Southwark Playhouse’s newest offering, Victor/Victoria, directed by Thom Southerland and choreographed by Lee Proud is a touching and, at times, hilarious look at gender, love, sexuality and the prejudices surrounding it.
As described on the Southwark Playhouse website, we follow Destitute British soprano Victoria Grant who is rescued by club singer Toddy. To save her flagging career, he reinvents her as Count Victor Grazinski, the world’s greatest female impersonator. But when she falls for King Marchan she has a dilemma. Lose her glittering career by revealing she is actually a woman or lose the man of her dreams by keeping up the charade.
We were lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview Anna Francolini, who plays Victoria Grant:
Q: When offered the part of Victor/Victoria, what made you want to do the role?
The idea was far too delicious to turn down. Although I didn’t know much about the piece beyond its synopsis and association with Julie Andrews I was completely taken with Thom Southerland’s (our director’s) vision for the production. He clearly has a great knowledge and love for musical theatre and he believed he could take what was potentially quite a light musical comedy and transform it into something with more bite and resonance. Of course, the idea of playing not one but both title roles appealed to my ego but with that comes big responsibility and I felt the combination of Thom, the amazing Southwark Playhouse and our producer Danielle Tarento gave me enough confidence to know I would be in safe hands.
Q: I saw that you previously performed as Josephine Monaghan in ‘The Ballad of Little Jo’ at the Bridewell Theatre, did you approach the character of Victor/Victoria in a similar way?
A: They are vastly different characters. Jo ‘became’ a man through incredibly traumatic circumstances and with a desire to disappear into society, to remain unnoticed. Victoria dons a tuxedo which she whips off to reveal a pair of sparkly tights and revels in the freedom she is given as a highly successful and visible man. Although I suppose both are searching for something ‘other’ than who they think they are and are deeply unhappy as a result. So in terms of approaching each character in a physical way one was much more introverted than the other. Victoria stands like a dandy, Jo couldn’t hold her head up. But most importantly I did learn from Jo’s wig changes what we needed to do for Victoria – frankly, the wig does most of the work.
Q: What is your favourite number in the show?
I love them ALL! I am growing fonder and fonder of them each performance. I think I enjoy most of all performing Jazz Hot and Louis Says because I get to unleash my inner dancer and dance with the greatest six dancers ever. I feel like a Queen. Of dance.
Q: Do you find that you prefer performing in musical theatre rather than straight plays?
All straight plays should have songs in them. Enough said.
Q: What have you found is the biggest challenge when performing in this role?
Without doubt it is what goes on backstage. The quick changes are unbelievable and it’s not just me. We sashay offstage with style then burst into a frenzy of shedding clothes. Shirts, socks, pants go flying, bow ties are flung at you, waistcoats are ripped off. Modesty went out of the window a long time ago. I think that’s what makes us close as a company.
Q: Julie Andrews was nominated for an Oscar for the film. Did you watch it before starting rehearsals?
No. I chose not to. I am a huge fan of Julie Andrews. She was massively influential to me as I was growing up. Thoroughly Modern Millie is my all time favourite film. She is one of our finest film comic actresses. I was terrified that I would watch her in Victor/Victoria and try to do a very poor imitation of her. I did watch it after we opened, however, and really enjoyed it. I feel our version compliments the film and hopefully, we are paying decent homage to the characters as Blake Edwards originally intended.
Q: How much of who we are, do you think is defined by gender? Do we still feel the restrictions of Gender with regards to what is expected of us by society?
I think probably the answer to the latter is still an unfortunate yes. It is something continually surprising and disappointing. However, there definitely exists a huge awareness and opportunity and I should hope it’s nothing like the 1930s anymore.There are incredible role models out there. Just look at the Olympics for example. We had Clare Balding and Ellie Simmonds. If we can focus on that and ignore the likelihood that every female ‘achiever’ will eventually be papped in a bikini then I have great hopes for my own baby daughter
Q: What is your opinion on Gender-blind casting? For example a Female ‘Hamlet’?
I think it’s a fantastic idea. Why should the chaps get the most lines? I truly feel that it could enhance and develop a piece in a way previously unthought of. It may not always work well but I think it’s definitely worth a go and can only be a positive thing.
Victor/Victoria runs at the Southwark Playhouse until December 15th.
by Becky Harper