Meet the Membership: Bonnie Langford

You’re in 9 to 5 at the moment, how’s that going?
It’s great. David Hasselhoff is about to join the company, taking over from Brian Conley who’s off to Panto. I have not met him yet, but we have a big dance number together and rehearsals start very soon. I have done a lot of takeovers in my time and they can be really hard because everybody else is up to speed. Some of the time you think great, because at least they know what they’re doing, but it can be difficult coming in when a company’s already established.

You are not doing Panto this year but have done in the past. Do you enjoy it?
Oh yeah, Panto’s great. Sometimes it’s the first time kids go to the theatre. It’s a lovely start, a great way of generations of families getting together. It teaches them that interaction with an audience. I also think it should be a way for people to learn how to behave in theatre, that it’s not like Gogglebox where the poeple on TV can’t hear anything.

Have you found that audience behaviour has got worse over the past few years?
They do tend to chat a bit. You do also have to make sure they put their phones away. It used to be that people did not get up and go to the loo in the middle of a show. Or didn’t rustle in their seat. People simply sat and were attentive. That is much harder to attain these days. With 9 to 5 we don’t see a lot of it, but people do sit there chatting away, saying things like “Ooh, isn’t that good, that’s funny.” And you think, glad you’re enjoying it, but don’t spoil the moment for everyone else. You just want everyone to have the best time they can.

You have been in the industry since you were very young. Have you seen Equity’s position in the industry shift over the years?
48 years. I got my Equity card when I was seven. I think Equity’s got stronger. It’s very difficult, because it’s an industry where there are far fewer jobs than there are people able to do them, or at least available to do them. It’s an unusual industry – it’s more of a calling than a job sometimes. It’s something that is innate and very personal. So you’ll always try to get the show to go on. Sometimes we’re not so good at turning round and saying “Nope, these are the rules and everybody out!”

Is there a different vibe working on Broadway compared to the West End?
When I went there years and years ago I went in a show with Angela Lansbury, called Gypsy. Audiences were much more vocal. You’d go in and get standing ovations – people in the UK didn’t give standing ovations then. It was exciting and thrilling to be part of that. We’ve become a lot more like the Americans in their vivaciousness and their engagement, which is terrific. The other thing I notice is that on Broadway there is quite a community feeling. You are the Broadway community. The West End is trying to do that now, but we are a bit behind.

Your daughter has started drama school now, did you give her any sage advice?
She doesn’t listen to me, I’m her mother! I think my advice was “You do know what you’re getting into, don’t you?” I mean, I love it. I’ve never known anything else. I’ve always said to her, “You cannot do this unless you really have to.” Not meaning that I won’t let her, it’s just it’s too difficult; it’s too hard a job. I think she finds it quite difficult because the family has been very successful in their individual ways, and it’s important to know that she is an individual and sets her own footprints. There are things that she can do that I couldn’t possibly do, and vice versa.

Are there any projects that have got away that you want to get back to, or shows you really want to work on?
Probably, but I don’t think about it too much. They say what is meant to happen doesn’t pass you by. If you really want something you might have to push for it a bit, might have to go out of your comfort zone. Often, fortunately, fate has brought me to something that I might not have thought I could do and somewhere in there I’ve thought yeah, I’ll take that challenge and do the best I can do with it. That’s all you can do, isn’t it? Try to do your best.