Caroline Flack: ‘Never play the victim. It comes with the job'
In the past 15 years, Caroline Flack has rarely been off our screens or out of the headlines. But she says it comes with the territory
Caroline Flack: ‘I try not to look back. It comes up with the job. I never try to play the victim.’ Photograph: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Zeo
“Hey, that’s a backstage secret,” says Tom. Now they’re both making pig snorts.
“It’s one of my favourite parts of the show.”
Musical theatre is not for the glory-hunter: the schedule is gruelling, the workload is intense, and you need to take your little pig-faced joys where you can get them. Especially with this type of musical theatre.
Crazy For You is the 1992 adaptation of the 1930s George Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, making it not just dated, but double-dated. The music comes from one era, and the script comes from another: imagine Fred Astaire with an Ace Ventura: Pet Detective swagger.
In an era of boundary-pushing musicals - Hamilton, The Book of Mormon, even Tim Minchin’s Matilda - it would be easy for the wholesome good heartedness of Crazy For You to get run over.
I try not to look back. It comes up with the job. I never try to play the victim”
Luckily, both Strictly-alumni Flack and Chambers have a bouncy, playful why-I-oughta chemistry that plays both on and off stage.
“We’d done the Strictly tour together, and Tom looked after me there, a little bit,” says Flack, who won in 2014. Chambers won his season in 2008.
“We don’t even need any chemistry in the show, because Bobby hates Irene. He’s bored of her,” she says, looking at Chambers accusingly. “They’ve been engaged for five years, but he just won’t commit.”
Flack’s character, Irene, is not the lead female role. That goes to Polly, played with earnest tomboyish charm by Charlotte Wakefield. Flack’s job is to chase Bobby, who is in love with Polly, a Nevada girl trying to save her father’s theatre.
“I don’t think I could have gone in on my first show and done the lead,” says Flack, who made her name with presenting jobs at The X factor, Love Island, and Big Brother. As one of TV’s biggest grafters, she’s a huge believer in working your way up, rung by rung.
“I’ve thrown myself in at the middle end,” she laughs, referring to her status as third banana in the musical.
“In TV, you have to earn your stripes. You take all the jobs you can to learn your craft. Gradually, you work your way up. You can do big live shows, because you’ve done three hours of kid’s TV every Saturday morning for three years.”
Irene is the vamp: the scorned woman, always in an evening dress and forever screaming “BOBBY!” As Chambers’ tries to flee from her.
“It’s that typical situation: you’ve been with a guy for five years, he says he doesn’t want to commit, and then he immediately moves in with his next girlfriend. That’s Irene. She’s irritating, but she’s also irritated, and she has a right to be.”
It’s interesting to hear Flack so defensive of her character, who on stage, is fairly easy to despise. It makes you wonder whether her empathy comes from the way she herself has been treated by the British tabloids over the past decade: first ridiculed for a brief romance with a young Harry Styles, currently hounded for her supposed romance with one of her Love Island co-stars.
“I try not to look back. It comes up with the job. I never try to play the victim. You have to see the funny side to it, because they’re all just silly stories. The media loves to portray you as having some kind of breakdown when you’re just sat at home, eating cornflakes. But I do this job because I love it, and if you have to put up with a few silly stories, than so be it.”
“Do you like it, then?” asks Chambers, whose lifelong commitment to musical theatre is only matched by his lifelong commitment to everyone having a nice time. There’s something adorable about them together: him, eager beaver extraordinaire; her, cool industry frankness.
“I do,” she nods. “I really do.”
‘Job of a lifetime’
Bobby, a banker who dreams of dancing, is played with Gene Kelly levels of commitment by Tom Chambers: it’s an intensely physical role, one that includes tap dancing, pratfalls, and literally hanging off of the scenery.
Chambers, who first came into the public eye by way of roles on Casualty and Waterloo Road, is clearly a theatre geek through and through. One of his first musical roles was in Top Hat, where he took a role made famous by Fred Astaire.
The fact that there’s no orchestra pit, and literally all the sound is coming right from the performers, while dancing, is a huge achievement
“Trying to do Fred Astaire is like trying to emulate Mozart. And before that it was White Christmas, and that was hard enough because it’s Bing Crosby.”
Crazy for You though, while not the most famous musical, has always been a big deal for him.
“This role is the job of a lifetime,” says Chambers, beaming. “I’ve always wanted to play Bobby. I saw it when it came out in 1992, and I thought if there’s ever a role for me, let it be that one. The script is really my sense of humour; It’s tap-dancing, which I love; and it’s Gershwin, which is just the best music to dance to.
“You will never see a more talented cast, because they are playing the music live on stage. They’re dancing while playing. They’re doing kicks while getting a clean note. You don’t know where to look.”
Chambers is right: the demands of Crazy for You are immense. The fact that there’s no orchestra pit, and literally all the sound is coming right from the performers, while dancing, is a huge achievement. There’s a frenetic, chaotic, addictive energy on stage - one that makes up for the somewhat thin, hokey “let’s save the old theatre!” plot line. The chorus girls aren’t merely chorus girls: they’re classically trained flautists, violinists and clarinet players.
Every show in the history of existence was developed with the West End in mind. And it’s a complete gamble, whether you end up there or not”
One such chorine who might stick out to an Irish audience when the show comes to the Bord Gáis theatre is Kate-Ann Fenton, a Bandon girl whose parents spent her childhood driving her to classes at CADA and gigs in the Everyman Theatre.
Speaking to Kate-Ann, you get the impression of a Singin’ In The Rain era Debbie Reynolds: just off the bus, ready to make a change, and convinced that someone will be along any minute to tell her there’s been a terrible mix-up, and she’s off the show.
“Mum and Dad are renting a bus from Bandon,” she says, blushing. “So all the aunts and uncles will be coming up.”
This is her first touring musical, her big break, and she’s still pinching herself - in between learning every other character’s part in the ensemble. “It’s a challenge, but I love it. I’m still so fresh in this industry and I’m learning so much from this cast. I still can’t believe it.”
Drag queens and mussels
She’s not the only one excited to be taking the show to Dublin: both Flack and Chambers are looking forward to returning, albeit for very different reasons.
“I had a night out in Dublin with some drag queens. I remember nothing about it except it was the best night out of my life,” says Flack. “It was at The George, I think.”
Chambers - a few years older than Flack, a good deal nerdier despite his leading man looks, and married - is here for the mussels. “The last time I was here, I was down in Cork, sitting outside a pub, drinking Guinness and eating mussels. The mussels in Ireland. My god. You go in most places here, they’re the size of fingernails. In Ireland, they’re like EARS.”
Crazy for You is at BGE Theatre, Dublin from September 19th to 23rd