For his first professional role after graduating, Matthew Maddison joined the cast of the reimagined South Pacific at Chichester Festival Theatre, performing with the musical over the summer until it closed in September. Matthew had his first experience of working on a professional production when he was cast in The King and I as Louis Leonowens both at Leicester Curve and on tour, before going on to train at ArtsEd. During his time training, Matthew was in the productions of Legally Blonde and The Wild Party, in which he played one of the D’Armano brothers, worked with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in Let’s Face the Music and also performed at the Olivier Awards. Speaking with us, Matthew answers our questions about his time in South Pacific at Chichester Festival Theatre, training at ArtsEd and appearing as Louis Leonowens in The King and I.
What was it like booking your role in South Pacific and how much did you know about the production before being cast?
Booking my role in South Pacific was honestly a dream come true. After all my years of training and hard work, it was so rewarding to know that my dedication had paid off. In our third year at college, we get casting directors to come in and audition us for productions that they are casting in the near future. For this particular audition, it was for the fantastic Charlotte Sutton, and luckily she liked what I did in the room and gave me a recall. It’s important when auditioning for any show, that you do some research into the period, style of music and the synopsis to get an understanding of what you want to do in the audition. So having done this, I felt suitably prepared for what might come my way. I had never seen a production of South Pacific or the film, however I knew some of the music from my time at college. After three rounds of auditions, I knew that we would be hearing back a definitive answer for the show. So for around two weeks, I was waiting nervously to find out and thankfully, one day, I received the news from the Principal of my college that it was a yes. I was over the moon.
How was it being part of the cast at Chichester Festival Theatre over this summer?
I was actually quite anxious about meeting the cast, mainly because I felt so far removed from the theatre industry during the fifteen months since the pandemic. Also, I knew I’d be working with lots of established actors with so much talent and this just felt really daunting for me. Despite this, I couldn’t have wished for a more warm, kind and open group of people to make my professional debut with. Every single day, I just wanted to learn from everyone; listen to their advice; watch their choices and thought processes on stage and in the rehearsal room. The respect built up in the room was largely created by our creative team in Daniel Evans and Ann Yee. Their constant reminder to us all to be conscious of “the biggest thing in the room” and not just our own individual stories is something I will take with me for the rest of my career. It was a real privilege to be in and around these people on a daily basis. Chichester is also such a lovely place and there were so many activities for us to do and memories to make together which just made it that extra bit special.
Did you have a favourite musical number to perform and what was it like to rehearse?
Without a doubt, my favourite musical number to perform was Bloody Mary. It’s the first time in the show that we are introduced to the group of GIs and Seabees on the island who bring on this humungous masculine presence and energy onto the stage. During rehearsals, this was very much a number that we workshopped plenty of times. We played with different dynamics between Mary and the boys to see which story we wanted to tell and how that could be best portrayed within our movement. One of our assistant choreographers was an expert in movement from the early 20th century and he taught us different variations and combinations of steps which we chopped and changed until we found a shape. From this point, we just played and explored until it became what it did. During the run, we were given some freedom to offer different things to show the camaraderie within the unit which was so much fun.
How did you find the experience on your first professional production after graduating?
After such a long time out between college and my first professional experience in a rehearsal room, I’d almost forgotten what to expect which I think eased my nerves on day one. But from the very first moment, myself and all the other graduates in the production felt welcomed and accepted by every single member of the company and the crew. The whole process wasn’t too dissimilar to what I experienced in college however the step up from third year to South Pacific was definitely a leap which I feel like I adapted to straight away. After we had opened, and because this is the longest run of a show I had ever done, I was intrigued to see how the show grew and adapted as time went on. It was a joy to discover new things in every performance and just be playful with different elements of my character. Even off stage, it was so special just to see how close we all became as a unit, so I really can’t fault my first professional experience in the slightest. It was everything I had hoped it would be, and more.
Do you have any stand-out moments from your time in South Pacific?
There were so many incredible things that I experienced during my time working on South Pacific, however, one moment that I believe will stay with me for my entire career will be the very first preview. As the lights went down to begin act one, the audience let out this tremendous roar of cheering and applause and I just remember looking at my fellow castmates and we all had the biggest smiles on our faces. This was the first time in eighteen months that any of us had performed in a theatre and that feeling of excitement and anticipation was extremely apparent. Once the show had finished and we were all getting ready to bow, all of us were backstage with this massive sense of relief and accomplishment that theatre really was back! We were greeted with an instant standing ovation and I felt this bombardment of emotion that I had never felt before.
You performed in Let’s Face the Music at the Royal Albert Hall, what was this like?
I was lucky enough in my third year to be selected to be part of this incredible concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and it was a real treat. To be on stage with so many talented musicians who made the most incredible sound was so inspiring. We sang a number of songs from musical theatre classics such as Oklahoma!, Top Hat and Guys and Dolls. It was one of the most meticulous rehearsal processes I have ever been a part of which made me learn so much and when we eventually took to the stage, the view we had of the audience was immense. Obviously, the Royal Albert Hall is a spectacular venue but I don’t think you can really appreciate its size until you are there in person. A great experience, and one I’m so glad I was able to share with my classmates.
Can you tell us about being part of the Olivier Awards?
I performed at the Olivier Awards in both my first and second year at college. It’s a tradition, usually, that ArtsEd sing every year. This was actually my first couple of experiences performing at the Royal Albert Hall and it’s safe to say I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. The first year, I remember being backstage amongst cast members of different West End shows and looking up to them and hoping that one day I would be in their shoes and performing in a show of my own. We sang Somewhere from West Side Story with the legendary Chita Rivera for the ‘In Memoriam’ section of the ceremony which was so poignant and emotional to be a part of. The following year, a small group of us got to perform a special arrangement of God Save The Queen with Beverley Knight in front of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and this was a real treat. It was the first time in my life to perform in front of a Royal Family member so this made it even more special.
Was there anything that encouraged you to train at ArtsEd and what was it like to attend?
So, I attended Tring Park School before I went to ArtsEd which used to be the sister school before they branched off and became independent, so I knew about ArtsEd for a while before going. I had friends from years above me at school who went and told me great things about it, so I could only go off the recommendations that they told me. My time at ArtsEd was great! I learned so much about myself as a performer and where my strengths and weaknesses lied pretty much straight away. This allowed me to focus on where I wanted to improve and become the performer I had always aspired to be. There were also plenty of performing opportunities throughout my time there and in the third year, they set us up so well for professional life by introducing us to different agents, casting directors and other industry professionals and that really gave us a platform to excel as soon as possible.
Whilst training, you were part of Legally Blonde and The Wild Party, how were these?
As you go through college, the pinnacle is always performing in the third year shows and when it was my time, I’d like to think I grasped the opportunity with both hands. Legally Blonde has always been a favourite of mine. It’s such a fun, energetic show that you can really enjoy being a part of when you’re on stage because the music is so good, the choreography is so punchy and the script is hilarious. The Wild Party was my second show and this was where I was in my main track playing one of the D’Armano brothers. This was a stark contrast to Legally Blonde because the plot is so dark and the music is so intricate and jazzy but it was the most rewarding process to be a part of. We delved so deep into the world of vaudeville and all the good and the bad that came with it and, in the show, I was able to showcase a lot of my skills that I had been working on for the previous few years.
Before training, you played Louis Leonowens in The King and I, what do you remember from your time in the role?
This was my first experience in a professional production so it was all completely new territory for me but I had so much fun. I did two stints in the role, one in my hometown at the Curve in Leicester and one on a UK tour and they were both actually really different. I really enjoyed balancing school and performing during the run at the Curve. I made so many friends and learnt so much about being in a professional environment and lots of do’s and don’ts as an actor. The tour was a completely new challenge as I had never lived away from home before. However, my experience was just as rewarding as when I was based at home.
Had you always wanted an acting career and how did you first get into it?
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never seen myself doing anything else, even from an early age. My parents sent me to Saturday theatre school when I was eight and there was just an instant connection with acting and performing. It was the highlight of my week for ages, and then aged eleven I started taking ballet and tap classes and from then things became a bit more serious for me. When I was thirteen, I auditioned for Tring Park School with no intention whatsoever of going or thinking I would get in, however, I was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship and take the biggest risk of my life by moving away from home. All of this has culminated into me being in the position I am now, and I am extremely grateful.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
In November 2019 I went to New York for the first time and I saw Mean Girls which was one of the best things I have ever seen! I loved the soundtrack even before I’d seen it but after watching it live, it has definitely become one of my favourites. If it comes to London I’ll be first in the queue to see it again for sure. A show that I haven’t seen yet is Back to the Future and I’m really trying to clear my schedule so I can get to see it. I’m a huge fan of the film and I’m so interested to see how all of the effects translate onto the stage. I’ve also heard so many great things about it!
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I’m a massive fan of Leicester City Football Club! Whenever I’m not working, I try and see the odd game or watch it on TV with some friends. I love a good binge when it comes to series on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I am very much excited for the final instalment of Money Heist in a couple of months! I also enjoy going to the gym and seeing friends for a pint down at the pub. I should really step up my game in regards to seeing some shows that are on at the minute as I love going to the theatre as well, and I haven’t seen nearly enough shows recently.
Can you tell us what you’re hoping the next year brings for your career?
To be honest, I don’t really have too many expectations for the next twelve months. With the world being so crazy due to the pandemic, I think it’s impossible to predict what will/might happen in regards to acting and performing. I’m going to go into next year with quite an open mind! I’m excited to get back to auditioning, meeting new people and fingers crossed as a result of this, the right job will come through in the near future.
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