Understudy Steph Parry: ‘They told me: ‘Run over to Mamma Mia! – go now!”
When Mamma Mia! star Caroline Deverill was forced offstage after picking up an injury last night (June 7, 2018), and with no understudy available, general manager Philip Effemey faced the prospect of cancelling the performance. That was until it emerged that Steph Parry, who had covered the role of Donna at the Novello Theatre five years earlier, was working as an understudy in 42nd Street over the road. She tells Ollie Cole about going from understudy in one show to starring in another in just 18 minutes…
Who gave you the call to head to the Novello?
It was my first day back at 42nd Street last night after a holiday, and I was back to being a standby waiting in the dressing room tucking into some carrots and houmous. My company manager then gave me a call, so I thought I was going to have to go on at the Theatre Royal. But he told me that David Lamb, Mamma Mia!’s company manager, was on the phone asking if I was in the building because they had an emergency. I simply got told: “They need you there, can you run over to Mamma Mia!, and go now.”
What happened when you got there?
Philip Effemey [Mamma Mia!’s general manager] was waiting for me at stage door when I arrived, and asked: “Can you do it?” I still had no idea what they wanted me for, so Philip explained they needed me to go on to play Donna. Caroline had only made it through her first scene before picking up the injury, so I asked where in the show we were and was bundled into a dressing room. Next, I had this entourage of people throwing me into other people’s costumes, doing my hair and putting make-up on my face. Within moments, the curtain went up and the show went on, with me playing Donna.
How did you cope with having to remember everything?
I’d covered the role before in London, and done a version on a cruise ship, but obviously that was completely different. The choreography was different, the blocking was different and the people were different.
I’d had to cover in February while I was in 42nd Street rehearsals, but had been given time to run through the show. And by last night I’d let all that go, because I’ve had to learn two roles of a whole different musical. I’ve been on for Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street a couple of times, and then suddenly had to revert right back, so I was being pulled around stage and guided along by others as we went through the night.
The audience was marvellous. It’s a really good moment to celebrate the camaraderie of the West End
How did the audience receive it?
It was a packed house and they were marvellous. I honestly wish I could have taped the reaction and had it on demand for whenever I’m feeling down. I think it’s a really good moment to celebrate the camaraderie of the West End, that 42nd Street wanted me to go and help out another show and that we could pull all that together for the audience.