Rachel’s ready for the Kings stage

Rachel Dean, otherwise known as her stage name Rachel Cantrill
Rachel Dean, otherwise known as her stage name Rachel Cantrill
Waverley Road. Picture: Google Maps

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Rachel Dean manoeuvres her headset into place and takes another phone call. She’s lost count of how many there have been today, but this one is just a little more special.

Bubbly, self-confessed ‘chatterbox’ Rachel is excitable at the best of times, but she can hardly contain herself as she sells the caller tickets for a forthcoming show.

She retains her professionalism throughout the call. But when it’s ended she punches the air triumphantly, for she has just sold a couple more seats for the show in which she stars.

Momentarily she morphs into Rachel Cantrill, the professional singer who will appear at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, in two productions as part of national tours.

By day she works in the box office booth just inside the entrance to the historic Albert Road theatre, but by night she is transformed by a multitude of glittering costumes into a singer.

‘It’s a bit bizarre isn’t it?’ giggles the 39-year-old in her broad Staffordshire accent which she shows no sign of losing despite having married into Portsmouth in 2008.

‘I lead two distinct lives, both bound together by my love of the theatre.

‘I’m Rachel the box office assistant selling tickets for all the shows at the Kings for part of the week, then I become Rachel who tours the UK.

‘But when we bring the shows to the Kings I end up selling tickets for my own shows in my home city.

‘Every time someone calls to book for those I get just a little more excited, but I never let on that they’re buying tickets from one of the people in the show.

‘I ask them if they’ve seen the show before and when they ‘yes’ I’m just itching to tell them that they must have seen me.’

Rachel ended up in Portsmouth after meeting husband Matt at a friend’s wedding in Leicestershire. ‘He was the best man, a Pompey boy through and through.’

She moved to the city in 2008, they married a year later and Rachel was looking for work.

‘Matt told me I had to discover Portsmouth and Southsea for myself while he was at work. So I used to walk the streets finding out all about it for myself.

‘One day I was in Superdrug in Palmerston Road and a voice said ‘‘Rachel, is that you?’’. I turned round and it was my friend Jenny with whom I’d appeared in a Blues Brothers show in 2000.’

Jenny worked in the Kings’ box office and encouraged her to apply for a job which she got and now she happily combines the two roles.

‘I couldn’t be happier. I work in one of the most beautiful theatres in the country, but I’ve still got the freedom to tour the country in shows that I love.’

Had she always wanted to sing?

‘I wanted to be a dancer when I was growing up, but I got to an age where I was told it was unlikely I would grow much taller – I’m only 5ft – and therefore I wouldn’t be tall enough to be a leading dancer or even one in the chorus.

‘It was suggested to my parents that they pushed my singing so I had singing lessons.’

Her sixth form tutor was also head of drama, recognised Rachel’s talent and encouraged her to chase her dream.

Straight from school she won a part in a touring show of Beauty and the Beast aimed at children. ‘That’s where I really cut my teeth and discovered what it’s really like to be on the road playing places like Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight where we did a show for the warders’ children.’

The lure of the West End was never far away, but her connection with Theatreland hardly started in the most glamorous fashion.

‘I worked front of house at the Lyceum Theatre for eight years during The Lion King’s run, but then I got a part in Casper The Musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

‘I also started to take singing lessons again during my time there so that I didn’t ‘lose it’.

‘It was the most fantastic experience. I simply couldn’t believe that the little girl who wanted to be a dancer had made it to the West End.’

But it was while she was performing in London that Rachel says she was given the best advice she’s ever had – from that singing teacher, a veteran of West End shows. It was advice which kept her feet firmly on the ground.

‘I asked him what it was like to perform day after day to packed auditoriums in the West End and he said it was no different to anywhere else.

‘He told me it didn’t matter whether I was playing to six people at a summer fete or in a theatre to 400, you are always doing it for those people, never yourself. You never do it for yourself otherwise you become self-obsessed.

‘He told me never to be one of those people who turned down a job just because it’s not in the West End.’

And with that, Rachel had to rush off from the Kings – heading for her tour bus and a trip this weekend to perform at Consett in County Durham and Preston, Lancashire.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll be back in the box office on Monday,’ she calls out as she disappears.

Rachel Dean will become Rachel Cantrill when she appears at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, on April 27 in one of the leading roles in Forever in Blue Jeans – a show in which she has been appearing since 2001.

It features music from the rock ’n’ roll of the 1950s through to that from the Swinging Sixties and on to Motown in the ’70s.

She says: ‘It’s a mixture of many types of music, all of which you can sing along to and we don’t stop – we’re on and off stage all night.

‘Audiences love it – they must do because they keep coming back year after year for it, although the show does change each year. It really is suitable for everyone from nine to 90.’

And she will return to the theatre on July 20 when the same production company brings Voice of the Heart – The Karen Carpenter Story to the Kings to mark 30 years since the death of Karen Carpenter.