Welcome to another compelling episode of our "In Conversation" series, where we explore the lives of remarkable individuals shaping the entertainment industry. Today, we're honoured to sit down with the immensely talented actor, Jac Yarrow. Jac's journey into the limelight began at Arts Ed with his captivating performance in Disney's "Newsies", a role that served as his launchpad into the professional stage arena. It was this stellar portrayal that caught the eye of casting directors, leading him to the iconic role of Joseph in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat". With each performance, Jac has continued to captivate audiences, earning acclaim for his infectious energy and undeniable charisma, particularly at the illustrious Palladium where he graced the stage in two of their renowned Pantomime productions. Join us as we unravel Jac's remarkable career, delving into the challenges, triumphs, and the profound impact of storytelling on both the audience and the artist.

Darren: I’m sitting here with Jac Yarrow, who’s one of the cast members of Old Friends, which is the Sondheim… What exactly is it exactly? A Sondheim kind of memorial?

Jac: No, it’s not a memorial. I mean, it’s a review, it’s sort of like the third in the trilogy of those Sondheim reviews that were put together, you know, Putting It Together, Side By Side by Sondheim. And now you’ve got Old Friends. So it’s basically a kind of speed run through the life and works of Sondheim, you know, paying homage to shows such as West Side Story, Company, Into The Woods, A Little Night Music. You’ve got all the classics in there. There’s a tiny bit at the end, which is sort of a memoriam to Sondheim, you know, they play pictures of him on the screen and we sing Not a Day Goes By as a company. But other than that, I mean, it’s more of a celebration. Actually, it is a celebration of all of his music and his life as well. So less a memoriam, more of a celebration for sure.

Stephen Sondheim remembered in Old Friends

Darren: Well, that sounds really cool. I mean, is there any kind of real memorable moments about this show that give you goosebumps? I mean, obviously, the cast is quite extraordinary. So when you got cast in this, was there a kind of pinch me moment when you got that phone call?

Jac: It was kind of a weird story because I think I was cast before a lot of the cast were cast. So I didn’t actually know who I was doing it with, really, because they did that gala performance, which was supposed to be, I think, just a one off at the end of, I think it was the end of last year. And I was on tour with Joseph at the time, so unfortunately, I couldn’t be a part of it. I was absolutely gutted because it was supposed to be this one night only thing. You know, you had people like Judi Dench and Petula Clark and obviously Bernadette Peters and Julia Mackenzie and all of these amazing people. And then Cameron Macintosh announced he’s going to be doing it as sort of a longer running production with a different cast, a smaller cast, directed by Julia Mackenzie. And I went in and had a break off my tour. I finished in Edinburgh in November and at the end of November, I went up to the Cameron Macintosh offices they’ve got there and sang through every Sondheim song that I knew. They just said, bring every Sondheim song you know and we’ll just sing through and get to know each other because I didn’t know Cameron Macintosh at all. He didn’t know me. And I just wanted to kind of see what was about. So I mean, I expected them to pick out one or two, but I was probably in there for about an hour and a half. And I sang all kinds of Sondheim stuff and I was just, I mean, I wasn’t nervous because he made me feel so comfortable and there was a lot of the team there that I’m now working with on the show. But it was, you know, pretty daunting as you can imagine because him and Stephen Sondheim had such a close friendship and a close working relationship. I just thought even if I don’t get this job, I’m so lucky to be spending time in a room with this man giving me pointers.

But I didn’t hear anything about it for a while and I went to Toronto where we did Joseph for three months over Christmas. And it was when I was in Toronto that I got the call that Cameron wanted me to be a part of the show. And at that point, I think the only people definitely doing it were Bernadette and Hayden Gwynn who, you know, sadly we lost a couple of weeks back now. She passed away bless her. But they were the only two names that were attached to the job at the time. And I thought, oh my god, you know, this is going to be one of those once in a lifetime opportunities never going to happen again. When am I going to be on stage with Bernadette Peters hearing her sing the iconic Sondheim repertoire that she’s known for? It’s never going to happen. So I didn’t even have to think about it. I was like, oh my gosh, sign me up 100%.

Jac Yarrow as Joseph and company, 2021. Photo credit Tristram Kenton

Darren: So who were you most excited about playing alongside then? I mean, who was the person that really kind of thought, oh my god, I can’t believe I’m even going to be on the same stage as this person.

Jac: Well, initially Bernadette, because she was attached to the project. When I found out about it, I thought, I remember listening to Bernadette in Into The Woods so much as a kid, because I played Jack in Into The Woods in an Amdram production of it when I was about seven, and I remember listening to her sing it, but also to work with Julia McKenzie, who’s not on stage with us, unfortunately, as much as I’d love her to be, but she’s directed it alongside Matthew Bourne. And so to be working with her so closely, where she’s played roles like Mrs. Lovett and all the amazing Sondheim roles, the Witch, she’s done them all. She really has done them all. So I was so excited about meeting them and working with them. But then as each cast member got announced via social media or whatever, that’s how I’d find out who I was doing the show with because I was attached to it before some of these people agreed to come back. And you know, Jo Ridding and Janey Dee and Jeremy Secomb. Every time somebody got announced, I was getting more and more excited because it is an amazing assembly of people. I think it’s only Cameron McIntosh that could have put this company of people together.

Darren: Absolutely. What about your favorite moment in the show? Tell us about that.

Jac: Oh, I’ve got a few. I think it changes on a daily basis. The thing is sometimes Sondheim wrote in such a way that he really does connect so deeply with everyone on different emotional levels, whether it’s making you laugh or absolutely hitting you where you live in terms of emotion. It depends on if I’m feeling tired or if something’s happened in my life or something’s happening in my life. Sometimes there are certain songs that I can resonate with on a daily basis, but in terms of a song that I just enjoy being a part of every day, it would have to be Getting Married Today. Joanna Ridding doing Getting Married Today is probably one of the best things I’ve ever seen on stage. She’s phenomenal. It’s that really fast comedy number from Company that’s just relentless and she delivers it so amazingly. She’s so funny and the audience go nuts and I’m in the background sort of oohing and aahing and swaying around.

When we’re not doing a solo or a trio or a duet, we are an ensemble. It’s very much an ensemble piece. I love that. It feels sort of like an old school company, like an acting company that would sort of travel around and tour together and take it in turns doing leading roles and playing ensemble roles and that’s one of those moments that I love being a part of because I can see the audience too and I can see the audience responding to Jo and she’s amazing. She’s absolutely unbelievable. So I think that would be my number one song for sure.

Joanna Riding and the Company of Old Friends. Photo by Danny Kaan

Darren: Can tell that you’re a big fan. How do you prepare for your roles, both mentally and physically? What little things have you picked up over the years of you being a performer that kind of puts you in that moment?

Jac: I think it depends on the show, I think. With Old Friends, it’s kind of easy to do because it starts with Comedy Tonight from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and that’s such a funny song and such a kind of glitzy showbusiness moment. We all kind of come downstairs and we’re having a laugh and we’re dancing with each other and we’re kind of telling the audience that you’re in for a night of comedy rather than a memorial to Stephen Sondheim.

We kind of just keep the energy so light backstage. Everyone is so hilarious and so lovely and we all get on so well. I know it’s cliché saying becoming like a family, but it does feel like we have become a family with Hayden passing away and you know, these things that we’ve had to go through together as a company, it’s really brought us close together. So we kind of revved each other up backstage just by having a laugh and everyone so in it and in the moment and present and grateful to be there because we all know it’s going to be one of those passing things that I think I’ve said it about five times already, but it’s never going to happen again. This assembly of people won’t come together again. So that itself is kind of enough to rev us all up for doing a show, but in terms of vocal health and when I drink tons of water, I try to eat well, take the vitamins, go to the gym, that sort of thing. But other than that, it’s just, with this show in particular, it’s about being a company, being together, and sort of connecting with each other before the show starts.

Darren: Nice. Moving on from that bit, I mean, as you said, a chance of you ever doing this show, with this company, again is quite slim. Unless obviously, Cameron takes it to Broadway or something, then I’m sure you’ll be jumping at the chance of doing that. But if you could play any character in any musical, regardless of gender or type or age or anything like that, who would it be and why?

Jac: Any Sondheim musical?

Darren: Any musical, anything at all, anything past, present, whatever, any gender, any age, whatever you want. Like for instance, Ian McKellen playing Hamlet at 80, you know, like there’s no holds barred, you can just do anything you want. What would it be and why?

Jac: All right, well, the one that comes to mind first is Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney, so that’s very on brand. But I mean, that’s probably, I don’t know if women would disagree, but that’s one of the best. Someone was saying the other day, I think it was Lea Salonga actually was saying Sondheim writes women so well, it’s so wild that a man could understand the experience of a woman so well. So I don’t know, there must be something there, but I just think he’s written the most perfect character. She’s got a lot going on there. And some really amazing women have played that role. And I just think that’ll be such a hoot. I don’t know who would be Sweeney.

Jeremy Secomb and the Company of Old Friends. Photo by Danny Kaan

Darren: But who would you want to be your Sweeney? If you had the opportunity to do a Gender swap role as Miss Lovett in any form, anytime, who would you want to be your Sweeney?

Jac: Now I’m like racking my brain, I mean, Jeremy Secomb plays in in our show and has played in before in that immersive reaction they did at that Pie Shop in London and in New York. And he’s just beyond, like he’s phenomenal. So I’d be thrilled if Jeremy Secomb was my Sweeney. But outside the box, like a movie star or someone or anything, you know. Well, not Johnny Depp. Very not. It was such a shame in the film because I think the best part of Sweeney Todd is all those amazing ensemble numbers and they completely cut them out the movie. So that was a shame, but not Johnny Depp. Oh, I know, maybe Ian McKellen. Oh, watch this space? You never know. I shouldn’t be a casting director anytime soon. Well, I mean, God, the way Ian’s going, you know, his 80 year old Hamlet and god knows what else he wants to do. I mean, you never, never know.

Darren: Is there any particular audience reaction or feedback that stayed with you over the years so you’ve been a performer?

Jac: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, one month before, there’s two really. There’s the first performance of Joseph I ever did at the Palladium when I sang Close Every Door and the last one. I don’t know why, but that song sort of became sort of the main staple in the show for me that really stuck, it sort of became a moment for me and the audience on the first night. I think because I was fresh out of school, and I was young and I didn’t know what I was doing and these people sort of didn’t know whether I was going to be any good or not or whatever. But the support that they clearly wanted to show me on stage as this absolutely terrified 20-year-old, at the end of that first time I sang that song was crazy. You know, everyone stood up and went crazy and it was one of those moments that I dreamt about since I was a kid, and you know, I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to achieve that moment and just have that moment in my memory forever, because it was unbelievable and the same when I did my last show as well. It was the same and it was really nice because that was, you know, four years because of Covid, I was Joseph on and off for four years and it was such a big part of my life. Still is and always will be. It’s so nice for me to be able to look back and have those two moments that sort of bookends the start of the journey and the end of the journey. Yeah, it was very special. So those definitely jump out at me as some of most memorable thus far.

Pantoland at The Palladium Sophie Isaac, Gary Wilmot and Jac Yarrow. Photo Paul Coltas

Darren: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s four years now you’ve been doing Joseph.

Jac: Well, got it in 2019. I started it. And then because of COVID, we then did it again in 2021.

So it wasn’t that I played him consistently for four years, but he’d sort of been in my life for four years. And it only ended in February, our was my last show in Canada.

Darren: And is that it? Have you hung up the coat?

Jac: Well, I think so. I don’t know, I don’t know if they’d have me back. But I mean, I love Joseph. It’s a great musical and it’s surprised me how much it resonates with people because the fan base and the love of Joseph in this country is just huge. And I think I underestimated it before I went into the show. And so I felt massively, massively lucky to wear the coat for as long as I did. And Michael Harrison, who produced it, really took a chance on me because I was brand new. I left college to do it and I’d never done anything before professionally. So he really took a punt on me with it. And hopefully, you know, he thinks it paid off. But yeah, it was four years, it was a long time, but I don’t know if I’d do it again. Maybe I’d go back and do the narrator one day. That’d be fun.

Darren: Yeah. Now, that’s a really good part. I mean, I think I saw years ago with Jason Donovan and I think Joan Collins was the narrator.

Jac: No, she did the film, didn’t she, Joan Collins. You might have had the Lindsay Haley, the narrator, she did it with Jason back in the day.

Darren: But with regards to your career so far, what challenges have you faced and how have you overcome those, if any?

Jac: I’ve been very, very lucky, I will say, because Michael Harrison Produced Joseph and took a punt on me with that role and it was a long job. I knew very early on that I’d be doing it for a while. It wasn’t do it for a couple of months and then that’d be it. I knew that I was going to come back and do it in the summer of 2020, which eventually turned into 2021 and the tour as well. I sort of, in my head, was doing that really early on and in between that I played in Pantomime twice and a Panto in Birmingham and I worked for him very consistently for about four years, so I was lucky to have that partnership and that mentorship from him, which meant that I wasn’t facing a lot of the challenges that I think most actors starting out were facing at the time. I think the main challenges that I had to face was sort of overcoming my own insecurities and my own imposter syndrome about feeling worthy to be there and feeling like I deserved to be up on that stage right off the bat as a sort of a first job because I walked out of college and was all of a sudden playing opposite Sheridan Smith and Jason Donovan, you know, these showbiz giants in British culture. And I just thought, you know, there was a huge amount of imposter syndrome. I thought I’m not worthy to be here with these people and they’re amazing and how can I possibly be on their level? And, you know, there’s all of that and trying not to beat myself up about mistakes that I made because I didn’t know what I was doing because I was just trying to do my best in a profession that was brand new to me. And I didn’t have any experience with the social side of things, you know, interacting with people, networking with people, getting to know people, all the stuff that comes with being an actor that you don’t necessarily get taught or think about when you’re at college. It was sort of learning on the job. So it was a lot to take in, but I was lucky because I had good mentors. I had good people to support me. I was working with really lovely performers that had been doing it for longer than me that could say, you know, do this, do that. This means this, this means that. And if I was confused or needed guidance in any way, I could go to those people and ask them. And I was lucky because Jason Donovan became one of those people and he stayed with Joseph for the whole time that I did. We did it together for four years. And then with Alexandra Burke and Lindsay Haley, who shared the role of the narrator in 2021 and on the tour, they’ve become really good friends of mine. And I see them in the same way, you know, mentors in this business. I’ve been very lucky to sort of start off with these people that have already been there, done that, got the t-shirt that can steer me in the right direction.

Jac Yarrow leading the cast of Newsies at ArtsEd. Photo credit Robert Workman

And challenges now, I think it feels like I’ve now sort of found my feet and I’m just becoming a working actor. So it’s getting jobs. It’s getting new jobs, putting myself out there to sort of try and vary my career as much as possible. That’s something I really aspire to achieve, to make sure that I have a varied career with lots of different things and different opportunities and different medias. And I think that’s a challenge to be able to achieve not being pigeonholed. I’m very lucky, very lucky to have had the jobs that I’ve had so far and to sort of be associated with something, you know, I’m very, very proud to be associated with Joseph with fans that still come to stage door and say, I saw you in Joseph. It makes me really proud. And now Old Friends as well.

Darren: Yeah, definitely. You’ve brushed on a few times about leaving college and going straight into a big show. Take me through your training. I mean, you were at Art’s Ed. I saw you in Newsies.

Jac: Oh my gosh.

Darren: Yeah. Very good. So, I mean, even then I was thinking, yeah, you’re going to go on and do good things. So what advice could you give to people entering the profession if they’re fresh out of drama school or, you know, done some form of training and stuff? Well, I mean, like you said, you’re very lucky, but you create luck. You’re a talented young man. You know you were destined to do good stuff. So you’re working hard and you get in there. But are there any tricks or something or, you know, stuff that you’ve picked up that would help someone?

Jac: Yeah, my dad always said that. My dad always says you create your own luck in life. I think it is true to an extent because you have to be prepared and you have to work hard. I always did work hard at college. But weirdly enough, I think that sort of came from the insecurity and the imposter syndrome because I thought, you know, Arts Ed was my dream school. I auditioned for a couple of schools and I thought, you know, Arts Ed is an absolute dream. I don’t know that I’ll get in. I don’t know if they’ll have me. But if they did, that would be the place I would go.

No questions asked, 100%. And I was lucky enough to get in. So immediately the imposter syndrome kicked in. And I arrived on day one and I thought, well, these are going to be the most talented kids in the country that I’m now rubbing shoulders with. So I need to work hard. So I worked probably a little bit too hard. You know, there’s that thing of working smarter and harder. And I was definitely working harder and not necessarily smarter. But I don’t think it did me any harm. I think it kind of instilled in me a mentality of keep going and keep pushing through and keep working hard and don’t rest on your laurels, ever. Which is really easy to do when you are a working actor, when you’ve got a couple of jobs under your belt and you can just chill if you want. You can rest on your laurels. You can wait for the phone to ring and go to an audition and hopefully try and get it.

Damian Humbley and Jac Yarrow. Photo by Danny Kaan

But I think Arts Ed sort of instilled in me that thing of you have to keep pushing for it, keep working hard because use it or lose it. You know, if you don’t, if you’re not well practiced, you’re not gonna be the same. So there was definitely that. And that would be my advice to students when they leave college is to just keep up the training and keep working and have really big aspirations. Just don’t limit yourself at all and remain open to whatever. Because I think whatever you think is gonna happen is not gonna happen. And that could be a good thing and that could be a bad thing. But there are amazing things out there to achieve if you remain open to them and don’t put yourself in a box. But training, yeah, training at Arts Ed was really intense. It was three years. And I did two and a half because I’d left shortly after Newsies. I think we did Newsies in the February of my final year. And I left a couple of weeks later to do Joseph. But I think literally up until Newsies, which was in my final year, I just felt very insecure and very imposter syndrome-y and was working way too hard and not smart enough, trying to prove myself, trying to just fight for respect really, I guess, from teachers and whatever else. And then when Newsies happened, I sort of found a bit of confidence and I thought, well, if this is what it’s like in the real world, then I think I’m prepared. I think I’m okay. I mean, nothing can really prepare you for what professional performing is actually like, but I think that came pretty close to it. And then I just got excited. So I would say to students as well, just be excited. It’s really exciting. And you’ve worked so hard and you’ve invested so much time and your parents have invested so much money in your training. You need to be excited. You need to be prepared to enjoy it because it is everything you want it to be. It really is, or can be, provided you put work in. I went to Arts Ed recently. I went to see Sweet Charity that they did there. And I was amazed. The students there were unbelievable. They were so good. And I was so proud to have been a graduate of Arts Ed because they really are still churning out really hardcore triple threat people. And I was excited for them. So I hope they’re excited too because I was excited watching them.

Darren: Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Jac. Our Friends will run until the 6th of January at the Gielgud Theatre. So get your tickets where you can and see Jac do what he’s bloody good at on stage.

Jac: Thank you.