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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

West End performer Hayley Doyle bringing first-hand knowledge to a summer camp in Dubai

Hayley Doyle is bringing her first-hand knowledge of ‘Mamma Mia!’ to a summer camp in Dubai

A group show at Hayley’s Comet. Courtesy Hayley's Comet
A group show at Hayley’s Comet. Courtesy Hayley's Comet

Over the years, Hayley Doyle has engaged with hundreds of children in her various dance, drama and elocution classes. From summer camps and Halloween specials to playwriting classes and vocal training sessions, the founder of Hayley’s Comet theatre company has poured her energy into tapping the talent of young performers.

This month, Doyle is mining her own first-hand experience as a West End performer for a Mamma Mia-themed camp. The British resident played Ali, best friend of the protagonist, Sophie, in the beloved musical at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London’s West End from 2005 to 2006.

“It was enthralling, ­magical and very tiring,” Doyle says of her stint. “The costumes were fun, especially the crazy bathing suit and hat from Under Attack, and the pink tasselled bridesmaid dress I wore, which always got caught on my dancing partner’s suit jacket. We laughed a lot, on stage and off; the energy needed for a show like that is immense. I performed it more than 600 times, sometimes eight shows a week.” Now Doyle is bringing this insider knowledge to Dubai, coincidentally just a few weeks after the release of the second instalment of the Mamma Mia! movie franchise, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which released to rave reviews on July 19.

“I have taught parts of Mamma Mia! in my ­after-school classes over the years. The dance routine to Waterloo is a particularly great warm-up. I also once taught kids in India the real routine to Dancing Queen, and they were all incredible. With the brand-new Mamma Mia! movie having been released, now feels like a good time to bring it all back to Dubai,” explains Doyle.

Hayley Doyle, left, in a Mamma Mia! performance at London's West End in 2005. Brinkhoff Mögenburg 
Hayley Doyle, left, in a Mamma Mia! performance in London's West End in 2005. Brinkhoff Mougenburg

“The beauty and skill of Abba is that all the songs are amazing. We will definitely do the Dancing Queen and Mamma Mia! tracks, and with the older teens, I would like to try Winner Takes it All, as it is so powerful,” adds Doyle, who once conducted a Les Miserables series featuring fellow former West End performer Peter Caulfield. Most of her workshops culminate in a grand finale performed by her young charges in front of an enthusiastic and supportive audience of family and friends.

“On the first day, we work [through] ideas in groups, making up little plays,” says Doyle. “After, I gather the best ideas and create a loose story script, often using the children’s fresh input, and we work from there. Children have the most wonderful ideas, and they need to be shown ­confidence in sharing them. Even if we use one character from one group, a few lines from another and the story idea from a third group, it works. The sense of teamwork becomes strong and children have ownership of their work. The teachers then string it together with the songs, and we use our experience to tighten the ideas and translate them into small scenes.”

It is this attention to detail and dedication to what’s best for the children that has earned Hayley’s Comet its loyal patrons. Robert Duce, the British chief executive of Outside the Box Events, says his 13-year-old daughter, Sophie, insists on ­attending Doyle’s workshops on a regular basis. “I’ve never been to a musical in London where everyone gets up and dances the way they do at Mamma Mia! in the West End; it’s absolutely fantastic. So with this camp, it’s phenomenal that my ­daughter will get to learn about the production from someone who actually played in the West End. And my wife and I are really hoping that she grows to love the music of Abba in the same way that our generation does.

“A summer camp also allows children to do something they love and enjoy, to learn a skill, learn to sing and dance, learn to not have inhibitions. Some of the Mamma Mia! stuff is a bit mad – dancing around in snorkel gear and flippers – so it shows you should not be embarrassed by anything and enjoy yourself, and hopefully Sophie will,” adds Duce.

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Inclusion coach Donna Mitchell’s daughter, MacKenzie, 10, has been attending summer camps and masterclasses at Hayley’s Comet since she was 6. “The first one she attended was a play about the world we now live within, in relation to mobile phones and other devices and how they affect us. MacKenzie had the chance to sing, dance, act, improvise as well as create her own script. At the end of the week’s camp performance, I was left with a lasting impression of how it offered a child-centred approach within performance arts,” says ­Mitchell. “Most importantly, Hayley asked the audience to watch the performance without the use of any phones or cameras during the first run, and that really stood out for me. She wanted the audience to be engaged 100 per cent and be mindful without ­distractions. The learning ­experience was paramount for all involved – the performers and the audience.”

Doyle, in turn, has the following advice for the parents who enrol their young ones to a Hayley’s Comet class. “We ask that they trust us with giving their children the best experience. Sometimes, after the first day of camp, a parent might ask why their child only has one line or has no lines. It is a creative process, and we can’t write and direct a whole show in one day. The team spirit and enjoying the process is what is valuable about these camps,” she explains, adding: “Parents should also encourage their children to sing at home, in the car, to rehearse their dance steps in the kitchen, to look over their lines before bedtime. Children get a lot of their confidence from their parents, and always glow when they see their mum or dad cheering them from the audience, so let the support begin at home.

“At the same time, I don’t encourage diva-like behaviour,” she adds. “Theatre and arts only work well when we are a team. If children are overconfident and pushing their way to the front, my teachers and I will train them to respect being in the background.”

Finally, for the young ­performers themselves, Doyle has one main piece of advice: “Listen, listen, listen. You can’t learn anything if you don’t. But I would also say, listen, believe in yourself, and then go home and practise. You’re never too good for the performing arts world; there are always ways to improve and push yourself, and somebody else will always be ready to take your place. It’s a tough world, but a very rewarding one when you find your strengths.”

The Mamma Mia-themed summer camp by Hayley’s Comet runs from August 26 to 30 at the James & Alex Dance Studios in Dubai Media City, and is Dh750

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