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Getting Work

Performer Samuel Haughton shares how he came to be cast as Monsieur Reyer in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and his tips for performing on stage

Spotlight member Samuel Haughton has been working professionally as an actor for 11 years since leaving drama school. Predominantly working in theatre, Sam has appeared in musicals like School of Rock, Top Hat and Spamalot, before landing the role of ​​’Monsieur Reyer’ in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera. We caught up with him to find out about his acting career so far, how he made his dreams come true and came to be cast in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

Hi Sam! How are things going on ‘The Phantom of the Opera’?

So good. It’s busy. It’s been full on with rehearsals and we only had a couple of days [after opening] before we went straight into cover rehearsals because I’m cover [for] Monsieur André. It’s quite nice because the joy and the delirium and the enthusiasm have carried us through what could be quite a tiring time. I think we’re all grateful for the nerves that have kept us going.

Can you tell us how you came to be an actor?

I grew up in South East London. We were close to the Orchard Theatre and [were fortunate enough to have access to] performing arts, cinema, culture and museums. [Theatre] was a bit of a core value for our family, so [it] was always quite open and accessible to me. From a young age, we would see things like The Sooty and Sweep Show Live and pantomimes.

I was also very fortunate that I went to a secondary school that ran a thing called ‘Culture Club’. That definitely broadened my horizons. It was the first time I went to the National Theatre and the Barbican and saw some of the less mainstream stuff.

I was around 10 when I did my first am-dram show, which, if I remember rightly, was a production of The Pirates of Penzance and I was just a little child pirate in the background. I had the best time and really took to it. What’s great about am-dram societies and communities is that there are always more shows for you to do. I did The Music Man and then I started doing [my school] musicals. We did Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, West Side Story and A Chorus Line. It was all there ready for me to dive into, which was really nice.

When I was 16, there were people in a show I was doing who were a bit older than me and were starting applications for drama schools. I hadn’t really clocked this as a thing. They were very generous with all their information about the drama school application process and auditions and the kind of material to select and all that kind of stuff. Because while it was accessible to me as a child, my mum was a primary school teacher and my dad was a policeman. It wasn’t our world at all and so the industry side of it was brand new [to me].

I auditioned for three drama schools and got into the Guildford School of Acting. I look back and I think I was definitely too young – I could have done with a bit of time. But then again, if I’d have stopped, I’d have given it too much thought [and] overanalysed things. Sometimes it might not be perfect, but it’s good just to launch straight in.

Is it fair to say that you’ve been quite drawn to musical theatre?

Big time. In terms of exposure as a child, that’s what I saw the most of and what I was fascinated by. I think initially, it was probably the opulence. I remember going to my grandma’s house and seeing the Audrey Hepburn My Fair Lady movie and [thinking], “These costumes are incredible.”

She gets to put on an amazing dress and sing amazing songs. I think it’s the romanticism and the great range of emotions that come through music that I enjoy and really delight in.

I’ve done plays and I’m open to doing more plays. My degree was in musical theatre and I think we sometimes pigeonhole a little bit in this country and so that’s very much where it’s taken me. I understand that, for one reason or another, is where the bulk of my experience is, so of course that’s where I’m going to continue to work, hopefully. But I’m very happy there, so I’m very grateful.

Headshot credit: Beth Clarence

Can you tell us a little bit about the part you play in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’?

My ensemble track is called ‘Monsieur Reyer’. The track itself is comprised of a few parts. I start as Monsieur Reyer, who is the chief répétiteur at the Opera Populaire – the opera company where Phantom is set. He’s described as being a bit of a tyrant, which I quite enjoy being able to lean into. The répétiteur is the overseer of the opera. In theatre terms, it would be a director, but it’s also more than that. He has a greater understanding of the music and the choreography.

I start off as him, then I have fabulous make-up, a wig and costume change into ‘The Jeweller’ or ‘The Fops’. If people don’t know, you get glimpses of three operas throughout the show and the middle one is called Il Muto and it’s set in the 18th century, so the costumes are huge, the wigs are high, the make-up is crazy up close, and that’s how I close out Act One.

Then, in Act Two, there is a fabulous masquerade scene. I wear a full head mask in that, so when my friends and family come to see it, they’re like, “We couldn’t spot you in it.” [And] I’m like, “I’m the one whose face you can’t see.”

How do you deal with all those different changes you have to make?

By the grace of our amazing backstage team! I have one dresser in my dressing room and she’s there to talk me through it all. Our wigs team are incredible. We had a tutorial on how to do our make-up and then they have everything there ready for us to take it off.

It’s such a finely tuned machine backstage. It takes those people who’ve been there for years, who are at the top of their game and know exactly what will and won’t work to get you on stage. When you want to panic and you think you’re never going to make it, you have to surrender to them and do as they say. They’ve been very kind, generous and patient when we ask a lot of annoying questions.

How did you get the audition?

I’d seen the show a lot as a kid. I went through a phase in my teen years of being quite obsessed with it. I hadn’t seen it since it came back after COVID and there have been some changes to the production and I had quite a few friends in it. Me and my boyfriend went to see it at the beginning of this year and I messaged one of my friends saying, “Hey, great job. Really enjoyed it,” and said very kind friend, who I won’t name, but is still in the show and I’m very grateful to them, messaged back saying, “Love that you’re enjoying it. Have you got an audition for this?

I hadn’t had a West End audition in a while and it had been something that I felt like I wanted to gear myself towards, so I made sure I was ready. I made the conscious decision not to take on any long-term work until I’d seen that [audition] process through. I delayed moving in with my boyfriend. I didn’t drink alcohol. I made sure I looked and felt good. I stacked the deck in my favour as much as I could and did everything I could to equip myself to do the best I could.

What was the audition process like?

The first round was singing your own song. I was then recalled two weeks later [with the material for the managers], which was fun because it was the same bits of audition material but alternate lines. It was a bit stressful, but I made sure I knew them. Then they called me in with the material for the Reyer track. They saw me for every piece of that little jigsaw. I think it was six rounds across seven weeks or something like that. Then, fortunately, I found out quickly! My final callback was on the Monday, I finally moved in with my boyfriend and then found out [I had the part] on the Friday, which was incredible.

Do you enjoy the audition process? Is ‘enjoy’ too strong a word?

Enjoy is a strong word! But I really enjoyed this one because it’s material that I love and a show I love. Getting to find out more about it from the people who know it the best was incredible. I got into a mentality that there’s lots I can’t control, so let’s enjoy this for the learning experience that it is.

I’ve started to enjoy auditions more because I equip myself better. It’s now a case of let’s go in and book this room, put my best foot forward and if nothing else, I get to have a great sing of a great song that I love singing. I reflect on when I was younger, and I used to go skidding in after working an eight-hour shift somewhere. How did I think I was going to equip myself to do my best in doing that?

What has your rehearsal experience been like?

Everyone at Cameron Mackintosh is great. I felt very well looked after. I had about two or three fittings before we started rehearsals. I found out [I got the part] a good few months before we started [rehearsals], so I tried to get as familiar with the material as possible while also leaving room for it to be taught to me, in case there were differences in the way they liked it from some recordings.

I also enjoyed holidays and seeing friends, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to for a while because of rehearsals.

This was a relatively big cast change for the company. There were about 10-15 of us that were starting, including a new ‘Christine’, ‘Raoul’, ‘Meg’ and a new ‘Piangi’. Across your principles, there was a big portion of them going in. We had a pre-rehearsal singing call where we went through all the ensemble singing.

This is the first time I’ve joined a company that’s already in existence. It’s fascinating because the 10-15 of you who are new rehearse it in isolation in a rehearsal studio.

You have these big complex scenes where the traffic’s a bit nuts and you think you have a grip on it. Then you do it on stage with the other 30 people who are in those scenes, and you spend a two-hour call apologising for getting in everyone’s way. But the rest of the company was so kind and so patient.

In isolation, you’re given the essence of your motivations in the scene and why you’re there and what you should be doing so you get that to carry with you. And you can come back to that once you’ve figured out where you’re standing so that people aren’t saying important lines into the back of your head. You figure that out in amongst the madness.

The bigger scenes were constantly a fine-tuning thing and even now it’s like, is this still working? Is it better if I go upstage of you?

That’s a whole weird thing as not everyone is in costume, so it feels a bit like you’ve turned up to a party that you thought was fancy dress and no one else got that memo. But God bless that company who were having to do the show at night and come in and get us into the show by day because they did it all with oodles of support and encouragement for us… it meant a lot.

Do you feel like being a fan of the work is helpful?

I think so. You’ve got to love what you do and my big thing [is] that I try and lead with gratitude. That sounds so corny and so yoga, but I’ve learned the hard way that If I’m not grateful to be in a work environment, I’m probably not going to do my best work. I try and seek out the projects that I would be grateful and happy to do.

I do think my fandom of the show helps – it fuels my love for it. And it’s also just a nice moment for me to step back and be like, if 15-year-old Sam could see this, he’d be thrilled. Particularly in rehearsal moments when I thought, “I’m never going to be able to get this. This is hard.”

It was a nice moment to step back and be like, “No, this is going to be fine. This is great.”

On social media, you said, “17-year-old me gets to live out the dream in a wonderfully full circle moment.” Can you put into words how that feels?

It’s just unreal. We are a good few weeks in and it still hasn’t really landed. The first week, I was very overwhelmed and even now it takes me a hot second to process. My second act is quite busy, so I don’t get a lot of time to stand on stage and take it in until we get to the bows and then I look up and people are standing and it’s very cool.

That tweet was because I did a Sunday concert, a showcase, at Her Majesty’s Theatre, when I was 17. So, at the bows, I definitely go back to that moment where I was like, “This is cool. I want to do this all my life.”

And here I am a good few years later and I still get to do it. It’s just incredible. It’s the biggest privilege and I’m very happy to be here.

Do you have any advice for anyone starting out about how to make their performing dreams come true?

We only get one shot at this, so if it makes you happy and you’re happy pursuing it then go at it [with] full force and try not to question or compare. It’s not always easy. You’ve got to be happy in the hard as well as being happy in the easy. Whatever your dream is, as long as it remains your dream – and dreams change and that’s okay – but as long as it’s your dream and it remains your dream, go for it.

I graduated a while ago. People from my year have made their West End debuts far sooner than I did. I don’t believe a West End debut is the beginning and end of anyone’s career but it’s something that I particularly wanted.

Don’t compare what other people are doing, because it’s your dream that you’re after and you’ll get there in the right time for you. The right time for you isn’t the right time for someone else. This is your journey, this is your story, so just run into it headfirst and embrace everything that comes with it.

My journey to the West End, for want of a better phrase, has taken me all over the place. From crazy tiny productions above pubs where 10 people are coming, but the cast is amazing, and some of my best friendships were formed in those circumstances, to international tours. My advice would be to embrace every corner of it and to give it your all.

What tips about being on stage have you learned that you’d like to share with others?

Be organised. It may feel it, but it’s not all about you. You’re there as a team, and I include the backstage in that as well, the people that you don’t see. Everyone just wants an easy life, so take everyone else into account and be a nice person.

Eight shows a week isn’t easy, so even when it feels tough, remember that there might be a kid in the audience that really needs to hear this story, or a teenager in the audience that’s dying to audition for the show that you’re in.

This is why I try and come back to gratitude because it just stops me from being too self-absorbed about it all. I always try and look out and remember that I’m a very small part of a much bigger picture and that normally sets me right and gets me back in gear.

Thanks to Sam for taking the time to talk to us. ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is on at His Majesty’s Theatre in London’s West End. Book tickets here.

You can read more casting stories or advice about getting into musical theatre on our website.

Image credit: Johan Persson