Currently, Siubhan Harrison is performing as Ginnie Hempstock in The Ocean at the End of the Lane until May 14th at Duke of York’s Theatre in London’s West End. Last year, Siubhan returned to live theatre for the first time since the pandemic closed productions for Wonderful Town at Opera Holland Park opposite Louise Dearman, and she was on the line-up of West End in the Park. Previous shows for Siubhan have included Broken Wings at Dubai Opera House, Home, I’m Darling for National Theatre, Me and My Girl at Chichester Festival Theatre and she appeared at Southwark Playhouse in both The Country Wife and Working. Catching up with Siubhan, she chats about playing Ginnie Hempstock in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, returning to live theatre for Wonderful Town and her time in Broken Wings at Dubai Opera House.
You are currently playing Ginnie Hempstock in The Ocean at the End of the Lane at Duke of York’s Theatre, how is the run going so far and what is Ginnie like to play?
It’s such a huge joy getting to play Ginnie Hempstock every night. This play is so very special for many reasons, it’s about bravery, grief and friendship, and getting to live in that world every night is so exciting. Ginnie is a woman who has been around for a very long time and is in the middle of three very extraordinary, magical, powerful, caring women. She’s a farmer, with a mother’s concern and worry, a woman’s bravery and a daughter’s reluctance. Doing a production of this scale in this time is incredible, every day we dance our way through COVID, testing every morning, adapting to changes, being grateful to the audience that come out and choose to escape for a couple of hours and lose themselves somewhere magical with us. We’re aware of that as a company and it really feels that the audience come on that brave and emotional journey with us. Ginnie is so much fun to play, her impatience, her guard slowly coming down and her love for her family are so satisfying to go through as an actor. I feel very lucky!
Was there anything that drew you to the production and what are you enjoying most about being in the cast?
This show is an embarrassment of riches, it has incredible puppetry that you can’t believe isn’t real, movement by the most extraordinary team lead by Steven Hoggett, who I have wanted to work with for years, who enabled us as a company to create, be brave and play and put together these extraordinary movement sequences. The director Katy Rudd has opened up this world of imagination but so deeply rooted in history and truth and what we as actors brought in every day. This company is really special, a true ensemble and at this time more than ever that is a necessity, there have been so many times someone’s had to step in last minute to help out or do something they’ve never done before. That feels very much a way of life at the moment.
Why would you recommend booking tickets to see The Ocean at the End of the Lane in the West End?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a play that absorbs you from the beginning. As an audience member you are taken on such a journey that will excite you, frighten you, move you, encourage you, and leave you full of emotions! It is full of nostalgia for young friendships, how hard it is to be an adult and a banging 80s soundtrack. Please come and see us. We’re on till May!
Last year, you performed in Wonderful Town, how was it returning to live theatre and can you tell us about your time playing Eileen Sherwood at Opera Holland Park in July?
Wonderful Town at Holland Park was a joy at the other end of the spectrum. I’m a huge fan of Leonard Bernstein and getting to sing that score was so wonderful. It was an astonishing cast, and creative team, we had two weeks to put it together and it was such a thrill on opening night when we realised that after a year and a bit we were about to explode on stage and make people smile at an incredible outdoor venue! I also got to play Louise Dearman’s sister, it doesn’t get much better than that!
Before the pandemic, you’d been appearing in Broken Wings at Dubai Opera House, how was the experience?
Broken Wings at Dubai Opera House was very special, I had been involved in the original concept album and it’s an adaptation of the poetic novel by Khalil Gibran, adapted by the very talented Nadim Naaman, who is also a friend of mine. The theatre is beautiful, I had never been to Dubai and I was there doing this exciting new piece of work which is just about to finish its London run at the Charing Cross Theatre.
What was Home, I’m Darling like to be part of as Fran for National Theatre in the West End?
Home, I’m Darling at the Duke of York’s, again, was so much fun. It was great being directed by Tamara Harvey, who I worked with on From Here To Eternity. I don’t get to do many comedies and I loved it. Such a great play written by Laura Wade about feminism, and a woman who chooses to live in a version of the 50s, the costumes, as you can imagine, were wonderful with a bit of jiving and a really outstanding cast.
In 2018, you were in the cast of Me and My Girl at Chichester Festival Theatre playing the role of Lady Jacqueline, do you have any stand-out highlights from your time in the show?
Doing Me and My Girl at Chichester was so much fun. I spent a lot of time in Chichester growing up and most of my childhood trips to the theatre were there, I really love getting work there and revisit my youth! Playing Lady Jaqueline, who’s a conniving woman out for her own gains, was so much fun. Stand-out moment for me was singing Thinking of No-One But Me whilst being carried around and flipped in the air by a wonderful male ensemble, who very kindly let me use them as a human staircase. I loved it!
How was it performing at Southwark Playhouse in both The Country Wife and Working, and what did you enjoy most about each?
The Southwark Playhouse is such a versatile space, they do really interesting productions and get incredible people involved. I think Working directed by Luke Sheppard and choreographed by Fabian Aloise is one of the best musicals I’ve been part of. I also met Alex Parker on that job and I’m so thrilled whenever he calls with an idea for something else we could do together! Doing The Country Wife was such a fun challenge, giving me the opportunity to do a restoration comedy.
What are some of your favourite memories from playing Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls at the Savoy Theatre?
I loved finding ways to give Sarah Brown power in her life and finding her own path. I think one thing that really helped was changing the key for some of the songs, it helped me find her gravitas. And that drunk number in Havana was one of the best moments I’ve had on stage. Pure unbridled joy.
Can you tell us about some of your other work, which has included Grease, Bad Girls the Musical and We Will Rock You?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to work in musicals and plays, and love doing them both. I wish it wasn’t so hard for ‘musical theatre actors’ to get into plays, I don’t know why it still feels like there’s a hurdle there.
You have workshopped a number of productions including at 2020’s MT Fest, what are these like to do?
I love workshopping new material, it’s a really exciting process being there as things are being rewritten, and watching things being created from the early stage is wonderful. It’s also a really good learning experience, it keeps you on your toes and forces you to learn quickly and make choices.
Last year, you were on the line-up of West End in the Park, can you tell us about this?
I was on a stage with Oliver Tompsett, Nadim Naaman and Kerry Ellis singing my heart out in the rain. I had the time of my life!
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you get into it?
I loved singing and putting on plays when I was little. Basically I was a bossy show-off.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
I love a really clever reimagining of a classic. I can’t wait to see Cyrano. Anything that forces you to use your imagination. I’m so excited to see Jerusalem, I’ve always felt ashamed I didn’t see it first time around!
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
Out of working hours, you can usually find me camping or swimming outside on an adventure or finding good vegan food somewhere!
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