Danielle Bird is currently playing Mildred in The Worst Witch at The Vaudeville Theatre in London, so we got to speak to her about the beloved books the show is based on and if she could impress Miss Hardbroom!
How did you get into acting? Was there a particular performance you saw that resonated with you?
When I was young my twin sister and I would make up our own stories to perform. I guess we started by watching Dad playing in his band and we sort of joined in. Then at secondary school I had really inspiring drama and music teachers who encouraged me to audition for the school productions. From there I applied for The National Youth Theatre and at 15, after a two-week residency with them, I decided I wanted to do it professionally.
Regarding a performance that resonated, I remember watching the film A Streetcar Named Desire in one of our Theatre Studies lessons in sixth form and getting swept away with it. The relationships were so intense, the emotions complex and the whole atmosphere is so moody. I sort of imagined myself playing Blanche.
What has been your favourite role you have played and why?
I think some of my favourite roles have been the quite obscure characters like Drudge, for example, in Richard Bean’s play The Hypocrite, for the RSC. I played a 108-year-old man who was the slow, incompetent, accidentally acrobatic servant of the house. Also, whilst still at drama school at only 21 I was cast as Boo Levy, a Jewish American mother in her 50’s living in Atlanta in the 1940’s, in The Last Night of Ballyhoo. I realised during that process how much I enjoyed playing parts removed from myself.
Where did you train?
I did the acting course at Mountview.
Can you tell us about your current show The Worst Witch? What drew you to the role of Mildred Hubble?
The Worst Witch is about an ordinary girl called Mildred who finds herself in an extraordinary circumstance by accidentally turning up at a witch’s academy. Many people know the well-loved stories by Jill Murphy. Well, our show is set during the girls 5th year at the school and Mildred has decided to write a play herself and the girls mount a school production to show ‘normal’ children what a witching education may look like and to try and encourage applications to Miss Cackle’s academy. But of course, with Millie around not only is the play is at stake but there’s a twist to the tale and the audience are involved in a much greater peril!
Shamefully I didn’t read the books myself as a kid so I first discovered the delightful world of Mildred and her friends when I was invited to do some research and development on the play with our lovely director Theresa Heskins. In fact, originally, I played Ethel Hallow in these early stages before even the script was written. I then worked with Theresa on another production shortly after and she must have assumed in the interim that I was better at being a clumsy mess who caused disaster wherever she goes compared to the composed and perfect Ethel. When I was offered the part, I loved how endearing she is and how despite being the worst at being a witch she really tries and she really cares.
What can people expect from The Worst Witch?
People can expect a home-spun magic within the play within the play with a true Theresa style stamp on it. It’s playful and silly and funny with quirky theatrical ideas like slow motion sequences and glove puppet cats. People can expect amazing music and sound affects played by the awesome live band on stage, composed by Luke potter. People can also expect aerial broomstick formations fit for the circus. As well as all this, expect the kids to get really invested and be vital in being part of helping Mildred to save the day. It’s got heart and joy as well as drama and jeopardy!
Why do you think Jill Murphy’s work is still popular today?
Who doesn’t want to go to a magical academy?! I think for kids the idea of another reality that could be out there parallel to our own lives is really exciting and the possibility that they could end up at a school for witches or wizards is a wonderful imaginative escape.
Where has been your favourite place to perform on stage and why?
I’ve been so lucky having the chance to perform is some wonderful venues so this is a tricky one! I suppose performance spaces that are quite unique stick out in my mind like The Globe for example. I had a joke while I was still at drama school that The Globe was called the job centre and one day I’d work there.
What is the most rewarding thing about your work?
The audience’s reactions! Especially when they are rooting for my character. I’m not sure I’d like playing a baddie on stage. I’m also obsessed with the feeling of ensemble and community you get when working on a show.
What’s been a funny moment for you on stage? Any mishaps you want to share!?
I was playing one of the witches in Macbeth at Chester Storyhouse’s Open Air Theatre, which is constructed in a beautiful park where people are encouraged to bring a picnic. In this production, the witches were an amalgamation with the murderers. Very fun to play! In the middle of an intense emotional scene for Macbeth an audience member opened a bottle of champagne which made a loud and distracting pop before the cork made a perfect rainbow ark from the seating bank right over Macbeth before its downward trajectory was aiming straight for my face. There was utter silence in the crowd and the actors had all frozen apart from the eyelines following the corks flight. Then without changing my ‘murderous’ expression from the scene or moving my footing I shot my arm decisively in the air and caught the cork with what The Guardian reviewed as a ‘slip fielders reflexes’. I maintained my victory pose while the crowd erupted like a Wimbledon match feeling very proud of myself. In the curtain call, the audience threw multiple corks onto the stage. Much better than roses any day!
Who are your influences and inspirations?
I feel like my inspirations are people I’ve worked with. That’s when you really get to know their mettle. At the moment our newest cast member, Lauryn Redding is blowing my mind. She has joined the show for our West End transfer and in just a week has learned the entire score for the show. No lie, the entire score and I’m talking on every instrument. She is swing cover for every other musician in the production so has swapped from sax to drums to piano to guitar with harmonies, sound effects and a whole load of professionalism and naughty wit.
Is there a role (regardless of gender) you would love to play in a show?
This changes depending on what I’m working on etc. but I had a pang the other day of wanting to play Jo in Little Women. I’ve just had a hair cut and thought back to the scene where Jo sells her hair to raise money for the family. She’s stoic and selfless, full of adventure and follows her heart.
Where can people follow Danielle Bird on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube etc?
You can find me on Twitter @D_bird_9 and the same on Instagram. I have two “Danielle Bird” pages on Insta and one is just full of vegan food and the other contains more theatre fun so make sure you stumble across the one you want!
And finally: if you could do a spell that Miss Hardbroom would be proud of what would you choose?!
I’m not sure there is any spell Mildred could do that Miss Hardbroom would be proud of!
Don’t forget to look out for our review of Danielle Bird’s latest show The Worst Witch Live.