After four years touring the world with hit musical Mamma Mia!, Nottingham duck Sara Poyzer is now smashing it in London’s West End. She plays Donna Sheridan, a role made famous by Meryl Streep in the film, but Sara’s feet remain firmly on the ground, and her heart still belongs to Notts...
Did you ever imagine that you’d become a successful actress?
No, I wanted to be a journalist! I was always interested in people and stories; the things that moved people. Being a features writer was more on my mind when I left school, so I studied journalism at what used to be South Notts College. Not long afterwards, I got a job at Nottingham Playhouse as a publicity officer. I was interested in theatre already, but when I started working there I was completely immersed. It felt like a punch in the guts when I saw Saint Petersburg’s Maly Theatre perform Gaudeamus; it’s an extraordinary piece. It was my lightbulb moment; from then on, I knew I wanted to be on stage.
How long did you work at Nottingham Playhouse?
Five years, I think. My boss knew I really wanted to act, but for me, it felt like too unrealistic a dream. I joined The Prospect Players amateur dramatics company in Arnold, and the Carlton Operatic Society, in my teens. Both companies had a huge impact on me. There were a few individuals who really inspired me; as far as I’m concerned, they were as good as the professionals I work with now. In those days, becoming an actor wasn’t very high on the list of job choices for a working-class gal from a mining town. But working with those people and getting a job at Nottingham Playhouse made me think that I could give it a go.
You trained at the Guildford School of Acting. That’s quite a bus ride from Notts...
The advice I was given was to go to an accredited drama school, and they were all in the south at the time. I was 24 when I auditioned, so I was relatively late. I didn’t know what to expect but I liked the college, got a place, and just dived into it. I had a wonderful time.
You’ve been in all sorts since then, from Eastenders to Billy Elliot. Do you ever make it back to Nottingham?
Working six days a week makes it tricky, but I still have friends and family in Nottingham, so I come back a few times a year. I’ve also been on stage at Nottingham Playhouse a few times. The first time was in Satin ‘n’ Steel, written by Amanda Whittington, another Nottingham lass. Then I did All Quiet On The Western Front, with Giles Croft as director. I was in Forever Young as well, which kept turning up just after Christmas for a few years.
What are your memories of Nottingham from when you were growing up?
I’ve got some really fond memories; Goose Fair, meeting at the lions, hanging around in town. I was a bit of a rocker in my teens and twenties, so Rock City was my hangout on a Thursday night; sticky floors, headbanging to heavy metal, I loved it. Notts still feels like home, even though I haven’t lived there for a long time. When I go back I’m delighted to see the culture flourishing, the galleries and theatres thriving. I’m glad to see Rock City still going strong, too! There’s history on every corner for me in Nottingham: a place I studied, a place I went for a date, a place I got drunk and danced all night.
You toured with Mamma Mia! for four years. Where was the furthest it took you?
The furthest places were Singapore, Johannesburg, South Korea, and the Philippines. We went to 33 different cities. The longest run was six months in South Korea and the shortest was something like two weeks in Switzerland. It helped that my husband was in those shows with me. He played Sam Carmichael, one of Donna’s old flames. There were some UK dates too, including Nottingham. That was part of the reason I took the fourth year of the tour; I couldn’t not perform it in my hometown. It completely sold out for two weeks at the Theatre Royal, and every night I had stacks of friends coming in. It was brilliant, I had the best time.
You’ve performed Mamma Mia! more than 1,000 times now. Are you bored yet?
I never thought I’d do anything for this long. My mum’s seen the show over forty times! There’s a lot for me to do, which helps, and I love the fact that I get to sing, dance, cry, and have a bit of a joke. There’s a good dramatic arc for me to concentrate on, to refine, and to try and recreate. I’m a perfectionist, so I always feel like there’s a better show in me. That’s what propels me forward; I always want to do a better job, so I’m not bored yet. The biggest challenge for me is fatigue; I’m often knackered.
What advice would you give to an aspiring actor?
Firstly, it has to absolutely, categorically be the thing that you want to do more than anything. If that’s the case, tenacity and stubbornness will help. Take rejection lightly, because there’s a whole lot of it. I’ve been told “no” constantly. Never stop learning, and be polite. That sounds trite, but it really matters, and not just in this industry. Reality TV promotes the idea that you can have something if you just really want it, but it isn’t enough; you have to do something to achieve it. So roll up your sleeves, learn your craft, keep contacting people, keep going for stuff. When I was starting out, I set up a theatre company with my ex-boyfriend called Hard Graft Theatre, because it is hard graft. It’s just a fact.
Sara Poyzer is starring as Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia! which is now booking until October. Visit the website or call 0844 482 5115 to book tickets.
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