I will always champion. We need to make space for new writing, always! It was a twist on the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel and I got to play the wicked witch Gloria which was an absolutely delicious role. I love The Other Palace and, again, this show was so well received. This was my first cast recording album also, so be sure to check it out on all streaming platforms and give it a listen!
How did you find the experience of touring with Peter Pan?
This was one of my first jobs out of drama school and it was an actor-musician job where I played multiple roles and also played violin. I have a big background in music, having played Irish traditional fiddle and harp back home in Ireland. I never knew it would come in handy until I got this job! It was hard work touring but it’s very good experience, especially to someone as green as I was. The joy of performing is you never know how much you might get to travel with work. I’ve been lucky enough between tours and cruises now to travel everywhere from South America to Antarctica!
We understand you’ve been involved with other productions such as Always Tuesday and Seasons of Larson, can you tell us about some of your previous work?
Always Tuesday was a two-hander play at Southwark Playhouse and it was an absolute dream. It was a short run, but I loved the intensity of a two-hander play. You have to trust your counterpart and it taught me the importance of listening and reacting. Seasons of Larson was a celebration of the work of Jonathan Larson at the Lyric Theatre involving some of the original cast of RENT. I adore his work and to be invited to honour him in such a way was very special.
Where does your love of acting come from and can you tell us about your training?
I think I was always a bit dramatic and I’m sure my mother would confirm that! I actually started out as a musician (I play piano, violin and harp) and I competed a lot with Irish music. I always sang, but growing up in the middle of nowhere in Ireland, we didn’t have any theatre or drama outlets. When I left school, I went to Stratford upon Avon college thinking that must be a drama school, that’s where Shakespeare was born. Oh, how wrong I was. So, I took a little longer to get to drama school, but after some time and many hours waitressing to save up, I attended the London School of Musical Theatre. It was a one year course with fantastic training, but I feel your training never stops. We should always be open to learning and evolving as performers, as well as people.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
Well, I think we really need to normalise the fact that most performers don’t pay their rent based on performing jobs, so I’m usually working somewhere else to pay the bills! I currently work at a gym that I love because it keeps me mentally and physically in shape and really, it can be nice to have a job entirely separate from the world of performing so it doesn’t consume you. But given the chance, you can find me at Heaven on a Thursday night or at a drag brunch in Hackney.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
Wicked is special to me because it was the first West End show I ever saw. My mother flew me over for my eighteenth birthday and the moment that orchestra began, I burst into tears of joy! In terms of shows I would like to see; I hope one day we will get a production of Next to Normal. It’s one of my most beloved soundtracks and I would kill to see it.
What are you looking forward to most for returning to live theatre?
How much time do you have? So, so much! I can’t wait to collect my tickets from box office, to pay through the nose for a merlot in a plastic cup, to say “sorry, can I just squeeze past there” whilst wiggling into the middle of the row to your seats, to see the sweat fly off the ensemble as they land a triple pirouette, to be home again. It can’t come soon enough.
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