Starring as Matilda in the West End musical for her first professional stage appearance, Hayley Canham will soon be seen as Katrina in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at The Other Palace in August this year. As a keen singer, Hayley goes under the name of cannibal which has given her radio exposure with her original tracks on BBC Introducing and has recently released her latest single ‘Ever Know’ featuring Oscar Morgan. Catching up with Hayley before she flew to Nashville, we chat about her original music, performing in the new production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and her plans for cannibal.
How did you find your time as Matilda in the West End?
It was definitely an unforgettable experience. When I was eight, my teacher at school heard about the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical and that it was coming to the West End, and she suggested that I auditioned. I’d never had any experience or done any professional stuff before, I got it through an open audition. Going from doing junior plays at school to then performing in front of 1200 people every night is a little bit daunting, but I was actually more worried about doing the cartwheels correctly and not falling over – that was definitely one of the things I had to work on!
It gave me so many amazing opportunities – judging on Junior MasterChef and the Royal Variety Performance, and meeting the Queen was surreal, but I think one of the highlights for me was performing at St James’s Palace as part of the London 2012 Olympics. I was representing the West End alongside Stella McCartney and Michael Morpurgo, it was insane, I loved that, that was definitely one of my favourite parts of the run I think. It was my first professional thing to do so it was huge for me and it’s stayed with me a lot I think. It’s sort of haunting, not in a bad way though, my friends always send me Snapchats all the time as I’m on the adverts, I just see little old me, like I can’t escape it! I went over to see them on Broadway as well, it’s crazy really.
What was the experience like filming Penny Dreadful?
That was a freezing cold day in Dublin, but the crew were really sweet and they gave me hot water bottles and blankets in-between takes so I didn’t freeze to death! I was doing a scene with Eva Green and she rubbed my back because my teeth were chattering, I was that cold. That was really fun, it was my first TV screen role so that was really interesting to do. The series was so dark, it is described as a psychosexual horror which is disturbing, but I love watching the series. It’s a bit odd seeing myself on screen, at least with theatre you don’t actually have to see yourself, you just do it and hope other people enjoy it I suppose, it’s weird to see yourself playing someone else but I try not to be hypercritical, I just enjoyed it for what it was.
Was there anything that helped you decide to audition for The Voice Kids?
I started writing my own songs around the age of twelve and I think I wanted a creative outlet for them, so I started posting my own songs and covers on YouTube. I think it was the result of that, that I was actually approached by The Voice Kids team asking whether I wanted to have a go at auditioning. It was the first series in the UK so I think they were looking for people, I just thought, that will be a bit of a laugh, wouldn’t that be fun! I’d never done anything reality TV before. I was fortunate enough to get picked by Danny (Jones), he was the coach that I wanted so that was good. It was a fascinating insight into how the whole reality TV thing actually works, and a great performance experience as well, I think once you’ve got on nationwide TV, there’s nothing much that can throw you after that. It was interesting because I had to perform other people’s songs. I think on the whole, after having that experience, I kind of prefer doing my own original songwriting stuff.
Did you get to choose what songs to perform on the show?
I was able to give in suggestions, especially at the beginning when auditioning. They always say try to audition with songs that you would like to sing, so the song that I ended up auditioning with, Love Yourself, was something that I just played to them on guitar along with original songs. I auditioned with some my own stuff and obviously covers because they usually stick to covers on the show, but when you get into the Battles, they need to try and pick stuff that suits everybody. There were interesting choices from Danny, some of the kids had no idea what any of the songs were, so that was quite funny!
How did you come up with your name cannibal?
Haha, believe it or not, it was a childhood nickname, my friends and I have a very weird sense of humour and it just sort of stuck. I think when I wanted to make a musical persona, I thought it was kind of interesting to use that name because it does stand out a little bit, it’s a bit quirky but also it actually does mean something to me.
How does it feel hearing your songs on the radio?
Actually incredible, definitely one of the best feelings in the world. I’ve had three songs that have been played on there now – South, Sponge and Flatlined on BBC Radio as part of BBC Introducing. I filmed myself having a bit of a cry afterwards, just because of the anticipation waiting for it, it was getting near to 9pm and I was like, “please play it, please play it”, haha! It’s insane hearing your songs. You think about the hours of work you’ve put into it, writing them, recording them and producing them, and then to actually get played by someone who aren’t friends and family, someone completely unrelated who just listened to it and liked it, that is the best feeling in the world.
Where did you film your music video for Sponge and have you filmed the Flatlined video yet?
I filmed that at Alexandra Palace. I had this vision that I really wanted the London skyline, I want to be centred as a British artist. There is an amazing pavement at Alexandra Palace, if you filmed it from the side, it just had the entirety of London in the background. I just thought that’s the perfect place to do it. I think we did it in an hour and a half, it was sort of one take, I just had to ignore everyone staring at me! I had headphones in and I was just listening to the song and enjoying it.
I’m filming Flatlined next week, I’ve got quite a few ideas for that, I’m going to do it maybe in a wood. I don’t want to give away too much yet, keep people on their toes. I think it’s going to be different from Sponge. I think it’s fun to have variety, I don’t want to stick to the same thing. I quite enjoy the directing, music is a very creative thing for me, but other things related to that which I’m also able to do I really enjoy.
You’re going to Nashville on a songwriting trip, how long are you planning on staying there?
I think it’s ten days. I’ve got a bunch of gigs that I’m doing and I’m recording in some iconic studios which have got such a rich history in Nashville, so that’s an honour to be performing in some of those places. I think I’m going to do some busking and just try and get into it. I’m going to be songwriting as well, hopefully. I’m quite looking forward to that just because it’s a change of scenery and somewhere that’s so based around songwriting. My genre isn’t exactly Country, but I do appreciate Country music, there will be a lot of that around, especially because I’m going there around the Fourth of July, so we’re going to really be in the heat of things in terms of festivities. I’m really looking forward to it.
How have you got involved with charity work?
I’m working with a charity that’s very close to my heart. I want to use my songwriting (I’m not going to run a marathon, I’m just going to put that out there, I’m definitely not sporty!) to raise awareness and hopefully do some good because I really want to give back to the things that mean a lot to me.
Can you tell us what you’ll be doing at Edinburgh Fringe and will it be your first time attending the event?
I’m doing a play called The Wardrobe and I think we’re up there for a week. I love the vibe of Edinburgh Fringe, I went there a couple of years ago doing a different show, I absolutely love it. I don’t often go to Scotland, but when I do it’s just really fun. You can see a range of entertainment, the comedians are hilarious, and there are new upcoming shows. It’s really creative, I’m really looking forward to going.
You’re appearing in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at The Other Palace in August, have you started rehearsals yet?
Yeah, we are halfway through rehearsals for that, I’m so excited! It’s a brand new British musical on at The Other Palace at the end of August. I adore it. As a cast and crew of a new show, we’ve been able to workshop it, and everyone’s had a hand in the development process, which is so much fun. We have a bit of a say in where our characters go and how much we want to act it because it’s the first run. It’s really inspiring and creatively fulfilling.
The music is absolutely beautiful, the plot is great, if you come and see it, you’ll definitely enjoy it, the cast is so talented. Everyone should come and see it, it’s on a few weeks after Heathers starring Carrie Hope Fletcher, and it is an absolute honour to be performing on the same stage as them. I’m so excited to do it, I’m so proud of how it’s developing and can’t wait to finish rehearsals and do the shows.
What are you most looking forward to for playing the part of Katrina?
Goodness! It’s interesting, I tried to do some research, obviously The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is based on the book and there’s a Tim Burton film of it. The musical takes more from the book than it does the film, the film does change a lot of things. I decided to look at Christina Ricci in the film and see how she did it. I love Christina’s portrayal of Katrina so I’m taking as many influences as I can.
I love the character of Katrina. It might not be evident in the film, but definitely in the musical, she has a crazy development throughout the show, she just gains so much confidence. It’s set in the late 1700s/early 1800s, so obviously you’ve got a lot of misogyny and women don’t have the same rights as we do today. They’ve got a definite position in society, over the course of the play, Katrina breaks out of that position. It’s so much fun playing someone who changes so much, I feel like it gives me a lot to work with.
I’m so involved with her as a character and I’m watching a lot of documentaries about that time trying to make sure I get it right. It’s brand new, it’s my baby almost, it’s not as if I wrote it, but I feel like the character is my baby, so I’m looking forward to shaping her.
Is there anything you can tell us about the musical you’ll be writing and directing?
I’d love to! I’ve always wanted to write a musical. I feel like when you’re involved in them, you almost want to have a bit of the action yourself. I think also working on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has really inspired me, you see the creative process and you think, yeah, I can do that.
I don’t want to say too much about the final project but I’m hoping to do a musical adaptation of Euripides’ Medea which is a very well-known play. I know the National Theatre did a play of it three or four years ago, but I’m trying to close my eyes to anything else just to make sure I create something new. I don’t want to take from other people, I want to make sure that I make it all my own work and make it authentic. I’m really interested in classics, I really want to study it further, so exploring the Greek tragedy in a musical way is a bit of an interesting take on that.
I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in with that, maybe I’ll do a bit of acting in it, but I’m not sure yet. I don’t want to give myself too much to do otherwise I think I might just stress myself out, haha! It’s definitely a project that I’m raring to start.
Will you return to uploading covers to your YouTube channel?
Yeah definitely. I think now that I’ve got cannibal, and I’m pursuing that, I think it’s very important for me to make sure I put out as much original stuff as possible. Songwriting’s always my main priority, but I’ve always loved doing sort of quirky covers of songs and putting my own spin on things. I think sometimes that’s a better way of grabbing people’s attention because hearing something familiar done in a different way is always interesting. I like my YouTube channel to be a place for music videos and, I suppose, professionally shot original stuff. I post a lot of snippets of covers on my social media just because I’m always working on things.
What festivals can people see you at this year?
I’m doing a few things in the summer. In particular, I’m doing Readipop and I’m really looking forward to that. This is the first year that I’m really pushing cannibal to the forefront of what I do. I’m doing a lot more gigs and so I’m just trying to get out there as much as possible. I’ve also got some national gigs coming up as well, but Readipop’s the one I’m getting excited for.
When can people expect to hear new music?
I’m actually going back into the studio over the next few days to work on some new material. I’m always writing, I feel like it’s the best stress relief from exams. It’s something that I enjoy doing, I should be revising for my GCSEs but instead I’m writing new songs and whipping the guitar out, haha! I’ve got quite a few songs which no one’s heard yet, and so I’m hoping to do something with them, and some older ones. I’m always writing new stuff that I want to record. You’ll definitely be hearing new stuff very soon and hopefully videos to go along with them as well.
Do you have plans for your own tour?
Oooooh, that is such an interesting question! I would absolutely love to. A songwriter’s dream, I suppose, is to break the industry. I’ve been having meetings about music – music and acting are both major passions of mine, but I feel like I could pick acting up whenever and it’s always something that I enjoy doing, whereas music, it’s not quite at the level so I’m definitely trying to push and focus my efforts into that at the moment. Touring would be a dream, honestly, a dream come true, but I’m starting small and working my way up. As soon as I get these gigs under my belt, maybe get a bit more live concert experience, I don’t want to tempt fate, but hopefully you’ll be able to see me on a tour!
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