Sara Poyzer and Richard Standing are excited.
The husband and wife team are playing the leads in the first ever outdoor production of Mamma Mia! at Harewood House this month.
For Standing in particular it means a lot. A Yorkshireman he visited Harewood regularly when he was younger, so to return to perform with the historic house as the backdrop singing ABBA hits, is something of a dream come true.
But what is exciting them both most is being back in front of a live audience after a hiatus of more than 18 months due to coronavirus pandemic.
“It is amazing to be back doing live theatre but especially doing such a joyous show as Mamma Mia!” says Poyzer, who plays Donna Sheridan opposite Standing’s Sam Carmichael. “It has been a very emotional experience seeing fellow actors again during rehearsals and then getting back on stage, It is such an amazing venue.”
Although restrictions have been lifted everyone is still being very cautious.
”We rehearsed wearing masks which is really strange,” recalls Standing who was born in Ackworth and attended the University of Hull.
“It made it even more emotional when we took off the masks for the first time – especially when I sang Slipping Through My Fingers with Lucy May Barker who plays my daughter Sophie, I think we were all in tears,” says Poyzer, who met Standing when they were both at Northern Broadsides and Barry Rutter claims the credit for getting them together.
“I feel very fortunate that I get to work with my wife and best friend,” says Standing, who is also known for his television work, including three years on Coronation Street.
But he always viewed himself as a ‘serious’ actor who had never considered musical theatre until he met Poyzer.
“I suppose I was a bit of a theatre snob, but it was mainly that I didn’t really know much about musical theatre and then I went a long to Mamma Mia!, mainly to support Sara, and it made me realise that I wanted to be a part of it too.”
Poyzer has played Donna – the part made famous by Meryl Streep in the film adaptation – off and on for ten years, but says she still loves every performance.
“People ask me how I can play the same character for so long, but I play her differently to how I played her ten years ago, as my life changes so does the way I play Donna,” says Poyzer whose theatre break came when she appeared in Billy Elliot.
They are both aware of the responsibilty that comes with playing in such a loved musical which is as much about the songs of ABBA as it is the storyline
“Yes there’s a responsibilty, but it is just amazing to perform in a production that so many people know and love – it is joyful,” says Standing.
When the pandemic hit Poyzer had been due to appear in a new production of Piaf playing the eponymous role.
“It was devastating when the theatres closed and we all know how terribly theatre has been effected by the pandemic.”
While they admit lockdown did see them doing DIY and Poyzer did a lot of baking, they wanted to do more. “I volunteered for my local St John Ambulance and helped run a vaccination centre,” says Poyzer.
“It was humbling to see just how dedicated the NHS staff were –they just went above and beyond, working through their lunch breaks to try to get as many people as vaccinated as possible.”
It was particularly important to Poyzer, therefore, that the first performance of Mamma Mia ! at Harewood was for NHS and key workers the day before opening to the public on Friday.
Finding his normal work come to a halt, Standing decided to get a job.
He worked on a local 120-acre estate near their Hertfordshire home, indulging his love of gardening. “I think if I hadn’t been an actor I would have been a gardener,” he says. “I did it for ten months and loved it. I know that the pandemic was so hard for so many people and I feel blessed that we were okay and actually saw a lot of positives come out of it. My wife works a lot harder than I do and she is often away a lot so it was nice for us to spend some time together at home.”
Having said that the pair were overjoyed when they were told of the plan to do the first ever open air production of Mamma Mia !
“Even then the producer really stressed that we had to take is slowly,” says Poyzer. “There have been so many false starts over the last year and we didn’t want to rush things and put it in jeopardy.
“I have been to watch quite a few productions since restrictions were lifted and it is just so amazing to be back in the theatre and everyone seems so happy to be back.”
But it wasn’t until they took to the stage on Thursday that they really let themselves believe that things were going to be okay.
“Nothing beats live theatre,” says Standing.
“I do enjoy television but it just isn’t the same – it doesn’t have the same intimacy as having a live audience.”
The Harewood House production is the only chance to see Mamma Mia! in the UK this year. A tour is planned for next year which is due to kick off in Dubai, travel restrictions permitting.
Mamma Mia! opened on Friday and will play until August 30.
To date, Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 65 million people in 50 productions in 16 different languages.
In 2011 it became the first Western musical ever to be staged in Mandarin in the People’s Republic of China.
Mamma Mia! became the 8th longest running show in Broadway history where it played a record-breaking run for 14 years.
Produced by Judy Craymer, Mamma Mia! The Movie became the highest grossing live action musical film of all time upon its release in 2008.
A second film, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, opened in July 2018 and is the most successful live musical movie sequel of all time.
With music and lyrics by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus, Mamm Mia! is written by Catherine Johnson, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast.
The production is designed by Mark Thompson, with lighting design by Howard Harrison, sound design by Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken, and musical supervision, additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch.
Mamma Mia! Harewood House runs until August 30 for information visit www.mamma-mia.com 0344 338 800burg