There’s a pleasing mirroring between life and art when US-born acclaimed actor Lauren Ward admits if she weren’t acting she would devote her life to children in need of a home. In 2011 the West End fell in love with her as Miss Honey in Matilda The Musical, the timid but mighty teacher who proves to be the title character’s ultimate heroine. Now she’s playing an equally caring family-orientated woman, but this time it’s a half boy/half bat she’s taking under her metaphorical – in her case anyway – wing.
Sound intriguing? That’s certainly one way to describe the cult show Bat Boy The Musical, with its tale of a misunderstood mutant and the Parker family who invite him into their home leading to a spiral of disastrous events.
Following its much talked about West End debut a decade ago, the story has found a new London home at Southwark Playhouse with Luke Fredericks taking the directing seat. Curious to discover what drew the Tony Award nominated actor to the brilliantly eccentric musical, we quizzed the musical theatre star.
Bat Boy has a very quirky and somewhat unusual storyline. What do you think it is about it that has made the musical such a cult success?
It’s a Greek tragedy in a B-movie, which makes it tremendous fun for the cast and the audience.
What drew you to appear in this revival at Southwark Playhouse?
The script and score. It is hilarious and very smart.
You play Meredith Parker, the woman who takes Bat Boy into her family home. Describe your character in six words.
Loving. Traditional. Idealistic. Repressed. Controlling. Manipulative.
What has been your favourite moment of the process so far?
[There have been] too many laughs with the cast to pinpoint. I love all of them.
You originated the role of Miss Honey in Matilda The Musical. What was the experience of being a part of something so colossally successful like?
Amazing. Exhilarating. Fantastic. A highlight in my career thus far.
You also played the role on Broadway where you have performed extensively. Does working in New York differ in any way to the West End?
Actors and talent are the same everywhere. I love creative thinking and creative people. The things that differ are the pay, union regulations and the audiences.
After living in both America and the UK, where feels like home to you now?
Greenland?? I feel like I’m in-between two cultures all the time. There are things I love and dislike about both places equally. I have a dual perspective. I miss my friends, I miss big skies and scorching hot summers. I miss baseball. But, my home is here. My children are here. My husband [the Old Vic’s incoming Artistic Director Matthew Warchus] is here. My life is in the UK, now. Oh yes, and Devon is here. I do love Devon.
What first sparked your interest in performing?
I fell into it because it was fun and I felt accepted in a world of storytelling. I liked playing pretend as a kid.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in, who would you cast, who would direct and what would it be?
Playing Katherine Hepburn’s sister in anything directed by Orson Welles. Supporting roles with Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney and a walk-on from Laurence Olivier.
What is the finest performance you have ever seen?
Polly Bergen, Jane White and Betty Garret in Follies on Broadway. Those ladies were legends in their own right and I still can’t believe I shared a stage with them. It was an honour just to be in the building with them. The stories they would tell!
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
No, I sacrificed my career for my life.
Do you have any regrets?
None. Life is too short for regrets. Be nice, learn from your mistakes and keep looking forward. Onwards and upwards! Next!
What is the best bit of advice you could pass on to fellow actors?
Stay calm and don’t take it and yourself too seriously. It’s not brain surgery.
What one book, film and album would you recommend?
Book: The Song Of The Lark by Willa Cather. I can read anything by her, but that is my favourite novel of hers. Her characters are intricately and truthfully drawn, her perception of people and life are astute. She wrote about the mid-western experience, the immigrants who came there. I see myself and my own family in her writing. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her World War I novel One Of Ours, but I don’t think she is popular in the UK.
Film: It’s A Wonderful Life, no explanation needed.
Album: My musical taste is eclectic. I like loads of different types and genres of music. My all-time favourite album is Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction. I’m looking forward to introducing that one to my nine-year-old son who loves music. He’s not ready for it yet. He currently loves Ed Sheeran, so the other day I said ‘If you like this, you should listen to this’ and it was a James Taylor album. His face lit up. He sat at the piano for ages listening to Taylor’s album and trying to play along with it.
What could you not be without?
Do you have a pre-show routine or any rituals?
A large latte.
What do you do when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
Laundry, yoga and all the other things a mother of three needs to do.
What ambitions would you like to fulfil?
For work, I can’t lie; I’d like to get a great series. For life, I’d like to continue travelling and seeing the world. I’m hiking the Inca Trail this spring. For a challenge, I’d like to write a book.
If you weren’t an actor, what do you think you would be instead?
A teacher and/or a foster parent. There are so many kids out there in this country alone who need to be in a loving and secure environment. People who teach and foster are the true heroes of our future. They are the ones who can really make a difference every day.