HE had been appearing in the show for almost a year in London’s West End but it wasn’t until Ashley Gilmour got the chance to watch Miss Saigon from the stalls that he realised what a major production he had found himself in.

“That was the moment I thought ‘this is the piece of theatre I’m in, I’m so proud’,” said Ashley who plays the lead role of Chris as the production takes residence in Manchester for seven weeks.

The tour sees Ashley returning to the show having been in the ensemble in the West End.

He added: “I was quite young when I was first in the show. I was only 21. But I think it gave me a head start when we started rehearsals, I knew a bit about the character. It’s nice to have made that progression and be the one that is playing Chris all over the country.

“I used to sit and watch Alistair Brammer who played the part in London and think I would absolutely love the opportunity to do that and now I am.”

One of the world’s most famous musicals, Miss Saigon is set in the Vietnam War when 17-year-old Kim falls in love with Chris, an American GI. As Saigon falls they are separated and Kim spends three years trying to find Chris who is unaware he is the father of a son. It is based on Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly.

“I think one of the reasons the show is so popular is the themes in it – love, family, motherhood – are always around. Sadly there will always be war with families being torn apart and mass exoduses from countries so it’s good we can tell that story which is still relevant and still affects people.

“After all that’s what theatre is about, affecting people. And it carries a great message that there is always love.”

Now 26, Ashley’s first time in Miss Saigon was only his second role after leaving drama school in London. Since then he has played Link Larkin in a UK tour of Hairspray.

“I don’t think you could get anything more different from Miss Saigon with that,” he laughed.

As well as being physically demanding, playing Chris every night is also a hugely emotional role.

“When you walk away from the theatre every night you have to be able to step away from role and go and chill out. Otherwise I think you might go a bit crazy, especially playing this part as Chris is always a bit on the edge.

“Because I have to sing so much I can’t really drink so I chill out with a nice cup of tea. Netflix is always good too, you just want something to watch that takes your mind off things.

“I have also taken up photography which I’m really enjoying. That’s something to do at the weekend and really get away from it all.”


n It takes 16 45-foot trailers to move the show from venue to venue

n 100 crew are needed to put the show into a theatre

n The famous helicopter is the same height as one-and-a-half double decker buses

n There are 136 moving lights in the lighting rig

n 5,184 individual LEDs light the backdrops on a 12m by 9m LED wall.

n There are 38 cast members from 10 nationalities

n There are 77 different percussion instruments used in the orchestra

n The GI boy’s flak jackets and helmets are all original and have been used in action

n A total of 60 wigs are worn in the show

n The show has been seen by more than 36 million people worldwide

Although the Vietnam War occurred well before he was born, Ashley has done plenty of research since getting the role of Chris.

“One of the good things we had to do was write a letter home from our character,” he said. “My letter from Chris was written at a time before he had met Kim and was just desperate to get out of Vietnam so it wasn’t the most upbeat.”

The sheer scale of the touring production will surprise even the most knowledgeable of theatre audiences – the famous helicopter which caused a sensation when the show made its debut in 1991 remains very much part of the show.

“It is a huge production,” said Ashley. “It is very much a West End show on the road.”

Although a touring production, because the show is spending several weeks at each venue, the cast get a chance to relax more.

“You have time to unpack your suitcase and settle in and actually live in a city for a month or more,” said Ashley. “When I did Hairspray it was a different venue every week and that was hard. But this is a special show and we all appreciate that.”

n Miss Saigon is at Palace Theatre in Manchester until May 12. For tickets call 0844 871 3019 or visit www.atgtickets.com