Chrissie Bhima is currently performing as Candy in Whistle Down the Wind at The Watermill Theatre, which is directed by Tom Jackson Greaves, and runs until 10th September. Earlier this year, Chrissie was in the cast of LIFT at the Southwark Playhouse as Avatar, and she was part of The Witches of Eastwick concert at the Sondheim Theatre in the West End, where she sang a duet with Alfie Friedman alongside an orchestra. For her professional debut, Chrissie was in Up Next Gala at the National Theatre, and in 2019, she played Ti Moune in Once on This Island with British Theatre Academy, with her portrayal of the character receiving great reviews. Having trained with ArtsEd during the pandemic, Chrissie is set to graduate on the 6th September, and whilst training, her projects included SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical, in which she played Sandy Cheeks, and, as part of the ArtsEd choir, she performed at both the 2022 Olivier Awards and the An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth concert. Talking with Chrissie, we found out about playing Candy in Whistle Down the Wind, her time in LIFT at the Southwark Playhouse and being in the cast of Once on This Island with British Theatre Academy.
You have recently opened at The Watermill Theatre in Whistle Down the Wind, how are you finding your time there so far?
I’m honestly finding it like a musical theatre getaway for the summer at The Watermill. I love the intimacy of the theatre and I’m finding it so interesting every day to be sharing a stage with such talented souls that are also playing multiple instruments as actor-musicians. It’s brilliant!
What is Candy like to play and how did it feel booking your role?
It’s been such a blessing to have this opportunity. Candy really goes through hardship in the background and is quite isolated in the show. There’s really not many characters she interacts with, other than Amos, Ed and Earl. She’s a strong believer but is also just let down too many times. As a black young woman in Louisiana at that time, it’s already difficult to live as it is.
How much did you know about the show before reading the script and what was it like preparing for the run?
I only knew a few songs from the show but never in context and I had no idea how much depth there was to religion, innocence and hope. Preparing for the show was so beautiful because of the inclusion of the instruments as well as choreography and lines. Our stunning director, Tom Jackson Greaves, really made it a visual and audible experience to tie the story together as a company. The stage is never empty and it’s gorgeous.
How is it seeing the audience response to the musical and why would you recommend booking tickets?
It’s very refreshing most performances as we rarely know who comes in knowing the story from the film, or the book or even some of the people who had seen the original take on the musical. I find that people who had watched the film take the story in a more humorous tone. So it’s always lovely to have laughs in places we weren’t prepared for. I highly recommend booking tickets to be a part of the community we bring as a cast. It’s so intimate and if you have no idea about the show, you’re taken on such a journey with the music.
What are you most looking forward to for continuing playing Candy at The Watermill Theatre?
I look forward to keep creating imaginary backstories of her life. Sounds quite funny. But it’s nice to have new questions and storylines to build with characters, I find it gives me more to play on each performance.
How was it playing Avatar in LIFT at the Southwark Playhouse earlier this year?
Well, it’s not every day you get to be an internet robot. I loved the challenge of the monotone lines played with a fixed smile. But at the same time, throughout the show, my character especially has an out of “screen” realisation that humans can feel and she wants to be able to do that too, as she felt trapped. It was a great task to jump in and out of different emotions to also being a figure of the ex girlfriend he has to get over.
We understand you performed in a number of tracks in the concert version, how was the experience?
The music is absolutely beautiful and having worked with the gorgeous Sam Young before in my last third year show at ArtsEd (Lysistrata Jones), I was in the safest of hands. I was able to have It’s Been a Year transposed, it was a very chilled vibes concert and it was really fun to sing all together in that scenario. Even having a duet with Luke Friend for Top Of The City was so lovely because in the show we don’t exactly get to have that interaction. Audiences really enjoyed it!
Do you have any stand-out highlights from being part of the cast and the musical?
Press night was a big highlight for me because in my opinion it was our best performance and we had the best reception from the audience it was beautiful and such a proud moment for the cast. We really were like a little family.
Can you tell us about performing in The Witches of Eastwick concert at the Sondheim Theatre as Jennifer?
Getting the call to say that I was going to be in the concert was firstly incredible! I was working alongside icons in the industry and little old me still hasn’t even graduated yet. It was an honour and I had an amazing time! Singing my duet with Alfie Friedman was so beautiful and, although we only rehearsed for a week, the show was amazing. It was just stunning to be singing on a West End stage with a gorgeous orchestra behind me, in front of a sold out audience. Mind blown.
You made your professional debut at the National Theatre with Up Next Gala, what did you enjoy most about working on the event?
The National Theatre is such an insane venue, and when I say insane, it’s in the most positive way! I’d never seen so many moving props and machines all on one stage. There was a reveal for the guests that were going to be waited as they were going to actually have their dinner served on stage, and I was just blown away at how it was thought through. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush the most, because we only got to do it once as a live performance. So I did the dance, sang my song and most importantly I picked up my props. Stephen Mear is the master of choreography and props!
In 2019, you played Ti Moune in Once on This Island for British Theatre Academy, what are some of your favourite memories from this show?
Too many memories come from this show and it will always live so close to my heart. What blew my mind was that I had so many amazing words said about my performance. I think it’s never sunk in. When Rachel John came to see the performance and congratulated me, I couldn’t help my heart beating so fast with black joy. I love that cast and forever will.
Was there anything that inspired you to train at ArtsEd and can you tell us what it was like training and graduating during the pandemic?
I was inspired after I got awarded a scholarship from a dance competition to do the Easter School for a week. I hadn’t a clue what the school was until I walked in there and realised how much I didn’t want to leave. So, I go at sixth form and stay for five years… classic Chrissie. Doing a musical theatre degree online was inevitably going to be difficult. But I think it just helped with understanding my surroundings in isolation once being back at home. So I took it as a time to really connect with what I love and my family getting an insight into what a day at ArtsEd is really like. Thankfully, my third year musicals were out of the pandemic scene and when audiences could come back. I’ll be graduating on the 6th September with a First Class Honours. I’m very happy.
What was it like playing Sandy Cheeks in SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical whilst training?
The experience to be a squirrel doesn’t always come along so I was very glad I had that chance. It was so much fun and actually the hardest lines I’ve probably ever had to learn. Being in a Texan accent and saying many fast scientific facts all at once wasn’t easy, considering I failed miserably in all science GCSEs. But I made it work!
As part of the ArtsEd choir, you performed at the Olivier Awards this year and previously the An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth concert, what were these both like to perform at?
ArtsEd is amazing at giving their students such great experiences. Singing on the Palladium stage with Kristin Chenoweth was in my first year as a sixth former when I had joined. It was an audition to be a part of the choir through sixth form so only a selective few were chosen and it was so incredible. The Olivier Awards was a dream and actually the last thing that I had gotten to do with ArtsEd before I started rehearsals for LIFT. It was the whole of our year group on stage and because we’re all in our final year it felt so moving. Singing Our Time knowing that every last year group at drama school’s time was coming up next was so refreshing.
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
I’ve been a performer ever since I was around four at dance competitions and as soon as I knew it could be a career, I’ve never turned back. I’ve loved what acting can bring into a performance even through dance which was my first love before I even knew I could sing. So when I was training it was always exciting to me to find choices in my character work.
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’ll just say my top three shows are Wicked, Dreamgirls and my guilty pleasure is Shrek the Musical. One of my bestest friends is in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and I can’t wait to go and finally see the show! I also want my childhood refreshed and see Mary Poppins again before it closes because the music is just fabulous!!
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I will be very honest, napping is very beautiful. But of course with the breaks I can have, connecting over food and drinks with family or friends is gorgeous and downtime yoga is something I really enjoy as well. Especially when there’s no rush.
What are you hoping the upcoming year brings for you?
It’s been a very fast, exciting but also crazy few months. To get more downtime as I can to see more family will be a blessing, to be honest. I’ve learnt it’s only best to live in the present. Especially in this industry you don’t know what’s going to come next. So I’m taking it one step at a time for myself and just simply hoping to keep going on a positive career journey. Who knows where it’ll go? That’s what’s exciting.
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