Samantha Womack talks to Holly Louise Eells about coming to the stage in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, going off-grid in a camper van and getting into the headspace of her characters…
This CS Lewis’ tale of a magical snow-filled world hidden behind a wardrobe has captured the imagination of children through generations. And it is being brought to life once again on stage, calling at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre in March and New Wimbledon Theatre in April. Actor Samantha Womack has long been enchanted by the story and is thrilled to be playing the White Witch. “I’ve been a huge fan of the book for as long as I can remember. I think the story will always appeal to children and adults of all ages. Who wouldn’t want to go through an old wardrobe and encounter a talking faun, a far-away snowy land, a talking lion and scary witch?”
She says of the show: “This is a very special production – it is so beautifully conceived, and I am adoring my role as a seductress who plots and terrifies Narnia into a permanent winter!” But the show has quite changed her view on the character that once scared her when she was little. “What I’ve come to realise is that the very same character I read as a child and who my children came to interpret as someone fearsome and icy is in fact coloured with a neurosis and anxiety and unpredictability that I had never understood from the outside. We’ve discovered that place where she’s ugly at the core, and that it comes from her own desperate need to survive: the White Witch morphs into whatever the person she’s bullying wants her to be.”
The actress has played a variety of diverse characters throughout her thriving career, including the elder, ‘no-nonsense’ Mitchell sister, Ronnie, and Rachel in the sell-out West End show, Girl On The Train. “Well, funnily enough I don’t like any of my characters. I realised all the characters I have played are not well-adjusted people,” she laughs.
Sam admits though that Rachel was her favourite to play: “She was someone who had given up on herself and was an alcoholic,” she explains. “I understand about addiction through my family and mental health is something I understand quite a lot about too.” “With this character, I was putting my head right in that space. I would come out of the show and feel really satisfied, like I had gone somewhere.” Girl On The Train is something Sam would definitely love to star in again. “It was so well written. It was really cool, a dream job,” she explains.
Whilst on the topic of headspace, I ask Sam how lockdown life was for her. “I just ate the best food,” she laughs. “I kept cooking, grew stuff in the garden and I became severely addicted to chocolate and coffee. I brought Christmas snacks in August so I could eat them all the way through the year!” Nevertheless, on a more serious note, she explained the pandemic forced her to do a self-analysis and like many of us, question ourselves. “I think it actually freaked everyone out, it freaked me out,” she says. “I had a moment of like, ‘what the hell am I doing and does my career represent who I am? Am I defined by what I do?’ “I don’t think anyone was aware of what horrors the pandemic was going to bring,” says Sam. “I remember thinking, ‘what if my career disappears, what do I do outside of that? I was even wondering what do I actually like outside of work and being a mum. It is the weirdest thing.”
The mum of two says being out in nature was something that kept her calm. “I think we were so restricted in many ways and I was so fortunate I had a big garden and I was with all of my family. If we hadn’t had that space, I think I would have struggled.”
Now determined to embrace her new outlook and not wanting to go back to her mad busy life, Sam says she is looking forward to opting for alternative living in her self-sufficient camper van. “For the last five-six years, I have always been obsessed with off-grid living and that idea came when I was converting camper vans,” she says. “I love the idea of jumping into a van and just going off. This was something I was into before the pandemic and now there has been a big surge in that kind of lifestyle.”
Sam is a huge animal lover, supporting various animal charities in the UK and abroad, and currently has a variety of rescue animals at home, including three dogs (not all rescue), a cat and two horses. “It is like a menagerie”, she says. “We all pitch in. My ex-husband is really attached to them as well and comes back at weekends. That is what keeps us all together, we are all massively into that. I wouldn’t have survived lockdown without them.”
Born in Sussex, the actress currently lives in a village in Bedfordshire and says she has the best of both worlds being 40 minutes away from London.
Appreciating green spaces and being amongst nature, Sam says she is looking forward to exploring and spending lots of time in Surrey and south west London when on tour. “I love Wimbledon Common and I have spent so much time there in the past,” she explains. “Richmond, Richmond Park and Chiswick, too – all of those areas I have always loved, they are a real treat.” She is surprised how many people claim that the Thames is such a divide. “When I was living in North London, I did think it was weird when people from the north side of the river said it is so far to go to South London; it is not far!”
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
22 to 26 March, New Victoria Theatre
12 to 16 April, New Wimbledon Theatre