Carly Bawden, 24, has landed the role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady at Sheffield Crucible Theatre alongside Dominic West, as Professor Henry Higgins, in his first ever musical.
"Sheffield Theatres' artistic director Daniel Evans had already given me the part of Eliza when he said, "Do you want to know who is playing Higgins?" recalls Bawden. "He told me it was Dominic West and I was completely gobsmacked. By complete coincidence, I was halfway through Season 2 of The Wire."
Bawden bumped into West on the first day of rehearsals. "I introduced myself as we got in the lift and he gave me a hug," she says.
"I really need to knuckle down and look after myself because it is such a demanding part. I'm a bit of a granny and go home and read my script. But we do all go out for a drink at the weekends because we are effectively each other's family for the next couple of months."
Bawden, who went to Wellington School in Somerset, grew up on Luckham Farm, Milverton, about 20 minutes from Taunton, with her parents, Peter and Cindy, both farmers and her older sister Sheryl and younger brother Josh. Having started ballet lessons aged six and amateur dramatics aged eight, she admits she often "gave the cows a good show" back on the farm.
After her A levels, she trained at the Guildford School of Acting until she was 21. In her final year of her degree she was cast in the touring production of Evita, playing the part of Juan Peron's mistress in the Bill Kenwright production. Then she got the role of Swallow in the 2010 UK tour of Whistle Down the Wind, another Kenwright production. She made her West End debut in the musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, directed by Emma Rice for Kneehigh at the Gielgud Theatre last year, playing lead role Geneviève, the naive teenager with a complicated love life. The revival of 1970s musical comedy Pippin followed in 2011 at the Menier Chocolate Factory, where she played Catherine, the love interest of the title character. In the summer, Bawden played Susan in Rupert Goold's magical The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in a giant tent in London's Kensington Gardens, with a huge puppet of the lion Aslan.
"Now I'm starting to tackle the need to pace myself in My Fair Lady," says Bawden. "As soon as I first come on stage, it is full on. There is no time to put my feet up."
Before the audition, she watched Audrey Hepburn in the film version of the musical. "I only watched it once and then I decided to do my own thing." She has had dialect coaching to help both her cockney accent and the heightened Received Pronunciation and is excited about trying on her finished ball gown for the role of Eliza. "The more you do this, the more you get to know your body. I've learnt if I get tense I get a sore voice. I try not to worry about the future and live in the moment."
With her name in lights next to West's, she is remarkably down to earth. "I'm an everyday girl brought up on a farm. Now I'm doing what I love most – performing. It goes to show it can happen to anyone if you go for it," she says. "Eliza Doolittle is physically and vocally demanding because she's such a spirit."
'My Fair Lady', Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) Wednesday to 26 JanuaryReuse content