Back to the 60s with CTC Ipswich and hit musical Hairspray at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds

The Children's Theatre Company Ipswich stage Hairspray at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: CTC

The Children's Theatre Company Ipswich stage Hairspray at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: CTC - Credit: Archant

The Children’s Theatre Company Ipswich say Welcome to the 60s as they prepare to stage hit musical Hairspray. We caught up with the group’s artistic director Bridie Rowe.

The Children's Theatre Company Ipswich stage Hairspray at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: CTC

The Children's Theatre Company Ipswich stage Hairspray at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: CTC - Credit: Archant

Baltimore, 1962. Tracy Turnblad is a big girl with big hair and an even bigger dream - to dance her way onto national TV. She’s soon using her new-found fame to fight for integration, but can she win equality and teen idol Link Larkin’s heart – without denting her ‘do?

Q: You’re staging Hairspray at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, December 30-January 2...

A: It’s selling incredibly well, we’ve added a sixth show this year, being a little bit more ambitious. It’s an alternative to a Christmas panto, it is so relevant and it’s fantastic for teenagers to do. The cast absolutely love it. We feel one of CTC’s main strength is the cast’s energy - and this show is all about energy. It’s so big it’s ridiculous.

Q: Another of the company’s strengths is tackling a range of topics...

One of the cast said to me “if you think about the last 12 months, we’ve done Cats, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, now we’re doing Hairspray and then we’re doing Les Mis”. We’ve got The Wizard of Oz in February. They’re all very different and yet they’re able to nail any style because of the depth of talent. The same people don’t get the leads each time. New people come in, different shows demand different things. Eliza Walker, who was unbelievable as Milly in Seven Brides, is in the ensemble because there wasn’t a part for her this time. We’re an ensemble company and we all work together to put on the best show possible. Everybody’s very supportive. I can’t wait for the first CTC West End performance; we’ll be there all on the coach.

Q: The 2013 production of Les Mis was something special, are you nervous abour revisiting it...

A: I’m so excited. People say “it went so well last time, how are you going to top that” and I say it’s not about topping it. The key will be doing it differently to last time. It was kind of our first big show, so I’m going to take more of a creative approach now that we’ve been going a while. Now’s the time, we’ave taken some risks over the years with show choices, perhaps. It will stay true to the original for those die hard fans like myself but it’s going to have a CTC twist.

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Q: Hairspray is vocally challenging...

A: It’s tough. People don’t realise, I didn’t realise... there’s so much to it - so many vocals, so many harmonies, so many massive group numbers and you have to dance at the same time. With You Can’t Stop The Beat... we’ve choreographed a killer routine but then bless them trying to sing it at the same time.

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(You need) big voices, again there’s a different sound. Our motormouth is incredible soulful, but what we’ve really tried to go for - because the show is so upbeat and fast-paced - her main song about segregation and racism is quite hard hitting. We’ve really tried to have that moment really truthful and poignant. Hopefully that will move quite a few people so you get that contrast. (It’s one of those songs that) just gets you. Some of the cast were so excited by being in that number, saying “I’m going to cry on stage”. I was like “just do it, go for it”. That’s how much they invest in it, that’s why we get the results we do.

Obviously not every show is for everyone... we loved Seven Brides, it was such a surprise for the cast. I loved it because I did it at school but I had cast members who’d been with me for years saying they’d never been so excited on stage. That’s just wonderful for an old musical, that they have that much joy and excitement about it.

Q: It’s a fun show too...

A: It’s been an absolute blast. They’ll keep adding their own things, that’s what’s so wonderful. As a director, I don’t like to run the show too much because I think what’s part of our success is the freshness of it.

Because time’s been quite tight this time, with me being at work.... I’ve had like sections in Big, Blond and Beautiful where I asked “can you just choreograph that bit for me because you’re going to dance it”. They’ve had more input this time which is lovely and they’re getting more confident. There’s 52 in the cast, including five junior members. It’s probably one of our biggest casts but you need it for this show. (We’ve been rehearsing) since September, our Christmas shows are always a massive challenge but as a company we thrive on that.

I know my kids and I have faith in them. I’m a stickler for details and they’re used to me polishing things. They’ve set the standard, that’s the difficulty; you’re only as good as your last show.

Because The Apex is a concert venue you have to think carefully about your choices; Hairspray isn’t one perhaps you’d think you can do. Our set designer and builders are vey creative and clever. We’re using the space but we’re more relying on the cast telling the story.

Q: It’s been two films and a stage show, how did the company react when you announced it...

A: Sometimes when I pick a show they’re not the most excited to begin with. Seven Brides is an example, because they didn’t know it but now it’s probably one of their favourites. When I announced it was Hairspray they screamed, they’re super excited. They’re really tight-knit this year because of the type of musical. They commit to two shows and you get really close and that shows on stage. Because they have so much fun you as a audience member have so much fun.

Q: CTC Ipswich has its own studio now...

A: It’ll be open soon. We secured it in October but we had to wait for everything to go through, to get a change of use to leisure use. It’s in Needham Market and we’re doing so improvement works; knocking down some walls. We’re going to make some dance studios, rehearsal spaces, all our sets and costumes will be there. We can rehearse whenever we want, because I’m notorious for adding extra rehearsals.

It’s nice to have a home and we’ve been looking for a few years. I’m giving up teaching, so it’s a perfect time to it. We have the weekly classes, but then we’re a theatre company as well that puts on shows; there’s the agency, we do parties... there’s more on the cards. I can say no more right now but there’ll be some announcements in the programme and in the New Year. Very exciting times.

Q: And it gives you more time with your daughter, Florence...

A: Definitely. I can’t wait until she turns three and joins our tots class (laughs).

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