Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Jade Leanne Benjamin: Rapunzel

By | Published on Friday 1 December 2023

As you all surely know by now, for you can’t have missed it, the Christmas show season is well under way and we are always excited to feature such events here. Another thing we are always happy to talk about is Theatre Peckham and the myriad brilliant things that happen there. 

Beginning there this week is this year’s Christmas show, an atypical take on ‘Rapunzel’ featuring fabulous music and modern, pertinent themes. 

Acclaimed music creator and actor Jade Leanne Benjamin plays the villainous Cassie in the piece. I spoke to her to find out more. 

CM: I think most people know the story of Rapunzel – but this isn’t exactly a traditional telling of it, right?
JLB: Correct, this tale isn’t the typical story audience members might be expecting. For one, it is mostly set in a hair salon and Geoff Aymer, the playwright, has done a wonderful job of providing a fresh, modern, funky take on the tale, following a journey full of laughs, gasps and cultural celebration.

CM: What themes would you say are addressed through the show?
JLB: Definitely the importance and power of self-belief; unwavering determination; family dynamics; to name a few.

And of course hair – the appreciation and showcasing of black hair in particular and the variety of styles!

CM: I know music plays a big part – can you tell us a bit about it? What style or genre is it?
JLB: Oh I absolutely love the music! Jordan Xavier, the composer, has done a wicked job! There’s R&B, disco, a bit of rap, even a little opera. I have no doubt the audience will be singing these tunes long after watching the show. 

CM: What role do you play in it and what do you love about it?
JLB: I play the role of Cassie and, funnily enough, I only read for the role because I mentioned at my audition that I loved the character and I’m so glad I did because now I get to play her!

She’s super sassy, fierce, funny and not at all like your typical panto villain. There’s a realness to her and, although her ways are twisted, you can’t help but like her a little bit. 

CM: What has it been like working with your fellow cast members?
JLB: I love my cast mates! Each one is so talented and brilliant at what they do. Not only that, but we gel so well on and off stage! We have such fun together and it’s been great going through this process with them. 

CM: What are your rehearsals like? Are things extra festive because it’s a Christmas show?
JLB: Actually, not really haha! Instead of pressing play on our Christmas playlists, we’ve been warming up to R&B and soca. Rehearsals have been great though. There’s been a lot to do and I’m impressed with how much we’ve all done in the time frame. 

CM: Can you tell us about yourself now? What led you to a career in the arts and how did it all begin?
JLB: So I do music as well as acting and musical theatre, and it all started when my mum encouraged my brother and I to attend a performing arts club during the school holidays.

It was there that we met Suzann McLean, CEO & AD of Theatre Peckham – we then attended her theatre school Y&T and went on to perform on stage and screen.

I had always sung – I grew up singing with my family in church – but it was when I was presented with professional opportunities through Y&T that I realised this is what I wanted to do as a career.

And I’ve been grinding ever since.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
JLB: In music, being recognised in the underground UK R&B scene, winning an award for my first EP. In acting, I’d have to say this job! It is my first job in a principal role so I’m very excited.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
JLB: To perform in the West End! That’s the goal! Also, to perform around the world either in musicals, performing my own music, or both – preferably both!

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
JLB: I will be working on new music and continue auditioning! Can’t wait to see what adventure awaits next! 

Rapunzel is on at Theatre Peckham from 5-24 Dec, see this page here for more information and to book tickets.