Friday, 28 June 2019

INTERVIEW: Lara Denning, currently in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 at the Ambassadors Theatre

Lara Denning is currently playing Miss Elf and Doreen Slater in the West End transfer of the new musical, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4, having previously been in the production at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Her other credits include Mrs Wormwood & Miss Honey in Matilda (West End), Louise and Eve in Ruthless the Musical (Arts Theatre, London), Mrs Cratchit in Scrooge the Musical (Curve Theatre), Mrs Bucket in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (West End), The Rocky Horror Show (European Tour), All the Fun of the Fair (UK Tour), You Don’t Bring Me Flowers (UK Tour), Dirty Dancing in Concert (UK Tour), Can Can (Sadlers Wells, London) and Grease (Cyprus).

You’re in the West End transfer of the new musical, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4. Tell us a bit about the show.

It’s based on the book THE SECRET DIARY OF ADRIAN MOLE AGED 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend. It’s about a year in the life of a quirky teenager in the 1980’s (1981 to be exact). He is going through puberty and starting to like girls, whilst his parents are going through a crisis in their marriage and he emotes through this diary how he’s feeling. It’s a VERY funny show. We were all teenagers once and we remember going through puberty, first loves and how everything felt like a huge deal even though as adults we see it as so small. Adrian is living his drama. He introduces you to several quirky characters along the way too. It’s a brilliantly devised show. And it will have you laughing and crying all at the same time. It’s a real treat for children going through teenage years, as well as the adults who’ve already been through them too.

What makes this show different to others in the West End at the moment?

It feels like it’s a quintessentially British show. I don’t think the subject of puberty has been tackled in a musical before in this much detail and honesty, and with such humour and joy. I think it’s different because it has its own identity and it doesn’t hold back as it’s seen through a teenager’s eyes so anything goes!

And you’re playing the role of Doreen & Miss Elf, can you tell us a bit about your characters? 

Miss Elf is scatty, nervous, sometimes drunk, terrified of Mr Scruton and Barry Kent but has a heart of gold. She’s on the quest for love but I think she just loves teaching and that is her true passion - I just think she’s not that good at it at times, bless her. She really struggles to keep the class together and herself. She’s really fun to play. Dirty Doreen Slater is completely different. She’s confident, sassy, in your face, a touch aggressive, and not very classy. She’s a very heightened version of Bette from Coronation Street. I just adore playing her. She’s the local good time girl and you know when Doreen’s in the room. She’s brilliant to play.

You’re returning to the show having done it at the Menier Chocolate Factory, what made you want to return to the show?

So many things. The writing, the music, working with our brilliant director Luke Sheppard again. We became such a family at the Menier and it continues now. Tom Rogers our incredible designer, Howard Hudson our lighting designer, Paul Herbert our musical supervisor, Lou and Jen on costumes with Tom, we’ve all stayed in touch and it’s like working with family. This show is so special and I’m so glad I was able to come back on board.

How does it feel to be bringing a new musical to the West End? 

It feels great. I just want everyone to come and see it. Because if they miss it they’ll regret it. I’ve never laughed and cried so much in a reading of a script before. It’s joyful, honest and bonkers. So I’m excited to share it with everyone and for us to enjoy our summer doing this wonderful show.

The Ambassadors Theatre is one of the smaller venues in London, much like the Arts Theatre where you were in Ruthless, how do you feel about performing in a smaller space?

It’s a beautiful theatre. It really feels like the theatre is giving you a hug. I really enjoy the intimacy of smaller venues, especially when the show/play really requires it. The Arts Theatre is a little gem in the heart of our west end and I really enjoyed my time there. Ruthless was perfect for that venue. The same applies with Adrian at The Ambassadors. It’s a cosy theatre and really beautiful inside.

How does the Ambassadors Theatre compare to the Menier space? 

It still feels as intimate as the Menier but I guess it’s like it’s been zoomed out slightly. I think this show really relies on the audience feeling like they are going on a journey with Adrian and The Ambassadors really lets the audience do that. Like I said it’s very different but also feels the same which I think is why this theatre is so perfect for the piece.

Previously you were in Matilda, after having understudied the roles of Miss Honey and Mrs Wormwood you’ve now gone onto to play them both. As an actor, how does it feel to take the step from understudy to lead? 

I’ve been very lucky. We all work really hard and so I guess the only difference for me was I was lucky enough to play the parts I loved every day instead of every now and again. Understudy’s work really hard and are incredibly talented. I’m so lucky to have started at Matilda in the ensemble and then to have gone on to play Miss Honey and Mrs Wormwood. But the creative team trusted me to take the leap and since then (which was 5 years ago) I’ve never looked back. I was extremely lucky and I’m so grateful for that.

They say never work with Children, it looks like you can’t stop! How is it being surrounded by child actors in another show? 

I LOVE IT! I’ve learnt so much from working with young adults. They are clever, witty, funny, kind, considerate humans. They have no airs and graces and they deal with everything one bit at a time. They don’t allow nerves to get to them and if they do they handle it so brilliantly. I honestly adore working alongside them. Also, each young person has an individual style that keeps us as actors on our toes. The four Adrian’s for example are all very different in their delivery and style. They might deliver a line differently to the one before and the same goes for all the young company. They teach you to chill out, be less anxious and talk more about Endgame and Fortnight rather than worry too much!

You’ve got a pretty impressive CV! After having returned to Matilda,
which one of the shows you’ve done previously would you like to return to one day?

After being in Matilda 3 times now with different roles I don’t think there’s anything more for me to play there. If Adrian hadn’t have transferred into town it would have been at the top of my list. I guess Ruthless, I had so much fun on that show and I really enjoyed playing Eve. It was bonkers but really clever and brilliant. The audiences loved it.

Do you have any dream roles you’d like to play in the future?

I don’t really. I think I get attracted to material. If I read a script or see a production of something I tend to call my agent and say “can we look at this”. There are so many fantastic roles out there but I don’t necessarily have a “dream” one. I’m a strong believer in what’s for you won’t pass you by so just let life happen and I go with my gut.

Tell us, in one sentence, why people should come and see The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4. 

It’s funny, it’s joyful, it’s a little bit naughty (innocently though), it will make you laugh and it will make you cry. It’s exactly what we all need in our lives right now. It’s not to be missed! You won’t regret it.
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