Theatre Interview: Sian Reeves, Love Me Tender, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Image Source: Chronicle Live

Provided By: Liverpool Empire Theatre

Throughout the week, Love Me Tender, the brand new musical featuring the hits of Elvis Presley as its soundtrack, has left the Liverpool Empire and thousands of attendees All Shook Up. As the show continues its Merseyside run, I spoke to one of the stars of the production, Sian Reeves (who plays the character of Mayor Matilda Hyde), where she discussed her contribution to Love Me Tender, and compared it to other experiences throughout her varied career …

First of all, can you tell us about the story of Love Me Tender, and of your role as Mayor Matilda Hyde?

The story is about a small town in the middle of nowhere in America. I play Mayor Matilda Hyde, and she runs the town with a firm hand: she doesn’t allow tight pants, public kissing, loud music etc. But then this guy comes to the town who’s a bit of a nod to Elvis, who shakes us all up, who makes the jukebox work again, and who gets everybody wearing blue suede shoes. I oppose him all the way, until near the end when I have a meltdown to (the tune of) The Devil In Disguise!

It’s very fun and tongue-in-cheek; it’s all about mistakes and love. And it’s quite strange because there are ten leading characters, which you don’t normally have in a musical. I think that makes the show really interesting, because there are so many different people coming on all the time. Mica Paris is just fabulous; her voice is just stunning. I think everybody in the show is brilliant: It’s such a high standard, and the choreography is wonderful. It’s not a show about Elvis; it’s a kind of cheesy, let’s-fall-in-love thing.

What appealed to you most when you were offered the chance to participate in Love Me Tender?

Well, I haven’t toured for 27 years, and I wanted to do something different as my daughter has finished school now (so I can tour again). Of course, I was in the original cast of Les Miserables 30 years ago, so when this came up, I thought “Oh! I could go on tour! I could be in a musical!” And here I am!

Also, I thought the book (for Love Me Tender) was so funny:  I was just laughing out loud at the story of it. And the chance to build a character in a brand new musical is quite rare these days. It’s not another (version) of anything, it’s not like a new portrayal of, say, Guys & Dolls, so that opportunity was really exciting. And Mayor Matilda has a really good story as well: she’s all in charge, and then she sort of crumbles to being in love with someone at the end. It’s a great arc to play, and I get such a great response from everybody which is really rather nice, so it’s been really exciting and fun to do.

Did your previous musical experience, most notably in the BBC show Just The Two Of Us, help to prepare you for this particular production?

No it didn’t, because that show was a daily thing. You know that Strictly Come Dancing is weekly, so they have a week to prepare a dance? On Just The Two Of Us, you didn’t know if you were gonna last because you could be voted off that night, so the next day you had to learn another song. And, as you know, Rick Astley kind of left me on the show, and Russell Watson came in last minute, but we didn’t have any songs prepared because Rick had gone, so it was so stressful! There were lots of nerves and even though they gave you all this fabulous hair and make-up and costume, (because of the singing situation) I felt so under-rehearsed for it. So once I’d got through that, I thought “Wow! I can get through anything!”

With this show, though, we had a proper rehearsal period, and I had time to really create the character. Plus, my costume is wonderful, Morgan Large is an amazing set designer, and Karen Bruce is a fabulous director. With Love Me Tender, I felt I had loads of time to do it and think about it and to prepare for it. And I loved opening in Manchester; I love Manchester, it felt like home there because I’m always in Manchester filming stuff, so that was really nice.

You also have previous theatre experience in Les Miserables. Although both Les Miserables and Love Me Tender have a musical element, they are very different shows. How do you tailor your performance to cater to what I imagine would have been two very different kind of audiences?

It’s very interesting that you picked up on that. It was my first ‘job’ in Les Miserables, and I was learning. You know, there was so much experience in that cast: Roger Allam, Patti LuPone, Alun Armstrong …  Caroline Quentin was in the ensemble too. They were all so learned, and I was, like, 19. The great thing about that show was that you had 8 weeks to rehearse that, although we were so tired by the time it opened. Everything was so ingrained in you, and it was a bit depressing and sad, the show is really sad, so you could really just dig down and recreate that feeling really well.

Whereas with Love Me Tender, you need to have so much positive energy to come on and go “bang!” every time. This is more exhausting really, because everybody’s on and off, on and off, on and off.
You’re not doing a constant story; you’re going in saying “It’s me now!” and this is what I’m telling, so it’s a real different energy that you have to plug into. And it’s not really until the end of Act II that my part has its big story to tell, and at like 9.30pm, I’m like “Oh I can’t!” (laughs) My number’s 5 ½ minutes, which is massive, so I’ve had to really get in shape and get fit for that. So, it’s a very different energy to find for this show because it is slapstick and in-your-face, and the lines are very small and sharp and you have to sell the joke. It’s hard to come off after each little scene panting. It’s great for weight loss! (laughs)

On a similar note, how can you apply your acting skills from the small screen, such as your previous roles in the likes of Cutting It and Emmerdale, and adapt them to cater to the theatre stage?

Well, luckily, I’ve been on the stage since I was aged two in the local dancing school. I wanted to be a dancer, but then my dad said “Oh, you ought to do a bit of acting” as well, and so I was trained at a very early age to make sure you’re including the people in the cheap seats, you know. That’s ingrained into me, and I think people who have done telly and nothing else, I think it’d be hard to learn to be bigger and to have this energy that you need on stage.

It’s very interesting because some brilliant actors on-stage can’t convert to TV; they just don’t seem to be able to do that. But they are two different types of delivery, and when bringing your performance down to TV, it’s more intimate and trusting that you’re telling the story in a small way, whereas on-stage there’s got to be a lot of energy. I was quite nervous because I haven’t done anything on-stage for so long, and I had to do a lot of work with skipping and singing at the same time, and to get my strength up. TV is a much smaller tool as it were, and for example if you’re ill, on TV you can get away with it, but on the stage, you really can’t.

And finally, which Elvis Presley hit is the one that you most look forward to hearing during the show?

Oh, it’s If I Can Dream, the big anthem towards the end which Chad, Lorraine and Dean sing where they’ve got the love heart on stage; yeah, I love that song! I’m sick of Hound Dog though (laughs), I’ve heard it so many times! But our musical arranger, Matt Spencer-Smith, is just stunning; he’s done the most amazing job on all of the songs, and he’s made all of them into anthems. And what he’s done with my song (in the show), wow! What he’s done with The Devil In Disguise is just fantastic; I’m very lucky!

Read a review of Love Me Tender by clicking here.

You can find out more about Love Me Tender by clicking here.