Spotlight On… Anna-Lisa Maree


*** Spotlight On… Anna-Lisa Maree ***

She’s a multi-talented ‘Theatre Fairy’ and also known as Twinkle 🙂 – Anna-Lisa Maree filled me in on her hopes, dreams and what led her into her varied career.

You’re experienced as an actress, a writer and company stage manager, which one came first and do you have a favourite of the three ‘jobs’?

I performed in my first professional production when I was 8 years old, it was Oliver at York Theatre Royal and little did I know then that Bill Sykes (Andy Serkis) would go onto be a Hollywood superstar! I’m pretty sure that he can’t believe that the youngest girl in the workhouse has become a Company Stage Manager, but as the saying goes ‘that’s showbiz’! My first insight into the world of Stage Management was in the Summer of 1995 when I spent a season in London with the National Youth Theatre.
I then studied for a BA Hons Degree in Stage Management at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, back in the days before it became ‘Royal’ and that was my spring board into the professional backstage world.
In truth I’m a bit of an ‘All Round Theatre Fairy’ as I’ve also worked extensively as a Head of Wardrobe in the West End, and toured nationally and internationally.
As a writer I have written comedy for numerous artistes, as well as having two of my own plays ‘`Casting The Villain Aside’ and ‘Blast From the Past’ in the London Short Play festivals. I was also the first person to ever put an original full scale musical into the Paradise room on Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Ultimately I am so appreciative that I am able have such a diverse career in the industry I love and in the words of Mary Poppins, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun!”

What are your most memorable moments as an actress, as a writer and as a company stage manager?

As an 8 year old in Oliver I used to insist that before rehearsals or going to the theatre that my Mum made my hair look like Nancy’s. In 1988 having a hairdo that made your head look like a pineapple was the height of cool in my opinion! Ten years later I crossed paths with Nancy once again on a work placement at the New Theatre in Cardiff and confessed all. Linda Dobell was a wonderful actress, director and choreographer. Sadly she is no longer with us but to me she will always remain a childhood inspiration as ‘ the lady who I wanted to be like when I grew up’.

Writing-wise I have written several pieces that I have been proud of my most recent short play Blast From The Past was perhaps the piece that is my personal favourite. It was a pleasure to give a well established actress the opportunity to play a part that she would never ‘normally’ have been considered to play. Transforming the lovely Judy Buxton into a Northern single mother who would not have been out of place as a guest on Jeremy Kyle was perhaps one of the greatest highlights of my career to date!

Finally as a Company Stage Manager it would have to be the rapport I have with younger company members I have so many treasured memories from shows gone by. Currently I am CSM on Panto at the Towngate Theatre in Basildon and I asked our wonderful ‘Twinkle’ and ‘Sparkle’ teams to create their own individual dressing room door signs. I mean, doesn’t every door deserve to be adorned with a sparkly star with the occupants name on it? Well it certainly does ‘on my watch!’

Any particular theatres that you favour and why?

I have toured the UK for so long now that there are numerous theatres that I enjoy returning to time and time again, although if pushed it would have to be the Grand Theatre in Blackpool. On my last visit I happened to mention in passing during Act 1 that I was a bit hungry. I really didn’t expect a crew member to go out in the interval and bring me back a pizza, but they did and for that reason alone the Grand wins first place on my most favourite theatre poll! Oh and incidentally that theatre has a pineapple on the very top of it ….just saying!

Who inspires you as an actress and as a writer?

Without hesitation, on both count it’s Derren Litten (Creator and writer of ITV’s Benidorm) I am truly in awe on his ability to write wonderful comedy and balance it so beautifully with just the right amount of empathy. I have been lucky enough to meet him twice this year and he is such a lovely man . . . . I’m now just waiting for my cameo in the show!

If you weren’t working in ‘show business’ (for want of a better phrase) what do you think you’d be doing?

 I would be a teacher at a Steiner School, it’s an occupation I have seriously considered.

What are your future aspirations?

I tend not to look to far into the future as I like to appreciate the ‘Here and Now’. I would however like to see the shows I have written travel further on their journeys and also create new vehicles for some of my immensely talented friends in the industry.

If you could host a dinner party and invite five guests (alive or dead) who would they be and why?

Heston Blumenthal: having spent all day in the kitchen creating the evening’s wonderful concoctions it would only be fair that he should stay for the party!
Bobby Crush: no one tinkles the ivories quite like Bobby, so that’s the evening’s entertainment taken care of!
Jon Curry: he was a ‘Borrowed Angel’ who returned home far too soon, so any opportunity to see him again would be grasped immediately!
Con O’Neil: I have yet to see him do anything where he isn’t utterly brilliant and what a gorgeous voice, he could make any topic of conversation sound wonderful.
Su Pollard : absolutely no explanation necessary.

Favourite things (give me your first reaction to these questions):

Favourite food?
A black forest Hot Chocolate from Costa – more commonly known in my world as a Panto breakfast!

Favourite play?
Absurd Person Singular

Favourite pantomime?
My life! 

Favourite actor or actress?
I couldn’t possibly answer this question without offending a multitude of incredibly talented people in my life!

Favourite landmark?
Little Marton Mill in Blackpool, everytime I see that windmill I smile because I know I’m only moments away from my ‘spiritual home’.


The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

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The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe was my favourite book when I was growing up and an eager young reader. My own vision of what Narnia should look like has been a mixture of my own imagination and the 1988 BBC television series.

This production which has been dramatised by Adrian Mitchell and also has music by Shaun Davey, was a visual treat from start to finish. The set was a sight to behold, it unfolded in perfect synchronisation with the story. From the Professor’s house that Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are evacuated to, to the wardrobe and its forest of fur coats, to Narnia itself, with snow falling from the ‘sky’ and hide-away homes for its residents, Mr Tumnus and Mr and Mrs Beaver.

Michael Lanni as Peter, Leonie Eliott as Susan, James Thackeray as Edmund and ‘Over the Rainbow’ finalist Emilie Fleming as Lucy, were perfectly cast as the four Pevensie children. They portrayed over-excitable, playful youths exceedingly well, with Thackeray in particular demonstrating sullenness of young Edmund’s character by skilled use of body language.

When Lucy first enters the wardrobe and walks through to discover Narnia, I felt as in awe as she did! Mr Tumnus (Joe Servi) was just as I imagined when I first read the book all those years ago and when Edmund manages to follow Lucy when she takes her second trip (having been sceptical before) his encounter with the White Witch is also the stuff of my own imagination. Allison McKenzie gives a hauntingly real performance as the White Witch, she switches from sickly sweet to evil and stunning make-up adds to the effect. Rumblebuffin (the White Witch’s henchman) is played by a puppet (there are many puppets used throughout the production and they add an extra dimension to an already flawless show), Danielle Bird who ‘plays’ him has the funniest accent which suits the character to a tee and her quick, sharp delivery is an asset, indeed. Ms Bird, it seems, is multi-talented as she also dons stilts later on to play an equally hilarious giant!

Notable in this production is the movement of the ensemble which is well choreographed and does not distract from the centre of the action. The songs are delightful and paint their own picture of the tale, ‘Turkish Delight’ was my personal favourite. Edmund’s passion for the sticky, sweet treat contributes to his downfall, it makes sense that it should be one of the musical numbers.

When all four children finally enter Narnia together and meet Mr and Mrs Beaver, not only is their house a wonder, but their performance is equally wondrous. Thomas Aldridge (Mr Beaver) and Sophia Nomvete (Mrs Beaver) are a superb comedy pairing and their musical number is also a highlight. Of course, while three of the children are siding with the beavers so that they can meet Aslan the Lion and put a stop to the permanent winter spell which has been cast by the White Witch, Edmund has returned to the enemy’s house for more Turkish Delight.

Aslan was quite splendid, cleverly worked as a puppet in a similar way to the star of War Horse. As an ensemble, puppeteers and actors alike, are a strong team and go a long way towards making this show a must-see this Christmas.

The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe will be at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 16th January 2016. Details can be found here:




MCM Comic Con – NEC, Birmingham

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MCM Comic Con arrived at Birmingham’s NEC with a bang! This was the first full weekend we have been able to cover in a long time and it was a fantastic experience. With special guests including Six Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors was one of the biggest attractions, with long queues of fans waiting for his autograph, a photo or the chance to see him in a Q & A session in the theatre. Liv Tyler was also in ‘the house’ on Sunday and attracted a huge buzz to the event. Add Starship Troopers and Saw star Dina Meyer to the mix, and Comic Con was the place to be.

Fantom Films had also brought a wide selection of guests from the world of sci-fi and beyond, swelling the Memorabilia signing area, also joined by K9 who looked resplendent and was a favourite of our little boy’s. The Kid Zone was a big hit, the idea of collecting stickers from around the hall and trading the full quota in for a super hero cape appealed to us as well as to our smallest member of the team. It’s a nice memory of this particular Comic Con that we’ll keep and look back on, as long as it stays in one piece!

There always seems to be a great selection of stalls at the November Comic Con, with Christmas around the corner it’s an ideal time for a shopping trip and there was plenty of choice for all fandoms.

The theatre not only boasted the Q & A with Lee Majors, but also a Q & A on both days with Dina Meyer and an interesting panel with Wireless director and star Andrew-Lee Potts. The piece de resistance was the Star Wars auction, 21 conceptual visuals from the Designer and Illustrator Ralph McQuarrie (commissioned by Gorge Lucas) were auctioned off in aid of Acorns Hospice. We can report that they sold for a whopping £9,750!

The cosplay parades showcased some of the best costumes from the weekend, with some worthy winners who displayed talent as costumiers and performers. The standard of entrants gets more impressive all the time. We can’t wait for next year!






Spotlight On… Lizzie Holmes

Giry Transformation Lizzie as Giry

*** Spotlight on… Lizzie Holmes ***

Working at the resplendent Her Majesty’s Theatre in London’s West End would be a dream come true for me, and our latest interviewee appears in my favourite musical (Phantom of the Opera) as cover for my favourite character (Madame Giry) and in my favourite theatre. You can see her as Madame Firmin when she isn’t playing the strict ballet teacher at the Opera House. I caught up with Lizzie to find out how life in one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best loved musicals is treating her.

So, how is Phantom of the Opera going for you, are you enjoying providing cover for the role Madame Giry?

Phantom has been an incredible introduction to the West End and the professional world of musical theatre. I started as Maternity cover, 2nd cover Madame Giry last year (having just graduated from my Masters at the Royal College of Music) and initially thought I’d only be with the company for a few months! I was therefore over the moon when Meshell Dillon’s maternity cover lasted a year and I was then promoted to 1st cover Madame Giry this year. With 8 shows a week we’re lucky to have such an upbeat and supportive cast and crew (Phantom is notorious for being a great building to work in) – it never feels like I’m coming to work, I guess that’s the strangest thing, to go from being a student where you do this for the love to actually being paid to perform! But the full on schedule (by the end of my contract this year I will have performed in the show 800 times!) means that discipline is vital – to make sure we are always present and alive on stage and listen with fresh ears and new thoughts.

Covering and performing the role of Madame Giry has been a truly rewarding challenge. I think I’m the youngest Giry they’ve ever had so my first hurdle was to create a Giry who was believable and had that natural superiority that she would have had in the Opera Populaire. This year it was amazing to work with Hal Prince himself – the original director – he has such insight into the characters and he gave my Giry his stamp of approval, phew! The character of Madame Giry was originally inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s overbearing and terrifying Mrs Danvers from Rebecca, I imagine Giry to be like a black widow spider observing, constantly alert and absolutely poised, but still with a lot of compassion for her ballet girls, and of course her daughter Meg.

What is your favourite musical number in the show and why?

When I was auditioning for the show (I had 5 rounds of auditions) I was captivated by Managers 1. I love the conflicting stories and the vocal lines and the comedy of André and Firmin’s opening section – I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks! Also, Madame Giry gets a high Bb in it.. I’m a soprano, although Giry’s tessitura is pretty low, so a love of high notes runs deep in my veins!

If you weren’t playing Madame Firman and indeed, Madame Giry – which other role would you be interested in playing?

We’re very lucky that Phantom has such different and exciting female characters. Carlotta for her comedy and vocal fireworks, Giry the secret that she carries and her searing presence that looms over whole rooms and Christine for her endearing innocence, great songs and journey from little girl to woman during the show. Haha, I suppose then, I’d love to play them all one day, the hat-trick!- I wonder if it’s ever been done before?! Phantom is unique in that many cast members do return, Scott Davis who is now Phantom Stand-by started many moons ago as a Swing and our current Raoul, Nadim Naaman initially covered the role 5 years ago!

I’ve been in the audience twice at Her Majesty’s Theatre, watching the show – does it feel as atmospheric backstage as it does in the house? Would you agree that this theatre lends itself to the style of the show?

Ooh, good question. It depends, in the dressing room we have the music over the tannoy, but my Dad was astounded when he came backstage ‘it’s so normal’, people are going about their jobs, heavy costumes being lugged up the stairs, wigs being changed, the sound department checking our mics and cups of tea being made when we’re not on. It’s two different worlds!

But, the theatre is steeped in such an astounding history. I studied opera before joining Phantom and am blown away to know that more than 25 operas by Handel premiered there – let alone the London premiers of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Bizet’s Carmen and even Wagner’s Ring Cycle!? Also the fact that we are in a living bit of history ourselves, being a part of Phantom, I am very aware to keep reminding myself how lucky I am, and pinching myself from time to time!

What led you to train for a career in musical theatre and opera?

I went to a very arty school called Frensham Heights which really embraced and encouraged the arts. I always had University in my sights and went off to do an English degree at the University of Warwick with the plan of doing my masters in theatre or musical theatre. Warwick has a thriving artistic alumni – it seems like every show I do there is someone from there, the ‘Warwick Mafia’(!) We have 3 Warwick alumni in the cast and it’s a community that I’m so happy to be a part of. Once at University I met my inspirational singing teacher, Llyndall Trotman who introduced me to opera – and I subsequently auditioned for opera courses. I actually got rejected from everywhere the first time I tried, but the following year was accepted into all 5 top conservatoires in the UK and took up my place at the Royal College of Music.. that was a big lesson in the power of practice and focus!

I wanted to pursue a career in the arts because it means that you’re always learning and collaborating, I think that story telling has such a powerful ability to encourage human empathy and fire the imagination.

What would you say your favourite musical and opera are and why?

Ooh, good question. Musical: West Side Story, My Fair Lady and I’ve recently discovered A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder which I love! Opera: L’enfant et les sortilèges by Ravel and I saw Bizet’s Carmen (that old classic!) at Glyndebourne this year, which was a fabulous and inspiring production – and of course Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Susanna was one of my first opera roles.

What would be your dream role to play or dream show to appear in?

Gosh, I suppose this will keep changing, I would like to be performing until I’m wiser and much more wrinkly – as long as I can keep working I’ll be happy! I’ve been fortunate to have done quite a range of shows, from devising shows with Curious Directive (our Fringe First Winning production Your Last Breath is back by popular demand at the Southwark Playhouse this December), to lots of operas and musicals. I am torn between (or inspired by?) a love of drama, love of comedy and love of music. Each has a unique place in my heart and mind! So for the comedy Glinda in Wicked or Marie in Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment, any Rodgers & Hammerstein (oh the music!), Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, Mary Poppins, Kate in The Taming of the Shrew (or the musical!) and when I’m older Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

What is your advice for anyone wishing to go into the industry and would you encourage people to go for it?

Opportunity abounds, from school you can start building contacts – making connections and honing your skill set. Be proactive, be positive and remember, the only person you’re in competition with is – yourself. But also, be open, travel, take an interest in other things. We are all our own business, and I believe an entrepreneurial mind is absolutely vital – that’s why I’ve set up a company called Debut Opera. I would always encourage people to follow their dreams, but like any dream the reality can often be quite different. I’ve had a number of friends who have bravely left the industry and have found equal, if not more, amounts of happiness in other sectors. Happiness and fulfilment is key in whatever you do!

Favourite things (give me your gut reaction to these questions:)

Favourite hobby?

So fortunate – my life is my hobby! But asides from that I love going to see shows, catching up with friends and revelling in their successes and spending time at the seaside.

Favourite holiday destination?

Istanbul and Melbourne. I’ve never been to Italy, next year I hope! – but I think there too!

Favourite theatre?

Gosh, the Britten Theatre at the RCM and Her Majesty’s is such a beautiful and strangely intimate venue. The Coliseum is stunning too.

Favourite singer?

Opera singer would be Renee Fleming or Elina Garanca. Musical Theatre singer would be Philip Quast. I am in love with his Javert from the 10th anniversary recording of Les Miserables. So rousing, so heart breaking!

Favourite way to spend Christmas?

With the family, though Phantom certainly knows how to celebrate Christmas too! We have a Christmas Eve and Christmas day off this year so I’ll look forward to dashing home to the seaside to see my family, eat a hearty roast and go for a cobweb clearing, blustery walk along the Dorset coast!

For details of the show or to book tickets for Phantom of the Opera, see the link here:

For detail of Lizzie’s company, Debut Opera, please visit this link

Spotlight On… Paula Tappenden

*** Spotlight on… Paula Tappenden ***


She’s currently playing Mrs Lyons in the UK tour of Blood Brothers, but was also the first ever on stage Miss Honey in Matilda before the current musical incarnation was thought of. We spoke to Paula Tappenden about life on tour and her career so far…

How has the current tour of Blood Brothers been going? What do you love about the show?

The tour is flying by – I’ve really enjoyed being back in the show, over the years I have returned to the role many times and there is always something new to discover. I have loved being part of the ‘Blood Brothers family’ – it’s a very large slightly dysfunctional one with a huge heart.

For me and quite a few other cast members we also met our partners through Blood Brothers…both my husband and my brother-in-law have played Mr Lyons…and I played Mrs Lyons with both of them in the West End. I think the strangest show must have been when Stephen my husband played Mr Lyons and Kevin his brother went on as Narrator (…just to add they also happen to be identical twins!).
Do you have a favourite theatre on tour?
Impossible to choose! Although some theatres can be more challenging than others, for example, working on a very steep rake in heels isn’t the easiest thing to do, and although some theatres are really beautiful with lovely ornate auditoriums, FOH, and lovely staff …backstage can sometimes be quite cramped with fairly basic facilities.
Mrs Lyons is a great character and has that lovely duet with Mrs JohnstoneMy Child do you feel any affinity with Mrs Lyons and who has been your favourite Mrs Johnstone been?

My Child is a lovely song, and shows Mrs Lyons’ real longing to have a child. The tune is also repeated later in the show, which some people may not notice. I also understudy/cover Mrs Johnstone so in a way I have an affinity with both characters (especially when I am trying to hurry my son to school and I catch myself using Willy Russells dialogue!!). When I joined the show I was told that Mrs Lyons is not a villain; I feel sympathy for her as she is trying so hard to be a great mother but is only too aware she fails and because of misguided actions she is not an instantly likeable character. This makes her a much more challenging role to play.

Over the years I think I have worked with about nine Mrs. J’s and I am still in contact with a lot of them so, as with the favourite theatre question, I couldn’t possibly choose the best one…They are all Fabulous! …In a couple of weeks we may need to share dressing rooms again so I may have to add that Maureen Nolan is particularly fabulous this tour!
What have been your career highlights so far?
Creating the role of Miss Honey in the first ever production of Matilda. Unfortunately not the huge West End success that the current one is – but I did get to meet Roald Dahl. Also my first ever theatre tour, Dr Who the Ultimate Adventure – we had a hoot and I think I was possibly the first ever female Cyberman!
What led you to become an actress?
 went to college and couldn’t decide between Art and Drama – when a school friend turned up naked to the ‘life art’ class to be sketched I decided I would choose Drama.
Any particular role you’re keen to play in the future?
I would love to play a part/create a role in a new play that no one has performed yet or have free rein to adapt an already written part. Anything by Mike Leigh or Alan Ayckbourn would be great.
What is your advice for anyone wishing to enter the industry?
Learn a musical instrument – there seems to be many more parts for actors who are also musicians.
Favourite Things (give me your gut reaction to these questions:)
Favourite musical?
Sunny Afternoon ( @kinksmusical ) currently on at the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End, as my husband plays the part of Mr Davies in it.
Favourite food?
Sunday Roast.
Favourite time of year?
Autumn without the spiders.
Favourite landmark?
The UK’s first roundabout (It’s an unassuming little sign and roundabout) but it means I’m nearly home.
Favourite way to spend a weekend?
I’d like to say having lunch and drinks with friends and family – although while touring Sundays are usually spent taking the kids to Karate/swimming/rollerskating, washing, getting the school stuff ready and then collapsing in front of the telly with a glass of wine. The last couple of venues we have been lucky enough to have Monday off as well as Sunday, so it feels like a whole weekend.
For details of the UK tour of Blood Brothers and to book tickets, please follow this link:

Brave New World ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Brave New World - Scott Karim, Samantha Perl, Olivia Morgan, Abigail McKern, Gruffudd Glyn, David Burnett, Theo Odungipe - cManuel Harlan

A new adaptation of Alduous Huxley’s Brave New World is currently touring and it will be at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 7 November. Adapted by Dawn King with original music by These New Puritans, this play packs a punch right from the beginning.

Brave New World, is widely considered to be one of the finest and most prophetic dystopian novels of the twentieth century. It was first published in 1932, and is widely seen to be one of the most important novels of the 20th century, anticipating developments in reproductive technology, psychological manipulation and behavioural conditioning.

With Thomas the Director welcoming us (as an audience) to the reproductive ‘company’ as if we were new employees, this ‘audience interaction’ from Thomas (played by James Howard, who was perfectly cast) demonstrated a ‘brain-washing’ technique as he flashed a smile and spouted propaganda. The scene was set from the beginning, employees of the ‘company’ have been conditioned to think and behave in a certain manner. However, it becomes evident that they’ve not only been conditioned, but also bred in captivity. Margaret Mond is the Regional World Controller for Western Europe and is played eloquently by Sophie Ward. When she lists the ways that the world has changed (and indeed her involvement in it) it’s shocking to hear that mothers and father as we know them no longer exist, love is eradicated because it goes hand in hand with hate and the removal of these makes people ‘happier’. Alphas, betas, deltas, gammas – they’re all manufactured and born into a world of supposed solidarity.

Employees we are introduced to include alpla, Henry (David Burnett), beta, Lenina (Olivia Morgan), Benito (Theo Ogundipe) and Polly (Samantha Pearl), all of whom date and ‘have’ who they want to as erotic love is actively encouraged and features on the curriculum for young children – so it’s all these people have ever known. What becomes clear is how dangerous this new world is, their stimulant ‘Soma’ (I feel it represents alcohol and drugs) is taken with alarming regularity and is their way of seeing life through rose tinted glasses. Dangerous in itself!

Savages live in a reservation, and when Bernard (an alpha who is not ‘happy’) takes a trip to a reservation with Lenina, he comes across Linda (played magnificently by Abigail McKern), an old flame of Thomas the Director, and her son, John (Williams Postlethwaite). Linda had given birth and been left with the savages, this had led her into a life of alcoholism and prostitution. Bernard and Lenina take Linda and John back to civilisation with them, so Linda is able to go on permanent ‘Soma’ holiday (not necessarily as enticing as it sounds) and John enters a world which drives him to despair.

Kudos to the whole cast who were superb as an ensemble, especially during movement sequences. The set is engaging and reflects the text well, the music is inspired and gives a new dimension to the piece.

This is a futuristic play, not only in genre alone and I feel that it has the ability to attract a new audience, into the theatre. The link to Wolverhampton Grand Theatre website is here if you’d like to book tickets for this week : and a link to the tour dates plus other information can be found here:

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