Interview: Star of EVITA, Lucy O’Byrne

Evie chatted to Evita star Lucy O’Byrne.

How was opening night?!

It was fine! We had a very quick rehearsal period because a lot of the cast are returning. They’re a wonderful company and they know exactly what they’re doing so there’s a lot of grabbing us newbies and getting us into the right place at the right times at the moment.

Was it workshop based or do they know what they want beforehand?

When it came to putting the show on the floor, there are obviously things that we have to do and marks we have to hit. That’s because the production is up and running so we’re more of a cast change than a new show. It means we have to be the same as the previous person playing our part. But in and around that, it’s up to us, especially if there’s only two or three of us on stage. What’s also been really nice, is that Bill Kenwright has been co-directing this piece, so he came in and did some work with us. And the cast have been fab in saying things like “well this is what it was like before, but we can make it work around you”. So, it’s been lovely.

Are two performances ever the same? Do you try and make new choices on stage each night?

In every show, you try to do that as much as you can, in regards to your intention behind it. You try and make it fresh and make it mean more, but I wouldn’t say different. Physically, there are too many people depending on you and there are big pieces of set, so you can’t suddenly decide you want to move in a different direction… or you will get crushed! But this is a long contract, so you have to find something new in it every time.

How did this role come about for you?

I did the show in college and I was absolutely obsessed with the role. Then when I first moved to London and my agent asked me what my dream roles were, Eva was one of them. So, I was lucky enough to do The Voice, and then The Sound of Music, and then Les Mis, and then I went back to The Sound of Music again. After that, I heard that Bill Kenwright, who produced The Sound of Music, was also looking for an Eva in Evita. My agent and I contacted them about an audition and they said no because they couldn’t see me in the role. They saw me as too much of a Maria Von Trapp. But after a few weeks they came back to me and asked me to audition because my agent was fabulous and after singing to Bill himself, they offered me the role!

Eva has been played by some iconic people like Patty LuPone, Madonna and Elaine Paige, does that add pressure for you?

It makes me feel part of a legacy. It’s the same for every role, like Maria Von Trapp and Julie Andrews. These characters were real people though, Eva is very much a part a part of peoples’ memories in Argentina so that’s really important to me. You have to not let it add pressure, you just have to do your version and hope that you’re bringing something new to it.

Do you see similarities between yourself and Eva?

There are lots, yes, but you have to try and understand every character you play and find ways to connect with them. She was an actress really, and played the role of first lady her whole life. But a lot of it was an act. I am the age now that she was when she became first lady.

It’s amazing to be able to play the vulnerable moments. Obviously, she has parts where she is fierce, and I know I can have a temper (it’s the red hair), so I love that similarity too. A lot of people think of her as a monster, a gold-digger and a man eater, but she really wasn’t. She was a young girl who was trying to make her way in a man’s world. She faced such bad discrimination because she was female. She was playing them at their own game but because she was female it came across differently.

Do you have a favourite moment or a favourite song in the show?

I have so many! I sing almost the entire show which is tiring but great. One of my favourites is the last song she sings, called The Lament, which is strange because it’s not a lament at all, it’s a beautiful, haunting melody. She basically lays down everything she has done, to the audience, and asks them to understand why she did it. She’s saying, ‘I did it, I chose to do it and I’m glad I did it.’ It unapologetic and defiant. I love singing it and I love the message behind it.  

Right back to the beginning of your career when you first went on The Voice, did you know you would be the first person to go on and do opera? Did it make you more nervous because no one had done it before? Or less nervous because no one had done it before?

I felt like I had something different. But I didn’t think I would get that far because no one had gone before me with classical singing. If I’m honest, I didn’t think I would get past the ‘blinds’, so it was just as much of a surprise for me. And up until a few rounds in I kept thinking, I don’t know if I want to get any further!?

It was my singing teacher that encouraged me to do it. Even on the day of the audition I rang her and pretended I was sick, which I never normally do! But she was like ‘oh stop it’ and could see right past me. But it just goes to show that everything happens for a reason.

Obviously with the voice, it’s not like you can do it ‘take after take’ if things go wrong, but is performing on TV very different to performing in a theatre?

There’s a lot more responsibility with theatre. Once the show goes up and you’re out there, you’re on your own, with the cast and the MD, and that’s it. You can’t stop. Once you start, you have to get to the end. With the voice, I was lucky because I got to the ‘lives’ and having done theatre since I was little meant that I felt more comfortable doing the live performances rather than being asked to retake things for a different angle or answer questions again.

The other difference is that with theatre, and especially touring with a show, you do a lot of stuff by yourself: you travel to the venue, you buy your own lunch, you sort your makeup etc. But with TV, it’d all sorted for you: someone picks you up, someone hands you your lunch, someone fixes your makeup.

Did you ever think you would succeed this far in the industry? How does it feel to be becoming a bit of a household name?

A few weeks ago I was on the phone to get my car insurance and they asked for my name, and when I said it there was complete silence… and then he said “are you the opera singer from the voice?!” and he asked if I would come and sing I Cardiff… and I told him he could get tickets to Evita, which is going to Cardiff!

It’s a strange but amazing feeling. When I go back to Ireland I get stopped a lot more but it only happens here occasionally. But what’s so nice, is that everyone has been so lovely. I love it when people tell me they voted for me because I can say thank you to them in person. Without them I wouldn’t be here.

Why should people come and see Evita?

Its spectacular. The journey is amazing – this teenager who comes from nothing to ending up as a queen. It’s a human story, and everyone can relate to the reasons she does things, and the choices she makes. It’s not a documentary of who they were and what they did, it shows that they were human. As well as that, the choreography is gorgeous, the costumes are gorgeous and the set is gorgeous too!

Evita plays at Churchill Theatre Bromley until Saturday 28th July.

Read the review here.

Evie Freeman
Evie Freeman

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