Bill Deamer: ‘We are not doing a carbon copy; that was that production of Follies and this is a new production of Follies.’


Choreographer Bill Deamer enters the room. ‘Hello!’ he says cheerily.

Bill Deamer is one of Britain’s leading song and dance men for theatre, film and TV. Last year he bagged himself an Olivier nomination for Best Theatre Choreographer for Follies

Now Dominic Cooke’s production of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s masterpiece, is back at the National Theatre. We are talking in the interview room backstage at the National Theatre and Deamer has just been giving notes to the cast of Follies. ‘We now have to let them take the show and run with it,’ he says.

The 2019 Follies Company with Bill Deamer

The 2019 Follies Company with Bill Deamer

It’s tricky, Deamer explains, to reimagine a critically acclaimed musical for the Olivier stage with new cast members in just over a month, yet they have cleared that obstacle with breath-taking ease. ‘We’ve only had four weeks rehearsal whereas we had 9 originally. What you can’t do when you recast is assume the energy is going to be the same.’

It’s not only the cast that has changed since the 2017 production, however. The ensemble brings glorious new touches to the big number choreography; particularly the Mirror Mirror number, in which Dawn Hope leads the cast through a show-stopping musical theatre extravaganza.



Rehearsals must have been full-on? ‘To learn and create and become the Follies company in four weeks was a tall order, Deamer says. ‘The actors are different, we are not doing a carbon copy; that was that production of Follies and this is a new production of Follies. We’ve looked at certain concepts and developed them even more. The ghosts and how they are in contact with and interact with their older selves have all been developed.’

‘There’s a moment at the beginning of the show, during the Overture and all of a sudden the ghosts realise that they are back and they all gesture to the front,’ he continues. ‘There’s so much power in it, it gives me Gooseflesh talking about it.’

During a recent preview an audience member took a photograph of Joanna Riding performing as her voice cracked during the last lines of Losing My Mind. Follies’ Associate Director, Josh Seymour tweeted his dismay.

He winces when I mention it. ‘Good job Imelda wasn’t there!’ he says. ‘I can’t believe that during one of the most sensitive parts of the show somebody actually pulls a camera out to take a photograph – with a flash on. It’s absurd. Why do people do it? It’s so rude – it is disrespectful to the actors and it disrespectful to the audience.’

Should they have been ejected? ‘Yes.’ Deamer says bemused.

Were they? ‘No. It was such a subtle part of the show it would have disturbed things more to chuck them out,’ he says.

‘I think we all talk about audience etiquette and audience behaviour but it is not made clear enough – when you are recording for TV you hand your phones in. Maybe that is the way to go? I just don’t know.’

We discuss the mythical Follies 2018 Cast Recording that has just finally been released. ‘I’ve heard all of the various productions of Follies that have been recorded and they all have their merits. I think the quality of all of the vocals are quite extraordinary – Stephen Sondheim’s music and Jonathan Tunick’s arrangement just come to life.’

Alexander Hanson and Joanna Riding credit: Johan-Persson

Alexander Hanson and Joanna Riding credit: Johan-Persson

Does he have a favourite? ‘I have to say that Too Many Mornings breaks my heart; the woodwind, the obo – that wonderful sound. There is something in it that just moves me completely. Hearing Phillip (Quast) and Imelda (Staunton) sing it together is quite extraordinary,’ Deamer says.

The ghosts of those former cast certainly loom over the return of Follies; there are some big tap-shoes to fill. Now though, replacing Staunton as Sally is Joanna Riding and Alexander Hanson takes on the role of Ben. ‘Joanna and Alex are so completely different from their predecessors,’ Deamer says.

‘Jo is so different from Imelda – you couldn’t say that one is better than another; they are completely different. Alex brings such pathos to Ben. I have my amazing memories of working with Imelda and Phillip and now I have my memories of working with Jo and Alex.’

Dawn Hope Stella and the company National Theatre credit: Johan Persson

Dawn Hope Stella and the company National Theatre credit: Johan Persson

‘They are quite wonderful because Dominic and I have worked hard with them and it is all based as it was originally: the director, the designer, the choreographer and the music, we all work as one. So, we had that strength in the rehearsal room.’

Deamer has been a consistently working choreographer for over twenty-five years. His first Olivier nomination was for the critically acclaimed production of The Boy Friend that opened at Regents Park Open Air Theatre in 2006. He has beavered away across theatre, film and television winning an Olivier Award as Best Choreographer in 2013 for Top Hat, as a musical theatre and Charleston specialist for Strictly Come Dancing.

Bill Deamer and Carl Woodward

Bill Deamer and Carl Woodward

He never stops.

The last thing Deamer wants is to be thought of as, he stresses, a one-style  choreographer. ‘People assume I just do the old-fashioned stuff- which drives me insane. Actually, it is not old fashioned, it is classic. I’ve got Saturday Night Fever out on tour at the moment. I have a production of Evita that’s toured for 11 years around Europe out on the road.’

‘I’m a fully trained dancer and a musical theatre choreographer,’ he shrugs. ‘I trained in classical dance and ballet and jazz and indeed if anyone knows my work on TV with Strictly. For me, pigeonholing any artist is just nonsense.’

Dominic Cooke (Director) and Bill Deamer (Choreographer) in rehearsal for Follies at

Dominic Cooke (Director) and Bill Deamer (Choreographer) in rehearsal for Follies 

What advice does he have for aspiring choreographers? ‘The first thing that I say to any performer is: learn your craft. Get your technique – without that you will not survive. Too many dancers are jack of all trades and master of none and quite simply, it isn’t going to work.’

Our time has come to an end and it’s time for Bill to go.

‘I’m very luck to do what I do – I have worked for it and I’ve learnt my trade. It is wonderful to work with such brilliantly diverse people and create theatre – it feels like such a privilege to be able to work on the various projects that I do; when it doesn’t, I won’t do it,’ he concludes. The words are spoken without a hint of mawkishness, only sincerity. It is all he knows.

Follies is at the Oliver, London until 11 May.


First Look: Rehearsal images released for Follies


Full cast announced for FOLLIES at National Theatre

After a sold-out run, Follies returns to the NT in 2019. Stephen Sondheim’s legendary musical includes such classic songs as ‘Broadway Baby’, ‘I’m Still Here’ and ‘Losing My Mind’. Featuring a cast of 40 and an orchestra of 21, Follies is directed by Dominic CookeTracie Bennett, Janie Dee and Peter Forbes return to reprise their roles, with Alexander Hanson and Joanna Riding joining the cast as Ben and Sally.

The Follies 2019 cast includes Julie Armstrong (Christine Donovan), Lindsay Atherton (Young Carlotta), Josephine Barstow (Heidi Schiller from mid-April until the end of the run), Rosanna Bates (Young Emily), Jeremy Batt (Young Theodore), Tracie Bennett (Carlotta Campion), Billy Boyle (Theodore Whitman), Kaye Brown (Ensemble), Janie Dee (Phyllis Rogers Stone), Anouska Eaton (Young Deedee), Liz Ewing (Ensemble), Vanessa Fisher (Young Stella), Caroline Fitzgerald (Sandra Crane), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Solange LaFitte), Peter Forbes (Buddy Plummer), Bruce Graham (Roscoe), Adrian Grove (Sam Deems), Alexander Hanson (Ben Stone), Alyn Hawke (Ensemble), Harry Hepple (Young Buddy), Aimee Hodnett (Young Sandra), Dawn Hope (Stella Deems), Liz Izen (Deedee West), Jasmine Kerr (Ensemble), Alison Langer (Young Heidi), Felicity Lott (Heidi Schiller from 22 February until mid-April), Sarah-Marie Maxwell (Young Solange), Ian McIntosh (Young Ben), Ian McLarnon (Ensemble), Claire Moore (Hattie Walker), Tom Partridge(Ensemble), Gary Raymond (Dimitri Weismann), Michael Remick (Ensemble), Rohan Richards (Kevin), Joanna Riding (Sally Durant Plummer), Lisa Ritchie (Young Hattie), Myra Sands (Emily Whitman), Gemma Sutton (Young Sally), Monica Swayne (Young Christine), Christine Tucker (Young Phyllis) and Liam Wrate (Chorus/Swing).

Follies is designed by Vicki Mortimer, with choreography by Bill Deamer, musical supervision by Nicholas Skilbeck, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, additional orchestrations by Josh Clayton, musical director Nigel Lilley, lighting design by Paule Constable and sound designer by Paul Groothuis.

Watch Tracie Bennett’s performance of ‘I’m Still Here’ from Follies at the 2018 Olivier Awards ceremony, captured live at the Royal Albert Hall in the video below:

Supported by the Follies production syndicate.

Exclusive crystal provider for Follies

Talks and Events

A Short History of Stephen Sondheim’s work – 26 February, 6pm

Developing Musical Theatre (in partnership with the Genesis Foundation) – 7 March, 6pm

Making Follies: Wigs, Hair and Makeup – 14 March, 6pm

Follies actors in conversation – 15 March, 3pm

The Making of Follies – 19 March, 10am

Making Follies – costumes and headdresses – 25 March, 6pm

Designing Follies with Vicki Mortimer – 29 March, 5pm


Talks and events for FOLLIES at the National Theatre

FOLLIES © Johan Persson

Join the cast of Follies as they discuss appearing in the sold-out National Theatre production, directed by Dominic CookePeter Forbes and Imelda Staunton will be in conversation with director Paulette Randall, and Josephine Barstow and Tracie Bennett with singer-songwriter and actor Will Young.

There is now limited ticket availability for Follies with tickets available to buy through Friday Rush purchasable online every Friday from 1pm for the following week’s performances. Day tickets are also available in person from the NT box office. The production will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide as part of NT Live on Thursday 16 NovemberFind your nearest venue here.

Peter Forbes and Imelda StauntonMon 11 Dec, 3pm

The actors reflect on the challenges and rewards of playing Buddy and Sally in Follies, chaired by Paulette Randall.

Peter Forbes’ theatre credits include Mamma Mia! (West End), Black Watch (National Theatre of Scotland), and for NT, Never So GoodThe James PlaysOur Country’s GoodAfterlife and The Observer. Multi award-winning actor Imelda Staunton was seen on screen as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films, and has a long performance history at the National Theatre including The Beggar’s OperaGuys and Dolls, and A Chorus of Disapproval.

Josephine Barstow and Tracie BennettMon 18 Dec, 3pm

Will Young chairs a discussion with Tracie Bennett and Josephine Barstow about appearing in Follies.

Josephine Barstow has performed in opera houses across the world alongside artists such as Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, and under the baton of Georg Solti and Herbert von Karajan. Tracie Bennett originated the roles of Laura Henderson in Mrs Henderson Presents, Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow and has won Olivier awards for her performances in She Loves Me and Hairspray.

Tickets to both events are £7 (£5 concessions) and can be booked here.

Other upcoming talks and events relating to Follies include:

In Depth: The Works of Stephen Sondheim        Fri 3 and 24 November10.30am – 4.30pm

Staging Sondheim’s Follies                                   Tues 28 Nov, 10.30am – 3.30pm

History of the Ziegfeld Follies                                Fri 24 Nov, 6pm

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First Look: Production Images: FOLLIES at the National Theatre

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First Look: Rehearsal Images: Sondheim’s FOLLIES at the National Theatre

Full Casting Announcement for Follies, book by James Goldman, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and direction by Dominic Cooke



1971, New York. There’s a party on the stage of the Weismann Theatre. Tomorrow the iconic building will be demolished. Thirty years after their final performance, the Follies girls gather to have a few drinks, sing a few songs and lie about themselves. Including such classic songs as Broadway Baby, I’m Still Here and Losing My Mind, Stephen Sondheim’s legendary musical is staged for the first time at the NT. Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton play the magnificent Follies in this dazzling new production. Featuring a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, the production is directed by Dominic Cooke (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).

Director Dominic Cooke said:

“Sondheim is one of the great innovators of modern theatre. Everything he has written breaks new ground thematically and finds a fresh form to express it. His restless, questing spirit defines, for me, what it means to be an artist. I love Follies for its iconic score, brutal honesty and psychological accuracy. It depicts a profound crisis and that most American of themes: the question for authenticity in a world of illusion.

For this production we have put together a book mainly drawn from original 1971 text with some additions from later rewrites. We have brought together an incredible cast and a top notch team. I can’t wait to get started.”

Winner of Academy, Tony, Grammy and Olivier awards, Sondheim’s previous work at the NT includes A Little Night Music,Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George.

The cast includes Julie Armstrong (Sandra Crane), Norma Attallah (Emily Whitman), Josephine Barstow (Heidi Schiller), Jeremy Batt (Chorus Boy) Tracie Bennett (Carlotta Campion), Di Botcher (Hattie Walker), Billy Boyle(Theodore Whitman), Janie Dee (Phyllis Rogers Stone), Anouska Eaton (Young Emily), Liz Ewing (Company), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Solange Lafitte), Peter Forbes (Buddy Plummer), Emily Goodenough (Showgirl), Bruce Graham (Roscoe),Adrian Grove (Sam Deems), Fred Haig (Young Buddy), Aimee Hodnett (Young Hattie), Dawn Hope (Stella Deems), Liz Izen (Deedee West), Alison Langer (Young Heidi), Emily Langham (Young Carlotta), Sarah-Marie Maxwell (Young Solange), Ian McLarnon (Company), Leisha Mollyneux (Young Stella), Gemma Page (Christine Donovan), Kate Parr(Young Sandra), Philip Quast (Ben Stone), Edwin Ray (Chorus Boy), Gary Raymond (Dimitri Weismann), Adam Rhys-Charles (Young Ben), Jordan Shaw (Chorus Boy), Imelda Staunton (Sally Durrant Plummer), Zizi Strallen (Young Phyllis), Barnaby Thompson (Chorus Boy), Christine Tucker (Young Deedee), Michael Vinsen (Chorus Boy) and Alex Young (Young Sally).

Follies is designed by Vicki Mortimer, with choreography by Bill Deamer, musical supervision by Nicholas Skilbeck, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, additional orchestrations by Josh Clayton, musical director Nigel Lilley, lighting design by Paule Constable and sound designer by Paul Groothuis.

The original production of Follies premiered on Broadway in 1971, where it was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, and won seven. The show premiered in London in 1987, and has been revived around the world many times to great acclaim. This 2017 staging will be the first time the musical has been performed at the National Theatre.


Book by James Goldman, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Olivier Theatre

Previews from 22 August, Press Night 6 September

Currently booking until 4 November, additional performances to be announced. 

Supported by the Follies production syndicate.

Press Night: Wednesday 6 September

Talks and Events

Janie Dee and Philip Quast – Olivier Theatre Thursday 14 Sept, 3pm

The Future of Musical Theatre – Cottesloe Room, Friday 15 Sept, 6pm

Dominic Cooke – Olivier Theatre, Wednesday 18 October, 6pm

The Works of Stephen Sondheim – Cottesloe Room, Friday 3 November, 10.30am

Pigs and Dogs – Caryl Churchill communicates with vigour, that socially, politically and historically – we’ve got a long way to go

‘You Western-backed goats,
They forced us into slavery and killed millions. Now they want us to accept the sinfulness of homos.It shall not work.’

Pigs and Dogs at The Royal Court Theatre.

Pigs and Dogs at The Royal Court Theatre. © Alastair Muir

Both excitingly well made and strikingly formulaic. The three highly diverse leads are uniformly excellent. Sharon D Clarke is effortless in Caryl Churchill’s pertinent new play.

The title of the play is borrowed from  President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who said, “If dogs and pigs don’t do it, why must human beings?”

Pigs and Dogs boasts fine performances and nimble direction by Dominic Cooke. It doesn’t entirely evade the issue at its core – a brief history of homophobia and anti-homosexuality laws – instead it efficiently embraces the subject. Characters collide regardless of race or gender in a thrilling fifteen minutes.

This engaging piece succeeds well at what it sets out to do: wrapping an important message in a story told by rich voices. Nevertheless, both excitingly well made and dispiritingly formulaic; the actors pace the stage. The play is substantially based on material from ‘Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands’ by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe.

A riveting short which, were it fiction, might be disbelieved as dystopia. For me, Churchill communicates, with vigour, that socially, politically and historically – we’ve got a long way to go.

Cast (in alphabetical order)
Fisayo Akinade
Sharon D Clarke
Alex Hassell

Director: Dominic Cooke
Lighting Designer: Jack Williams
Sound Designed: David McDeveney
Costume Supervisor: Lucy Walshaw
Stage Manager: Caroline Meer
Dialect Coach: Hazel Holder

Fisayo Akinade, Sharon D Clarke and Alex Hassell cast in Pigs and Dogs by Caryl Churchill

Fisayo Akinade, Sharon D Clarke and Alex Hassell have been cast in Caryl Churchill’s new play Pigs and Dogs. Rehearsals start on Monday 11 July 2016. Pigs and Dogs runs from Wednesday 20 July 2016 to Saturday 30 July 2016 in the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs. Press night is on Friday 22 July 2016, 6.30pm.

Pigs and Dogs casting announcement

Former Royal Court Artistic Director Dominic Cooke directs Caryl Churchill’s second production at the Royal Court this year. With Lighting Design by Jack Williams and Sound Design by David McSeveney.

The play will run before evening performances of Unreachable in the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.

“You western backed goats,
They forced us into slavery and killed millions.
Now they want us to accept the sinfulness of homos.
It shall not work.”

In 2014 Uganda passed an Anti-Homosexuality Act.
This short, startling play looks at what lies behind it.
Pigs and Dogs is substantially based on material from Boy-Wives and Female Husbands by Stephen O Murray and Will Roscoe.
Approx. running time: 10mins.

Caryl Churchill’s previous work for the Royal Court Theatre includes Escaped Alone, Ding Dong The Wicked, Love and Information, Seven Jewish Children, Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?, A Number, Far Away, Blue Heart, Serious Money, Top Girls and Cloud Nine. Recent revivals of Churchill’s plays include The Skriker (Royal Exchange) and Light Shining In Buckinghamshire (National).

Dominic Cooke was Artistic Director of the Royal Court 2006 to 2013. For the Royal Court Dominic directed Clybourne Park, Aunt Dan and Lemon, The Fever, Seven Jewish Children, Wig Out!, Now or Later, War and Peace, Fear and Misery, Rhinoceros, The Pain and The Itch, Other People, Fireface, Spinning into Butter, Redundant, F***ing Games, Plasticine, The People are Friendly, This is a Chair and Identical Twins. Other directing credits include Arabian Nights (RSC/Young Vic / UK and world tours / New Victory Theatre, New York); Pericles, The Winter’s Tale, As You Like It, Macbeth and Cymbeline (RSC), The Crucible, Postcards from America, The Malcontent by John Marston, By the Bog of Cats…(Wyndham’s), The Eccentricities of a Nightingale (Gate / Dublin), The Weavers, Hunting Scenes From Lower Bavaria, (Gate), The Bullet, Teddy Ferrara (Donmar), Afore Night Come, Entertaining Mr Sloane (Clwyd), The Importance of Being Earnest (Atlantic Theatre Festival, Canada), My Mother Said I Never Should (Oxford Stage Co./Young Vic), Kiss of the Spider Woman (Bolton Octagon), Of Mice and Men (Nottingham Playhouse) and Autogeddon (Assembly Rooms). Awards include an Olivier Award for Best Director while working at the Royal Shakespeare Company on The Crucible, the International Theatre Institute Award for Excellence in International Theatre, a 2000 TMA award for Arabian Nights and a 1991 Fringe First award for Autogeddon.

Fisayo Akinade
’s Royal Court credits include The Crossing Plays. Other theatre credits include The Tempest (Globe), Barbarians (Young Vic), The Vote (Donmar), As You Like It (New Wolsey), Refugee Boy, Waiting For Godot (West Yorkshire Playhouse) and Neighbours (Hightide). His film credits include The Girl With All The Gifts. His television credits include In The Dark, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ordinary Lies, Cucumber, Banana and Fresh Meat. 

Sharon D Clarke will make her Royal Court debut with Pigs and Dogs. Other theatre credits include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, An Oak Tree, Everyman, Amen Corner (National), Romeo and Juliet (Rose), Mother Goose, Blues in the Night, Vagina Monologues (Hackney Empire), Porgy and Bess (Regent’s Park Open Air), Ghost (Hello Ent./Paramount Pic.), Hairspray (Stage Entertainment UK), Once on This Island (Nottingham Playhouse), Lift Off (Curve), Chicago (Adelphi), We Will Rock You (Dominion), The Lion King (Lyceum), Mama I Want To Sing (Cambridge), Once on This Island (Birmingham Rep) and Little Shop of Horrors (Leicester). Her film credits include Sugarhouse, Secret Society, Beautiful People, Broken Glass and Tumble Down. Her television credits include You, Me & Them, Death in Paradise, New Tricks, Psychobitches, Justin’s House, Eastenders, The Shadow Line, The Bill, Holby City and Walking the Dead. Awards include a Best Supporting Actress Olivier Award for Amen Corner.

Alex Hassell will make his Royal Court debut with Pigs and Dogs. Other theatre credits include Henry IV Parts 1&2, Henry V (RSC/Barbican/BAM),  Death of a Salesman (West End), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The City Madam, Cardenio, Othello (RSC), The Caretaker (Liverpool Everyman/Theatre Royal Bath/BAM), Turandot(Hampstead), The Seagull, Hamlet (The Factory), I Am Shakespeare (Chichester Festival), The Tempest, The Storm, Measure for Measure (Globe), A Midsummer’s Night Dream (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment),  Blood & Ice (Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh) and Hardcore (Pleasance, Edinburgh). His television credits include Silent Witness, Way to Go, Big Thunder, Life of Crime, Hustle, A Cop in Paris, Miranda, Love soup, Bonkers, Torchwood, Queen of Swords, Robin Hood, Murphy’s Law, Pepys, Boudicca, Death in Holy Orders, Danielle Cable: Eyewitness, Murder In Mind, Kenneth Tynan: In Praise of Hardcore and Hawkins. His film credits include Miss In Her Teens, Anonymous, Two Down, The Sick House, Cold Mountain and Calendar Girls. Alex is Artistic Director of The Factory.