Sound of Music: “It’s a pleasure to fall in love with her every night”

It’s a tribute to the show in a way. When he’s out and about in Chichester, passers-by will often salute Edward Harrison, our Captain von Trapp in Chichester’s Festival Theatre’s summer musical The Sound of Music.
Edward Harrison as Captain von Trapp. Photo Manuel HarlanEdward Harrison as Captain von Trapp. Photo Manuel Harlan
Edward Harrison as Captain von Trapp. Photo Manuel Harlan

“When I leave the theatre every night or when I'm just wandering about in Chichester I do get that salute! The lovely thing is that it's so clearly a show that has touched people. You speak to people and they are just shaking with happiness. It's so powerful and it's so uplifting.

“But when you are doing a show like The Sound of Music you have so much that is already in place. The score is just stunning and the script is so seductive and witty and I think those are the things that endure, that are right at the heart of the production – this story which is about family and faith and love and music and belonging that people really connect with. And with this production our director was keen to plug into the political and historical context where it is allowed. You've got this very important backdrop to the whole thing. There are moments that really aren't whiskers on kittens to play.”

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There is a scene where the swastikas are unfurled and where Nazi officers stand amongst the audience: “And that's part of the design, not part of the script. And there is me singing Edelweiss and really trying to make it a combination of things, an anthem but also showing real defiance in the face of the Nazis. Captain von Trapp wants to leave with his head held high.”

And it is great to be doing it on the Chichester stage where Edward previously previously appeared in the touring production of Shakespeare in Love: “I was Burbage which gave me permission to be the biggest and hammiest actor in the world. But what I really love about the Festival Theatre is that it hugs you. It is all around you and you can feel the heightened expectations. The film of The Sound of Music is a fantastic template and the definitive version but what has been so lovely is that so many younger people who do not know the film have come along and loved it.”

As for playing von Trapp, as Edward says: “It's a famously intricate and difficult journey. We meet him as a very cold and strict and regimented person who is depressed to a certain extent. But you have to be able to see in him the embers of the man he once was and I think Maria sees that. After that the journey is very swift but also very nuanced. My favourite part of the show is where he reconnects with his children. These are the big challenges, the moments that are signposted and when you're playing it you have the great Christopher Plummer in your mind. But really what you have to do is just ask yourself who he is and what he wants. You have to step back from the film and just look at the character and you see that he is this retired naval captain who is a widower who through his pain at being widowed has shut the door on his seven beautiful children.

“And actually I discovered that I misremembered the character. I thought he was a grumpy disconnected father who thaws, but when you realise that it is grief that fuels him, you realise it is something totally different. And you realise that his military persona is just actually a useful shield that he puts in front of him to protect him from his grief.

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“And then Maria comes in and she's fun and she's witty. She's also headstrong and strong-willed and initially there is conflict between them. They butt heads. But you have to be able to see in him that little twinkle which I think she sees. And the key to our Maria is that our Maria is the wonderful Gina Beck who is just so brilliant. You consider she is against the expectations of the great Julie Andrews but she is wonderful.

“When I went for the the final audition (Gina had already been cast), it was a chemistry test. I went in and Gina knew all the words already. She had done so much work before rehearsals even began. She had learned the whole script and was standing before me as a fully-formed Maria. She makes it a pleasure to fall in love with her every night.”

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