Tuesday, 9 July 2019

NEW INTERVIEW: Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, currently in rehearsals for The View UpStairs at the Soho Theatre

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt is one of our top leading ladies, she is currently in rehearsals for the European premier of The View Upstairs at the Soho Theatre. Her other credits include The Wild Party (The Other Palace), Murder Ballad (The Arts Theatre), In the Heights (Southwark Playhouse & Kings Cross Theatre), A Chorus Line (London Palladium), Gypsy (Leicester Curve), Flashdance (UK Tour & Shaftesbury Theatre), Grease (Piccadilly Theatre) and Saturday Night Fever (UK Tour). We Caught up with her whilst she was in rehearsals. 

You’ll be appearing in the European premier of the off-Broadway hit musical, The View UpStairs. Tell us a bit about the show. 

We're telling the story of an arson attack against the LGBT+ community in 1973 New Orleans, which killed too many people for a dinky upstairs bar in the French Quarter. Without giving away any spoilers, the show is revisiting that very evening but not in the obvious way you'd imagine. The show fluctuates between 2019 and 1973. Almost a hallucination? I don't want to spoil anything, but we're telling the stories of perhaps what could have possibly happened that night. The goings on within their community life in this supposedly safe haven, where people can be themselves, are not judged for who they are and can enjoy the company of similar-like souls in their friends.

And you’ll be playing the role of Inez, can you tell us a bit about her? 

Inez is a loyal mother who would never turn her back on her son. Freddy (Inez's son played by the wonderful Garry Lee) was discovered wearing his mother’s makeup and clothes at a young age by his father. The father left them both to fend for themselves, in a country that wasn't their own. Because of this neglect and disappointment from the father they started a life together, just the two of them. Their bond is so strong, and she is so proud of her son. She puts makeup on his face and helps put his costumes together for his drag performances, living her dream of show business through him and her new found family at the bar.

You’ve featured in quite a few European premiers over your career, what’s the draw for you to these new pieces? 

First of all, luck! I love being a part of new works because they tend to be the most exciting projects. Factory shows that have been up and running like a machine can miss the magic once that production has been running for a few years. I love being in the room where it first happens or the early stages where everyone is still creating. That's where the fun of theatre is. I also prefer smaller houses, as I love to be able to see and feel the audiences. In larger houses you can miss that. The most unlucky thing for me is, although I've been part of original casts for many productions, I've never done a cast recording which I have to say is sad.

I’d love to talk about In the Heights, you were featured in the original London production at the Southwark playhouse and later transferred with the show to the Kings Cross Theatre. What was so special about that show to you?

Everything was special about that show. It will always be my chicken soup for the soul show and also for many others in the original team and the Kings Cross team. That show is all about community and what home should be to you. The team, the show, the waiting to hear if we were going to transfer, the part! It was some of the best times in my career.

I saw the show and loved your performance and couldn’t help but notice the baby bump! what was it like performing in that show right up to the end of your pregnancy?! 

Playing Daniela enriched my love of theatre. I've never known happiness in a production quite like it. I really felt I had created her for a UK audience and how the folk watching would have liked to have seen her. Very different to how Dani was played on Broadway and I got more satisfaction playing her pregnant as I felt it just worked better (for me). 

As a pregnant woman, it’s more heart-breaking in the end when she has to pack up the salon and move further out because of inflation in the rental market. Heart-breaking because, there she is, bringing new life into this world but closing a chapter on her business in the heights. Because the writing is so good, it made it easy to feel those thoughts and possible to portray that. Pregnant Daniela was my favourite to play and, boy, did I not let it stop me dancing and swinging about. I think the producers were worried my waters would break mid show. I was stubborn and left when I was 8 months pregnant because I had started to see stars in my vision when I sang Carnival del Barrio. Oh my, then it was definitely time to go. Would I do it again? Yes! I've never had so much fun in my career and I'm grateful I had full support from the producers, creatives and cast returning for rehearsal pregnant and full of enthusiasm.

There’s been a lot of things in the news about job sharing for mothers
in the theatre industry, what’s your opinion on this? 

I think it’s fantastic and I would happily welcome it into my work schedule. You would have less people going off and for the parent it would be helpful to instill normality into a family life which the industry doesn't usually allow. It’s not even that complicated to do it, if everyone is organised. In turn, it would actually be more cost effective, not to mention the support you'd feel as a self-employed working parent.

And, if you don’t mind us asking, what are the challenges for you as a mother whilst keeping up a career in performing arts? 

Challenges! We've got them. It’s undoubtedly tricky and has definitely pushed me to be more organised. You can be rehearsing a show or be in tech doing 12-hour days, go home that night and both kids will decide they don't need to sleep. My husband is amazing and blows my mind as he is a superman and we also have our family's support - but it’s no doubt an operation. I love what I do but I sometimes doubt the long run, because I will always be a mother first. I will always put a school show before my own show and if that means I will have to pull myself from the industry because I can't be there for my children's calendar, then I will gracefully leave and do so.

What advice would you give to fellow parents in the performing world trying to balance everything? 

Do what feels right for you. Don't try and mirror how other people in the industry work, because every family life is different. Speak up with what you want in a contract. Don’t be afraid to tell the company who wants to employ you that the basic wage wouldn't cover childcare if that's what you believe after your calculations. I've noticed producers of late really want to help make it possible for you and them to make it happen. I'm very excited about the change that's coming. The job shares and other work arounds that are being introduced is all positive change, which just wouldn't have happened even a few years ago. Trust your instinct. I turned down a show because I wouldn't have made a family members’ wedding, as the show was a limited run and they wouldn't allow me time off. I often wonder about it but what memories do you want to take to the grave? Also, don't be afraid to ask for help as people want to help.

If you were to look back at a younger Victoria in her first job from Drama School, what advice would you give her?

Don't care what people think, you've got this. It's not rocket science, it's just a show. You aren’t saving lives so just enjoy this moment. Listen! You don't listen well enough because of your ADHD so at least pretend and look as though you're listening. Don't take yourself seriously and enjoy what's to come.

You have a dream CV! Looking back, is there any job you’d like to return to? As the same or different character? 

Daniela from In The Heights, of course, but we've covered that already. Gypsy! I loved playing Louise/Gypsy Rose Lee. Not enough people saw the Curve production, being a limited run. It was brilliant and I'm so proud of that show to this day. I'd also love to be Mamma Rose. I'd love to do this one day. I need some age on my side though. I loved my song as the Narrator in Murder Ballad. I wish I could sing all those songs again too, now that was a show!

And looking ahead, do you have any dream roles you’d like to play in the future? 

Musical Theatre speaking, I say this in every interview when asked but Sally Bowles in Cabaret. I love this character’s way. I love how she is. I just wish I could be given the chance to play her before I get too old for her. Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Again, I love these women. I love their avant-garde exterior and equally their vulnerability. These characters always excite me. Also, I've only seen videos on YouTube but what's The Band's Visit all about? I like the look of Dina.

In one sentence, why should people come to see The View from UpStairs at the Soho Theatre?

Because it's a great team sharing a story and showing respect and homage to the bar and some of the lives that were lost that night in the most tragic LGBT+ attack up until recent years.
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