Stage star had humble theatre beginnings

For Chloë Dallimore, performing hasn’t always meant being front stage centre.

For Chloë Dallimore, performing hasn’t always meant being front stage centre.

The musical theatre star, who wowed Australian audiences as Ulla in The Producers, divided her early performing years between lead roles in high school musicals and the back of the orchestra pit, where she played the double bass.

Such a low-key position might seem at odds with Dallimore’s perennially good-natured and high-spirited personality, but the performer insists that her time spent playing the instrument provided a training ground for her future life as a triple-threat star.

“Interestingly enough, learning how to keep in time and work with a large group of musicians prepared me for life on stage: doing the same things over and over, working as part of an ensemble, and really listening to your fellow performers – these are all things I learnt from playing bass orchestras,” she said.

It is this experience that gave her the idea to adapt legendary author Patrick Suskind’s solo piece The Double Bass to be performed by a woman for the first time in the play’s history.

Penned in 1980, The Double Bass was first performed in it’s original German in the author’s hometown of Munich, and has since been staged all over the world, including a 1990 Ensemble Theatre performance by Henri Szeps here in Australia.

“What attracted me to the work was the universality of something so deeply personal,” Dallimore said.

“The piece centres on a lonely and frustrated musician who is fed up with being seemingly the least important person in the room. I think we’ve all felt like that – especially as artists. Feeling like the creative essence of your work has been sucked out by the day-to-day banality of your job… I think that’s something everything can relate to. It is also about unrequited love and our basic human need to be acknowledged, appreciated and ‘seen’.”

Dallimore’s creative essence has seen her perform some iconic roles – Roxie in Chicago, Irene in Crazy for You, the title role in Thoroughly Modern Millie – and has also seen her pour her passion for dance and choreography into the international tour of Billy Elliot, for which she is the Deputy Associate Choreographer.

Most recently, the show saw her spend five months in Seoul, teaching Billy Elliot to an entirely Korean company, in the native language. The role was challenging not only because of the language barrier, but also because the basics of musical theatre technique, such as tap dancing, are not ingrained in Korean culture.

“We were essentially teaching kids who had almost the same level of dance knowledge as [the character] Billy Elliot does when he starts out in the show! It was a huge challenge but incredibly rewarding. It has been a humbling opportunity to be able to teach a company of performers how to recreate these roles,” Dallimore said.

All this seems a long way from the image of a lanky teenager lugging a hulking stringed instrument on and off trams in the midst of a Melbourne winter. But far as she may have come, Dallimore still holds fond memories of her years in the orchestra pit.

“I always make sure to acquaint myself with the musicians on shows,” she said.

“I may be the one who gets to show off on stage, but there they are, every night, creating the ‘music’ in ‘musical’. And I always have a soft spot for whomever is playing double bass…and I am always listening out for them!”

The Double Bass plays as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival until September 25. For tickets and more info, go to

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