Next week, Sharan Phull will be reprising her role of Pritti Pasha in the reopening of the Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tour, which had been paused due to COVID-19 in March 2020, and while theatres were closed, she performed songs from the musical on The Show Must Go On! Live which was livestreamed on YouTube. For her first performance when theatres could reopen, Sharan was in the cast of Am Dram: A Musical Comedy as part of Curve Theatre’s socially distanced reopening, and she has previously worked with Curve on a number of shows including The Importance of Being Earnest, Pink Sari Revolution and Scrooge: The Musical. Sharan made her professional debut as Pimpy in the original West End cast of Bend It Like Beckham: The Musical at the Phoenix Theatre, where she was also first cover for the lead role of Jess Bhamra. Last year, Sharan was part of the Kings of Broadway concert and her screen experience includes an episode of Back for Channel 4 and the Cadbury Secret Santa commercial. We caught up with Sharan about playing Pritti in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, returning to live theatre for Am Dram: A Musical Comedy at Leicester Curve and being an original West End cast member of Bend It Like Beckham: The Musical.
Before the pandemic, you had been playing Pritti Pasha in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, what drew you to the role and how had the tour been going?
I love working on new writing and this show in particular. It celebrates everyone in such a positively inclusive and uplifting way, so I was drawn to it immediately. We were fortunate that we had a six-week run before the first lockdown and the whole process had been brilliant up until that point. It has been a long break but we are all raring to go and share this around the country again.
What do you enjoy most about playing the character and how much did you know about the musical before being cast?
Seeing the show was amazing and I completely loved its heart. It has so many important messages and it is encouraging to see that its reach just keeps growing. Especially with the film being released later this year. Discovering and being who you are, freely and wholeheartedly – its messages are universal. I know the story means so much to so many people and I relish and cherish the chance to show and support that on stage.
I jumped at the opportunity to audition for the role of Pritti. Here is a young British Asian woman whose experiences are shown in such a detailed and rounded way. That is what I think the show does so well with all its characters – real representation. Pritti has many endearing qualities. She is a giving and loyal friend but also grounded, hard-working, and quietly headstrong. She is lovable and inspirational really. I have loved exploring that whilst also finding her youthfulness, warmth and witty nature.
She overcomes so much adversity, goes on her own personal affirming discovery and finds her own voice. I can’t wait to share her story again.
How have you found the experience being part of the cast and touring with the show?
This cast, and the whole team are a dream to work with. It is a really strong unit. Everyone is so supportive and that translates on stage and off. This is my first tour with a different venue every week. In Edinburgh we were playing to a 2000 seat theatre that had a very exciting gig-like quality – then to Northampton where the audience are sitting closer, giving a more intimate feel. Exploring around the cities together and then getting to perform to new audiences that same evening doing what we love – with a very special company – absolutely amazing!
What are you looking forward to for returning to play Pritti when the tour can recommence next week?
As you can tell, I am buzzing to be a part of this show again. There is a lot of love for this show at each venue. We opened in Sheffield – where the show was originally created – and the response was brilliant. There is even more of an excitement around theatre returning as things open up more. There are so many great regional theatres that do a lot for their communities and to have people there again – in actual person! – enjoying, connecting and supporting will be so important and a boost for theatres.
And I think messages of the show – including love, support, togetherness – resonate even more now.
You performed on The Show Must Go On! Live, how was this?
That was a really ‘pinch-me’ moment. It is the biggest platform I have performed on in terms of reach. I was told – thankfully after I had performed! – that there were 40k people watching the livestream. That was astounding, and great for the organisers, Theatre Support Fund+, in raising awareness and funds for those in the industry who need extra help in any way, including so many affected by the pandemic (Please see here for the donation link: https://theatresupportfund.co.uk/collections/donate).
It was such a welcoming atmosphere and amazing to share live theatre again amongst a line-up of immensely talented artists, in the West End to people around the world. I loved getting to perform Pritti’s songs from the show – which represent universal themes of love and hope – It Means Beautiful is one of my favourite moments to play in the show. Being a part of that whole experience was extremely special. It encompassed everything that is great about the power of live theatre.
Can you tell us about your recent work with Tara Theatre?
I performed in Tara’s re-opening show since the pandemic – two powerful monologues for a theatre that champions Asian voices. I definitely wanted to be a part of that. It was a great challenge – playing a thirty-year-old woman speaking of her dating experiences during the pandemic and then switching to a young Liverpudlian football fan exploring her city and culture through lockdown. I was really honoured to be a part of this show. The theatre, based in South West London, is a great intimate space. It is a hub of channelling fresh perspectives in a thought-provoking way and connecting with artists and audiences. I am really looking forward to seeing them build on these great ideas.
In May, you were performing in Am Dram: A Musical Comedy, what was the show like to do and can you say about your role?
It is a brilliant new comedy, a love letter to Amateur Dramatics. It was great to be back in a rehearsal room with such a talented, charismatic group of people who I learnt a lot from. I played seven different characters – some of whom appeared in the same scene together. In one scene I audition as three different characters consecutively. Much prop work included! It was so much fun to explore and figure out each of their quirks and how to make them distinctive. We got to play and explore in much detail in such a short space of time – we had a one-and-a-half-week rehearsal process before our first show. This was part of Curve Theatre’s socially distanced opening and at this point, along with many other shows, it was about working as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to get live theatre back on its feet.
How was it returning to live theatre with this production?
What made it all even lovelier was being back at the Curve, which is one of my favourite venues. The staff were so brilliant at working with the new social distancing guidelines and making everyone feel safe. I worked at Curve as an Usher and speaking to one of my colleagues there, they have had to, as so many have, adapt to a new way of working. They do it with so much professionalism and care.
To get this show on, amidst changing rules and restrictions was brilliant. Throughout the pandemic, people in the industry have worked and adapted in amazing ways in order to keep the arts thriving. A friend set up a theatre company who perform play readings via Zoom, in response to students not being able to see live theatre, with a discussion afterwards to aid their understanding of their set texts. Theatre has been brought to people’s homes. People have kept making work in brilliantly creative ways. It shows that the arts are a necessity, and that kind of perseverance is vital and encouraging.
What was it like playing Ghost of Christmas Past and being in the Ensemble for Scrooge: The Musical at Curve Theatre?
I adore Curve. It is such a welcoming and warm place full of people who are passionate about theatre and committed to creating amazing new work and sense of community in the city. This show was fantastic to do – over Christmas playing a role with so much spirit and sharing the musical’s heart-warming messages. I rehearsed for it whilst performing in another Made at Curve show, Pink Sari Revolution – a powerful piece about female solidarity and empowerment in India, which was on tour at the time. Two completely different styles which show the diversity of Curve’s work. I very much appreciated being a part of them.
Another Curve Theatre production you were part of was The Importance of Being Earnest as Cecily Cardew, how did you find your time playing the role?
I studied the play and Wilde’s work at university so it was great to be able to dig up those notes again! They helped a lot with background research of the character and the unique language of the piece. I love its bite and wit. The concept of this version and the fresh, vibrant take on the piece was so enjoyable. It included a completely mirrored set which reflected the play’s themes of appearance and reality. It was great to explore the character of Cecily with Nikolai Foster, who directs with such an open warmth and collaboration.
It was my first professional show back at Curve after having performed in the community shows there for many years with Paul Kerryson. Standing there at the end of the show on the opening night, seeing so many familiar faces in the crowd and sharing it all with them – a great feeling and it is another amazing experience with a fantastic team.
You played Pimpy in the original West End cast of Bend It Like Beckham: The Musical, what are some of your favourite memories from being in the production?
It was my first professional show as an actor and is a show so close to my heart. The experience will always be a stand out for me.
The first day was a mixture of nerves and excited anticipation. There were about fifty or so people there that day, all involved in creating this new stage version of an iconic British film. I learnt so much through the process and whole run – it was a big journey for us all and so enjoyable. Being my first professional job, it felt very special and the cast and company were amazing. This is going to sound too gushy now, but it was everything I had wanted to do coming together – becoming a professional actor and performing on a West End stage. Another ‘pinch-me’ moment. Incredible doesn’t really cover it all!
How did you find the experience being first cover for lead character Jess and what was the role like to learn?
I was extremely fortunate within all that, to be able to cover the lead role of Jess. A British Asian girl exploring her dreams and her culture – it really resonated with me. The first night of performing in the role, I just remember being so excited and the cast were amazingly supportive. She is onstage for pretty much the whole show. Aside from the interval there were a few minutes for a quick water break but otherwise it was costume changes – one being nine seconds! It makes me very appreciative of the brilliant backstage team.
We had lots of understudy rehearsals and a great resident director, Shelby Williams, who was so helpful and full of encouragement. I created my own binder too – I went into university essay mode – with lots of notes on each scene. I went over the material as much as I could. I remember practicing the football skills for hours. That required a lot of focus – it was all work that I relished the opportunity to do. I was so grateful for every show. It was a dream to perform. My family came to see the show many times over the run. Their support means the world and it was so special to share that with them.
Last year, you performed at the Kings of Broadway concert in the West End, how was it being on the line-up?
This was such a lovely concert to be a part of. Just even to sit in the auditorium during rehearsal and see all these amazing artists belt out fantastic numbers. It was organised by a friend, Alex Parker, who I first worked with at university, on a production of Anything Goes – and is another example of people working tirelessly to keep theatre going strong.
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
I think I have always loved the idea of telling different stories. When I was younger I would love making people laugh and playing a range of characters in shows at school. From dancing to Bhangra at a wedding to learning Sanskrit poetry and Hymns – expression is intrinsic to Punjabi culture and I adore that. So music and the arts were always a big part of my growing up. My parents encouraged me to pursue performing as a way of gaining more confidence and learning different skills. My brothers are outstanding musicians – one has just set up a band and I have learnt a lot from them too. They always encourage me to persevere and seek new opportunities and the arts bring such an exciting scope to explore. I am always so grateful to my family for showing me that and for their constant, wonderful support.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch?
There are so many amazing shows. I love going to the National and seeing their fresh concepts. I love experiencing the power of theatre – that pin drop silence when the audience is totally transfixed. It is so great and important to see more work being created that champions diversity and reflects different experiences.
Can you say about filming your episode of TV series Back and the Cadbury Secret Santa commercial?
They have been great introductions to working on screen which is something I want to pursue more of. Back is a brilliant show and to be a small part of that was so exciting. I loved meeting the director and actors in the scene and seeing the focus and precision of their work. I came in on their first day of filming and to see the collective efforts of people coming together on a project of that scale is amazing. The Secret Santa commercial was excellent and combined two things I love – chocolate and Christmas! The team were so supportive and it was lovely to have a laugh in between takes. I always enjoy the opportunity to work in a completely new environment and appreciate all the varied shows and roles I have been fortunate enough to work on. I just want to keep learning and creating.
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