Kim Ismay
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Interview with Kim Ismay – Tanya in Mamma Mia!

Kim IsmayKim Ismay is one of the West End’s leading ladies. She’s currently starring as ‘cougar’ Tanya in the hit musical Mamma Mia! (then at the Prince of Wales Theatre) now at the Novello Theatre where she can show off her voice and her talent for comic timing – and her sexy long legs, of course!

Kim trained at the University of Kent and has starred in a lot of productions, from pantos to musicals to Shakespeare plays with the RSC (too many to mention here – please check out Kim’s website for more info: ).

Her latest project is About Bill– a one-woman one-act musical that will be playing at the Landor Theatre from 15-20 November 2011 (, the soundtrack to which is already available.

Despite her incredibly busy schedule, Kim has kindly taken some time out to answer a few questions about herself and her career. Enjoy this fab interview!

You started dancing when you were only three years old. When did you first realise that you wanted to sing and act?
I always knew this was what I wanted to do….like a lot of little girls I thought I might be a ballerina at first, but I was already too tall by the time I was 5!

Did anyone in particular inspire you or have you got any role models?
My mother Ellen was an amazing woman; she taught me that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I was prepared to put the work in. In the business, I idolised Ann Miller, the Nicholas Brothers and Gene Kelly. There are too many others to mention, we all take inspiration in small and large ways from those we admire; it helps us grow and get better at what we do.

Where did you train?
I did a degree in Performing Arts at the University of Kent. Apart from that, I think I’m still training! The day you think you have nothing left to learn is the day you should stop.

You played Baroness Bomburst in the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang last year. Please tell us about this experience!
I had already played ze vicked Baroness in the 2008 tour and was delighted to be asked back for 2009/10….. during both tours, my overriding memories are of fun. I got to work with some great people (during the first tour, we had different Caractacuses and Childcatchers in each venue, so I got to play with Aled Jones, Wayne Sleep, Ian Watkins {“H” from Steps}, Matt Baker, Kevin Kennedy and Christopher Timothy) and my 2008 Company Manager is now with me on Mamma Mia!

You are currently reprising the role of ‘Tanya’ in the popular West End musical Mamma Mia! at the Prince of Wales Theatre. What kind of person is Tanya?
She’s a high-maintenance rich woman who has married a succession of millionaires and made a killing in her divorce settlements! Always travels first class, always drinks Cristal, always has to have the best of everything, but actually underneath she is a very loyal and loving friend. I’d love her as a mate, actually, her cast-offs must be fantastic!

What’s your favourite scene?
I love “Does Your Mother Know”, which I get to do with the glorious Warren Sollars, who plays Pepper, (half-dressed young men dancing round me every night – what’s not to love??) but I have to say my favourite scene is the bedroom scene where Rosie (the incomparable Joanna Monro) and I try to cheer up Donna (Sally Ann Triplett); we get to sing Chiquitita and Dancing Queen. Those 2 songs, and those 2 women? I love my job!

A lot of people have seen – and love – Mamma Mia the film.Why should they go and see Mamma Mia! the Musical?
There is nothing like the experience of the immediacy and thrill of live theatre; people who have enjoyed the film often say they love the show even more.

What’s your favourite ABBA song?
Aaaaargh………..don’t make me choose!! They are all so beautifully crafted….but if I HAD to choose, I think I would have to say Dancing Queen.

You have appeared in numerous productions. What have been your favourite roles?
Again….very hard to choose. I have loved different shows for different reasons at different times;  Mamma Mia! is tremendously special to me, also Dames At Sea, A Comedy of Errors and my current new project, About Bill.

Which do you prefer –  serious or comedy roles?
As long as a piece is well written and challenging, I love all genres and styles, but I’d have to say –  comedy is my first love.

Is there a role you’d really love to play (in any musical/play) and why?
Hmm………there are a few I would have LIKED to play, but I’m too old now…..but currently? I quite fancy playing the Dance Teacher in Billy Elliot.

What is something embarrassing or unexpected that happened to you on stage?
Oh Lord, how much time do you have…..?? I have missed an entrance (I swear,  I will never do THAT again, I thought I was going to have a coronary when I realised), fallen over, fallen off a chair, dried, had a sandbag weight fall from the fly floor and narrowly miss my head…..the list in endless. Oh, and think carefully before you give me anything breakable as a prop. Mercifully, people still employ me.

What’s your favourite West End musical or play (apart from Mamma Mia! )? And is there a show you’d really love to see?
I really want to see War Horse. And I think the West End has something for everybody right now. Come on, everyone, support live theatre!!

You are currently in rehearsals for About Bill – a one-woman one-act musical that will be playing at the Landor Theatre from 15-20 November 2011. Who is Bill?
Bill Fitzgerald is a famous jazz trumpeter; he is NOT a particularly nice or endearing man, although he has a massive amount of animal magnetism and charisma.

What else can you tell us about this show?
It’s not so much a musical as a play with music; Bill’s story is told by the women in his life, from his mother, who discovers she is pregnant with him, through wives, partners, fans, landladies, family, producers etc. It was written by Matthew and Bernadette Strachan, and they have crafted the most extraordinary piece of theatre; the chance to play something like this doesn’t come along very often for a performer, to have something written for you, especially a piece of this quality, is a huge honour and so exciting. Try to get to see the show – it’s a World Premiere!

What’s it like to be the only cast member?
Weird! There is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide – I have to be so sure and solid in what I am doing. It’s terrifying and exhilarating in equal measures. I am still not tired of the jokes, however, as in “the whole cast is staying at my house”. I really must stop very soon or I shall annoy the whole cast.

You’ve been performing solo cabarets for a number of years now. What sparked your love for this genre?
I love the intimacy of a cabaret; you can connect with people on a far more personal level. Plus I get to choose what to sing!

Your debut album “Torch and Debauch” was released in 2005. Will there be another album?
The About Bill soundtrack has just been released, ahead of the show! It’s available at Dress Circle, and on Amazon and iTunes; the About Bill website has all the details. That was a shameless plug, wasn’t it.

You have appeared in several other TV programmes, such as The Bill and Eastenders. What do you like about working in front of a camera? How does it compare to performing on stage?
It is such a different experience; in TV and film you have to chance to retake, to amend, improve, fine-tune your performance. And there are so many external factors to take into account, such as the accuracy of hitting your mark for cameras, and not tripping over cables (see earlier references to my clumsiness – I once tripped over a cameraman).  The emotional portrayal is far more naturalistic and internalised, too. But for me, nothing beats live theatre and the feel, sound and sheer physical presence of an audience. There is a real relationship.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love to travel and cook……and of course, a la Tanya, I LOVE shopping!

In addition to your stage & TV work, you regularly appear on the radio, you do voice-overs, you’re a cartoonist and take artwork commissions, you’re a director of New Era Academy and you are a patron of the children’s cancer charity Momentum. When do you sleep?
Oh, don’t be fooled, I love my bed!! But I am having such a fantastic time at the moment, I want to cram as much as possible into every second of my life!

And a few quick-fire questions…

Tea or coffee?
Yes, please, tea OR coffee, depends on the time of day.

Pizza or pasta?
Yum. Both. I love my food.

Your best quality?
Clearly not decisiveness……..!  I have a very positive outlook.

The book you’re reading at the moment?
My script. (I’m a huge reader, but have no spare time at the moment!!) My current recommendation for a joyous, light read is “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”.

Cat or dog?

Monet or Warhol?

Four people (past or present) to have dinner with?
Gene Kelly, Hugh Laurie, Judge Judy Sheindlin and My Mum!

And anything else you might like to add, maybe a message to your fans?
Thank you for supporting all of us and coming to see us; it means the world to know you enjoy what we do. Although it may take me a while (!!), I always personally reply to letters and emails, and I love hearing from you. Follow me on Twitter (@kimismay – how I thought THAT name up, who knows) and come and say hello at the stage door!

Thank you very much for this great interview, Kim and all the best for ‘About Bill’!

Follow Kim on Twitter: @kimismay
Kim’s Website
Interview by Sandra Palme (Twitter: @LondonTheatre2)

Updated 11th October 2014

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