Anna-Jane Casey is currently starring as Cilla the Goose in Mother Goose alongside Ian McKellen and John Bishop. Mother Goose previously played Duke of York’s Theatre in London before touring various cities. The show is touring to Liverpool, Oxford, Leicester, Dublin Cardiff, Salford and Bristol until mid April.
Anna-Jane Casey has most recently been seen in the Olivier Award winning revival of Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club starring as Fraulein Kost, and her prolific stage career includes the West End productions of Billy Elliot, Starlight Express, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Spamalot, Stepping Out, Chicago, Grease and so much more. On television you may have seen her in Silent Witness, Coronation Street, The Royal and Doctors among other appearances.
You’re currently starring in Mother Goose, written by the wonderful Jonathan Harvey. How has the run been so far?
The run has been amazing so far! We started previews early December in Brighton – we’d do a show and then all run around doing our Christmas shopping.
The show was in Brighton before finding a home over Christmas in the West End. How did the audiences differ?
Oscar Conlon-Morrey – why that boy doesn’t have his own major comedy show is beyond me! Anytime Oscar is on the stage is joy personified for me, he’s a wonderful human being, and cracks me up every night. But also, Richard Leeming, who plays Bat, any time he’s onstage is wonderful.
What has it been like working with Sir Ian McKellen? I like to think he recites Shakespeare in his dressing room for fun…
What can I say! The words ‘living legend’ are banded about too much, but he is. I had a great chat with him the other day about his upbringing and becoming an actor. When he finished university, he went around all the rep companies and learnt on the trade – the man has never trained. I pride myself on the fact that I never went to Drama School and trained. I look at Ian McKellen who has played every Shakespeare character and starred in major movies, and he’s the most joyous, kind, funny, rude, and saucy man. He’s a wonderful man and it’s an honour to hold his hand on stage. I can’t believe my luck when I’m standing next to Magneto! Magneto is my friend!
And what is it like starring with John Bishop?
I grew to love John Bishop during the rehearsal process. He is the kindest, funniest, warmest, sweetest, and generous man. He works so hard; he deserves a rest – I sound like his wife! He’s the hardest working man in show business and I love him immensely.
I think it might have been Jack and the Beanstalk in Manchester when I was about 6 or 7 years old. They called for children to come up on stage, and before they even finished their sentence I was out of my seat. I just remember being on the stage, looking out at a sea of people, singing along and having the best time!
They say that panto is one of the hardest jobs out there. Did you manage to have a Christmas of your own?
We did, we were very lucky this year. We had Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day off, which is often unheard of! We had a nice Christmas… I did just lie down and eat cake though.
A lot of West End theatregoers will know you from your acclaimed run as Fraulein Kost/Fritzie in the lauded revival Cabaret. Would you like to see that sort of immersive theatre, as seen at the Kit Kat Club, done more in the West End?
I would like to see more. There are a lot currently, such as Punchdrunk, which is a great immersive theatre company. You’re getting 4-hours of entertainment, at least! Theatre is a creative and collaborative environment, which involves the audience as well. If the audience aren’t joining in, then the work as an actor is really hard. It’s a live immersive experience, even if it’s not billed as one – that’s what I’m finding on this panto. Once the audience join in everyone has a great time. To hear a room full of people connecting is a wonderful thing – it’s the human condition, we all want to connect.
If you could revive any other musical in the West End, what would it be?
Bring back Starlight Express! You know you’re working hard when you’re doing Starlight – that was a tremendous show to do. I don’t know if I’d do it now at my age, but when I was 26 I loved it.
I’ve played a lot of lead roles, but when I was first given the opportunity to do a big show, I was Velma Kelly in Chicago in the West End. I can remember the first night. My parents were there, my dad came into my dressing room, and I was in tears saying, ‘I can’t do it, it’s too much pressure.’ My dad held me, and he said, ‘You’ve fought all your life to be at the front, you deserve it, and you are brilliant’. My biggest challenge was really getting over my own fear.
And which has been your favourite?
It has got to be West Side Story. It’s where I met my husband and we’ve been married for 25 years. It’s still the greatest show ever written – musically, lyrically, and script.
And when it comes to pantomime – apart from the obvious differences – how does it differ to being in a West End musical?
Pantos are different because most West End shows don’t ask you to be involved (aside from Cabaret). In a panto you have the join in – the audience are asked to, from ‘its behind you’ to ‘oh no it isn’t’. If you’re coming to a panto expecting to do nothing you might as well just go home.
And looking to the future, what would you like to be next for you?
I want my new kitchen to be done – it’s been a work in progress since I was in Cabaret, and it’s still not done. So next for me is keeping myself and my children alive and getting my kitchen redone!
Interview by Jordan Lloyd Beck