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What does it take to be a musical theatre swing?

What does it take to be a musical theatre swing?

Musical theatre is a tough genre to succeed in. You have to be equally proficient in all 3 styles – dancing, singing and acting – a triple threat. So imagine being hired in a show and having to memorize EVERY SINGLE ROLE! That’s the mammoth task undertaken by a ‘swing’.

Swings are absolutely vital to the smooth running of any theatre production. Not only do they help with prompting of lines, if, heaven forbid, someone forgets, but they are instantly on hand, ready to fill in for roles due to sickness, or any sort of absence. Sam Lathwood is the current swing and assistant dance captain for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s MATILDA THE MUSICAL. Unlike other productions, at least half the cast are children, including the main part. We all know how quickly children can become ill, and you can’t do a show without the lead, so being a swing for Matilda the Musical is most certainly one of the most demanding roles. We spoke with Sam about his job, how he copes, his favourite role, and what it’s like working with the younger members of the cast!

DN. You’re the current assistant dance captain / swing for Matilda the Musical. How do remember all the choreography so well without actually being in the roles permanently?

SL. When we first started to learn the show back in January, it took a lot of staying behind after rehearsals and dancing in my living room to help solidify all of the information in my brain. I work both visually and practically to get the choreography into my muscle memory, and once the choreography has gone in, it’s all about recapping the information, referring back to notes/ maps of the routines and watching the show as much as I can (when I’m not already on stage performing) to help retain the information.

DN. Knowing all the roles so well, who is your favourite character in Matilda and why?

SL. I would say my favourite character in the show has to be Miss Trunchbull, she has some brilliant dialogue, she’s intimidating and dark yet comical and outrageous. She gets to perform a whole solo dance routine with a ribbon in an extremely difficult costume and fly over a vault in her Olympics uniform/skirt. What’s not to like!

DN. It’s a well-known saying that you should never work with animals or children! What’s it been like working so closely with the younger members of the cast of Matilda?

SL. I adore working with the children. They never fail to make you laugh and smile. Their work ethic is always second to none. This is the 5th show I’ve done which has had children in the cast and I find they bring such a unique and exciting energy to the theatre both onstage and offstage that you don’t always get on other shows. I always find that the work our children at Matilda do on stage every evening is very inspiring.

DN. You’ve worked in many musical theatre hits such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Elf the Musical to name a couple. How does Matilda differ to the others?

SL. Matilda actually has the same choreographer as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Peter Darling) so I started Matilda with an understanding of the way the choreography might work. But compared to other shows I’ve done, the storytelling in Matilda is very detailed, specific and plentiful. The show also has a very dark story throughout, unlike Charlie Bucket, Matilda doesn’t get her ‘golden ticket’ until the very end of her story.

DN. Which is the most challenging scene and choreography in Matilda to work on?

SL. I would have to say all of the gate choreography in ‘School Song’. It makes a lot of sense and flows nicely once you’ve got it, but it took many more rehearsals to get there. What I love about the number is that you still get that massive rush of adrenaline each time you dance on the gates.

DN. This year, Matilda celebrated its 30th year since first being published, and has since won many accolades, particularly with the musical adaptation. Where do you see yourself at 30?

SL. I’m in total denial that one day I’ll no longer be in my twenties that I haven’t even thought about being 30 yet! Hopefully I’ll be happy and dancing my 30 year old heart out.

DN. Lastly, a famous quote from Matilda is “somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world” If you could make 1 change, what would it be?

SL. My one change would be to somehow eliminate the huge amount of plastic that is contaminating our planet. I’m a huge fan of watching Blue Planet and it disappoints me that over 8 million tonnes of plastic and rubbish ends up in the ocean each year, come on humans!

Well said Sam.

 

Matilda the Musical is currently on stage at the Palace & Opera House Manchester until 24th November. Tickets are still available at ATG Tickets Palace Theatre , with an incredible special rate of only £5 for 16-25 year olds (terms and conditions apply) before it continues on it’s spell binding tour of the UK finishing August 2019! You can find more details of tour dates, locations and book tickets on the website here Matilda the Musical . Watch out for my review article of the production, and vlog from when I went backstage at the Palace Theatre Manchester, and got to nosey around the dressing rooms of the cast!

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