In 2016, Emily-May Stephenson made her West End debut in the lead role of Matilda in the multi-award-winning production of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre, which saw her perform solo at West End Live and return to the show a few months after leaving for emergency cover. Emily-May came back to the West End a couple of years later, where she performed in Annie at Piccadilly Theatre as Kate and understudy Annie, and reprised her role last year in the UK Tour. Between her runs in Annie, Emily-May was in the cast of Fiddler on the Roof at Leicester Curve, having played at the venue previously on a number of occasions, and she is currently part of the Stagebox London Elite Team, performing in events with them including West End Does Love in February. We found out from Emily-May about her lead role of Matilda, her time in Annie and setting up The Happy Little Note Company.
You made your West End debut as Matilda in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda the Musical, how was this?
My time in Matilda was amazing. I first went to watch the show when I was six and instantly wanted to be a part of it. I waited patiently for two years until I was old enough to audition and eventually, after at least seven rounds of auditions I got the part. It really was a dream come true. Everyone involved was so nice to be around and made the experience so enjoyable. I loved every second.
Do you have any stand out memorable moments from your time in the role?
I have so many that stand out but one of my most memorable moments is probably the first time I started to sing on stage. I stood up and everyone started to clap. It took a moment to process what I was actually doing and I think it finally clicked that my dream was coming true.
Another memory was being asked to go back as emergency cover at Christmas after I left the show in the October. I had one recap rehearsal and then I was performing again. I performed on Christmas Eve and it was really special.
How was the experience performing solo at West End Live?
West End Live was such a special experience. I remember stepping out on to the stage having completely underestimated the number of people that could fit into Trafalgar Square. It was very nerve-racking to see so many people, but once I started singing I just had the best time. I was so sad when it was over!
How was your time in Annie at Piccadilly Theatre in the West End as Kate?
Annie was a really fun show to be in and Kate was a great role to play. It was nice to have such a different role to Matilda too. As Matilda, you perform with different teams, but in Annie, I was part of a team of orphans so we all became good friends. I was also a swing which meant I had to learn six other parts and sometimes get thrown on stage at the last minute.
You returned to the role in last year’s UK Tour, how different did you find both runs?
Annie was my first UK tour and it was completely different to the West End. I think touring was a lot harder as it involves a lot of travel which was way more tiring than staying at one theatre. At the same time, it was kind of like one big holiday with your friends with just a little work to do in-between. I was Annie cover on tour which was super fun. I got to play Annie twice and it was such an incredible experience.
What was it like being part of the tour cast?
Touring was an incredible opportunity. I loved travelling around the country and seeing new cities every week. I also went on a plane for the first time when we went to Dublin. As I said before, it was tiring because you had to get up early to have breakfast before going to tutoring for the day then performing at night, but having the most amazing friends made up for all of that. The friendships we made on tour were stronger because we spent more time together. We all get on really well and we regularly meet up.
What do you remember from your time in the UK Tours of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat?
Honestly, I don’t remember much from Joseph because I was six but I do remember celebrating my seventh birthday in the dressing room and bringing in rainbow cupcakes. I remember how nice it was to have such a big group of kids to make friends with.
What’s it like performing at Leicester Curve?
Leicester Curve will probably always be one of my favourite theatres. I’ve performed in three shows there – The King and I, The Sound of Music, and Fiddler on the Roof. I find the overall layout of the theatre so much different to most of the others. It’s so open and it’s fun to watch shows there too because of the fact that there is no stage door so you just see cast members wandering around.
The most recent show you performed at Leicester Curve was Fiddler on the Roof, can you tell us about your time in the production?
Fiddler on the Roof was different to anything I’d done before. The whole community spirit was lovely for saying there were so many people in it! It was a fun production and I was really sad when it was over.
Can you tell us about the West End Does Love event you were part of recently?
West End Does Love was amazing. It was so nice to perform with my Stagebox family and we had a great time on and off the stage. I also loved watching people like Carrie Hope Fletcher and Marisha Wallace perform too.
How is it being part of the Stagebox London Elite Team?
Stagebox is honestly one big family. Everyone is friendly and supportive and the teachers are always super. The training is sometimes hard work and intensive but they make it fun and enjoyable. We have so many opportunities. It’s a great thing to be part of!
What theatre shows have you attended recently that you have enjoyed?
I love SIX, I was lucky enough to watch it for a third time when I got a return ticket to the original cast’s last show. The atmosphere is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s like being at one big party.
You’ve set up The Happy Little Note Company, what can you say about this project?
I set up an Instagram page last year where I wrote notes with positive quotes on and hid them all over the country which was easily done as I was on tour. My aim was purely to make people smile. A few months ago I wanted to go one step further so I set up Happy Little Note Co. I thought about how many more people I could make smile if more people got involved with writing notes. I began to sew small pouches and put happy notes inside along with blank pages so people could write their own. I started to sell these and was happy when people started to buy them. I hope people continue to write notes and brighten someone’s day because something as simple as this can make the biggest difference.
What encouraged your love of performing?
I began dance classes when I was three, and a couple of years later an advert was pinned to the noticeboard outside the dance studio announcing auditions for The King and I tour for when it visited Nottingham. I didn’t really fit the brief at all but I went anyway and got the part. I was five at the time and I haven’t stopped since. My dance teacher at the time really helped me and supported me and she watched every show I was in.
What plans do you have over the next few months?
Hopefully I will break into TV work and do more modelling. I’m too tall and too old for most theatre now. In June I was meant to be going to Canada for summer camp for a whole month. If it doesn’t go ahead this year, I’ll be going next year instead. I’ve just done my first GCSE and start more soon.
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