Having shaken off her EastEnders past, Michelle Ryan talks to Stylist about tackling the West End’s most sought-after role
With Sheridan Smith treading the boards as Hedda Gabler and Tamsin Greig playing the lead in Jumpy, it’s the stars of the small screen who are dominating London theatreland this autumn. And the latest to add West End stage actress to her CV is former EastEnders star Michelle Ryan, who appears as singer Sally Bowles alongside Will Young in Rufus Norris’ hotly anticipated reimagining of Cabaret.
After leaving Albert Square in 2005, Michelle headed to Hollywood, bagging the title role in the US series Bionic Woman. Blighted by the writers’ strike, it was cancelled after just eight episodes. “It opened up my world,” she tells Stylist frankly. “Hitting that high 18 months after leaving EastEnders took the pressure off. Rather than feeling I had something to prove, I had a career.”
ABOVE: Michelle Ryan and Matt Rawle in Cabaret
And now Ryan’s CV has reached a new pinnacle with the role of Sally, one of theatre’s most iconic characters. She’s following in the footsteps of industry luminaries Dame Judi Dench and Liza Minnelli to play the role most actresses hope to land. “I started doing musical theatre when I was 10, so I’m very excited,” she explains. “The writing is timeless; we are performing it years later yet it still has such impact and relevance.”
Another aspect of the role that appeals to Ryan is the chance to sing and dance every night. “I love the physicality,” she says excitedly. “My dream role is where I learn a new skill.” It’s a theme that runs throughout her acting choices; she learned the Israeli martial art Krav Maga for Bionic Woman, did her own stunts in Doctor Who and played a gun-toting bank robber in new Brit flick Cockneys Vs Zombies. But it’s acting that’s her true passion. “It’s always been a calling for me,” she said. “This role feels like I’m moving in the right direction. I’m starting a brilliant new chapter in my career.”
Cabaret opens 3 October at the Savoy Theatre; atgtickets.com/savoy