lLet’s make one thing clear: Although Amy Lennox sings and is Scottish, she is not related to Annie Lennox. However, she is used to people making those assumptions. She laughs, remembers a 2016 breakfast radio appearance where the presenter kept referring to Annie, assuming it was her mother.
“I was half asleep,” she says. “Then the penny dropped and – live on the radio – I said, ‘Oh my God! You think my mother is Annie Lennox.” And the producers went behind the glass – she throws a hand over her mouth and opens her eyes wide. “Everyone was clapping. I thought, I’ll let you sit on this. You deserve it.’” She laughs again. Sure, both Lennoxes are from Aberdeen. But Amy’s journey—from singing Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston songs in her bedroom to the West End—had nothing to do with favoritism.
There’s one legacy she must live up to, though: she follows Jessie Buckley’s Olivier-winning turn as cabaret showgirl Sally Bowles in Rebecca Frecknall’s dynamic staging of the classic 1960s musical. Buckley and her Emcee, played by Eddie Redmayne, stepped in. march aside for Lennox and Fra Fee, who hails from Northern Ireland. Lennox would not normally step into a role that was first cast for another actor. “I don’t want to be put in a stifling position of being told ‘Stand here, do it like this’ – instead of starting a musical. It’s not how I work. It doesn’t get the best of anyone. I was always firm about that.” One breath. “And then I thought, ‘Well, this feels different.'”
Lennox is outspoken, talkative, loves a laugh and a shared opinion. We’re in the bowels of London’s Playhouse theater to talk about how Frecknall (“Frecks” to Lennox) managed to convince the star to recast and push her further into the limelight. Lennox may not be a big name yet. But for the past 14 years she has been in musicals, plays and on TV (she left Holby City earlier this year). Her sassy, voluptuous Bowles is like an electric shock, and no doubt a sign of great things to come. How disheartening was it to take over from Buckley? “You know what? I didn’t have much time to think about it.” Her casting was confirmed, she says, and then “we started the next week. It went so fast.”
Lennox and Fee previously shared a stage in Belfast for 2015’s The Last Five Years, a two-handed musical that charts the breakup of a relationship. Cabaret was a very different experience as Bowles and the Emcee barely interact. “We hardly saw each other during the rehearsal period,” she says. “It was very, very strange. I would run into Fra – and we were like ships passing by. When I bumped into him in Pret, I thought, ‘How was your week?’”
However, they are both leads. It’s just that each speaks of some aspect of the story’s descent into anti-Semitism and authoritarianism. Fra’s Emcee cradles you in a false sense of security, before punching you in the face – look, Nazis! — and unraveling the freewheeling, booze-soaked world you’d come to understand. Lennox’ Bowles meanwhile blows through like a hurricane. One minute she’s preening and nurturing, clad in pink frou-frou taffeta for Don’t Tell Mama, and the next, roaring through the title song, confused and awash in a man’s suit.
Offstage, I see hints of Bowles’ frenetic drive in Lennox: the way she blows herself up, gushes over her colleagues and describes the breathlessness of her role. At the end of each performance she says, “I just get spat out. It’s like a wipeout of gutters. Just” – she makes the sound of something shooting out of a tube – “Out! You’re done. I don’t need it.” no magic, because the show itself takes me there. It’s relentless.”
Lennox has built up her stamina over the years, having fallen in love with musicals at the age of 11. She remembers watching a TV documentary. “Real stage kids from London,” she says. They may have auditioned for Annie (she makes a gagging sound). “And I thought, ‘Oh, what’s this?'” She wasn’t a kid with pushy parents, though. Her mother was a lawyer, her father the head of IT and communications for an oil company. She had rebelled against ballet (mother’s idea) and singing (father’s idea) before finding her way into musicals.
“You don’t get that local opportunity that kids in the South East of England take for granted – because they’re so close to this hub where we are now.” She gestures to the West End above our heads. “I didn’t.” In Aberdeen it all felt “so far away you don’t really have ties”. Envy, however, drove her on. After seeing those kids on TV and then failing an audition for the school musical, she joined a local amdram group and soon was improving her acting and singing.
“I often auditioned for the National Youth Music Theater. I was recalled. Never entered. My poor father was going to fly to London with me. And I never got into it. It was always because I went to a song and panicked.’ Over time, she learned to take control of her voice, leading Liesl to end up in The Sound of Music at the London Palladium from Guildford drama school. She has since received an Olivier nomination for her 2015 Lauren in Kinky Boots, plus stage credits in 9 to 5 The Musical, Lazarus, Legally Blonde, and others.
When she started out, Lennox was often told she wasn’t playing the roles “big enough”, as if only an over the top performance would resonate. But in one of her quieter moments in Cabaret, her Bowles expresses an apathy about her situation – sleepwalking in horror – that strikes a brutal chord today. “Politics,” asks her Sally, “what’s that got to do with me?” “It’s crazy. I do not think so [Cabaret’s writers John Kander and Fred Ebb] once meant to make it feel so valid now. We like to think that, as people in this society, we are constantly moving forward, striving for excellence and this and that. But we are not! If anything, we’re driving ourselves to absolute disaster and we all know that,” Lennox says.
She alludes to everything from misguided strongmen to the war in Ukraine, from reproductive rights for women to the widespread acceptance of a future more bleak than the recent past. “It’s like Groundhog Day — and there are quite a few moments in the show that do,” she says. “There was a prop paper we were using and it said ‘Russian invasion coming’. And you go, ‘Oh God. Oh God. What the hell is going on?’ We have another Hitler there. A man who…” She stops herself. “I would like to know how much more lead this show has because of what is going on in Ukraine and Russia. It’s just chilling. Absolutely chill.”
In addition to depicting the show’s creeping rise of fascism, we discuss the theater’s post-lockdown stumbling back into the light. Shortly before we speak, some of the cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s high-budget Cinderella found out that their jobs were going to be laid off, some via social media. “I find that regrettable,” Lennox says. “We are all pushed to the limit [by the pandemic]† I don’t know the ins and outs of what happened. But hasn’t anyone stopped to consider the consequences of the way it was handled?” (The Really Useful Group said it had made “every effort” to ensure cast members were notified of the closure.)
She takes a deep breath and gets sunnier. “It’s an insane old ungrateful existence for so many people. I am grateful. I feel like I have the best job in the West End. Maybe even the world.” She smiles again. Bowles has taken over her life in recent months – so much so that on some days Lennox has to forgo speaking to keep her voice, making for quiet commutes back to Ramsgate from London with her husband, actor Tom Andrew Hargreaves.
There is now a sign on her locker room door, made by her colleagues after she was very tired at the start of her run. “You know the rule when I have my gin and I say, ‘I’m just not speaking today.'” She laughs. “I have a ‘I’m not speaking today’ sign on my door. I only did that once. I just didn’t speak once.” She laughs again. “It’s very difficult. I’m not very good at it.”