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Olivier winner Sharon D Clarke: ‘We need to better cultivate British musicals’

Sharon D Clarke in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Photo: Johan Persson

Actor and singer Sharon D Clarke has lamented the quality of musical theatre in the UK, saying that “it needs to do more”.

Speaking at a rehearsal for Cy Coleman’s 1990 musical The Life, which will make its UK premiere at Southwark Playhouse from March 29, Clarke said she had performed in work by US writers for most of her musical theatre career.

She said: “95% of my work is American, and especially musicals. The very first show I did at Battersea Arts Centre was a British musical, devised by Jude Kelly, but I haven’t done a British musical since then, apart from We Will Rock You.

“I’ve done British plays and telly, but musicals? No. It’s a culture we need to cultivate. We should be encouraging our writers here to do that, not always emulating the States or having to do American musicals.”

Clarke has been in West End productions of US musicals including Ghost, The Lion King, Hairspray and Chicago. She won an Olivier award for her performance in The Amen Corner [1] at the National Theatre in 2014.

Clarke, who had a long-running role in BBC TV medical drama Holby City, also gave her thoughts on the subject of eating in theatres, following recent debate sparked by a ban on food [2] in the West End production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

She said: “No crisps. Just no crisps. I notice if I’m on stage, but I notice it in an audience as well. And nothing that smells. Don’t take out a curry, don’t bring in chips. It’s not the cinema. Just be respectful. That’s not theatrical etiquette, that’s human etiquette.”