Interview: Joanna Sawyer glams up to Paint a Rainbow

Joanna Sawyer as Veronica Macaw in Love Birds The Musical. © Steve Ullathorne
Joanna Sawyer as Veronica Macaw in Love Birds The Musical. © Steve Ullathorne

Joanna Sawyer as Veronica Macaw in Love Birds The Musical. © Steve Ullathorne

Continuing our cast interview series, we catch up with Joanna Sawyer, who plays Love Birds‘ Veronica Macaw, one of the trio of Macaw Sisters. Read more about Jo’s previous credits on the Love Birds cast page. Follow him on Twitter @JoSawyer04

Tell us more about your character Veronica. What do you think her backstory is?

Veronica is the sexy, glamorous Macaw in the trio. She has an enticing glint in her eye and loves being onstage in the spotlight. Offstage, however, she is less sure of herself and feels she has to justify her place among the other performers by using her assets. She has come from a background of people taking advantage of her and desperately wants to be accepted in her new job with Armitage and The Macaw Sisters. She’s a really fun character to play: I think, underneath everything, she just wants to be loved for who she is.

In real life, you perform in close harmony trio The Femmes. Did that experience help you prepare for Love Birds?

Joanna Sawyer in her 1940s Femmes attire

Joanna Sawyer in her 1940s Femmes attire

The Femmes is a 1940s close harmony trio that I set up along with two friends from drama school. We all love that age of big band music and singers, and we wanted to challenge ourselves creatively. I choreograph all our sets, Seanna is our music arranger and Meg is our social media guru (our very own Terri Twitter!) We perform all over the country, with the National Trust, the Imperial War Museum and so on. We love putting vintage twists on modern songs. Being part of The Femmes definitely came in useful for learning the complex harmonies in Love Birds, especially the ones with The Macaw Sisters. After talking to Robbie Sherman, The Femmes are thinking of doing a cover of the Macaw Sisters’ song Tinpanorama too!

How familiar were you with Mary Poppins and the penguins before this job?

As a child, I used to love watching classic musical films such as Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because I could sing along to all the songs and get wrapped up in that world. Mary Poppins was a favourite because of the amazing places the film took you to – jumping into a painting is pretty amazing when you’re eight years old. I think it’s really exciting that Mary’s penguins are now our penguins of Love Birds. As soon as I mention this to anyone, they are equally excited to find out more.

Your hair and make-up in Love Birds is very distinct and glamorous. How long does it take you to get ready?

It takes quite a long time to do the make-up each morning to transform us into fabulous feathered parrots. Ruth (who plays Valentine) and I have to put our hair in rags to get the 1920s curls, as well as stenciling neon feathers onto our cheeks. We also have amazing feathered eyelashes, which make us feel very glamorous too. I have lots of fun fluttering them as Veronica onstage.

Do you have a favourite lyric from Love Birds?

Some of my favourite songs are in the “Sadie Macaw” operetta section in the show [performed by Ruth Betteridge and the penguins]. It’s got some great lines, including “…always a Crow” spoken by Pewcey (played by Ryan Willis). That one always makes us giggle!

Your own big number Paint a Rainbow is a showstopper. It’s also very – cheekily – suggestive. How do you feel performing it in front of a ‘family audience’?

I have had a few eyes being averted by parents, especially in the front row as a lot of that number happens downstage. There were a group of teenagers sat there on one performance and they looked slightly awkward! Saying that, the whole number is entirely family appropriate and so much fun to do. I love my rainbow fans and my two dancing penguins (Ryan Willis and Rafe Watts). It feels very showbiz.

The improvising Showstoppers

The improvising Showstoppers

This is your first time performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, but you’ve previously come to support friends performing in shows. How different does it feel now being a part of it?

The Fringe is an amazing theatrical experience and it has such a great vibe. I was really excited to be a part of it properly this year rather than just spectating. The cast and crew of Love Birds are so lovely – we’re like a big avian family and it’s so great to be getting so many good reviews. Everyone has worked so hard to pull it all together and we’re having a blast doing it.

What other shows have you seen at the Fringe that you’d recommend?

My favourite shows so far have been Showstopper! The Improvised Musical – which I saw last year, we all saw together on our first night out at the festival and have been back to several times since! – and Jess Robinson: The Rise of The Mighty Voice. Jess is amazing at impressions and her voice is beautiful. Definitely go and check those two shows out if you can.

Love Birds runs 12.35pm daily 5-31 August (except 19 August) at the Pleasance Courtyard during the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe. BOOK TICKETS HERE.