Helen Hobson is currently starring as Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia! which is thrilling audiences at Milton Keynes Theatre.
The actress has an extensive CV full of success and variety, both on the small screen and on stage.
She went On Stage with Total MK and talked all things theatre with us…
Tell us about your first memory of the theatre
I have a distant memory of being driven around the West End by my family and taken on a tour up and down Shaftesbury Avenue and as a surprise I was taken to the Prince Edward Theatre to see Evita.
I believe I may have seen Stephanie Lawrence in the role of Evita.
And the moment your realised theatre was your calling
I didn’t ever really have an ambition to become an actress from a young age, but through being linked with my school orchestra and playing first flute it was recognised that I was musical. My orchestra leaders' wife took me to one side and asked me about drama schools. I thought it sounded like a good idea so I applied! It wasn’t until my third year at drama school that I began to really appreciate that this could become my career.
Which stage actor, living or dead, would you most like to meet and what would you ask them?
The actor I would love to meet again is John Normington, he was partner to John Anderson my Wigs Master on Aspects Of Love at the Prince Of Wales in London.
A wonderful talented and generous actor. I told John in the dressing room one evening how I had an important audition coming up for the role of Eliza Doolittle in Simon Callow’s production.
I needed to do some speeches and asked John if he would coach me for the audition. He agreed, and during a delicious tea we talked theatre, life and he coached me plus worked on those important vowel sounds! I will never forget that time and their kindness. I got the job and I know without his help I may not have been as successful!
Do you have any superstitions, or pre-show routines?
Not really, and yet each venue we go to I do spend time putting up my photos, and cards and messages up around the mirror in my dressing room, I sometimes wear a perfume that I only use for the show, but not too much as I would hate to influence or put off my fellow actors!
The best piece of advice given to you when you started in the business
As I said it wasn’t really until the third year that I began to consider seriously the possibility that I could work in the industry. This was because my mentor and principle of my Drama School Mountview, Peter Coxhead had a meeting with me to discuss the business.
In a nutshell he advised me that I needed to think of myself as a business, where did I want to sell the “product” which was me! Which direction did I want to head in? What action did I now have to take in order to achieve this?
He believed I could become a leading lady in Musical Theatre….. Our meeting took place at the end of my second year, I got organised began goal setting, worked on my physical stamina, worked to get my audition technique in order and began my business.
Many years later I was very touched when I learned he had requested I sing at his funeral.
I was able to do this at The Actors Church in Covent Garden.
I sang Moon River, a song he had heard me sing at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and I was able to sing for him in the morning then go to my first day of rehearsals for the International Tour of Mamma Mia! to play the leading lady role of Donna, as he had always known I would…another reason why this role is very close to my heart.
What has been your steepest learning curve?
I think that would be, how to keep going when not working?
I have had gaps in my career and so I turn to working at other things that I am passionate about, I like to keep learning so that has become important to me. Plus to try and keep present in the industry, so you are always in peoples minds.
How do you fill your time on tour?
We have a Mamma Mia! book club and we meet to discuss the book and what book we should read next, usually over a cup of tea or something stronger! I am very interested in health and fitness and nutrition and have been an Independent herbalife distributor for 17 years.
I try to maintain my own level of health and fitness especially with this demanding role and I help people to do the same. I recently qualified as an Exercise to Music teacher and I am currently studying with Origym, to gain my qualifications in Personal Training and Level 4 GP referral working with people with obesity, weight management and diabetes.
I am also part of www.accessallarias.co.uk we are a vocal harmony group and we have cruises and gigs alongside my commitments to Mamma Mia! Oh and I have a husband, a little girl, a dog and two cats back at home who come to see me when I am on the road. So not much spare time really!
Nerves or excitement - what takes over before the curtain rises?
I think a bit of both? As we open in each new venue, I would say nerves arrive as it’s a different Theatre, sometimes we have to alter our staging and I need to remember the new moves !! Excitement because it’s a new venue too, a new energy, a new audience to tell our story too.
How can the future for theatre be safeguarded?
Ensure funding for the arts, engage students with live theatre, use theatre as a teaching tool for younger students, reduce prices of tickets, ensure funding for students to attend drama schools, invest in new writers.
And for those yet to book tickets, what would you say?
Bring your dancing shoes, stand by to feel good, laugh till you can’t stop, oh and don’t forget your hankies!
Mamma Mia continues to May 20 at Milton Keynes Theatre. To book your seat, click here