West End performer Rosemary Ashe returns to Theatre at the Tabard

Image: Rosemary Ashe in Honeymoon in Vegas at the London Palladium in 2017

Rosemary Ashe joins the cast of Gareth Armstrong’s play ‘Fondly Remembered’

West End performer Rosemary Ashe is best known for her leading roles in opera and musical theatre, but she is as much an actor as she is a singer, and she returns to Theatre at the Tabard in May in an acting role.

“People are sometimes surprised. They say ‘oh I didn’t know you could act” she told The Chiswick Calendar, (without rancour).

Images: Rosemary Ashe in concert; in Call Me Madam

“It’s very funny and entertaining”

Her part in Fondly Remembered, in which she returns to Theatre at the Tabard on 22 May, is that of Zoe, an older actor who has been in a long-running soap on radio for 30 years.

The play, written by fellow Chiswick resident Gareth Armstrong, is about five older actors who worked together for many years, who meet up to plan the memorial service of a friend. The process of exchanging memories gets a bit out of hand and there are revelations which, on reflection, may have been better left unsaid.

“It’s very funny and entertaining” Rosemary told us. She has just played Olive in Broken Water at the Arcola Theatre: “a very serious subject” in which three women of different generations explore some dark periods in their lives, but chiefly Rosemary is known for parts and productions that are more on the lighter end of the theatrical spectrum.

Images above: (L) Rosemary Ashe in Committee at the Donmar Warehouse in 2017; (R) In When We Are Married at the Garrick Theatre, 2010

She has played almost every female part in musical theatre – from Maria in West Side Story to Sister Mary Lazarus in Sister Act

Rosemary trained at the Royal Academy of Music and the London Opera Centre, and after 40 years of performing, her CV requires several sheets of A4 to cover all the opera, musical theatre, theatre and TV productions she has taken part in, as well as the cabaret and concert performances she has given as one woman shows.

She has played and created many roles in some of the most popular musicals of the past 40 years, including The Boyfriend, The Phantom of the Opera, Forbidden Broadway, Oliver!, The Witches of Eastwick, Mary Poppins and Adrian Mole.

You can see her full biography here: RosemaryAshe.com

Images: With William Relton in West Side Story in Nottingham in 1983; Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera

Favourite role?

She is often asked which has been her favourite role.

“It’s very difficult to answer as I have played such a myriad of fantastic roles. Carlotta in Phantom stands out of course and is something I am extremely proud of. Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd which I did in Gothenburg.

“But I LOVED playing Felicia Gabriel in The Witches of Eastwick as I had to sing, dance, act and do sleight of hand. Learning magic ticks was a huge challenge, on a nightly basis I  had to produce all sorts of things out of my mouth mid song, including a spider, candle, coin and then vomit cherries!”

Images: Rosemary Ashe in The Witches of Eastwick

Creating the part of Carlotta as part of the original cast of Phantom of the Opera

Rosemary was nominated for an Olivier award for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical for her performance as Felicia Gabriel in The Witches of Eastwick, and she created the part of Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera – the opera company’s prima donna.

“I was in the original cast and made some changes with vocal coach Gerald Moore and embellished the part vocally. We put in a top E in alt. It’s stratospherically high and in those days I could do that eight times a week. Now all the other poor women who’ve come after have had to do it too.”

Images above: Rosemary Ashe in Broken Water at the Arcola Theatre, 2024

Most highly praised? Most prestigious? Most fun?

Which role has brought her the most praise?

“Well, Felicia Gabriel in The Witches of Eastwick as aforementioned, but recently playing Olive in the new play Broken Water. Many people thought it was the best thing I have ever done!”

Is that the same as the most prestigious role?

“No, I think the most prestigious role was definitely Carlotta in the Phantom of The Opera, particularly as I was in the original cast and could make it my own creation.”

In which production(s) have you had the most fun?

“Well, all of them probably!! I love what I do and the variety of it all. Being part of a company of like minded individuals is amazing and when you are doing eight shows a week (or 12 in pantomime), you need to have fun, but not so much that the audience know about it!

“Playing the nasty nanny Miss Andrew in Mary Poppins was huge fun. I love being a baddie! if you get booed at the curtain call you know you’ve done your job correctly!!”

Images: (L) Playing Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd in 2008; (R) Playing Miss Andrew in Mary Poppins in 2004

Hairy moments?

“I was playing Helene in La Belle Helene for Sadlers Wells Opera and was scantily dressed in a wrap around towel and g string. After a love duet (‘The Dream Duet’) the singer playing Paris laid me down on a big lacy cushion. (It should have been a bed, but that got cut due to budget restraints!).

“My husband Menelaus came on stage saying ‘Helene, I’m home’. My reply was shock horror ‘My husband!’ I then tried to get up quickly but my crown got caught in the lacy cushion and I was stuck.

“After several goes I eventually got disentangled and catapulted up only for my towel to slip down and reveal my naked bosoms which literally popped out and then went back in again. The show stopped. The cast and audience were helpless. We couldn’t continue for quite a while. So the audience certainly got their money’s worth that night!!”

Disasters?

” Being hit on the head by the curtain at the curtain call for Bitter Sweet in Aberdeen. I’m ashamed to say once I’d recovered I laughed so much I had a wee accident!!”

Greatest honour?

“Being nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Supporting Performer in the Witches of Eastwick.”

Images: Rosemary Ashe giving a Noel Coward concert for the Bedford Park Festival, 2014; In her one woman show Adorable Dora

The benefits of living in Chiswick

Rosemary has lived in Chiswick for nearly 30 years, and loves living here.

“I wouldn’t live anywhere else” she told me.

She likes the idea of being at the Tabard again, not least because she can walk there.

Being part of the community around the Tabard and St Michael & All Angels Church has afforded her the opportunity to try out her one woman show Adorable Dora, about Dora Bryan, which she first performed in the church in front of a local audience, and she continues to perform in theatres around the country.

READ ALSO: Adorable Dora – Rosemary Ashe’s tribute to Dora Bryan

It is also how she met Gareth Armstrong – a theatre practitioner with five decades of experience as actor, director, voice artist, teacher, writer and playwright, and writer of Fondly Remembered – who also lives locally.

She will be reunited in the play with William Relton, who she has not worked wih since they played Maria and Tony in West Side Story in the 1980s.

“We always said we’d never work together again” she told us, “”because we laughed too much.”

Fortunately, Fondly Remembered is a comedy.

Video: The original production of Fondly Remembered at the Tabard in 2015

Fondly Remembered premiered at the Bedford Park Festival 2015

The play premiered as part of the Bedford Park Festival in 2015. Since then, sadly the actress who played Zoe, Josie Kidd, has died. She and Lucinda Curtis spoke to us about the play along with writer and director Gareth Armstrong, in this video we made of the initial production.

Rosemary Ashe, William Relton, Barbara Wilshere, Robin Kermode and Jeremy Booth take part in Fondly Remembered at the Tabard from Wednesday 22 May – Saturday 15 June.

Book tickets here: Theatre at the Tabard – Fondly Remembered

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar