The first time Lucy May Barker appeared on The Kings Theatre’s stage was playing the title role in a national tour of the musical Annie.
Now some 15 years later she’s coming back, playing Sophie in the unstoppable juggernaut that is Mamma Mia!, the musical based on the songs of Abba.
‘I’ve got a little teddy bear all packed up in storage somewhere that I was given when I played there with a little jumper on saying “Kings Theatre Southsea” on it. I’ve not been back to the theatre to perform since, so I’m really looking forward to this.
‘I’ve been back to a few other theatres I last went to in Annie, and I keep on thinking that I remembered them being much bigger!’
Lucy May plays Sophie, a role played by Amanda Seyfried in the 2008 blockbuster film. Sophie is getting ready for her wedding and has invited three men to her forthcoming wedding, one of whom she believes could be her father.
The performer has been playing the role now for three years in various different tours.
‘I absolutely love this show. It’s a brilliant night out for everyone. You get these husbands perhaps dragged along who weren’t up for it and they’re the first ones up dancing, and that’s what this show is about for me.
‘There was an early review we had that said Mamma Mia! should be available on the NHS. I love that, and that perfectly encapsulates what it’s about for me. People can come and forget all their worries for a couple of hours, they know all the tunes, so it’s easy to listen to, and I think the story, if people haven’t seen the film, they can be quite surprised by the story. A lot of jukebox musicals are about the people who have written the songs, but this is definitely one that’s got a good plot as well.
‘The story is absolutely brilliant and the songs fit perfectly. They go hand-in-hand, rather than shoe-horn in hand. It’s its 20th anniversary this year and that’s testament to its quality.’
Playing Annie from 2001 to 2003 was Lucy May’s big break. ‘It was my introduction into this industry and I knew from then that it was what I wanted to do, I’ve never had any other ideas about what I wanted to do – and I’m also not very good at anything else!’
After Annie she returned to school, but was clearly bitten by the bug.
‘I wrote to a few casting directors and agencies and things, just to see if I could have some work experience or auditions, I wrote to Pippa Ailion, who’s a casting director in London, I think I was 14-5 at the time. She replied to me, which not a lot of casting directors did, and told me they were casting for Spring Awakening as I was the right age for it.
‘It opened in the West End when I was 16 and that was my first job as an “adult”. Obviously I wasn’t an adult, but I thought I was, and off the back of that I got my agent, and I’ve been blagging it ever since, really.
She’s being modest – the show was a four-time Olivier Award-winner.
And she also appeared in the 2011 production of Sweeney Todd at Chichester Festival Theatre alongside Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, which earned a transfer into the West End.
’I’ve been really lucky, I’ve learned on the job, which has been challenging at times,’ says Lucy May. ‘People have all different paths through any industry and sometimes feel like I’ve cracked it, then I move on to the next job and it’s: “No, I definitely haven’t”.
‘It had been my intention to go to drama school, but after Spring Awakening the jobs continued, so I’ve been lucky enough to have the right job at the right time. I worked with some incredible actors and actresses and directors when I was younger, and they were very kind to me and helped me to learn properly.’
But it’s her current job which you feel Lucy May is going to find hardest to let go.
‘I’ve re-rehearsed it three times now with different casts, and you find different things each time, and bits you hadn’t noticed before. I guess it’s like people watching their favourite films and still getting something out of it. It’s a show about people and personalities. It is a joy for me, as you can probably tell.
‘The Mamma Mia! ship is such a happy ship to sail in, the show is so warm and heartfelt that everyone’s really happy, not that other shows aren’t like that, but if you’ve had a bit of a rubbish day, you go on and sing Dancing Queen everything’s okay. It’s not like a show where you have to be crying every five minutes!’
The Kings Theatre, Southsea