“Having the freedom to put your own stamp and mark on a character is thrilling, which is one of the reasons I’m a real champion for getting new writing out there. Also, there are so many great writers/composers out there, I love meeting new creatives and look forward to working with them and getting their work out there in the future!”
Ashleigh Gray from Midlothian, Edinburgh has loved musical theatre from a very young age. She trained at Guildford School of Acting where she received the Principal’s Award for Musical Theatre and the Margaret Veale Award for Singing.
Ashleigh is a very versatile young actress who has appeared in a variety of musicals, including Taboo, Grease and Wicked. Ashleigh also supports new writing (such as NHS The Musical where she played a variety of roles).
The popular green witch who impressed a huge audience at the Apollo Victoria has now turned into a disembodied German head who wins the hearts of audience members in the tiny space that is Trafalgar Studios 2. Ashleigh also did a solo cabaret earlier this year and is planning another soon (we’ll keep you posted!).
You can catch Ashleigh in Betwixt! until 10th September so if you want a fab-fab-fabulous night out, go and see her as Miranda and of course the rest of the brilliant cast!
Ashleigh has kindly answered some questions about herself and her career despite her very busy schedule. Enjoy this great interview!
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a singer/actress?
From a very young age! I was always singing and dancing around the house and apparently being a right little Drama Queen, so I guess it was inevitable!
Did anyone in particular inspire you?
I used to love watching all the old Rodgers and Hammerstein Musicals, I completely wore my ‘Sound of Music‘ video out! So I guess I was inspired by people like Julie Andrews, Doris Day, Gene Kelly all of the classic Musical performers. I’d sit in awe watching them and thinking I’d love to be able to do that!
You trained at the Guildford School of Acting where you received the Principal’s Award for Musical Theatre and the Margaret Veale Award for Singing. Please tell us about your time there.
I loved my time at GSA, even though I cried in the car all the way down from Edinburgh to Guildford! I was so sad to be leaving all my family behind but at the same time desperate to get down there to be amongst like-minded people who had the same passion and drive I did. It was a great three years, I learnt so much and by the time my third year came, I was so ready to get out there and follow my dream of performing professionally.
In April 2011, you did your first solo cabaret (“Easter with Ashleigh Gray”). How did you like performing on your own and will there be more solo performances?
That was definitely the most terrifying thing I’ve done to date! I’m so used to performing in a theatre, hiding behind a character and a costume, so when I had to be onstage as myself, that really scared me! It was a great night though and I’m so glad I got over that fear. I will be doing another solo cabaret later on in the year which I’ll be announcing in the next few weeks!
You have appeared in numerous musicals, including Taboo and Grease as part of a UK tour. Please tell us about your time ‘on tour’.
I loved touring. It suited me as I’m quite an organised person, so booking digs and organising travel wasn’t a problem for me. It gave me the chance to buy new stationery – any excuse for that and I’m in! The lovely thing about touring is that you’re all away from home so as a company you really develop a ‘family’ atmosphere. It’s great to see different parts of the country too, I used to love doing the ‘big red bus city tour’ wherever we went! With Grease, we went to Monte Carlo too which was amazing! Touring’s a lot of fun, although I couldn’t do the ‘living out of a suitcase’ thing year on year. It’s nice to be working at home now.
You joined the London company of Wicked in 2007 and stayed for almost three years – first in the ensemble and as understudy Elphaba, then as standby Elphaba. What was it like to be part of such a massive production?
Incredible, Wicked was my first West End show and what a way to start. Everyone on the Wicked team, be it cast, crew, creative; all care so much about getting the best show out there, which is a lovely environment to work in. I was a huge fan of the show before I did it, so landing myself in the company was like a dream come true. The thing I love about Wicked, is the way it touches its audience. For all the big showy effects, epic songs and staging, there’s a really great story at the heart of it which seems to reach out and touch people. I personally, love to be affected by theatre so it’s lovely to be in something that really moves its audience too!
Elphaba is a dream role for many West End actresses. Would you like to return to Wicked?
Absolutely! The thing about being a standby is because you’re not playing the role every night, you don’t get tired of it. There was never a time when I thought ‘I just can’t be bothered’. I adore the character and I’m definitely not done with her yet, I would love to go back to it someday.
Working as a ‘standby’ must be a very demanding job?
It is very tricky. I used to get a lot of “Oh, It’s a hard life” if people used to ring me during a show and I was just sitting in the dressing room watching Eastenders! But actually, the nature of the standby job means that you can go from watching TV one minute to ‘Defying Gravity’ the next and that was really hard. Mid-show throw-ons were always difficult, you’d have to remind yourself where you are in the story and not going on the full journey of the character was always weird. Even going on after two or three weeks off was hard too – you’d have to get your show stamina back up to speed and it always took a show or two to get back into it. It was a very strange feeling but it taught me a lot and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
What’s your favourite role so far and why?
Well, as you’ve already said, Elphaba is that dream role for most actresses and there’s a reason for it! She’s just such an amazing character to portray. She has such an incredible journey throughout the piece, so many different sides to her character that emerge throughout the play, it really is a pleasure to play her. Exhausting – but a pleasure. Plus you get to sing those amazing songs, kiss pretty boys and fly! What more could anyone ask for!
You are currently playing “Miranda” in Betwixt! at the Trafalgar Studios. Miranda is a disembodied head from Bavaria – a slightly unusual role… What’s it like to play a head with a German accent?
Bonkers!! That’s the only word for it really! There’s so many odd things going on there – not only am I sitting in a box for half the show, I have a ridiculous accent as well! It really is great fun playing Miranda. This is a whole new genre for me, I’ve never tackled comedy before but I am absolutely loving it. I especially love not having to remember any stage blocking as I’m mainly just pushed around the stage by fellow cast members – Result!!
What kind of person is Miranda and can you identify with her?
Miranda is a girl after my own heart. I love that we get to see both her feisty fiery side as Garbo’s prisoner and then that gentle loving side when she’s with Bailey! Couple those with the ridiculous jealous competitive relationship she has with Cooper, it makes for a really fun character to play! She has what our director Ian described to me as ‘Tinkerbell Syndrome’ – as her body is so small, or head in Miranda’s case, she can’t retain emotions for any length of time, which is why in one line she can be all love and light and then almost immediately she flips into a crazy mad outburst. She can be almost schizophrenic at points which is really fun to play. I do prefer roles that have a bit of grit about them and she certainly has that!
Trafalgar Studios is a very intimate venue. What’s it like performing in front of such a small audience?
It’s very different, having spent the past three years playing out into the abyss that is the Apollo Victoria. I have played smaller venues before. I remember doing Myths and Hymns at the Finborough Theatre, coming out for my first number, looking down and there was my mother’s shoe – very strange!! It’s great though, especially with a show like Betwixt! as the audience feel like they’re part of this magical world we’re creating. Plus it’s nice to see the reactions as and when they happen. I do worry about running over people’s feet in my box though!!
Why should people go and see Betwixt! ?
It’s just a great, fun, entertaining show! As it says in our programme, the story is so off the wall that all you can do is just accept it, go along for the ride and hopefully leave with splits in your sides and lines on your face from laughing so hard. The audiences seem to love it and I know we all have such a great time doing it. We’ve also just had two new additions to the cast which has really given the show a new energy so even if you’ve seen it before, come along again!!
How do you prepare before you go on stage?
Well because I chose to give Miranda the most ridiculous hairstyle, I spend most of my time doing that really!! I also try and converse a bit in the accent to get it going again! It’s starting to come easier now but I very nearly didn’t go to the audition for the show because I was so worried about making a fool of myself with the accent! Then when I got the role, Ian, the Writer/Director and I sat down and came up with this crazy version of an accent which really works for the character.
What is something embarrassing or unexpected that happened to you on stage?
There’s been many a thing happened to me in other shows! Nothing in Betwixt so far – although I do have nightmares about being wheeled on in the box, the whole thing collapsing and me ending up in a semi naked (it does get very hot in that box!) crumpled heap on the middle of the stage. Fingers crossed it never happens!
What other parts would you love to play (in any musical/play) and why?
There’s a few, I’d love to play parts in all those show’s I’d listen to and watched growing up, Les Mis, Evita, Miss Saigon and Oliver.
If you could go and see any West End musical or play tonight, which one would it be and why?
Betwixt!, of course!! I actually would like to have an out of body experience and see it as a whole from the audience’s perspective! Obviously, the likeliness of that happening isn’t that high so alternatively, I guess I’d go for something like London Road at the National, or Parade at the Southwark Playhouse. There’s a lot of things I’d like to see but that’s the thing when you’re working in Theatre, with the same matinee days as other productions it can get very tricky to see stuff!
What are your long-term ambitions – on the stage or off it?
To just keep doing what I love to do! I count my blessings everyday that I get to go to work doing a job that I absolutely adore! There’s nothing worse than sitting on the tube when I’m doing some between job temping or something and seeing everyone’s miserable faces as they go to a job that they don’t particularly enjoy or want to do. I love my job and I especially love working on new pieces of Theatre. Although Betwixt! has been done before, it’s been such fun working and re-working the show to get it to the stage we’re at now. Having the freedom to put your own stamp and mark on a character is thrilling, which is one of the reasons I’m a real champion for getting new writing out there. Also there are so many great writers/composers out there, I love meeting new creatives and look forward to working with them and getting their work out there in the future!
And anything else you might like to add, maybe a message to your fans?
Just a huge ‘Thank You’ really! My fans are amazing and again, I count my blessings all the time that I have such a loyal, supportive group of people who make doing what I do all the more special with their kind words and encouragement. It means a lot!!
And a”huge Thank You” to you Ashleigh for this fantastic interview! I wish you all the best for your future projects!
Follow Ashleigh on Twitter: @Ashleigh_Gray
Ashleigh’s Official Website
Interview by Sandra Palme (Twitter: @LondonTheatre2)
Updated 27th November 2015