Having made her West End debut as Matilda in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical at the Cambridge Theatre in 2019, Tilly-Raye Bayer returned to the show earlier this year to reprise her role for a second run. During her original run, Tilly-Raye performed at the Hamleys Christmas window unveiling, and in 2020, she performed in The Show Must Go On concert at the Palace Theatre as one of the Matildas while the musical was closed due to the pandemic. Last year, Tilly-Raye was in the original West End cast of FROZEN the Musical at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, in which she originated the London role of Young Elsa alongside a cast including Samantha Barks as Elsa. Tilly-Raye is set to star as an iconic character in a new Netflix release, and she has been announced to play Young Tonia in Doctor Zhivago at the London Palladium next year. We caught up with Tilly-Raye about her time as Matilda in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical, performing at The Show Must Go On concert during the pandemic and originating Young Elsa in FROZEN the Musical in the West End.
You have recently finished performing as Matilda in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical, what was Matilda like to play and what did you enjoy most about being part of the production?
Playing Matilda was an absolute dream come true! She is a much more complex character than you might first think, and I really enjoyed learning about her as a character and then portraying her. There are so many things I loved about being part of this production, but I think all the amazing people I got to work with and the friends I made really made it super special.
How did you find the experience returning to the show having originally played Matilda before the pandemic and what was it like getting back into character?
It was amazing to be able to return to play the role of Matilda and I feel hugely grateful to have been given the opportunity to have a proper finish to my run, which I didn’t get when I left after my first run due to COVID. Getting back into character wasn’t too difficult because it’s almost a part of me so it was just finding it again. It felt like I had never left.
How was it seeing the audience response to the musical and did you have a favourite scene or song to perform?
The final bow was one of my favourite moments, seeing the audience’s reaction was the most incredible feeling and seeing the joy the show has brought the audience is one of the main reasons I love performing. My favourite song to perform was Quiet because I love the song and the meaning behind it. I always found it incredible that I was able to hold the audience’s attention for so long with utter silence, especially at a point so far into the show.
What was it like making your West End debut at the Cambridge Theatre and do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role?
Although I felt a little nervous, they were good nerves, and my opening night really was the most amazing night. The Cambridge Theatre is such a quirky little theatre, it really is a special place. I remember when my mum told me that I had been cast in the role. I was actually at another audition and obviously you are not allowed to say anything, so when my mum was on the phone, I sort of got the gist of the conversation and she subtly nodded at me and smiled, and I just knew.
During the pandemic, you performed at The Show Must Go On concert at the Palace Theatre as one of the Matildas, how was this?
Performing at The Show Must Go On was both incredible and a little sad. Sharing the stage with West End royalty such as Mazz Murray and Bonnie Langford was totally insane. It was also the first time I had performed with Carly Thoms as Miss Honey and other Matildas! Additionally, it was the first time back on stage after all the theatres had shut because of COVID, so it was very emotional and at the time I thought that it was my very final performance as Matilda so there were lots of tears!
Do you have any favourite memories from your time in the cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical over the years that you can tell us about?
Obviously one of my favourite performances was my opening night. The atmosphere was incredible and knowing so many people were in the audience supporting me just made it so special. I also really loved performing at Hamleys at the Christmas window unveiling. It was great fun and amazing to be able to perform something from the show in a different setting than to the theatre. In my second run it must be the relaxed performance and my final show which was also the final show of many of the cast I had started with in 2019!
Last year, you were part of the original West End cast of FROZEN the Musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, was there anything that drew you to the role of Young Elsa and what do you remember from your first performance in the show?
In a weird way, Elsa and Matilda are quite similar. They are both complex and complicated characters with powers that they were dealing with at such a young age. I also loved Frozen when I was younger and remember when it came out and it was always the film of choice at the end of the school day! I remember my first performance vividly. It wasn’t an official performance as it was pre-opening night, but the theatre was full and the atmosphere was electric!
What was it like rehearsing for the West End premiere and how was it originating the role of Young Elsa in London?
Rehearsals were really fun, and everyone was lovely and very supportive of one another. It was very different from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical in that we were encouraged to put our own spin on the character. However, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical is very specific and rigid in how they want the character to be portrayed. It still feels totally bizarre to think I was a small part of the original cast.
How was it working with the rest of the cast, which includes Samantha Barks as Elsa, and do you have any stand-out highlights from working on the musical?
The whole of the FROZEN cast were all so lovely! The full cast was pretty large, but they all really made the effort to include the kids. One of my stand-out moments was during a tech run and Samantha Barks was chatting away to me and let me hold her orb and sceptre.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I have always loved going to the theatre and one day I went to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical and just realised I really wanted to be on that stage! I used to go to a little drama group after school and they suggested I got an agent. I soon auditioned for Stagebox and everything fell into place from there really.
Can you tell us about your training, and do you have a favourite aspect of being an actor?
I train with Stagebox, which is hard work but so much fun! I also do LAMDA with The Theatre Coach. I think my favourite aspect of being an actor is the thought that I (hopefully) bring joy to those who are watching.
Have you been given any advice over your career so far that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a young actor making their West End debut?
I have been given lots of advice but something that I think I would pass on is remember that no one is perfect or a robot. In live theatre especially, things happen and it doesn’t always go to plan. It’s the way you deal with it that counts. As a wonderful director once said to me “cut and continue”. Believe in yourself, try your best and enjoy absolutely every moment.
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?
That is a very difficult question to answer because there are so many! Some of my favourites are MAMMA MIA!, Back to the Future, Heathers and SIX. Shows I haven’t managed to see yet that I really want to are Hamilton and Moulin Rouge!.
It’s been announced you will be starring as an iconic character in a new Netflix release, what are you most looking forward to for starting the project?
I am really looking forward to tackling a new and exciting character, who is quite different from those I have portrayed so far! I am also looking forward to working with some very exciting people in a totally different environment to which I am used to!
What are you hoping the upcoming year brings for you?
I hope that I get the opportunity to carry on doing what I love!
Follow Tilly-Raye on: