Actually it was a Great Afternoon Out, but who’s quibbling?

I’d been sent by the Oxford Times to see Mamma Mia! at a Saturday matinée, then interview a local girl who’d landed a job in the Ensemble (all expenses and a fee paid, those were the days).

Arriving breathless at the last minute owing to a transport hiatus, I peered at the programme as the house lights dimmed. There was no sign of my potential interviewee’s name in the Ensemble listing. Never mind, I thought, who’s complaining at the chance to sit in a front stalls seat at a great show, courtesy of Cameron Mackintosh?

Then the stage lighting came up, and I could read the programme clearly. And there was the name, not in the Ensemble but in the lead role of Sophie. To Tasha Sheridan (the name in question) fell the task of delivering that scarily difficult opening number—and believe me, if you have heard as many disastrous Abba Tribute Nights on cruise ships as I have, you will know just how difficult it is.

“You need to speak to your agent,” said I to Tasha in know-it-all tones when we met up. “Your biog lists you as ‘Ensemble’”. Tasha roared with laughter, and explained that she had only recently been promoted: “I went for an audition as second cover. I had a sore throat, and heard nothing, so I put it down as useful experience. Then they rang the next morning and said, ‘you haven’t got second cover, but you have got the role itself’. I was so surprised that I had to ask them to repeat it twice.”

I duly congratulated her, and then came the moment that made this my Great Afternoon Out. “Well,” Tasha continued, “you said I could do it. Half a Sixpence, Amey Hall, Abingdon, five years ago.”

I hadn’t made the connection at all. Five years before, I had reviewed an Oxfordshire Youth Music Service production of Half a Sixpence. The fun of such shows is to try and spot emerging talent: every now and then someone steps onto a stage, and you think: “why am I looking at you?” They haven’t yet spoken a word or sung a note. The answer, of course, is that they have the quality you cannot teach: stage presence. Most unusually, I had stuck my neck out and expressed a feeling that, with a lot of luck and training, Tasha might make it professionally, if her inclination took her in that direction.

Of course, the highly skilled teachers at OYMS had been key in Tasha’s decision to go for a professional stage career. But I can’t deny that I went home with a very warm feeling that afternoon.