Tiffany Graves Interview – if you’ve got it…flaunt it!

If the West End is the beating heart of the UK Theatre scene, then the National Tour is its lifeblood.

One of this year’s (2015) biggest UK tours is undoubtedly Mel Brooks’ Broadway and West End smash hit, The Producers.

The Producers - keeping it gay around the UK!
The Producers 2015 – keeping it gay across the UK! [Photography: Hugo Glendinning]
There was widespread speculation as to who would lead the cast and we think they’ve got it spot on.

  • Jason Manford (who played Pirelli alongside Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton in Sweeney Todd) is Leo Bloom.
  • Cory English is Max Bialystock. Cory reprises the role which he played in the West End, but more recently London audiences saw Cory in Urinetown as Hot Blades Harry/Old Man Strong.
  • Louie Spence is Carmen Ghia (until 2nd May) – he may be famous for being famous now, but he has Musical Theatre pedigree having appeared in both Cats and the original West End production of Miss Saigon.
  • David Bedella is Roger De Bris – David’s performance as Satan in Jerry Springer The Opera won him the 2004 Best Actor in a Musical Olivier Award.

The cast also includes Ross Noble, Phil Jupitus and the utterly fabulous Tiffany Graves as Ulla. We spoke to Tiffany on the first day of rehearsals.

Congratulations on the Tour – and thanks for taking time to talk to us.

“You are completely welcome. It’s a busy time – but exciting. We have a great team with Matt White directing. We tech in March and then we tour right through until July.”

And you’re playing Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson…quite a mouthful?

(She smiles) Yes – her name needs its own interval. I always longed to play the part. I’d been auditioned by Karen Bruce to play Ulla in Spain, and I was up for the last tour here, but a hectic schedule meant that I couldn’t meet with Susan Stroman which was frustrating. Because of the audition process, I already feel like I know Ulla so it’s not that terrible “first day of school” feeling you get sometimes. And the accent’s not too scary: Ulla needs more of a Swedish lilt – not unlike Hunyak’s Hungarian accent in Chicago. And of course growing up with the Swedish Chef from the Muppets helps. (another smile)

From Chicago to cabaret....and all that jazz.
From Chicago to cabaret….and all that jazz. [Image: Logan Riehl]
Has anything ever gone wrong on stage?

“I’m terrible for getting the giggles. The tiniest thing can set me off…I was onstage in Chicago opposite Linzi Hateley, who was performing Roxie Hart’s “Holy Mary” speech, when she genuflected just a little too enthusiastically  and managed to smear bright red lipstick across half her face. She tried to wipe it off while still mid-speech which just looked funnier and funnier because anything she did just made it worse. In the end it looked like a scene from Carrie. Another time I was on as Charity at the Menier Chocolate Factory. The girl playing Helene had been feeling unwell. I was there, hiding in the wardrobe while Mark Umbers seduced Josefina Gabrielle – meanwhile there’s Helene in the wings with her head in a bucket…and we’d run out of cast to cover for her! Most shows would have more than one cover, but that’s not always possible at the Menier. It was hard enough hearing anything from that wardrobe – I just remember thinking “Ooh…it’s a quiet crowd tonight”. It wasn’t until a stage-hand remembered I was in there that they told me they’d stopped the show and the audience was going home! If it wasn’t for that stagehand I’d probably still be there, on my hands and knees in the closet. God knows how many celebrities I’d have met.”

Do you have a favourite show?

“I adore the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels so I must get around to seeing the stage show. But right now? For me, it’s City of Angels which I saw last week – I loved it. Alaura Kingsley is such an amazing role. And those Cy Coleman songs are just wonderful: The Tennis Song is genius.”

What’s the best thing for you about performing?

I thrive on the variety. Maybe I have a little attention deficit disorder – I’m never doing just one thing! I have a cabaret coming up at the St James Theatre, then The Producers tour and quite often there are concerts and recordings. Last year I performed in Help for Heroes at the Dominion and then had Panto, two shows a day. I just love the fact that I often don’t know what’s next.

Help for Heroes at the Dominion Theatre
Help for Heroes at the Dominion Theatre in 2014 [Image: Claire Bilyard]
You’ve played both West End and the National Theatre – were they very different experiences?

Yes. For starters the National Theatre has such a vast and supportive team in every department. You might be in rehearsal one morning and the director says “I need a daffodil that wilts and then comes back to life”…and someone will run off to the props department and you’ll have it that afternoon. Because of the resources at their disposal, the NT is also meticulous in its accuracy. You’re working with Directors who are completely confident – in rehearsals for NT 50 which was broadcast on BBC2 we worked with Nicholas Hytner. There was a late morning rehearsal – twenty minutes in he said “I’m really happy with the scene, we can run it again if you like or we can break for lunch” – and he meant it – because he was saying “I’m really happy with your work”. That confidence breeds confidence in his actors, and that confidence runs right through the building.”

Do you ever find time for a holiday?

“My perfect scenario would be to have a great job coming up and a gap before it starts. I will change plans if it’s a fantastic opportunity, although I recently got married and the Honeymoon was one holiday I definitely wouldn’t cancel!”

Congratulations – where was the honeymoon?

We jetted off to St Lucia, which was utterly amazing. Ten blissful days – then flew straight back, landed at 7.30am and at 10am I was in rehearsal for Panto!

And you mentioned have a cabaret coming up?

“Yes, with Anita Louise Combe – Desperate Divas. Anita and I have a mutual contact through appearing in Chicago, Tom Wakeley. Although we appeared in the show at different times, Tom played on the show and asked us both a couple of years back if we’d team up. Anita and I got talking over a glass of wine about the trials of internet dating, apps and chaps…and it turns out, out of the tens of thousands of eligible men in London, we’d both dated the same guy! It was through that conversation, and chatting about how technology was taking over the dating world (plus figuring there must be a bigger pool of decent men out there) that we formed the idea for Desperate Divas.

Desperate Divas - with Anita Louise Combe
Desperate Divas – with Anita Louise Combe coming to the St James Theatre

I wasn’t always married! The subject matter does lend itself nicely to the things we all worry about – the start of a new relationship… Do I text? How soon? If I don’t call will they run off…..NO I won’t text…and even worse now is that you can see if they’ve been online…and, oh God, they haven’t messaged you! We’re all turning into stalkers!”

There must be a whole lot of songs about the search for love?

“We’ve mainly looked at duets. That does mean a lot more rehearsing – it’s harder to perfect with the two of us; breaks, intonation, picking up from one another. But there are some great shows to choose from, like “I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change” and songs with some cheeky word changes, like “Sisters” from White Christmas. It’s good to have at least a couple of tunes people know but to play about with the lyrics.”

Effortlessly tuneful - with a wicked sense of comedy (This Is Cabaret)
“Effortlessly tuneful – with a wicked sense of comedy” This Is Cabaret {Image: Piers Photography]

Where else do you look for inspiration?

“I spend hours listening for something fresh and interesting – thank God for Spotify! I adore new work and when I find an artist I really admire I do like to see what they’ve found too. Sometimes you’ll unearth a relatively unknown composer and hear a great song they’ve put out. Then it’s a matter of writing to them – often there’s no sheet music available. A great example is Michael Bruce, who has an album called Unwritten Songs. Sarah Lark sings a fantastic number called I Want A Man, all about writing a dating profile – exactly what I want in Cabaret! We hope to see lots of people there for what will be a fabulous night. It’s an intimate space with roughly 100 seats, so book now! Right then- I’d best head back to rehearsals! We’re setting ‘That Face’ with Jason Manford at the moment and it’s Strictly Come Dancing- tastic! Bye!!


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