After playing cheerleader Patty in the musical Grease a couple of years ago, Siobhan Dillon finally gets to take on the lead role of Sandy, which, she tells Caroline Bishop, means navigating a quick change with a misbehaving pair of leather trousers.
CV in brief
2006 Came third in the BBC’s How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
2007 Patty Simcox (and understudy Sandy) in Grease at the Piccadilly theatre
2008 Mandy in Barry Manilow musical Can’t Smile Without You on tour
2009 Sally Bowles in Cabaret on tour
2010 Sandy in Grease at the Piccadilly theatre
What got you interested in singing?
Well it was strange actually because my babysitter at the time, when I was about eight years old, she was putting on a gala concert to raise money to go to Italia Conti, and she babysat one Friday night and I said ‘can I do something in the show?’ I’d just been to see Grease the musical and she said, ‘well what would you sing?’ I said ‘Look At Me I’m Sandra Dee’. I performed it and it went very well and then there were people in the audience from the local youth theatre and they said ‘would you like to come and join the youth theatre?’ You had to be nine or 10 to do that, so I had to wait a little while, eventually joined up, absolutely loved every second of it and then was in every school show, operatics and youth theatre in the area until my A Levels.
So perhaps you were fated to end up in Grease...
Yeah it is pretty crazy. If I hadn’t been a Grease fan, I’m not entirely sure if I would have got a part in the show. I knew everything already! I auditioned for Rizzo and Patty, which I got in the end, and they asked me to sing for Sandy and also Marty as well. A bit intense!
Why did you choose to study fashion at university instead of performing arts?
In hindsight it was perhaps a moment of madness. But fashion and fashion design is certainly a huge, huge passion of mine. But it’s because I was punchdrunk; I’d been doing nothing but performing arts for so many years. I was doing a couple of A Levels, one of which was Art and Design and the other was Performing Arts, and I just ended up spending a lot more time in the art room and developing fashion accessories and drawing and painting. I just thought, there’s a part of me that really wants to go to performing arts school, but I wasn’t dancing and I wasn’t acting at the time, I was just focusing on my singing, so I didn’t fancy my chances of being a triple threat in the industry. So I kind of plumped for the other thing that I loved, which was fashion.
Are you glad you did How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
Of course. If I hadn’t have done that I wouldn’t be here now. There’s not one regret about anything, about how I was portrayed, about anything I was asked to do. It was just loads of fun. I didn’t feel any pressure because I was already in a degree, so it wasn’t the be all and end all, and I think it was because of that that I really enjoyed myself and made the most of it. But there are a couple of things I would have done very differently if I’d gone back to do it now. I would have actually practised for the Saturday night live show! I would have perhaps looked into singing things differently. I hadn’t done any of the acting or anything like that, so I didn’t really know how to act the song. But I’ve had lessons since then, private tuition in acting and dancing.
Did you go back to your fashion degree after the show?
I didn’t, no. There’s a part of me that probably won’t ever want to go back to university.
There’s certainly some fashion in it for me in the future. I carry a sketch book and pencils around with me all the time. I have two ranges pretty much on paper that I’ve yet to make up. I’m really, really keen to get them made up.
You are surrounded by costumes in musical theatre. Is that inspiring?
It’s really inspiring. This industry is inspiring because everybody has different hobbies that they do and they go off and do them in the day and they come back and perform at night. It’s really buzzing. The creative juices are flowing left right and centre, so it’s a really great atmosphere to be in.
You played Patty in Grease before Sandy. Which girl are you more like?
It’s really funny, I’m a complete split personality. Patty and Sandy I think actually are my two personalities, because I am the girl that doesn’t have a lot of confidence, but then on the other side, if I’m feeling nervous I do act like a complete prat. So I think the Patty Simcox cheerleader is actually very much like my character as well, just acting up and being a bit of a goof.
Does it feel very different going into Grease as Sandy?
The first couple of days of rehearsal I felt like I was doing a cover run, standing in for somebody else’s part, because I covered Sandy a couple of years ago. So I really feel like I’m still covering her. Not so much anymore, I’ve done a couple of performances now and I’ve settled into the dressing room and I feel like it’s my part now, but it took a while.
What has been your favourite experience in your career to date?
I’ve got two major ones. I went to Nashville to write and record for my debut album and that was absolutely incredible, spending time with those kind of artists and musicians, their talent is just incredible and they are just so humble and beautiful people.
But I’d say Sally Bowles [in Cabaret] was a massive challenge for me, which is what I did last year on tour. That was massive. But Sandy’s the ultimate dream isn’t it? And now it’s finally come to fruition so that’s awesome as well. There are lots of highlights.
Do you enjoy singing your own music as much as musical theatre?
I like musical theatre because it allows you to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes for the night, it’s a bit of escapism I think. And it’s nice doing the same thing and trying to make it better and better every night. There’s something quite nice about performing live
as well, and it’s really exciting.
I have always wanted to release my own album. But I can’t say that I prefer just singing in the studio, spending goodness knows how many hours getting one line right, I don’t necessarily prefer that over the spontaneity of live theatre.
What is the worst thing about being on stage?
Last night my tight leather trousers didn’t do up in the quick change. Those kind of things aren’t so cool. I walked on stage and I was petrified my trousers were going to fall down.
So that was pretty horrific. Those kind of quick changes, you can’t rectify any of those problems when the clock’s ticking, you just have to go on and that’s pretty hard to deal with! I think we have 40 seconds or something to get a whole wig, make up, costume, shoes, everything changed. And putting bright red lipstick on in the wings when they are messing around with your wig is a bit of an issue as well.
How do you relax after a show?
To be honest I just get home as soon as possible and get to bed. There isn’t really anything I do, obviously shower, take the hundreds of pincurls out and try and relax. Sometimes I have a bit of a problem, I get really stressed and I get some stomach cramps halfway through the finale. All the tension from the show. I find it really difficult to relax anyway because I’m always bouncing around, that’s the Patty in my character.
Do you get stage fright?
No, that’s the thing. I don’t feel that I ever get really noticeably nervous. I don’t get nervous on stage; if I’m singing my own material I get really nervous, perhaps because there’s so much pressure on me to be me, because I can’t hide behind the character.
But when I come off stage I seem to hold all the tension in the top of my stomach and I just get stomach pains, that’s it really.
What production you have seen would you like to be in?
Glinda in Wicked. That’s my ultimate part, I just absolutely adore that part. That’s a mixture of Patty and Sandy I think as well. And Satine in [Baz Luhrmann film] Moulin Rouge; I really want them to put that on in theatre so I could be Satine. That would be amazing.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Steam for ten minutes every night or every morning. A quick steam and then not talking for a couple of hours. Actually I think it was Jade Westerby who played Rizzo in the first cast [who told her that]. She’s absolutely phenomenal, I love that girl to bits.
What has been the highlight of your day today?
I found a £20 note in my jacket pocket this morning! And I had some flowers at stage door this morning from my agent.