Kirsty Hoiles: Dancing Queen

Kirsty Hoiles: Dancing Queen

Kirsty Hoiles is wowing the West End in Mamma Mia! She tells us more about singing Abba, and her Wimbledon roots

This year, the smash hit musical Mamma Mia celebrates its 20th anniversary and on stage every night at London’s Novello Theatre is Wimbledon-born actress Kirsty Hoiles, who plays fun-loving Tanya in the current ensemble. For Kirsty, who already has an impressive rollcall of film and theatre work to her name including Betty Blue Eyes, Gone with the Wind, the 2012 film production of Les Misérables and most recently the soundtrack to Mary Poppins Returns, the role in Mamma Mia! has exceeded her expectations.

“I love it. It’s such a delight playing Tanya because she’s such great fun and doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s quite grand and a bit glam but she’s also quite silly and a little bit inappropriate, which is always good fun to play,” explains Kirsty.

The sunny, feel-good musical is set on a Greek island idyll as a mother is preparing for her daughter’s wedding with the help of two of her best friends, one of whom is the witty and spirited Tanya. When three possible fathers of the bride are invited to the island, the fun really begins – and unfolds to the magic of Abba’s timeless pop classics.

“For the audience, it’s a bit like coming on a little holiday because the show has that kind of summery feel. It’s just such fun playing scenes with the old friends because I think people really enjoy watching that kind of silliness and those friendships.

“They love seeing these middle-aged friends having a great time and having a laugh. The superb creative team behind the show also like to keep it really slick, so it always feels like a first show for everyone that comes to watch it,” Kirsty says.

“Everyone seems to have such a lovely time in the audience – and that’s very infectious for us on stage. It’s fantastic when there’s so much energy coming back at you from an audience and they’re having such a blast.”

To date, Mamma Mia! has been seen in 50 productions in 16 different languages around the world and grossed more than $4 billion at the box office.

Original Abba stars, and the composers of the famous music and lyrics used in the show, Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeu have been known to drop in at shows, much to the nerves of the cast members.

“Benny and Bjorn were here in April, just before I joined the cast but hopefully they will come back again this year. They’re hugely supportive of the musical and I think they find it very emotional to see how their songs have been transformed into such an iconic show. It must be incredible for two composers, who wrote these amazing pop songs, to see this whole new genre emerge and become so successful.”

They may have audiences up on their feet every night of the week but the muchloved Abba pop songs are renowned in the music industry for their depth of range and challenging scores, something the West End cast know only too well, says Kirsty.

“We were really put through our paces during the auditions as you have to be able to sing them every night of the week! Frida and Agnetha [the two female vocalists who made up the original Abba line-up along with Benny and Björn] had incredibly good voices and make it look very easy. When you actually come to sing them yourself, you realise how tricky the songs are! I love it though – it’s the kind of thing that the more you do, the more you build up strength in the right areas.”

Born in Wimbledon, Kirsty spent her early years living in Twickenham before her family moved out to Kent. In recent years, however, Kirsty’s work has brought her back to south west London where she feels there is a real swell of fantastic theatre.

Kirsty has worked with productions at Battersea Arts Centre and Wimbledon’s Polka Theatre, which is set to reopen in 2020 following redevelopment.

“I loved working at Polka. I did a Christmas season there for about four months and it was just wonderful. The production was Cinderella and it was a really beautiful piece of storytelling. I think their motto at Polka is ‘children first’ and it really shone through. The production was really engaging for kids with lots of puppetry and colour. It was actually one of my favourite ever jobs.”

For now though, the West End is home for Kirsty, who will continue to star and revel in her role in Mamma Mia! through to June 2020.