After a decade in EastEnders, Samantha Womack makes her return to the stage as morbid matriarch Morticia in The Addams Family.
The last time most people saw Samantha Womack was as Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders. But after a tumultuous decade in Albert Square, Ronnie Mitchell and her sister Roxy were killed off in suitably dramatic fashion (a double wedding day drowning) on New Year’s Day.
But the actress has not been resting idle – she’s been on the road for the past three months playing Morticia in the touring version of the hit West End musical, The Addams Family.
Wednesday Addams, the ultimate princess of darkness, is all grown up and has a shocking secret that only her father Gomez knows. She’s fallen in love with a sweet, young man from a respectable family.
Samantha, who had an impressive musical pedigree before she left for soapland, has been relishing her return to the stage.
‘She’s really easy to play now, because she’s in my body now, which sounds strange, but she moves very differently. Me and the director, Matthew White, looked at the early illustrations of her by Charles Addams in the New Yorker, and the animations, and she grew from the ground – she was kind of like a tree, so we tried to make her like that, and I’m kind of floating around and using my arms a lot.
That combination of music and performing to an audience, that’s really intoxicating for me
‘It’s always nice when something settles into your body because then you can kind of relax, and I think that’s kind of key, 50 per cent of the performance is being relaxed and confident.’
Although the characters began life in print, it was through a popular 1960s TV show, and a brace of hugely successful films in the ’90s that many are familiar with the creepy and kooky creations. And Samantha was a fan from her school days.
‘I used to watch reruns of the TV series after school, I think when I was about 12-13, and I loved it. I loved Carolyn Jones’ portrayal of Morticia as it was slightly softer than Anjelica Huston’s (in the later films), which brings with it that very matriarchal, quite arch and broody performance, but I think this storyline is served better with a slightly softer Morticia, because it’s all about a disruption in a marriage.
‘I thought if I’m too haughty at the top it’s not going to mean as much – you have to see that they’re loving and together for that to have an impact.
‘The writing is still very arch and sarcastic. Marshall Brickman, who wrote the book, writes for Woody Allen, so he’s got a real sense of comedy, and I get a lot of his comedy lines. They would be difficult to get wrong because they’re so well written.
‘It’s a very cool show, it’s much more than I expected it to be, it’s very layered.
But she was actually hesitant to throw her hat into the ring at first.
‘In my head I thought “it’s a family show, how deep can it be? Is there going to be enough to get my teeth into?” And also touring you have to consider if you’ve got a young family’ – she’s a mum-of-two. ‘It’s got to be something really special to justify it.
‘Then I read the script and went in, and really enjoyed it. I spoke with the producer and the director about what their expectations were and listened to the rest of the score, and it’s really layered, it’s kind of beautiful, it’s dark and it’s eerie, it’s a bit Sweeney Todd. It’s that kind of vibe to it, there’s a bit more melancholy and dark to it than your average family show, so that really attracted me. And then it got under my skin the moment I did the audition.’
Knowing that ‘the world and his wife’ had auditioned for the show, Samantha was thrilled to get the call to say she had won the part. And she adds: ‘It tied in really nicely with me leaving another job which I’d been in for 10 years, I felt like it was nice to have that security, otherwise leaving would have been a lot more brutal, because I had another family to go to, which softened the blow slightly.’
That ‘other job’ was of course EastEnders. The Mitchell sisters’ death came rather suddenly, when in true soap fashion it seemed like a happy ending could be on the cards for Ronnie.
‘It was brutal and it was abrupt, which is not only shocking for the audience but also for the actors. You get close to the people you work with and you feel safe there – after you’ve been somewhere for 10 years, you assume a certain degree of security. But you just have to remind yourself that it is a transient job at the end of the day, from every year I was there it could have ended at any time.
‘They had made her so dark leading up to her leaving, I said “how many murders and attempted abductions can one person do before they stop being real?”
‘I was kind of pleading with them a year before to lay off some of the dark stuff because I sensed trouble brewing. But listen, it is what it is, and looking back it’s a part I’m really proud of.’
For now though, she’s happy being back on stage.
‘Musicals were really my speciality, doing Grease and Camelot and all that stuff, then with Guys and Dolls and South Pacific, that’s kind of who I was before EastEnders.’
And she’s hoping to do more in the future. ‘Oh I hope so, I’m never happier. There’s something about that combination of music and performing to an audience that’s really intoxicating for me, I absolutely love it.’
n The Addams Family is at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from July 18-29. For more details, go to mayflower.org.uk or call 023 8071 1811.