📷 : Chris Mann
Last year, Chelsea Halfpenny joined the cast of 9 to 5 the Musical, making her West End debut as Judy Bernly at the Savoy Theatre, after earlier that year leaving her role of Dr Alicia Munroe in Casualty, who she had played since 2015. Starting her screen career in Byker Grove, Chelsea went on to play Amy Wyatt in TV soap Emmerdale for three years, and last month, she narrated TV series Night Force for BBC. Chelsea is part of the organisation Sunday for Sammy, where she performs in their fundraising concerts, which helps young people of the North East wanting a career in performing arts. Answering our questions, Chelsea talks about playing Judy Bernly in 9 to 5 the Musical, her role of Dr Alicia Munroe in Casualty and being part of Sunday for Sammy.
How was it making your West End debut as Judy Bernly in 9 to 5 the Musical?
It was such an amazing feeling, and probably a feeling I’ll never have again. I was still in disbelief from getting the role in the first place, so then to finally be at The Savoy in the West End, bowing in front of a sold-out audience on my first ever night… it sounds cheesy but it was totally magical. I think I looked a bit crazy because of how much I was smiling! Ha!
What was the character like to play and what was it like performing as Judy for the first time?
Judy is such a fun character to play. She’s naive, sweet, kind, funny, vulnerable… and then becomes this amazingly independent and strong woman by the end. It was a very rewarding role as she has such a journey throughout the show which made it so fun to play.
Had you seen the production before being cast and what drew you to the role?
No, I hadn’t seen the show before I was cast. I hadn’t even heard Get Out and Stay Out (which seems crazy now that I know what a huge song it is within the Musical Theatre world, but to be honest, I may have heard it once before and thought ‘no way am I attempting to sing that, it’s too big of a song for me!’ Ha!!)
But once I read the material I was given, I just loved Judy. MT is so different to my previous job at Casualty, but particularly Judy with her being so fun, silly and upbeat. I loved how much I was able to play around with the script.
What was it like performing at the Savoy Theatre?
It was totally surreal. It’s one of the most loved theatres in London with it being so old, and has had so many amazing shows there, so to walk into that building everyday for seven months and call it my place of work and have my own little dressing room there was so special. I had also seen my auntie in Legally Blonde there ten years prior, and remember thinking she was amazing and being like ‘wow, if only I could be doing this in a few years time!’, and lo and behold…
Can you tell us about playing Dr Alicia Munroe in Casualty?
I loved my time at Casualty (I sound like I just say I love every job I do, but I do think I’ve just been so fortunate to work with some amazing people that have made all my jobs so so wonderful!). Playing Alicia, there was a lot more serious stuff of course… but learning all the medical jargon etc was really challenging which was great, because it’s good to be challenged.
How was the experience filming your character’s big storylines, for example, the rape story?
I was really excited once I knew I was getting the storyline, because I think it’s such an important story to tell, and I felt so honoured to be the one doing it. It was, of course, difficult at times due to how fast things are filmed, often you don’t get a lot of time to rehearse/get into the zone etc. All in all, I was happy with the final product, but more so the response I had from people that unfortunately had been through something similar. Every message from those people saying that watching the storyline made them seek help, made it all worthwhile.
What was it like joining the show and working alongside your fellow cast members?
It was great! Everyone was so friendly, and welcoming. Once I got to know them all, we just had the best time. We’d often go for meals together on an evening, and we’d have wrap drinks at the local pub every time we wrapped on a block (every two weeks!).
What did you enjoy most about your time as Amy Wyatt in Emmerdale and what do you miss about being on the set?
The same as every other job, it’s the people that I enjoyed most, and they are the people I miss the most. The camaraderie on set was great.
You started your screen career as Lucy Summerby in Byker Grove, how was your time in the show?
As it was my first job, I just learned so much. I had the time of my life! I remember they were early mornings, and very long days, but just such a giggle all day every day.
How is it attending award ceremonies, being nominated for and winning awards?
They’re always fun! The first couple I went to, I just couldn’t believe I was there! I have to be honest though, I’m not much of a party animal anymore, so after a few hours I do look forward to getting changed into my comfy clothes and ordering some food, haha!
Can you say about the radio show Ability that you recorded?
I felt totally honoured to be asked to be a part of recording Ability. I think Lee and Katherine are such brilliant writers, and I thoroughly enjoyed recording it.
How has it been narrating for BBC1 series Night Force?
I always enjoy voiceovers, so to be able to narrate a whole series was so fun.
How did your acting career come about?
I always remember enjoying being a bit of a show off, and then my nana had seen an advert in the local newspaper that they were holding open auditions for Byker Grove for girls and boys that were born in the year I was. I had about five rounds of auditions, and got the part! I did that show for four years, and then I just knew that that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Have you always had an interest in musical theatre and how different do you find stage work to screen?
I have always loved musicals and singing, yes. The work is SO different, which is why I think it would be amazing if I could continue to do both throughout my career. Screen work is great because it’s different every day, you can go again if you make a mistake, and you make such great relationships with the whole crew, though they are very long days! Theatre work you get the amazing bonding process through rehearsals, then you get that amazing first night feeling, the excitement and unknown feeling of live performance where you could make a mistake, and the feedback from the audience.
You are involved with Sunday for Sammy, can you tell us more about this?
Sunday for Sammy is an amazing organisation that put on a concert full of North East actors/singers/performers every two years to raise money to fund kids from the NE going to drama schools/colleges. Every two years I am so honoured to be stood on that stage with all those amazingly talented people, and it makes me so proud to be a Geordie.
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