Welder by day, dancer by night, the character of Alex in 1983 film Flashdance leads something of a double life. It is appropriate then, that the actress who is playing her on stage, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, has an alternative career of her own in mind…
CV in brief
2001 First professional job in Oh! What A Night on tour
2003 Makes West End debut in Mamma Mia!
2004 Fame at the Shaftesbury theatre
2007 Desperately Seeking Susan at the Novello theatre
2008 Creates the role of Alex in Flashdance on tour
2010 Plays Rizzo in Grease at the Piccadilly theatre
2010 Reprises the role of Alex in the West End
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in London, actually not far from where we are rehearsing. I’m from Cricklewood.
What got you interested in musical theatre?
I think it was always something that I was interested in. I had a very short attention span as a kid and the teachers told my parents ‘the only time Victoria ever seems to be happy is when she’s creating something’. In the classroom apparently I used to cause quite a lot of trouble because I’d be forever dancing around when I should have obviously been putting my attention somewhere else. So I think that was a sure enough sign for my parents to go, ‘ok, off she goes to dancing lessons’.
Are you from a musical theatre background?
Not a musical theatre background but both of my grandmothers were dancers, and then my mum, she was a contemporary dancer. But because she came from such a poor family she didn’t have the money to be able to fund her education, so she unfortunately didn’t really get anywhere with it. My father was a singer, he used to sing in all the clubs in Soho. So I come from a very musical family. One of my mother’s brothers was in The Clash for a little while. But then he realised he was into more heavy rock as opposed to punk. So he left the band, which was the worst thing he could have done, because later on they became very big!
Where did you train?
I started my training at [performing arts college] Stella Mann. And then I went to the Central School of Ballet for quite a few years and then I ended up in the Urdang Academy [in North London]. I graduated at 18.
I danced first. And then I started acting a little bit later. I picked up acting at the age of 10 and then singing came later, about the age of 12, 13. And then I put them all together!
What was your first role?
I was lucky enough to graduate and know that I had a job to go on to. That was Oh! What A Night with Kid Creole. It was a privilege working with someone like him because he is a true professional, a true star. I played the character Cat, and she was a real feisty, Puerto Rican kind of character who sang songs like Lady Marmalade and Car Wash. So when you’re 18, to go and do something as big as that, for me it was like my ultimate job because I loved the show.
It was terrible because I was so nervous. I’ve kind of grown into my personality I’d say. I was a bit of a people watcher, I’d keep myself to myself, especially at school, and then I think I came into my own when I left and got work experience over the years doing shows. But my gosh, the first day of rehearsals I couldn’t bring myself to eat, and I think people in the cast were like, ‘oh no, we’re going to have to watch this one’. The nerves were so unbearable. But I soon got over it!
Tell me about Alex in Flashdance.
She leads the show. She is a strong-willed young girl in her late teens who has a lot of self-doubt but a lot of confidence as well. She is very confident when it comes to dancing in the bar every night, but she doubts herself in the sense that she would never be able to go to a big school like the Shipley Academy to learn ballet training.
She’s older than her years because she’s had to grow up very fast, because she’s had to look after herself and she’s had to look after her mother, who is a single parent. Alex’s father walked out on them when Alex was a very young age, so it’s just her and her mother. They had a tough time, but they are very dependent on each other and there’s a lot of love within her mother and Alex’s relationship, but also with the girls as well – Keisha, Jazmin and Gloria – these are her best friends that she goes at night to dance in the bar with.
Are you anything like Alex?
I would say that I am actually, it’s quite strange. Maybe it’s a bit of a bonus in a way, I’ve been able to find her a lot quicker. I’ve just finished playing Rizzo in Grease. That’s totally different to who I am, I couldn’t be any more opposite to Rizzo, but Alex yeah I’m very much like her. I’m very confident in certain ways but then I do have that self-doubt which I’m trying to get myself out of. I think that also comes with being an artist, you are your own biggest critic.
Does it feel daunting stepping into a famous role in a well-known film like Flashdance?
Not so much really, no. Because it wasn’t a musical film – we had the big hits, there was Maniac, What A Feeling and Manhunt – but coming in to do this musical, we have 11 new songs that Robbie Roth composed, and himself and Robert Cary have written the lyrics, so there are all these new things to explore that weren’t in the film. Obviously we’ve taken the main outline of the film, but there’s a whole load of brand new stuff as well. So I didn’t feel that was hard, I really just felt like it was a blank canvas for me to explore for myself.
Was it useful to start on tour?
Well you would think, because we were on tour for 40 weeks. I literally came to rehearsals [for the West End run] and I was like, ok, I’ve got a bit of a heads up here, I know where it’s going. But I was totally wrong. We really have changed the show. It’s definitely for the better, it’s a much better show than it was on tour, they’ve really gone all out this time. Me and two others have stayed on, but otherwise it’s a brand new cast. I don’t think I do one thing that is the same as it was on tour, apart from singing the songs. The dancing has completely changed and some of the script has changed as well. But it’s great, it keeps it fresh for me.
How is it working with choreographer Arlene Phillips?
She’s brilliant. I’ve known Arlene for a long time now, probably coming up for 10 years, and I’ve worked with her before, with other shows like Saturday Night Fever and Grease. I’m very comfortable there, we know each other very well and we know where we stand with one another. We have a good working relationship and overall we get on very well. If I’m worried about something I can talk to her and air it as opposed to suppressing the angst.
Did you see Robert Webb’s Flashdance parody on Comic Relief’s Let’s Dance?
I did, I absolutely loved it, it was brilliant, it was so fun to watch. I live in north west London and he lives in north west London as well. I was in Sainsbury’s and I clocked that he was outside and I thought oh my gosh I have to tell him that I’ve just been playing his part on tour, but by the time I’d gone outside he’d already scarpered, so I missed my chance to have a word with him.
What has been your favourite experience in your career to date?
That is very hard because each and every one has been wonderful in itself and exciting. I really enjoyed doing Desperately Seeking Susan actually. I know we didn’t last long, it was all of two months before we got booted out, but it was a great experience. It was quite heart-breaking when we got our two-week notice. I had this quirky role playing this Venezuelan maid called Maria, and I just loved the fact I got to act silly on stage and not take myself seriously.
Then again, I went on tour with West Side Story and it was an all-American cast apart from me. I learnt so much in those four months doing that one job. It was an international tour, so we went to Japan and Thailand, and went round Germany, and it was just absolutely brilliant. With this job you do get to travel. Off my own bat I would love to travel but money is always an issue so I never would have been able to take myself to somewhere like Japan.
If you had to choose between acting, singing and dancing, which one would you choose?
I’m a bit of a drama queen, I think I always will be. I love a good scene. I love dancing, very much and I love to sing as well, but I do love the drama, getting a good script and having some good fellow actors to bounce off. I’d love to maybe eventually do a straight play.
I hope I’m not too typecast because I have done a lot of musicals. I hope it won’t affect me too much and I can go on to do some straight plays as well. Obviously the more different things you do you’re going to grow into where you want to get to.
If you weren’t an actor what would you be?
I worked in London Zoo for four years when I was younger. There was something like 40 of us that started off. We were kids, it was our weekend job. And I was the last one standing! The others couldn’t hack it and there was me still shovelling pigs’ business and donkeys’ doo-dah. But you know what, as smelly as it was, I absolutely loved it, and I’ve always said, if I didn’t do what I did today I would definitely be working with animals. I very nearly did. About four, five years ago, I was like, you know what, I might just go and get myself a little job in the RSPCA. But I didn’t because I ended up getting a contract to go on to something else. But there is a part of me that would love to go back to that from time to time. I love working with animals. And believe me, you have to love to work with animals, especially stinking animals like pigs, because it’s not for everyone. I did really smell at the end of the day.
Have you ever worked with animals on stage?
No, and I was gutted because when we started Flashdance, I knew that there was a dog in the movie and I was like, oh my gosh, my dream has come true, I get to have a dog on stage. Then I turn up to rehearsals and there’s no dog. But you’ve got to be realistic. Apparently it’s so unpredictable, you never know what’s going to happen. Maybe I should be counting my blessings!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I think just don’t take yourself too seriously. With what we do, you can take yourself too seriously sometimes because it can all get a bit heated and intense. The key is to remind yourself that it’s just one episode in your life and you’ve got so many more to look forward to, so just take it as it comes. Just go with the flow. And you’ve got to bring fun into yourself, you can’t take yourself too seriously or you’re not going to be a happy person.