2014 hasn’t been a very good year for new musicals in the West End it seems, with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward and Tim Rice’s From Here To Eternity closing just months after opening, and let’s not even mention the X-Factor musical, I Can’t Sing!. There are one or two new musicals in town now though which could help to turn the tide and break the ‘curse’. Memphis, starring Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, has opened to rave reviews for instance, and early signs are good that Made In Dagenham will be going the same way. Currently in previews at the Adelphi Theatre, the musical adaption of the popular 2010 film opens on the night of 5th November. Early feedback from audiences has been particularly positive, and additional backing from the theatre critics would help it to succeed where many others have failed this year. The star power of stage and screen actress Gemma Arterton is a benefit to the show, no doubt, but there is a lot of talent in the West End cast, from the principal line-up to the ensemble team. Rachel Spurrell is one such talented individual, so ahead of next week’s opening night for Made In Dagenham, she appears in this latest edition of In Profile as its featured ensemble member.
Northern songbird Rachel Spurrell has compiled an impressive list of theatre credits since entering the industry, both in and out of the West End, and has more than proven her worth on the stage. Originating from Grimsby, she first attended the Bristol Academy of Performing Arts (BAPA), which has over 40 years’ experience and is the largest and most successful school of its kind in the West Country. She then continued her training in London after being accepted into the Royal Academy of Music (RAM), one of the most prestigious performing arts schools in the UK, graduating with Distinction.
She began building up her CV with such roles as Madame Montaudoin (37 Sous of Monsieur Montaudoin), Florence (The Odd Couple), Nanny (Ways and Means) and Sharon (A Slice of Saturday Night) in the early years of her career. She also performed in Dickens of a Christmas at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre and has played Fairy Godmother in the pantomime Cinderella at Civic Theatre, Rotherham and Campus West Theatre, Welwyn Garden City. She then boarded the P & O Cruises liner Oriana to sail the seas entertaining its passengers as a principal singer and dancer, before returning to the UK to take part in a production of Benjamin Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Tobacco Factory. She was a Fairy in the show and also understudied and played the role of Titania.
She remained in Bristol for several subsequent performances, which included playing Toadflax in a musical version of Watership Down (QEH), and the lead roles of Sally Bowles in Cabaret (Redgrave Theatre) and Maria in West Side Story (Tobacco Factory). She then travelled with a touring production of Sweeney Todd in which she played the principal role of Johanna, before appearing as Woman One in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at the King’s Head.
2006 brought even bigger things for Spurrell, who made her West End début when she joined the London company of The Phantom of the Opera in October of that year. She spent three years at Her Majesty’s Theatre with the show as a Swing, performing alongside such esteemed ‘Phantoms’ as Earl Carpenter and Ramin Karimloo in that time. She was later one of the former cast members invited to take part in the 25th anniversary production of the musical at the Royal Albert Hall.
Her next West End role was in another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical; this time appearing at the London Palladium in his 2011 revival of The Wizard of Oz. A member of the ensemble team, she understudied and played the roles of Wicked Witch, Glinda and Auntie Em and started to gather a fan following of her own through those performances, even gaining a Facebook Fan Page. Following that, she took to the road as part of the UK Tour of High Society, which was launched in Wales at Venue Cymru, Llandudno on 24th January 2013. She once again had an ensemble role in the show, but also understudied Marilyn Cutts’ Margaret Lord. The musical revival, which starred such names as Michael Praed (Dexter Haven), Sophie Bould (Tracy Lord), Teddy Kempner (Uncle Willie), Alex Young (Liz Imrie) and Daniel Boys (Mike Connor), and featured the choreography of the award-winning Andrew Wright, was well-received by critics as it played at venues all around the country during its six-month tour, which ended in Guildford, Surrey on 13th July 2013.
After the tour, Spurrell came back to London for the role of Mrs Hatch in the Union Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which ran between 4th-28th September 2014. She then appeared in two shows at the Menier Chocolate Factory, the first being the 1988 Scottish Opera version of Bernstein’s Candide, which was staged as the Menier’s Christmas production and ran from 22nd November 2013 to 22nd February 2014. The starry cast featured James Dreyfus, Fra Fee, Cassidy Janson, David Thaxton, Ben Lewis, Jackie Clune and Scarlett Strallen, with Spurrell playing an ensemble role. She then returned to Menier Chocolate Factory in June 2014 for a new version of the comedy revue Forbidden Broadway, updated to include material from more recent musicals such as Wicked, The Book of Mormon, Once, Matilda and Miss Saigon in its send-up. She and Joseph Prouse starred alongside Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis in the show, which proved such a hit that its original run (19th June-16th August) was extended for a further two weeks.
Forbidden Broadway recently transferred into the West End and is now being enjoyed by audiences at the Vaudeville Theatre. Two of the Menier cast are no longer with the show however, having won roles in another West End musical: Made In Dagenham at the Adelphi Theatre. Sophie-Louise Dann is playing the role of Barbara Castle in the show, which dramatises the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham plant by female workers who demanded equal pay for women, while Spurrell has the ensemble role of Phyllis.
Her other credits include The World Goes Round and European Love Cafe (Canal Cafe), vocalist at Her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee celebration (Buckingham Palace), BBC’s An Enchanted Evening (Theatre Royal Drury Lane) and workshops for The Wizard of Oz and Love Never Dies. She also features on the recordings of both musicals, and can be heard as a guest vocalist on the album of boy band Soul Intentions.
Rachel Spurrell is a performer with a wealth of experience underneath her already and a career which continues to steadily rise. She has played a variety of lead roles as an understudy, and one day soon, will hopefully be seen in the West End in a full-time principal role. Until then, theatre fans would be advised to keep an eye out for her in Made In Dagenham as this talented actress is certainly one to watch.
You can follow Rachel on Twitter: @RachelSpurrell
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Saturday 1st November 2014