Liza Sadovy

📷 : Ross Ferguson

Most recently on stage, Liza Sadovy has been performing as Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! at the Young Vic, and she will be reprising the role when the musical returns to London in 2023 at the Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End. Previously, Liza had been playing Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club in London alongside a cast including Eddie Redmayne, Jessie Buckley and Omari Douglas, and she won Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of the character at this year’s Olivier Awards, and it’s been announced a live recording of the musical will be released in early January. Amongst her many theatre roles, Liza has played Miss Erikson and Lady Saltburn in Present Laughter at The Old Vic with Andrew Scott, Blaise Gibson in I’m Not Running at the National Theatre (with both being broadcast on NT Live), Yente in Fiddler on the Roof at the Chichester Festival Theatre and Madame Morrible in Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. On screen, Liza is set to play Mrs Maisie Tolliver in the upcoming series of Outlander, and she has recently finished work on A Small Light for Disney+, and her guest appearances include The Sarah Jane Adventures, Midsomer Murders and Ricky Gervais’ Extras. Answering our questions, Liza talks about playing Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!, her time at the Kit Kat Club as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret and being in the cast of Present Laughter at The Old Vic.

You have recently finished your run in Oklahoma! at the Young Vic as Aunt Eller, what was the role like to play and how was it being part of the company?

Yes, I finished the run at the Young Vic in Oklahoma! in June this year. It was a really interesting production and fantastic to be part of because it’s been completely re-realised by directors Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein. Aunt Eller, who I play, is tough, sometimes brutal but also soft, sexual and slightly irreverent. She is also non-judgemental and the heart of the community.

What was it like seeing the audience response to the show at the Young Vic and why would you recommend seeing the musical when it opens in the West End at the Wyndham’s Theatre next year?

At the Young Vic we were flanked by the audience either side and it felt like they were part of the community because they were fully lit just like us. The fact that some people walked out because they were not getting what they expected delighted me. I love controversial productions. Mostly, people were gobsmacked that a show they knew very, very well had been realised in such a different way. The script is virtually unchanged (apart from a couple of little edits here and there) and it’s almost inconceivable that you can do something so different with something so familiar and traditional.

Because of this, I’d strongly recommend people go and see Oklahoma! in the West End. They’re not going to have seen anything quite like it! It’s at the Wyndham’s Theatre and we open for previews on 16th February and then I think for press on the 28th February.

Was there anything you enjoyed most about performing in Oklahoma! as Aunt Eller?

You have little moments within the show where you go, ‘I really love this bit’ and there are moments where you go, ‘oh god, this is too hard’ or ‘I can’t wait for this bit to be over’, but all in all I really enjoyed realising this particular Aunt Eller.

Prior to Oklahoma!, you were playing Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret, was there anything that originally drew you to the production at the Kit Kat Club?

I left my heart at the Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse when I left on March 19th this year. Eddie Redmayne, Jessie Buckley, Omari Douglas and myself all left at the same time. It’s possibly one of the most extraordinary jobs I’ve ever done! And after two years of COVID theatre closures, it couldn’t really get much better than to be offered the finest part, in my opinion, Fraulein Schneider, in the finest production of the piece, possibly ever in my lifetime, in the most beautiful theatre, with the most staggeringly talented people, with the most amazing director, designer, choreographer, MD – you name it. Everyone was just at the top of their game, you just couldn’t get luckier. Everything drew me to this production at the Kit Kat Club.

Your portrayal of Fraulein Schneider won you the Best Supporting Actress in a Musical at this year’s Olivier Awards, how did this feel?

It was lovely to get Best Supporting Actress in a Musical at this year’s Olivier Awards. It makes you feel not so invisible anymore. I don’t think I am terribly invisible in this business because I’ve been around so long you can’t miss me, but to be picked out in the part I have possibly loved the best, in the production I am so proud of, feels great! Although it shouldn’t really matter because the work is what’s important, it is indeed a very nice experience. And a great excuse to dress up to the nines.

Do you have any stand-out highlights from your time in Cabaret that you can tell us about?

There are no stand-out highlights because the whole job was a stand-out highlight!! But having said that, if I’m honest, I loved singing the song ‘What Would You Do?’. In my personal opinion, Kander and Ebb are the finest musical theatre writers of the 20th century. I’m sure that might upset some Sondheim fans but let’s face it, Sondheim is brilliant but Kander and Ebb are just above and beyond. ‘What Would You Do?’, which is one of the finest acting songs I’ve ever had the pleasure to sing, was a stand-out moment for me, and the scene around it too. I loved it to bits.

📷 : Ross Ferguson

What was it like playing Miss Erikson and Lady Saltburn in Present Laughter at The Old Vic and Blaise Gibson in I’m Not Running at the National Theatre?

Present Laughter was such a surprise. It was such an interesting, modern take on the fabulous Noël Coward play, and what was so gorgeous was that both characters I played were so fantastically different from each other. We made Lady Saltburn a generation older than she’s written, we made her about 90 so there was some fantastically course acting on my behalf in a wheelchair! Miss Erikson was also deeply eccentric. I think she is definitely slightly autistic and doesn’t really get what made people tick, but she was very honest and straight. I love working in different accents and getting their rhythms right. I’m rubbish at languages but good at accents!

I’m Not Running at the National Theatre was David Hare’s latest play at the time. I love playing alcoholics, don’t ask me why, I just do! I love playing messy people, and Blaise Gibson certainly was a messy person. I loved the company. We were so fortunate to have the wonderful director Neil Armfield over from Australia, who runs the Adelaide Festival and, amongst many other things, he directs a lot of operas. He directed Brett Dean’s Hamlet at the Glyndebourne rather brilliantly, so I loved working with him.

How was it having Present Laughter and I’m Not Running broadcast live to cinemas?

They were both broadcast on NT Live. Watching them is a very painful process. I couldn’t resist watching them but it was very painful, but hey, you get paid, so that’s good! It was particularly rewarding with Present Laughter because Andrew Scott is so popular that it kept getting repeated and repeated, so thank you Andrew, you certainly augmented my money box that year! With filmed comedies, however, very often the downside is that the director doesn’t always put the camera in the right place for the laugh line. Most irritating!!!

In 2017, you played Yente in Fiddler on the Roof, how was your time performing in the show at the Chichester Festival Theatre?

I thought it was a very fine production directed by Daniel Evans. It was dark and honest. Frustratingly, I wish there was more to Yente actually but it is still a great fun part. It was delightful to be part of that production and yet more classy artists to work with, like in all the productions that I’ve mentioned, just working with the cream of this business.

Can you tell us about playing Madame Morrible in Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre and what was she like to play?

WICKED is the first what I would call big commercial musical that I’ve ever done, and I did love it. Thanks to dear Miriam Margolyes, I had the ‘number one’ dressing room. At some points during the show, you cannot use the lift because they’re keeping it for another reason, like maybe getting one of the other artists down in a hurry after a quick change or something, so consequently the Morrible has to be in the dressing room nearest to the stage. This is because they never know how old the actress playing Morrible will end up being from one year to the next and how flexible and agile she will be. Miriam probably wasn’t keen on going up three floors worth of steps so she got the number one dressing room and it’s like a small apartment! I did the show for two years and although I don’t think I could do that again, I did enjoy it. It was quite nice to have a regular job and regular money.

You’ve been involved with numerous projects over the years as a stage actor so far, can you tell us about your favourite memories from some of the shows?

Where do I start? Just getting the work. Whenever I get a part, I always go ‘I don’t know, I don’t know if I can play this but let’s give it a go’, and I suppose the best part is when you actually do manage to crack it, and sometimes you don’t. I was playing the part of the stage manager, Madge, in The Dresser with Nicholas Lyndhurst and Julian Glover, it was directed by Sir Peter Hall and I couldn’t get that part right before the first night, I felt absolutely awful. I got there just before we hit the West End. Oh my goodness, that was a skin of the teeth moment, and the stupid thing is it’s actually an easy part! I also worked for a company called Music Theatre London, who used to do operas with actors who could sing in a classical manner. I played one of the best parts I’ve ever played namely Suzanna in The Marriage of Figaro. I mean, when I left drama college, did I ever think I would be in a Mozart opera? No. But Suzanna is such fun, and it was a beautifully realised production directed by the brilliant Nicholas Broadhurst. I have so many good memories of working with Alan Ayckbourn in Scarborough. And also, doing Company at the Donmar Warehouse directed by Sam Mendes, with wonderful people – Sophie Thompson, Adrian Lester, the late and brilliant Sheila Gish, Anna Francolini, Clive Rowe, Rebecca Front, Michael Simkins, Gareth Snook, Clare Burt… the list goes on and on. Just brilliant, brilliant people.

On screen, you play the recurring role of Mrs Maisie Tolliver in Outlander, what is it like on set of the show and how would you describe your character?

Oh, I love playing Maisie Tolliver in Outlander. It’s such a classy thing. Claire is in jail and Mrs Tolliver, who I play, runs the jail with her husband. I can’t say too much because it’s not been transmitted yet. She’s tough but fair, like an aggressive little terrier, and nobody really intimidates her much… although somebody tries to!

📷 : Ross Ferguson

How is it having guest roles in shows such as Ridley Road, Vera, The Sarah Jane Adventures and Midsomer Murders?

I really loved The Sarah Jane Adventures and Midsomer Murders. In The Sarah Jane Adventures, I play a rather meek assistant at an art gallery called Miss Trupp. The fans will probably have seen all of them, so I don’t think there’s any spoiler in saying that they are housing the Mona Lisa at this art gallery and the Mona Lisa turns out to be an absolute monster. She escapes from the painting and she replaces herself with my character, which is quite funny actually and makes me laugh.

In Midsomer Murders, I had a wonderful part, Rosetta. She’s a psychic and holds meetings summoning up the dead, “I have somebody here called Martin. Does anybody know somebody called Martin?”. She’s a bit of a con woman and I really enjoyed that. I was very lucky because I wore stunning clothes from Armani and Nicole Farhi, and the BBC sold me the lot for about a quarter of the price! So that was an absolute bonus! I loved that.

Another favourite was playing Jackie Greer in Ricky Gervais’ Extras, the Ben Stiller one.

Having been in the cast of a number of films including The Knot and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, do you have a favourite aspect of working on films?

My very favourite film and the one I’ve enjoyed the most is called Disobedience. It stars Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, and it’s about a girl who’s escaped a very strict Jewish community and gone to New York and then her father dies and she comes back to go to the funeral and then a whole bunch of stuff happens. You have to see it. I played Rebbetzin Goldfarb, a very traditional Orthodox Jew – it was a lovely part, small but gorgeous.

With Sweeney Todd, we were literally only recording the chorus, and then they asked us to mime to our recording. We arrived there on the shoot day and then we were informed that Tim Burton had cut the chorus, so we just ended up as glorified extras. Ah well.

We understand you have recorded plays and poetry readings for the BBC, what are these like to do?

I worked for the BBC Radio Rep a few times actually earlier in my career and I think I’ve done over about 200 plays and poetry recordings. Prior to this, I had never really felt comfortable reading poetry but having done so much I became a little bit more comfortable with it and I’m really glad I had that opportunity. I was a regular on the BBC World Service soap Westway, no longer on, and I was also a regular on a radio programme called Something Understood, which was a wonderful programme on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at about 11pm, but that’s been discontinued as well, which is a shame. I was also in What the Papers Say for BBC Radio 4, which, again, was discontinued very foolishly, I think, because it was a rather brilliant format.

Where does your love of performing come from and how did you get into it?

I don’t know where my love of performing comes from. Let me put it this way, I started acting because I wanted to show off but eventually this segued to a different reason. To quote Mr Shakespeare, I now wish to ‘hold the mirror up to nature’. I want to say look, we do that, don’t we? It’s pretty disgusting. Or look, we do this, isn’t it amazing? Aren’t human beings complex? Aren’t they ugly? Aren’t they beautiful?

Sheridan Morely interviewed me once and said, “when did you decide to become an actress?”, and I said I didn’t know there was a choice!! So I didn’t ever consider anything else, to be honest.

What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch and how do you like to spend your free time?

I have really enjoyed watching Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. They were great. I happened to be in Albuquerque and I did the locations tour of Breaking Bad. That was brilliant. I’ve also recently watched The Great, which is a brilliant piece with Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning. I love RuPaul’s Drag Race and I’m also watching The Morning Show and Slow Horses on Apple TV+ starring Gary Oldman. It’s from a series of books about Jackson Lamb and they are disgraced members of MI5 who have been booted out for one reason or another. It’s sort of black comedy and it’s so good. There are going to be about five or six series of it because there are so many books, and I’ve read nearly all of them. My favourite classic films are Withnail and I, Amadeus and Dangerous Liaisons. And, of course – Cabaret.

Theatre – Billie Piper in Yerma, and The Scottsboro Boys (Kander and Ebb again), both at the Young Vic, were stunning. I saw The P Word at the Bush Theatre recently and that was wonderful. I really enjoyed The Doctor, Derren Brown’s SHOWMAN and also a really absurdist surreal piece by Frank McGuinness at the Arcola Theatre called Breakfast with Groucho. It had rubbish reviews but it was absolutely amazing. I don’t think the critics got it. Mind you, they didn’t get Waiting for Godot when it was first produced!

Spare time includes yoga, reading, gardening, going to see plays and opera and hanging out with friends. I attempted to learn to speak Czech but……

Do you have any upcoming plans that you can tell us about?

I have just finished filming a wonderful piece in Prague for Disney+ called A Small Light starring Bel Powley and Joe Cole about a woman called Miep Gies, who was the person who found harbour for Anne Frank and her family, the van Pels and for her dentist as well. They all lived in the famous attic in Amsterdam. Miep Gies was a resistance fighter in Nazi Holland and I play her landlady, a Jewish lady called Mrs. Stoppelman, who went through war as a Jew in a so-called neutral country, who must have thought she’d entered hell. I won’t tell you any more about that, you can watch it on Disney+ when it comes out, I’m guessing around spring next year.

The live recording of Cabaret is going to be released on vinyl – (Limited Editions), CD and streaming online early January so look out for that!

I now have a lovely month off and then we start rehearsing again to take Oklahoma! into the West End in early January.

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