Anita Louise Combe is currently starring in Ragtime at The Charing Cross Theatre (showing until 10 December 2016 and she has been on my radar for a few years as I’ve seen her perform on a number of occasions. Here, Anita tells Break A Leg about Ragtime, Cats and of course, Gypsy!
First of all, tell me all about Ragtime and your character, was this a musical that had been on your radar?
Most definitely! I’ve loved this show since I was fortunate enough to be an audience member of the very first read through/workshop of Ragtime back in 1996 in Toronto. I was performing in Sunset Boulevard at the time after being asked to recreate the role of Betty Schaefer in the Canadian Premiere Production for Garth Drabinsky who had commissioned Terrance McNally to write to musical of Ragtime. I was overwhelmed that day, as was the rest of the audience, when we sat and watched this very first outing of this incredible piece of theatre come to life. It was in a studio theatre in down town Toronto, in the simplest of settings, with actors simply standing at their microphones and scripts in hands. I knew then, that one day I’d like to play the role of Mother – it was simply a matter of where and when! I’m a happy lady indeed.
What is your favourite moment from the show?
Eeeek……..can I please have lots of favourite moments please???? The show is full of them for me. I love the opening number – the music and orchestrations are sublime and a wonderful introduction to all the characters. I love the moment my character meets Tateh for the first time on the train. I love the moment that Sarah and Coalhouse come back together in New music and, of course, I love my 11 o’clock number which completes Mother’s journey as the heroine that she is in this beautiful piece of theatre.
How does the space lend itself to the piece?
The Charing Cross Theatre embraces this piece beautifully. It’s the intimacy of the theatre coupled with the intimacy of the characters that work so well together. There are moments when the cast come out into the audience to give an all encompassing experience, of what it feels like to be inside the show itself. The show is incredibly well focused in this intimate environment and I firmly believe that the audience get to experience what we, the actors, get to feel every night due to being up close and personal. It’s a wonderful setting.
Moving on to Cats, what an iconic role to be able to play! I heard excellent reviews for your portrayal of Grizabella, can you describe your experience of the show?
Well, my experience with Cats began when I was merely 16 years old. I was in the original Australian production of Cats and played the role Sillabub (Jemima here in the UK production). Cats is where my entire journey as a performer began (but I’m glad to say it’s not where it finished!). I remember Trevor Nunn telling me that Sillabub was the most likely kitten to understand, sympathise and potentially become Grizabella!!! I never imagined myself, way back then, playing the role of Grizabella! It was an absolute honour to play the role and I felt that I was able to come full circle having played the youngest kitten at the beginning of my career, right through to Grizabella who depicts the polar opposite end of life to Sillabub.
Of course, you were a stripper in Gypsy and did a fine job of it, too! What are your memories of that production and would you be keen to repeat the role?
I would happily grace the stage as Tessie Turra again! In fact, I’m hoping it may go to Broadway at some point and that I might be able to wangle a green card by then! I’m not sure if it’s a compliment when one says I did a fine job of being a stripper but I’m happy to think it is!!!! LOL. It was an absolute joy to play such a wonderfully quirky character and definitely something I’d like to do more of. I love playing comedic roles and Tessie was an absolute joy. Of course, working with the incredible Imelda Staunton was a daily master class and proof that we are never too old or experienced to learn from the great people we are lucky enough to be surround by.
If you were a stripper, what would your gimmick be?
Well, cliche as it may seem (!) I’d have to stick with Tessie’s gimmick because – quote “I myself, of course, was a ballerina” unquote, Tessie Turra, which I was too. I trained as a classical ballerina and before auditioning for Cats in Australia I was just about to audition for the Australian Ballet Company but decided to audition for Cats instead! It mapped out the course of my professional career.
So, what led you to become a performer in the first place?
As stated above, I trained as a ballet dancer in Adelaide South Australia and, for me, it was never a matter of ‘if’ I become a performer, it was merely a matter of ‘when’! I simply knew it was the life for me although I didn’t really understand back then exactly what that meant. No-one in my family, or indeed life, was a performer of any kind and it seemed a little crazy to embark upon this life but I just knew it’s where I had to be.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I firmly maintain that we, as actors, live a vocational career path in the truest sense of the word. My ambitions for the future include leading a life full of wonderful and colourful roles whether they be in my real life or on stage or film or television. I want to be diverse, interesting and, most of all, happy with the work that I do. That’s the most anyone can ask for in this crazy profession.
Finally, for anyone who hasn’t seen Ragtime yet, what would you say to encourage them to come?
Just come and see it. It’s not mainstream West End theatre – but it sure as hell is about as close as you can get!!! It’s considered ‘fringe’ theatre but I defy anyone to look at our production as anything other than a West End production! The design, the lighting, the orchestrations, the book, the music, the story, the characters, EVERYTHING about this production is wonderful and really shouldn’t be missed. I’m incredibly proud to stand on stage every night with my colleagues and fellow performers who are giving their all every single night. It’s heart-warming, heart-breaking, it’s funny, it’s sympathetic and most of all, the topics relate very poignantly to some of today’s issues. Just come and see it – it’s worth every penny.
Huge thanks to Anita for this interview, and it is a definite compliment from me in relation to the fine job she did as a stripper!
You can book tickets to see Ragtime here: http://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/