ACTRESS Grace Wylde, who grew up in Solihull, is making her professional stage debut as Louise – the schoolgirl with bags of attitude – in the RSC’s production of The Boy in the Dress, the story of 12-year-old Dennis, a star striker in his school’s football team, who also just happens to like dresses.
Tell us about growing up in Solihull – were you involved in theatre productions locally?
Growing up I used to dance in my mother’s kitchen, and I couldn’t walk the street in a straight line because I’d be constantly spinning and turning. I was very hyperactive.
My first performances were at the church I went to, Small Heath Baptist Church. On one occasion I co-choreographed and danced to Shackles by Mary Mary with my good friend in the church. I distinctly remember the nerves I felt before I got on the stage, and the exhilaration at the end of the routine. Whilst I was at St Margaret’s School Primary School in Solihull I was in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, and then during my teens I took contemporary dance classes at Birmingham Hippodrome’s DanceXchange. I also took part in amateur musical productions including Oliver at the Old Rep Theatre, and High School Musical at the Alexandra Theatre with the Solihull-based company Brit Youth Theatre.
After college, I cancelled my UCAS offers for a degree in English, and worked for a year to save money to audition for musical theatre schools instead. During this time I took classes at the Birmingham Hippodrome and went to the Birmingham-based ACE Dance and Music which really helped me build a stronger foundation to begin training.
I started on a foundation course at Bird College (in London) four years ago. Before my audition onto this course I’d only had around ten classes of ballet, so I had a lot of catching up to do and it seemed futile to audition, but I don’t regret that I did, as I got in.
I’m glad that I decided to take the career shift seriously, and I owe everything to my family without whose support and funding I would not be in the position I am today.
I believe The Boy in the Dress is your professional theatre debut. How did you come to be involved in the show, and how did you feel when you got the part?
I was offered the job around my birthday back in August. I am very lucky to have a fantastic agent, and I got the chance to audition for the show. In fact there were a number of rounds of auditions where I sang, danced and even took part in a little puppetry, which wasn’t something that I’d done in training. But, if I learned one thing from my training it was that whatever I do it should be rooted in commitment, so I just gave it my best shot. I was both astounded and relieved to be finally offered my professional debut role in the show.
You play the character of Louise Dale in The Boy in the Dress. What is she like, and what’s it like playing her?
She’s bold, full of attitude and sass. She is one-half of a duo, the other being Lorna Douglas, who are called the ‘ASBO twins’. They are the older cool girls at school, and they are notorious for causing trouble: Louise always rolls her skirt up to wear it high, and the teachers continually tell her to roll it down to make it longer, and Lorna wears gold earring hoops to school. I’m sure everybody knows someone like Lorna or Louise.
It’s a lot of fun channelling a cheeky and unapologetic school girl. Having only just come out of education myself, going back to school to play a character with no care in the world is freeing. Building upon the scripted character, embellishing her during rehearsals was brilliant.
You sing a particularly memorable song in the show, A Girl Who’s Gonna Be. Tell us about that song.
A Girl Who’s Gonna Be is an all-female song performed by the ‘ASBO twins’ and their group of friends. It’s a homage to playground dynamics and school girl cliques. The song has a catchy and memorable melody, and audience members have come up to me after the show and said it has a Destiny’s Child feel to it, and how they love the all-female element to it. It’s a fun and upbeat song, with lots of energy and it’s great to get together with the other females in the cast to belt it out.
The Boy in the Dress is based on David Walliams’ book, with music and lyrics by Robbie Williams and his long-term writing partner, Guy Chambers. Have you met them? What was that like?
My stage name is Grace Wylde, but my real surname is Williams, so the first time I met David I commented that both his, Robbie’s, and my surname are quite similar and that we could all be related, to which David replied, ‘I hope that we are.’ It was a brilliant response but it was definitely one of those moments where I wished I just hadn’t spoken at all. But yes, David is great, and you feel his personality in the story we are telling.
The score by Robbie and Guy is really feel-good, and audiences love it. Robbie has a fantastic energy about him. It’s so strange to think we are singing Robbie and Guy’s songs on stage in front of an audience who haven’t heard any of them yet. Guy equally is very humble, and it’s been great working and learning from him. I also featured on his Instagram story when he filmed a bit of one of the last rehearsals before we opened, which was also brilliant.
How have you found working at the RSC in Stratford?
I’ve found every moment incredible. The company is highly regarded, and working for them I can really see why. The care and attention they put into everything they do can be seen from the direction on stage to the wellbeing of their staff off stage. After I graduated it was hard to imagine what kind of things there were left to learn, but working for the RSC sure has shown me. And as I knew, being a local, Stratford is a beautiful town, and it’s a privilege working in the heart of it every day.
What has the audience reaction been to the show?
I was truly unprepared for the overwhelming response we’ve had! The reaction of the audience has been amazing, we’ve had multiple 5-star reviews, standing ovations, and each night has been full. After the show it’s really lovely to come out of stage door and see excited faces waiting outside in the cold who want to meet the cast – if that’s not a seal of approval I don’t know what is.
What are your career ambitions?
I’ve only just started my career and who knows where it will take me. I definitely want to savour the moment and take each day as it comes. I’m really enjoying The Boy In The Dress and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’ve always enjoyed musicals with an important message, and a feel-good vibe that ignites a spark in the audience. My future ambitions are to keep performing, whether it be in musicals or for screen, and to be challenged in different kinds of roles that stretch me as an actress.
What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they want to work in the musical theatre industry?
I’d say one thing to remember is to always be yourself. I believe that it can get you far. Also that nothing worth having comes easy – keep consistent with your goals and it will make the result even more worthwhile. Our director Greg Doran has a saying he shared with the cast that has stayed with me ever since – when things don’t go to plan, don’t carry the baggage, but persevere through.
The Boy in the Dress runs in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford until March 8. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.