Call the Midwife has been a massive success, and with the show’s first soundtrack album hitting shelves on the 25th of February (which features the music of the first two series and the Christmas special) actress Laura Main, who both plays Sister Bernadette on the show and features of the album, talked about the record, her singing and the show itself.
Q: Have you always been a fan of this sort of music?
A: Definitely. I adore all the music on this album because of my mum. She used to play it all the time. When I was younger, she couldn't believe that I knew and liked all those songs from a totally different era because I’d sing along.
She loves this music – and other mums will love it, too. What I like is that "Call the Midwife – The Album" contains a few marvellous surprises. It's not at all your average compilation. It's a brilliant CD!
Q: Why do you think this music has lasted so well?
A: It's terribly romantic and really moving. That works very well in Call the Midwife because it is juxtaposed with the sometimes tough situations that are portrayed on screen.
Q: Is music an important element of Call the Midwife?
A: Absolutely. Music is an integral part of the show. It takes you instantly back to that time. We use an interesting mixture in the programme – popular songs from the time, and also religious music. That combination works really well. It's all bound together by Peter Salem’s wonderful original music.
Q: What do you hope that listeners will get out of "Call the Midwife – The Album"?
A: It's a really good way for people to add to their enjoyment of Call the Midwife. It's like DVD extras. If people love something, they want to buy into it more and more. This album is a great way of getting something extra out of the show.
Q: When do you think people might listen to it?
A: I was listening to "Call the Midwife – The Album" last night before going out, and I suddenly felt like I was with the Call The Midwife nurses getting read! There is such a great mix of music on the album there really is something to suit every mood – lively or relaxing
Q: You have done several solos for the album, haven't you?
A: Yes, that has been lovely, I perform on all the tracks with The Nuns and I do solos on Psalm 91, Psalm 51 and. "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace..."
I performed my first solo in episode two of the first series when Jenny (played by Jessica Raine) was searching for Mary and her eyes were opened to the reality of prostitution.
They used my voice, but I wasn't in the shot, so people didn't realise it was me singing – other than my family and friends. They were thrilled and told me, "We knew it was you all along!"
Q: Have you done more solos in the second series?
A: I have and that's been really nice. In the Christmas special, I sang, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", and in the first episode of the second series I did, "Glory to Thee, My God This Night." Singing these songs is such an uplifting experience.
Q: How did you start singing the solos?
A: On our very first day of filming, before we had even gone on set, we went to a studio and recorded all the music. Spending the morning singing devout songs was the perfect way to get into character.
Halfway through our rehearsal, the director Philippa Lowthorpe came in. She was sitting there quietly listening. That's when she realised that I like to sing. She said, "I think we'll have Laura, starting the nuns' plainsong." I was thrown in at the deep end – I hadn't had any time to practice the solos – but I loved it!
Q: Have you always been passionate about music?
A: Yes. I have always loved musicals. I played Annie when I was 13, and I was sold on musical theatre there and then. I went on to Webber Douglas drama school, where we got very good training in musical theatre.
Q: Have you done any musicals recently?
A: Yes. A couple of years ago I was in a production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, State Fair, at a tiny 50-seat fringe theatre in London. One night, Andrew Lloyd Webber came in – there was no missing him. The whole room was very aware of him.
Everyone was looking at him and thinking, "Is he enjoying it?" "Yes, he's enjoying it – permission to applaud!" I met him after the show. I think he said something nice to me, but I couldn't believe I was meeting him – I was so excited, it was all a bit of a blur!
Q: I believe you have been back singing on stage again recently.
A: Yes, I did my first ever panto at Christmas. I played Maid Marian in Robin Hood in Barnstaple. I got to sing pop songs from today, and it was great. It was really nice to be back on stage singing and dancing.
Q: When you were making the first series of Call the Midwife, did you have any idea how popular it would be?
A: No. We never thought, "This is going to be the biggest hit ever!" At first, I was just thrilled to get the job. But when my agent told me who the other nuns were – Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris and Judy Parfitt - I had an inkling that it might be good, although I was scared about living up to that company.
At some point during the filming of the first series, the penny suddenly dropped – "I'm in a BBC1 Sunday night period drama. This is exactly the sort of thing I’d tune into. It's an absolute dream!"
Q: Why do you think audiences immediately connected with the show?
A: The fact that it's about midwifery is really important. It's a subject that has never been done before. There is inbuilt drama in it, and it means it's not just pure period drama. It also struck such a chord because every episode takes you on such a huge journey.
One moment you have laugh-out-loud belly laughs, and the next moment will really hit a nerve and everyone is in tears. It appeals to so many different people on so many different levels. At the heart of it, love drives absolutely everything in Call the Midwife.
Q: Please expand on that.
A: Love is why these midwives do what they do. They are such amazing people. They really care about others. In this show, we're watching people looking out for one another, and it's really good to be reminded of that. Things are getting tricky in our society at the moment, and viewers are thinking, "Wait a minute, maybe kindness does have a place after all."
Q: How have you found it working with real babies?
A: It's amazing. I did my first birth scene during the second series, and I'm so pleased I've had that experience.
Q: Did the baby behave?
Let's just say it wasn't the most straightforward birth. Filming took a long time – almost two days. We often work with twins, and then have a prosthetic baby as well. It was hard work, but I found it really moving.
Q: How does your character, Sister Bernadette, develop in the second series?
A: I can't give too much away. All I can say is that she goes on a massive journey that even took me by surprise.
Q: Finally, do you ever get recognised as Sister Bernadette?
A: Never. I'm not an actor who walks down the street thinking, "Is anyone noticing me?" I just want to do the work. However, I'm very proud to be part of Call the Midwife. So I want to be associated with it and am hopefully not so heavily disguised that no one knows I'm in it!
"Call the Midwife – The Album" is released on 25 February