Since sitting down with Jason Gardiner, Harriet Thorpe, Kim Maresca & Lara Denning during rehearsals for Ruthless! The Musical, we’ve also had a chat with Tracie Bennett about the show, how she got into showbusiness and her recent Olivier Award nomination.
Having won the Oliver Award for Best Supporting Role in a Musical not once but twice, for her work in She Loves Me and Hairspray, she is nominated for the award again after playing Carlotta in the all–star production of Follies at the National Theatre last year. As well as her extensive stage experience, she is also known for her roles in Coronation Street and Shirley Valentine.
Ruthless! tells the story of talented 8-year-old Tina Denmark, who will do anything to get the lead role in her school play. It’s camp cult classic with an all-female cast of characters, Bennett plays Rita Encore, a theatre critic and Tina’s grandmother, and brings the house down every night with her hilarious rendition of ‘I Hate Musicals’.
Ruthless! is all about Tina getting the part in her school play. Were you part of any school productions when you were younger?
I didn’t do many at all, actually. I do remember one, I was in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a Christmas show, and I had to audition, but I was only about seven. I didn’t even know what an audition was back then, we didn’t have The X Factor or of those programmes. I had to pretend to be scared in a forest, sleep and talk to something that wasn’t there. And i got the part! A boy called Jeffrey Lane got the Prince, and we kind of fancied each other in our little way, so we just went bright red everytime we looked at each other, but we always kept in character, which was good. My mum made this dress and it was a perfect copy of the one from the film, it had all the puffed sleeves and everything. So thanks mum!
Have you ever done anything ‘ruthless’ to get a part?
Oh, god no! Never!
How did you get into acting?
I wanted to be a stuntwoman. I didn’t even want to be an actor, really. I was a musician at first, I loved it, but it didn’t really like me back. I went to train at Italia Conti, because they did fencing and stuff there. I was sporty and gymnastic and a dancer, but it was them that spotted I could be an actor, so they moved me over to that class. I got Coronation Street quite early, so I used the money I earned there to train up to do stunts, because it was expensive. But then of course, they found out I was jumping off buildings and flying aeroplanes and stuff, and I didn’t know anything about insurance. They said “Your’e a major character in Coronation Street. You might die!”, I thought “nah, I’ll be fine”, but it wasn’t about me, it was about them, the producers. So I had to make a decision, between acting and stunting, but I was under contract to Corrie so I had to choose that, but I only needed three more hours training and would have got my pilot’s licence!
How does it feel to be nominated for another Olivier Award?
Oh, stop it, another one! Well, it’s always fabulous, isn’t it? I don’t know how they do it. The material everyone gets nominated for is so different, it’s apples and oranges isn’t it. It’s up for grabs because everybody’s amazing. To me, it’s a gift of encouragement. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m on the right track, so this is really to be cherished. I was so scared of my part [in Follies], it’s only a bit, but I was scared of it because of all the icons. It’s one of the biggest iconic musical theatre songs of all time, Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr’s dont it, they’ve all recorded it, they’ve done the big galas, all the big icons have sung it, and then there’s me! So it was psychologically hard, I won’t lie. And Dominic Cooke was a genius and set it somewhere that opened it up and made me shout and sing to 1971. He opened it up in that way that we went through every single line, and it took a long time for me to assimilate all that, and my research was into the Nixon era, she was a movie star, had she been hassled by the men in that time? And Vietnam, just being American at that time. And that’s what I love, that research, using history to inform what you might want or not want. I had a great time doing it, hard though it was. It was just keeping it maintained and truthful, and quite painful sometimes. Sometimes I’d sing it and get a lump in my throat, and I’d be like “Stop it! Control yourself!” cos you’ve got another half to get through, but I love that challenge, that you’ve got something to aim for every night, but it was scary being left alone with that number.
Back to Ruthless!, why should people come and see the show?
It seems at first to just be about this talented little girl, but then each and every one of those characters has this “me, me, me” ruthless kind of quality to them. Which is just like the current me, me, me cultures, literally, getting selfish with the selfies. It’s hilarious, and Jason Gardiner is hilarious in it, but there’s a truth in it. It’s not just laugh-a-second, it’s got a lot of truth in it, but I can’t say much without giving it away, there’s so many twists in it. Just come for the joy of it, and watching how each character might make you think again about certain things.
Ruthless! The Musical is currently running at the Arts Theatre, booking until 23rd June 2018. To find out if Tracie wins her third Olivier Award, keep your eyes on our Twitter, we’ll be live-tweeting from the awards ceremony on Sunday 8th April.
Tickets are available here.
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