In the world premiere of the Tom Jones musical What’s New Pussycat?, Rebekah Hinds performed as The Girl in The Polka Dot Dress at the Birmingham Rep, which ran until 14th November. Further stage roles for Rebekah has seen her work alongside Sara Kestelman in Paradise at Hampstead Theatre, be in the cast of Much Ado About Nothing, Humble Boy and the Olivier Award-nominated The Government Inspector. As a screen actor, Rebekah played Yolanda in Derren Litten’s BBC comedy series Scarborough, filmed the Empty Orchestra episode of Inside No. 9 and she worked worked with Kay Mellor for The Syndicate. Rebekah is part of comedy duo Maris Piper alongside Daniel Fraser, and together they won the Audience Favourite Award at the 2019 Musical Comedy Awards. Answering our questions, Rebekah chats about performing in the world premiere of What’s New Pussycat?, playing Yolanda in Scarborough and being part of comedy duo Maris Piper.
You have recently finished performing in What’s New Pussycat? at the Birmingham Rep, how did the run go and what was the musical like to be part of?
It was an absolute joy. I mean, don’t get me wrong, making any show from scratch can be intensely stressful. Add a pandemic to the mix and you’ve gone up another level. But I was constantly impressed by the creative team’s calmness in the face of any hurdles. Every person in the cast, crew and team worked so hard and the atmosphere was in general just one of love and laughter. Luke Sheppard, the director, is a bit of a genius. He knew exactly what he was doing, even when I was flapping around in an anxious haze. I honestly had the time of my life in this run. I’ve always said the best thing about my job is the people. This one was no exception.
Can you tell us about the show and your character and what was the Tom Jones music like to perform?
The show was a real hybrid of ideas that sort of might sound like they wouldn’t work on paper. But the end concoction was a massive hit. I realise I’m biased here… But the audiences seemed to agree!
Essentially, the story was based on the 18th century Henry Fielding novel Tom Jones, a foundling but set in the 1960s, using the music of Tom Jones, the singer. My character The Girl in The Polka Dot Dress (we find out her name near the end of the show) was one of the only characters that wasn’t actually in the novel, but helps to bring the story into the swinging 60s. She was very much a representation of progressive views for women around that time; sexually free, confident, independent, funny. Playing her helped me find confidence in myself again after a strange couple of years. One of the biggest challenges for me was building up my stamina with the dancing. I hadn’t danced since I was at drama school, so it was a bit of a shock to the system when I first started this job. This was my first professional full-scale musical, so there were a few things to adjust to and I felt quite out of my depth at the beginning. Luckily, Arlene Philips and her associate choreographer, Dale White were incredibly supportive and I genuinely felt like a different person by the end of the run in terms of what they helped me achieve.
The highlight for me was the music. Musical Supervisor, Matt Brind, I bow down to you! The orchestrations are mind-blowingly good. The first time we heard the band play, the whole cast went completely bonkers. Singing these songs was iconic. They are vocally so robust and having that sort of power behind us was in my opinion, what really made the show pop!
How was it seeing the response to the world premiere and do you have any stand-out highlights from being in the cast of the musical?
I’ve never experienced anything like the reaction to the first preview of this show. I think with anything brand new, you’re never entirely sure what you’ve got until it’s in front of an audience. We had a full house on the first preview, with no idea how they were going to react. They were all up on their feet before we’d even finished. Post pandemic there seemed to be a real mutual appreciation for escapism, between the cast and the audience… This show was delightfully silly, funny and joyous. It felt like the perfect thing to watch for a first trip back to the theatre and we could feel that from the audience. It was actually strangely emotional. Which is an odd thing to be feeling while you’re singing Sex Bomb.
Birmingham Rep has a special place in my heart already, as I’ve worked there twice before. So being back there after a forced hiatus was nostalgic and wonderful.
What did you enjoy most about playing Sam in Paradise at the Hampstead Theatre?
The fact that I finally got to properly work with theatre veteran and force of nature, Sara Kestelman. Sara taught me when I was at Central and she became a close friend and mentor afterwards so to be on stage with her was a dream. She is mesmerising. I was playing a girl called Sam, who worked in a retirement home and had a friendship with Sara’s character, Amanda Goose. Some of the script (written by the excellent Dusty Hughes) bizarrely had so many parallels to conversations Sara and I have had in real life, so to bring that chemistry and naturalism on stage in such an intimate setting was a privilege.
In 2018, you performed at Watford Palace Theatre in Much Ado About Nothing, how was this?
This was my first professional Shakespeare and it was with an all-female cast, which gave us a lot to explore! I played Borachio and Margaret, who actually have an affair at one point although it’s not seen on stage… I have never done so many quick changes in my life! There was one where I had to go from man to woman, including a full costume change from boiler suit and boots, into a dress and heels, complete with lipstick and earrings, in about 20 seconds! I still don’t even know how we managed that… The magic of very patient and efficient dressers!
Can you tell us about some of the other theatre shows you’ve been part of over the years?
I’ve been so lucky to have been in such a variety of great theatre. But it would be remiss of me not to say that I’ve also had chunks of time where I’ve really struggled being out of work and a lot of my favourite theatre jobs came out of these periods in my career, namely The Government Inspector and Humble Boy.
The Government Inspector is a Russian farce by Gogol. It was directed by the indomitable Roxana Silbert and we rehearsed and began at Birmingham Rep. But it was produced in association with an innovative and brilliant company called Ramps on The Moon who commit to casting an equal mix of deaf, disabled and non-disabled performers, with integrated accessibility embedded creatively into the production. So, for example, we had an actress playing a policewoman who was also doing audio description throughout, BSL interpreters on stage as part of the story, captioning etc. The set design was amazing. I met some of my best friends in this cast and every single person was an amazing talent, bringing so much diversity and humour to the play. I have so many funny memories from this tour that I wouldn’t even know where to begin! I was multi-rolling as four different characters, which is something that I have a fondness for. I love working with different accents and challenging myself to find truth in bold performances. I worked very closely with the wonderful Jean St. Clair who played the judge. She’s a deaf actress and one of my characters was her interpreter. It taught me so much about teamwork and timing.
The show was nominated for an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Affiliate Theatre. We all got to go to the awards which was such a special experience, particularly in the fight for representation because I think I’m right in saying that it was the first time the Olivier Awards had a sign language interpreter at the side of the stage.
Humble Boy by Charlotte Jones is a play I loved when I was a teenager. When I heard it was casting the first revival since the National, I was desperate to book the job and I’m so grateful to Paul Miller for giving me the chance to play Rosie. It was at the Orange Tree for six weeks with a stellar cast that I was incredibly lucky to work with and learn from. It’s one I’ll never forget because it changed the course of my career.
On screen, you played Yolanda in BBC comedy series Scarborough, what are some of your favourite memories from working on the series?
Once again, the job was the people. We belly laughed constantly. It was basically just like being on holiday, but with really long hours. We had glorious weather in Scarborough and I’d never been before and was so pleasantly surprised! My favourite memory is probably one of the nights out that we had at a local pub. They put on a spread for us and everyone started singing karaoke! Art imitates life.
What was Yolanda like to play and was there anything that drew you to the show?
I grew up in a northern seaside town called Southport, so there were a lot of themes and characters that I recognised as soon as I read Derren Litten’s script. He’d really found the heart of all these people, wrapped up in the clumsiness and silliness of it all. I’ve always loved that community feel that you get in a northern boozer! So I loved all of the scenes at the pub. Yolanda was a no-nonsense emo who worked in the booth at the arcade. But she would just sit and read Terry Pratchett books and barely speak to anyone. I loved being able to play someone deadpan and moody. It was a great contrast to the characters that Jason Manford and Steve Edge played, although hard to keep a straight face when I was acting with them.
Having filmed for the TV series Inside No. 9, how was your experience playing Chantel in the episode Empty Orchestra?
I’m a big Inside No. 9 fan so when I booked this job I felt like I’d won a competition! We had a rehearsal day before the shoot week and I was sat eating biscuits watching Reece Shearsmith practice dancing in a giant sumo wrestler suit feeling like I was in a fever dream. It was set in a karaoke booth so I bounced in near the end as part of a hen party and started belting out Titanium. I think it was about 7am when I sang the first take of it and then subsequently sang it live over and over until I could barely remember where I was! On my first entrance, I was wearing these ridiculously hilarious high heels with pom poms on and I absolutely stacked it into the first shot. As I emerged from the floor, everyone looked terrified that I’d hurt myself, so I had to assure them that I have fallen over quite spectacularly on every TV job that I’ve done, so I suppose it would be bad luck if it didn’t happen now.
How was your time playing Tamsin in The Syndicate?
I was over the moon to be working with Kay Mellor. We filmed in Leeds and Bradford so I was up and down from there to London for a couple of months. I was playing the best friend of the phenomenal Natalie Gavin, who is still one of my best friends now. I really hope we work together again one day.
Again, it was the people that made the job. I’m a bit of a stuck record now, aren’t I? I LOVE PEOPLE!
Can you tell us about the short films that you’ve worked on recently?
I love collaborating with people on smaller projects, be it writing, making short films or music videos. I learnt quite early on that I had to be productive to ensure feeling less creatively constipated when nothing’s going on. It can be really vulnerable making your own work, but I’m getting better at making things because they make me laugh and trying not to care what anyone else thinks. So I’m always happy to jump in on other people’s projects. Most recently, I worked on a short film written by and starring my friend Robin Morrissey. The best thing about this was that we used my dad as a featured extra and I couldn’t stop laughing at him!
As part of comedy duo Maris Piper, you won the Audience Favourite Award at the 2019 Musical Comedy Awards, how was this and can you tell us more about your work with Maris Piper?
The other half of Maris Piper is Daniel Fraser, a friend and colleague that I trained at drama school with. It was originally just a bit of silly experimentation with mashing songs together and we would perform them in the SU bar at Central. After we graduated, between jobs, we would do a few charity gigs and little bits and bobs on the cabaret circuit or musical theatre nights. The music then started lending itself much more to comedy so we started to work on changing things lyrically and telling a story, so our act really developed into something very different. Then, in 2019, we wanted to push ourselves to write some new material so we entered the Musical Comedy Awards because we knew we would have to bring something different at each heat. We ended up coming third and winning the Audience Favourite Award and we were super proud of that, especially because my anxiety surrounding these things can be through the roof! Maris Piper is really a labour of love that we pick up whenever it feels right to do so. Sometimes months can go by and then we have an idea for a music video in the middle of the night and the rest is history.
What are some of your favourite TV shows to watch?
I’m obsessed with a lot of British comedy TV. I always loved The Office and Extras, The Royle Family, Green Wing. The list is endless though, but anything with clever writing and interesting character work. Obviously I loved Fleabag. And Flowers, that was wonderful. I often repeat watch all of these things! At the moment, my obsession is Stath Lets Flats. I’ve seen it all the way through four times. If I can be in something like that one day, I’ll die happy.
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