For her first national tour, Emily-Mae was cast as one of The Dynamites and First Cover Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray, and she later joined the cast of The Producers in 2018 at Manchester Royal Exchange in the role of Ulla. Last year was hugely successful for Emily-Mae with roles in Little Shop of Horrors and Brooklyn the Musical, in which she also had performances at The Theatre Café and West End Live, before taking on the lead role of Pippi in Pippi Longstocking at Royal and Derngate in Northampton. Emily-Mae is currently preparing to make her West End debut at the Garrick Theatre in the upcoming production of City of Angels starting 5th March. Recently, we caught up with Emily-Mae about starring as Pippi Longstocking, playing Ulla in The Producers and being in the cast of Brooklyn the Musical.
You’ve recently finished your run as Pippi in Pippi Longstocking, what was the character like to play?
It was a lot of fun! Pippi Longstocking was wild, she did everything to have a good time and to play games. It was a lot of running around the stage, there was lots of communication with the audience and the kids went crazy for Pippi Longstocking! She breaks the rules and plays games all the time, so the kids were like, “YEAH, PIPPI!”. I had to run through the audience and the kids would be screaming at me. A kid handed me ice cream after the interval and was like, “it’s for strength, Pippi!”, so I had an ice cream tub while I was running around!
It was such a blast, but also hard work because it was two shows a day with the Christmas schedule, Pippi had a lot of energy to upkeep, but it was a lovely cast that kept it going. It was so much fun.
Were you familiar with the stories and how did you prepare for the lead role?
I wasn’t familiar with the story as I’d missed out on the Pippi Longstocking hype, so I bought a 3-in-1 book to try and cram in all my research. I read the book and thought she was crazy in a good way, but wondered how I was going to play a child without being a caricature. I found that she was very open and she didn’t judge people, so I think that was a way of getting into it without playing a stereotypical kid role. I got the seal of approval from my niece and nephew (who are seven and four), and I knew if they liked it, then I’d done it right, and they did!
Your portrayal of the character received great reviews, what’s it like hearing theatregoers’ reaction to your performance?
It’s lovely because you’re just doing your job and trying to do your best. You’re working it out with the director and the team, and you’ve just got to go for your choice even if you don’t know if it’s right or wrong. Lots of my friends don’t read reviews, but I think it’s nice to get acknowledgement when it’s done well, and it’s nice for the whole team when they put a lot of effort into something.
Can you tell us about appearing in Brooklyn the Musical at Greenwich Theatre?
That was fun. It was a little cast of five, so it was a lovely experience being in such a small cast. Everyone was lovely and the story was so heart-warming. It was a really nice piece to be a part of and the singing was incredible! On the first look of the score you ask yourself whether you can sing that, but that’s what makes it a challenge! At the start of rehearsals, it took a lot of singing and practice, but by the end we knew we could sing it. It was nice having that accomplishment of getting to the end of something so difficult once we’d nailed it. The cast and team made that show because it was a really lovely group of people to be with.
The cast performed at West End Live and The Theatre Café, what were these like to do?
West End Live was scary. It was the first time I’d done it, and standing backstage and hearing that audience is nothing like I’d ever experienced before. The sound guys warned us that the sound from the speakers bounce back, so your sound, the music and the crowd all come straight back to you, so when you step out there, it’s very overwhelming. It was a lot of fun though and I could feel my heart beat out my chest before I walked on!
The Theatre Café was the complete opposite. The crowd were very close and Brooklyn has quite a lot of loud belting songs, so it was a bit like, ‘sorry that I’m shouting in your face!’. It went down quite well but they were just polar opposite performances.
What was it like being part of the cast?
It felt lucky because it was such a small cast and I remember sitting in the auditions hearing everyone sing and they were all phenomenal. I felt lucky because the performances were out of this world and every single person in the cast was unbelievable. We never left the stage so I’d sit and watch people sing and think, ‘how are you doing that with your voice?!’. They were such talented performers who are doing incredible things now because they’re all fantastic! It was lovely being part of a small show because I’ve done quite big casts, and there was no dancing in it, it was all about the singing so it was good to concentrate on something a bit different.
What was Little Shop of Horrors like to be part of?
That was also a small cast and I had quite a narrator-y, sassy role in that. I had two amazing girls with me and I think we had too much fun! We’d just be watching scenes and reacting to them as we weren’t really the main players so we could have a lot of fun on stage.
Storyhouse in Chester is an incredible theatre, and it’s the hub of the community. It was traverse staging so you were literally surrounded by people which was so good because it’s such a small show and it’s supposed to be funny and a bit weird, and people just bought into because they were so close. It was good to be part of a little creative process.
How did you find your time in The Producers at the Royal Exchange?
Exciting! I remember being so nervous, even in the auditions, because I wanted it so bad. I remember getting the audition through and they said they wanted girls above 5’10” who could tap dance. It was in Manchester so I knew if I got it I would be near home for Christmas, and I remember going for the first round like, “please pick me!”.
I went for Ensemble and they asked if I wanted to read for Ulla so I said yes. I am still so thankful to the Director for giving me the chance to read for a part.
It was in the Round which is completely different because you’ll be doing something and you’ll see the audience react with each other. It was lovely getting used to that. The Royal Exchange is an incredible space and they have a dressing table and bunk beds in the dressing rooms, which is lovely for double show days! It was tricky with lots of tap dancing as there would be a lot of bruises, and I had a corset on so there were a lot of things to get used to.
The Producers stays in my heart and I feel very lucky to be a part of that. To be the first mixed race girl to play Ulla is still mind-boggling to me, but it was really, really fun and I’m really lucky to have done it.
What did you enjoy most about playing Ulla in the show?
I think people underestimated her. She’s a sexy, sultry character and people can quickly assume she’s one dimensional. Seeing Ulla as a stereotypical blonde. When you read the script, you see that she’s playing them and she knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s the strongest one in the scene and she was such a fun character to play.
How was the experience touring with Hairspray?
It was a love/hate relationship. Touring is really hard and it was a weekly tour so we’d have Sunday off, but we’d be travelling to the next place on Sunday and then do a show on Monday. Luckily, the show is a lot of fun and the cast were great, so even if you were tired and you really had to get yourself together, everyone would smile at you. It had fun music and you’d be doing great dances so you could get through it. With touring, you get to see a lot of different cities and explore different places. You also get a little family because you don’t get to go home and see your friends so your cast are your friends now.
It was a tricky one for me because, halfway through, my mum passed away. I was travelling around and, at the same time, trying to get home, so in my head, it’s a bittersweet memory because it was also my first job. All in all, it was a lot of fun and it was a great cast to get me through it. They’d always be asking if I was alright and they are the ones who get you through if you find things a little bit hard. I’ve been very lucky with casts, and every time, we’ve become a little family. Hairspray was a little bit hard, but it’s Hairspray… you can’t not have a good time!
You were First Cover Motormouth Maybelle, what was this like?
Scary – I was terrified of going on! Brenda Edwards was Motormouth, and I remember talking to her before and asking her to please not go off, and she was saying to trust her that I’d want her to go off when I knew the role. She had a couple of days off in Blackpool for concerts, so I knew I was doing them dates and I knew my family were coming to watch. Motormouth doesn’t go on until just before the interval so I had the whole first act to work myself up. Once I was on, it was so much fun!
It was incredible but also a lot of pressure because it’s quite a deep role and she has quite an important message in the show. It took a lot of preparing, and playing an older age to myself was difficult. I just went for it, put on the blonde wig and had a great time.
WhatsOnStage selected you as one of their ‘ones to watch’ for 2020, how does this feel?
Exciting! There are some incredible people on that list so it was very strange to see my little face looking back at me! I’ve been really lucky with the people I’ve worked with and the jobs that I’ve done. There have been really nice people that have allowed me to do greater things so I’m very lucky.
Where does your love of theatre come from?
When I was younger, my sister went to dancing class and I did everything my sister did so I joined dancing when I was three and I think I just enjoyed being part of a group. I was always asked what I wanted to be when I was older and everyone else said they wanted to be a dancer but there was something stopping me from saying I wanted to do that. I used to make up little Emily shows and there are about 3000 home videos of me making up songs!
I never knew musical theatre was a thing. I did dancing lessons, singing lessons and acting lessons, but I didn’t know there was a job when you could do all three at once. I went to a musical theatre sixth form college and I was amazed that there were schools that would teach you and it would blow my mind when I realised you could get a degree from it.
I think it comes from pretending to be somebody else. I watched Annie when I was little and I loved the showbiz element of not being you for an hour and a half. Everyone likes to do that once in a while.
Do you remember how you felt booking your first professional role after graduating?
Yes, I remember I was out of school for a different audition and the head of school rung me and said I needed to go back to school immediately. I was on the tube and I remember thinking that either something really bad had happened, or something really good. I walked into the office and was wondering what was happening. You’d see people come out of there screaming with joy so I was hoping I would do the same! Luckily I was!
It’s still crazy and it still feels weird that this is my job. The fact that something I’d done as a hobby for years and years after school is now my job is still mindboggling. The feeling of ‘wow, that’s happening’ still feels really good, and it’s still exciting when people ask what your job is and you get to say you’re an actor.
You’ve been announced for the cast of City of Angels at Garrick Theatre, what are you looking forward to for starting in the role?
The score is phenomenal. I remember it was on at the Donmar Warehouse when I was at drama school and one of the teachers had been to see it and came in saying it was one of the best things they’d ever seen. It’s an incredible team and I’ve worked with Stephen Mear before on Little Shop of Horrors and I’m very thankful he got me back in the room for this audition. I’ve also never worked on anything in the West End before! I’m excited to be in a big cast again as I’ve been in a lot of little casts recently. I think I’ve had quite a nice mixture of things from playing a nine-year-old to now playing someone in LA who’s a bit sultry. It’s going to be a nice change and I’m looking forward to it.
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