With Legally Blonde currently running at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Nadine Higgin is playing Paulette, a role she previously understudied at the Savoy Theatre in the West End. Last year, Nadine appeared at Shakespeare’s Globe in the productions of Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and her performance of Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night saw her be nominated for Best Supporting Performer at the Broadway World UK Awards. Over her stage career so far, Nadine’s previous credits have included being in the cast of Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre, which was streamed for National Theatre Live, playing Shenzi in The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre and she had her first professional role as Taylor in High School Musical at the Hammersmith Apollo. Nadine has screen experience, having made her TV series debut this year playing Aminah Ibrahim in BBC’s Doctors. Speaking with us, Nadine tells us about playing Paulette in Legally Blonde, performing at Shakespeare’s Globe and making her professional debut at the Hammersmith Apollo as Taylor in High School Musical.
Currently, you are playing Paulette in Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, what is it like being part of the cast and how was it rehearsing for your role?
Being a part of this cast has been such a joy from day one. There are a lot of young people in their early twenties, a few amazing grads making their professional debut and I have really found myself immersed in their vibrancy and genuine excitement. It has been a real tonic for me. I have spent most of my time laughing!
Rehearsing for my role was quite a straightforward process for me. I instinctively knew who my Paulette was, drawing on all the black female hairdressers of my childhood, paired with the obvious trauma she has lived through written in the text and songs. It was important for me that Paulette was a strong woman, who could be very raw and vulnerable when taken back to memories of her past relationships instead of a meek and broken woman at all times. That felt more real and honest from my lens.
What was opening night like at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and who do you think will enjoy the musical?
Opening night was incredible, as a company we have worked so hard, I am also raising an amazing human that is nine years old, so sleep during times like this is a total myth. I really care about my work and my characters, so I always find the anxiety goes crazy when it is time to show the audiences the work. I always feel like I have not done enough, I have left a stone unturned or I have not interrogated a particular scene enough. Finally getting on that stage, taking in a deep breath and just living Paulette’s truth was such a beautiful moment and for the show to be received the way it has been… what more could we ask for?
You previously understudied the role at the Savoy Theatre, what is Paulette like to play and how was the experience performing with the show in the West End?
I was Jill Halfpenny’s second cover, who is a brilliant actress and her Paulette was incredible. I went on for the role once back then in 2010, so I did not really get a feel for the role. Honestly, there is no way I could have done Paulette justice then, I was in my early twenties, I was also trying to fit into the mould of who the creatives had decided Paulette was at the time, as many covers do. Playing her now, she comes from me and my experiences and I really get lost in her and her story every night, instead of feeling like I am painting by numbers.
Performing with the original cast in the West End was a brilliant experience. Working with the greats like Jerry Mitchell, Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin in the room is always so exciting. Watching Sheridan Smith take on the role of Elle and tell that story every night was an acting masterclass that I got paid for!
Last year, you performed in Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Shakespeare’s Globe, what were they like to be part of?
I love working at The Globe, I call it home. Doing both of those plays, especially opening after a pandemic, was such a special time. We opened to a very small audience and slowly the numbers grew as restrictions lifted. The difference from where we started to where we eventually ended was quite emotional. The characters I played in each play and actually the tone of each piece were very different and I realised during the season that I needed them both. I needed the joy that was our carnival-inspired A Midsummer Night’s Dream to let loose and remember how to laugh again, but I also needed the darker more isolating tone of Twelfth Night, I suffered a lot of loss during that run and I was really able to lose myself in Sir Toby Belch and his grief, it was therapy.
Your performance of Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night led to you being nominated for a Broadway World UK Award for Best Supporting Performer, how did this feel?
It felt amazing. I have never been recognised for anything before. I don’t do jobs or play these roles expecting anything like that at all, I do the work because I enjoy the work and success to me has always been measured by my own lens and my own personal growth, not by comparing myself to others, but actually when I did get the nomination I felt a huge sense of pride. I worked really hard to sculpt a version of Belch that had never been seen before (of course, being the first woman and black woman at that, to play him helped this) and with the guidance of the amazing Sean Holmes, who directed the play, I felt the character I ended up with was incredible. Myself and George Fouracres, who played Sir Andrew Aguecheek, were both nominated and, honestly, we both deserved to be.
Can you tell us about being in the cast of Allelujah! at the Bridge Theatre and what was it like having the show streamed with National Theatre Live?
Working on Allelujah! at The Bridge was a very different experience for me at the time. It was my first straight play, after a decade of working in musicals and I did not realise how different the settings were. It was mind-blowing to work in a room with Alan Bennett, I remember in my final audition asking if I could hug him before I left, a real fangirl moment. Having him in the rehearsal room, writing lines for me and adding them in was honestly insane. I was working in a room with many greats, huge names and I observed and stored a lot of information that I still use today. It was also on this job that I learnt what my personal triggers are and what environments help feed my anxiety and imposter syndrome. Lessons whether good or bad are still lessons and help shape who we are and I am grateful for them all.
How was it performing as Shenzi in The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre and being part of a Disney production?
The Lion King was a huge part of my childhood and I remember watching the musical in my early teens when it first came out and being in absolute awe of the whole production. So finally being a part of it, playing a role originated by THE Whoopi Goldberg, it was incredible. Shenzi was such fun to play, I learnt on this job that I really enjoy playing the cheeky, bad guy. There were a lot of elements to master on this job, the puppetry of her head, really making sure when I spoke it appeared to be coming from the puppet’s mouth and also learning how to stalk, walk and run using crutches as my front legs. There was a moment where I had to chase the little cubs up a staircase whilst singing and I remember when watching it, thinking I would never be able to do it but after my rehearsal process, I really felt like the puppet, crutches and I were one.
You booked your first professional role as Taylor in High School Musical at the Hammersmith Apollo, do you remember how you felt booking the role and what are some of your favourite memories from your time in the show?
I remember auditioning for a show called Our House based on the music of Madness, I had auditioned for High School Musical the week before. I was still in drama school, it was the end of my first term of my last year. The casting director James Orange was casting both shows, I walked in dressed like a gobby school pupil, Lily Allen song in hand ready to audition and he said ‘I have already offered you one job this week’. This was how I found out. I did not have an agent yet, I had been to many meetings and had one in mind (we are now celebrating 14 years together!). I still sang my song after screaming like a fool and he said with a wink that it was great, but he can’t offer me another job.
Booking a lead role, on a job like HSM at a venue like Hammersmith Apollo as a graduate was incredible, I did the show itself with many ArtsEd grads from my year who also booked the job, so it felt like a nice way to enter into the business. My favourite memory from that job was getting locked out of the theatre and stuck on the fire escape about three floors up, at about 11pm in a dress and heels, with only the help of an actor from Hollyoaks at the time, who happened to be in the pub next door, he found a ladder and helped me down. DON’T ASK! I owe him my life and we are still friends now! Ha!
We understand you’ve recently filmed for BBC’s Doctors, how was the experience on set?
I had a great experience on this job! From start to finish. I had such a great and immediate connection to Foluke Anglin, who played my wife, that I really spent the whole job in fits of laughter. Our director Jo Southwell was absolutely incredible. It was my first TV job and she really got to know me and I felt really supported and encouraged by her. The same with the assistant director, cameramen and crew, on a job that really is quick-paced, I felt everyone took their time showing me set-ups and angles and LAUGHING! I am so grateful to have had that as my first experience.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I actually found acting quite late, I started as a dancer, training since the age of four in many different styles. I used to compete at dance festivals where I was first spotted at 14 and offered a scholarship to an Easter Course at ArtsEd. I knew during that course that I wanted to train there, and in the next four years joined a theatre arts school and enjoyed putting on shows until I was old enough to train properly.
My mum also loved theatre and would often get opening night tickets and take me as her date to many shows. I grew up getting lost in stories, on stage and the ones I created in my bedroom. I just always knew I would be an actor, there was nothing else that came close to being a possible career choice for me.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
I recently watched After The End at Stratford East. A play brilliantly acted by two actors and set mostly in one room and, honestly, I have not forgotten about it. They both had us, the audience, in the palm of their hands the whole time. The whole audience gasped when one of the actors simply opened a chocolate bar, we were so invested in the world they created. I would love to do a play with a tiny cast like that.
I would love a revival of Notre Dame de Paris, my favourite musical as a teenager. The music is just stunning and it deserves a comeback. Shows to watch on my list are Back to the Future and My Neighbour Totoro, coming to the Barbican this year. My daughter and I love anime films, especially old Studio Ghibli ones, so watching a stage show of one of our favourites will be great.
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