I was always going to be a pop star like Billie Piper. No changing my mind.
Until I was cast as Woman 2 in Les Miserables and got to sing the iconic line ‘And in a bed’. Then I was always going to be in musicals. No changing my mind.
Until I went to musical theatre school and found I wasn’t really keen on ‘discovering the space,’, lied in my singing audition for CATS in South Korea which led to a very embarrassing tap dance in front of the choreographer who I’m almost certain was a real cat, and got cast as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, a role I immediately ruined by improvising little funny lines with on the night. I don’t care if it’s not in the script, it’s FUNNY. And so then I was going to be funny. No changing my mind.
Hello, UK-based audience. If you know me, you know me as ‘the girl one’ from Aunty Donna, the jeans half of Double Denim or you maybe saw my show Average Bear in Edinburgh or Soho theatre. An award-winning, heartbreaker of a comedy show about how everyone’s dead (spoiler).
I really like doing shows for you all over here. Sad to say though, you missed out on my formative years. Who was she before she was that glamorous, famous, perfect-bodied but relatable woman we all know and love?
Great question! Square Mile asked me to share five performances that made me. A great shame that you missed most of them. Here they are…
YAMAHA BAND FESTIVAL
When I was nine years old, I found myself playing the trombone by accident. I wanted to join the school band and I had spelled trumpet incorrectly so here we were.
I grew up in Wagga Wagga, teen pregnancy capital of Australia, so when I say a trip to SYDNEY to play at the Yamaha band festival felt like my opportunity to be discovered as the next Xtina Aguilera, I mean it.
The day of the festival, however, I had a migraine. I got my period that day and I was as tall to the centimetre as I am now, so I really stood out as a giantess on the end of my row. (I’m tiny now. A tiny petite little girl!)
The timpani player knocked his music stand, which fell on my head, which made my trombone slide to fly off into the audience hitting a bald man on the head. Did I cry? YES. Did I stop playing? Absolutely not. I mimed the trombone for half an hour silently weeping because THAT’S SHOWBIZ, BABY!
That was when I knew I was a pro. Not like the other kids. Amateurs.
I had a weird time at drama school. I loved my classmates and some of my teachers, but we weren’t from a particularly rich part of town, and I didn’t have all the dance classes and musical theatre encyclopaedic knowledge that a lot of my peers grew up with.
I was in culture shock when I got into this prestigious school at 18 and had to leave Wagga for Melbourne. I just didn’t feel like I was smart enough or rich enough or pretty enough. And my teachers agreed.
They were very much in the camp that I would play the Funny Friend of the lead role. Maybe her mum. So being cast as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde the Musical was an enormous ‘f**k you’ to them. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was given something not because I was getting away with faking it but because I had something to offer that they needed.
I remember the curtain closing on that show and just thinking ‘Holy shit, I’m actually good enough’.
I met Tim my partner doing that show. He played Warner. As the saying goes, sometimes you just need to break up with a girl on stage every single night for her to fall in love with you and eventually put you in her funny little comedy shows.
SPACE TORTOISE AND THE SNOW GLOBES
On the night my brother died, I was in Edinburgh, performing at the fringe. There was a part in my show, Space Tortoise, where every night I would ask the audience if they’d brought their snow globes – it wasn’t a very good joke and I can’t remember the punch line but of course nobody had them because why would they? Until they did.
When my brother died, Gilded Balloon staff collected a little crowd fund to buy enough snow globes for everyone and secretly gave them to the audience as they entered. When I got to that bit in the show, I asked if anyone had brought any snow globes they’d like to show and everyone held a snow globe in the air. It was so beautiful and so silly. And so I try to make everything I do very beautiful and very, very silly.
THE AUNTY DONNA ALBUM TOUR
I work with sketch group Aunty Donna a lot. We recorded an album together and released it, then we set out on an album tour with a live band. All good so far. What did not occur to me at the time was that the Donnas would ask me to not only be in the live show with them (fun, in my zone, singing up an absolute storm, surprising all the fans at how damn good I am at singing) but to also do an opening set for them (terrifying, alone, what would I do for 15 minutes, everyone will find out I’m a fraud).
I always say yes to things I’m afraid of and so I said yes and pretended I had a 15-minute set but I absolutely did not. Space Tortoise and the snow globes. I didn’t have any solo material. I had to write a bunch of songs really quickly and practise them and hope that I would get away with them.
The first song I wrote was The Fingering Shed which is now my most requested song. I wouldn’t have written it if I wasn’t absolutely shitting myself at the thought of standing silently still for 15 minutes in front of thousands of fans. I’m so grateful for the opportunity. I can’t really believe how scared I was of 15 minutes alone – it helped me to write solo shows, to believe that I could be funny on my own. You can watch both my set and the whole Donna set on YouTube.
My show Average Bear is a show about a lot of things but largely about the loss of my brother. I’ve done it so many times now and I really love it.
I recorded it as a special for Paramount Plus and I was going to write here about how that was such a special experience but actually, UK friends, your version was more special.
I did Average Bear at the Soho Theatre this year and one night, my brother’s best friend came along. He looks exactly like my brother. He sat in the front row, long legs squashed against the stage, the stage light hitting his face almost as much as it was hitting mine. I didn’t look at him once during the show but it was all for him.
We got a standing ovation (brag) which I’m told is rare from the Brits but maybe whoever told me that was just being nice. We’d been lucky enough to get one every night at Soho (brag again) but that night I didn’t see it. I only saw him standing and in him, I saw my brother.
Michelle Brasier is performing her new show Reform at the Edinburgh Festival from 2–27 August (not 16th) at 7pm in Gilded Balloon Teviot (Dining Room). To book, click here.