Having started his stage career at a young career, most recently, Jake Bailey has joined the cast of MAMMA MIA! at the Novello Theatre in the West End as Pepper, and is looking forward to continuing in the role, with the show currently booking until 30th September 2023. Before the pandemic, Jake was playing IQ in Hairspray at the Gaiety Theatre, and he was previously in the original cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical as Bruce Bogtrotter at Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and the West End transfer at the Cambridge Theatre, and early in his career, he was in the cast of Oliver! in the West End and Cyprus. With screen experience, Jake played Josh in episodes of So Awkward, played Jack Smith in Call the Midwife for the first three series, and he worked on Tracey Breaks the News, Casualty and The Sparticle Mystery. For Jake’s training, he received a scholarship for Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts and graduated in 2020. We caught up with Jake about playing Pepper in the West End production of MAMMA MIA!, his time as Bruce Bogtrotter in the original cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical and filming for Call the Midwife as Jack Smith.
You have recently joined the West End cast of MAMMA MIA! at the Novello Theatre as Pepper, was there anything that drew you to the role and what is the character like to play?
MAMMA MIA! is a show that I’ve always wanted to be a part of. The music is just classic, and Pepper is also a great part – he’s a cheeky chap full of charisma, fun and comedy, which is something I love to portray. He also has a great dance track too. I’m able to perform all three disciplines of performing in depth at a required high standard which always keeps my brain thinking and ticking to better each show and make it truthful. Pepper has a fair few similar traits to me too, so it’s great fun to give a heightened version of myself.
How did you feel finding out you’d booked the role and how has it been returning to the West End?
When I booked the job, I sobbed, it was relief and excitement and every single emotion in one. I’d worked so hard, and with lockdown it was so hard to see and visualise where my career was going so being able to see that I was about to play such an incredible part in a fun-filled show for a year was great. Telling my family and best friends after going through the ups and downs was just gorgeous. Returning to the West End has been a completely different experience, as a kid I would only do three shows a week and do standby two days a week. Now doing all eight shows a week and knowing that this is your career is a rewarding and incredible feeling. Everything that I’d worked for, and this was the breakthrough. The “what do you want to be when you’re older” question suddenly feels so achieved. I am constantly super grateful and proud to be able to call my job work.
What is the show like to be part of and what do you enjoy most about performing the ABBA music?
The show is nothing but high energy and great vibes as soon as the music starts, the feeling is just electric, and you cannot help but get a rush of excitement and feel so buzzing.
How is it working with the rest of the cast and what was it like preparing for your opening night?
The rest of the cast are so talented and inspiring, and you learn so much from them. It’s such a supportive and fun environment. They’re so amazing and have such great energies which is only contagious which creates a great atmosphere on stage. It’s great to be a part of something where it is like a party every single night with your best mates. Preparing for opening night we had five weeks of rehearsals, and everyone has different ways to prep and have pre-show rituals. I just ensured I had learnt my lines before rehearsals so I had room to figure different deliveries throughout the process and learnt my harmonies and routines as well as I could so that I could be in the best possible place for tech/dress rehearsals to feel confident for opening.
What are you looking forward to for continuing your run in MAMMA MIA! and how is it seeing the audience response to the musical?
Seeing the audience’s reaction each night provides such a buzz. The adrenaline throughout is insane but when the roar from the audience hits you, sometimes it leaves you speechless. I can’t wait throughout the contract to see and perform alongside everyone and see them all do their tracks and understudies. One thing I always look forward to is having family and friends in. To show them that the whole journey and their support has helped me get where I am. Looking at my family, friends, agent, every time I bow is just a feeling you can’t explain.
In 2019, you played IQ in Hairspray at the Gaiety Theatre, can you tell us about your time in the show?
When I was in Hairspray I was still at college, it was my first professional credit from college and was the first time as an adult I’d been away from home for a period of time for a job. It was a month, and due to a quick rehearsal process, it taught me a lot about how to cope with the workload and being on your best game ready and prepared to continue the next day. Hairspray, again, is a great, fun show and I also had friends in the cast with me which automatically just makes it that extra bit special and fun.
You played Bruce Bogtrotter in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical in Stratford-upon-Avon and the West End transfer at the Cambridge Theatre, what was it like performing as Bruce at both theatres?
Both theatres and experiences were so different. The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon was in a three-side thrust so was a completely new experience for me and was a great learning curve. To then transfer to a proscenium arch at the Cambridge was something and I still remember seeing the set for the first time and that was really something. Both experiences were very different because it was a different layout of the stage and therefore direction was slightly different but both amazing.
What are some of your stand-out highlights from being part of the original cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical?
A stand-out moment will always be that I was the first ever Bruce. To originate a role and be in a creative space where we created a show that has been such a phenomenon worldwide is really rewarding. Also, getting to eat cake every show was quite the benefit!
Early in your career, you performed in Oliver! in the West End and in Cyprus, what do you remember most from working on this production?
Both productions were very different. Oliver! in the West End was my first West End show and I remember walking onto Drury Lane’s stage and just being like, ‘what is my life?’. As a small ten year old, being on one of the biggest stages in the West End was just breathtaking. Also, being a part of such a large-scale production was brilliant, the set was mind-blowing and the company was full of people I could look up to. The Cyprus production was my first experience in an Amphitheatre and as we were out there for a week it was almost like a holiday. We would have school tutoring in the morning, pool time in the afternoon and a show in the evening! It was brilliant and, again, a huge learning curve as I had never performed in that type of theatre before.
On screen, you played Josh in episodes of Series 2 of So Awkward for CBBC, how was this?
When playing Josh in So Awkward, I was able to reunite with one of my friends from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical (Cleo Demetriou) so being able to do this with her was great fun. It was a short shoot, but it was a great job and always good to challenge myself into being a character who was further removed from my own personality.
Can you tell us about filming as Jack Smith in Call the Midwife and do you have any favourite memories from working on the first three series?
Where do I even begin? Call the Midwife is so special to me, it was my first big television gig and I was able to be a colleague to some incredible people who I’d used as inspiration in the past. It was my first proper experience in the filming world due to being a regular in the show. It was nice to share it with my mum and nan as they would chaperone me. I remember once, Miranda (Hart) accidentally dropped her belt down the toilet before going on set and that was a comedy highlight. The whole show was good fun and as a big Christmas fan being able to film Christmas scenes in the middle of the year was a fantastic excuse to put Christmas songs on! It was a great challenge for me as I had some great storylines to get involved with which challenged my acting ability which taught me so much at a young age.
Over your career, you’ve filmed for several other projects including episodes of Tracey Breaks the News, Casualty and The Sparticle Mystery, can you say about some of them?
A couple of these jobs were all my first jobs as an “Adult” in the industry. This meant I no longer needed a chaperone, so I was travelling to Manchester, Wales, and different locations on my own. Each of these jobs were great, they were short jobs but, again, all were very different. The Sparticle Mystery was something very quick but a very well-respected programme so was fun to be a part of and to play a dad at a young age was quite funny. Tracey Breaks the News was my first sketch show/comedy shoot which is one of my favourite types of acting. I had one sketch which was just where I would reveal the lies of my “dad” and he ended up being pushed in a lake. Then Casualty was a little longer, but my storyline was good, I had to focus on the deterioration of my character through the illness, which was something I really learnt a lot from. It was also the first time I had a prosthetic made which I do have at home so there is a model of my hand just sitting in the dining room!
Was there anything that encouraged you to train at Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts and how was your time there before graduating in 2020?
I knew a few people who had trained there before and knew they gained a lot from it. As any 18 year old does, I auditioned for a lot of the colleges, but I was lucky enough to get the scholarship at Conti and studied there where I made the most amazing friends and am very grateful for the opportunities and people I met along the way. One of them being my agent which, without her, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now!
We understand you’ve also worked on pantomimes and commercials, what are these like to do?
Commercials are good fun, depending on what they are, I’ve done a voiceover one which was the quickest job ever, I think it took about 20 minutes! And then other ones I have done involved dancing which was good fun for me to do as I love dancing. It also allowed me to be creative. Also, on all these jobs you meet some incredible people. The industry is so huge but also everyone knows everyone so you’ll nine times out of ten know someone.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you get into it?
The story told, I apparently went to see the Tweenies on stage when I was four or five and said to my mum “I want to go up there” so she signed me up for Stagecoach locally where I then started and immediately fell in love with it. There’s a fair few videos of me when I was a toddler being a drama queen, singing and dancing constantly, so I think my family guessed from pretty early on! I then did a lot of am dram and one of them I played Oliver in Oliver! and was lucky enough to meet Kara Tointon, who said I should audition for Sylvia Young’s Agency, which I did and got in. From there I then just auditioned for professional jobs and that’s how my career began!
Do you have any favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from your career?
My favourite films normally relate to musicals or Disney. I’m a sucker for a romcom but also love a bit of action, to be fair. Things like Clouds, Five Feet Apart and Coco are my big criers! I’m a big Harry Potter fan too! But anything musical and Disney is always a winner. Television-wise, I love a series I can binge-watch – Gavin & Stacey, I’m a Celebrity and Peaky Blinders are my go-to! When it comes to shows, I am quite the theatre geek, so I will always see whatever I can and I listen to musicals most of the time. It doesn’t matter what your mood is, there’s a musical cast recording ready for you! Apart from work, I love following sport, I’m a big Arsenal fan but also love golf, F1 and cricket. I’m always up for watching a sporting event. I also love cooking and eating. Cooking can be so therapeutic, and who doesn’t love a massive scran!
Have you been given any advice over your time as an actor so far that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a young actor starting out?
One piece of advice I was given was “What’s meant for you won’t pass you by” and I was told that when auditioning for MAMMA MIA!. It’s really stuck with me and really does make a huge amount of sense. Also, I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason and will always find you at the right time. Remember, life is like an arrow, you have to go back to be flung forward. If I was to give advice to anyone starting out, it’s to take every comment and use it, if it’s positive, use it to build confidence, if it’s negative, use it as motivation to better yourself. If you want it, just work for it. Good things come to those who wait and if you work hard enough it’ll happen! Also, no matter what anyone says, NEVER give up!
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