There was this moment once during The Wizard and I when my dear co-star Joseph Fletcher let go of his suitcase, threw it at my stomach and winded me in the middle of the song.”

Such onstage horror stories are common among all live actors, yet the aforementioned belongs to West End actress Emma Hatton, who has been in the musical theatre industry for more than a decade and starred in iconic productions such as Wicked, Cats, Evita, and more.

Last week, Hatton sat down with me to discuss her journey so far as one of Britain’s high-profile West End actresses. What’s more, she detailed the experience of portraying theatre’s favorite green witch, and her time in We Will Rock You.

I never actually believed that it was a viable career option.

Emma Hatton

beginnings

Theatre was a lovely kind of otherworldly dream, but I don’t think I ever truly believed that it was a career option, purely because I’ve never seen anybody from my area take those steps.”

On what got her to where she is today, Emma thanks family and her driven nature:

Once I have a certain goal in mind, I do the best in my power to reach it. My parents and family were sensible in my education but very much for me doing what I love. To have that belief supporting you and that foundation is like rocket fuel – it gives you that belief in your goals.”
I’ve kind of danced between normal and theatre life, and kept one foot very firmly in each world.”

For before our Wicked Witch of the West End became as popular as she is today, she studied not incantations, not hexes that turn monkeys into spies, but English and Sports Science:

When there hasn’t been as much work available in theatre, I’ve always been very lucky that I’ve had an area that I love and I could go work in that.”

But behind every successful audition, and every call about getting a role, lies a plethora of disappointments:

There were many moments within the industry where I felt like someone ripped my heart out of my chest, stamped on it, and handed it back to me”, Emma describes. “But that’s kind of the job, it’s the gig, and part of the package that you sign up for.”

Hatton as Elphaba Thropp in Wicked

WICKED

For the role of lead Elphaba, Hatton auditioned closely half a dozen times before landing the job (while understudying it at the same time):

Would it have been as sweet and as rewarding, had I got it the first or second time? Definitely not.”

And how sweet it is! Not many can get a role as major as Elphaba under their belt.

The iconic musical has been running in New York City ever since 2003, and has first defied box office gravity on the West End in 2006.

According to the Internet Broadway Database, at over 6800 shows and counting, Wicked is Broadway’s 5th longest-running show. It is clear as day that whoever is in line to wear the infamous green makeup has shoes even more important than ruby slippers to fill.

On how she dealt with the pressure of taking on such a great responsibility, setting boundaries between her career and personal life was crucial for Emma: “

“It’s important to ask yourself who you are when you’re not on that stage. With Wicked, you have to give up so much to be able to deliver on that level every single night, to hit all of those notes in every performance. If you don’t keep a part of you separate and protected, your sanity does not stand a chance.”

And when onstage plans do not go as rehearsed, she says it’s best not to take yourself too seriously:

You have to be able to laugh at yourself, and you have to remember, particularly right now, that what we do is important to people’s spirits, but we are not saving lives. If something goes wrong on stage, it’s a shame, but it is live theatre and there are worse things happening in the world.”

Naturally, such moments were not uncommon for her nearly 3-year run doing the show:

My press night as Elphaba was supposed to be quite an important moment. And I couldn’t get into the lift that was supposed to lift me up that night. So, I didn’t fly. I had to sing Defying Gravity on the floor.”

Hatton in Wicked

She then goes on to mention the time she personally experienced just how breath-taking Wicked can be:

There was this moment once during The Wizard and I when my dear co-star Joseph Fletcher let go of his suitcase, threw it at my stomach and winded me in the middle of the song.”

Savannah Stevenson and Emma Hatton in Wicked as Glinda and Elphaba

For Emma, the most memorable time playing in Wicked were the moments of human connection and intimacy:

The one-to-one moments that I had. Whether it be with Madam Morrible, Doctor Dillamond, The Wizard, or Glinda. Those one-to-one moments were so intimate and so personal.”

Such treasured moments were also present in the backstage environment for Hatton:

I loved the time with my wigs and makeup team, who are still very close friends of mine. They spend a lot of time greening you up, getting you ready. With my dresser Troy, we became like a family during the moments in the interval. You have those very special moments when they’d knock on the door, they’d come and see you, they’d start getting you ready.”

She also describes what the dressing room meant to her as one of the lead actresses of such a successful show:

“When you play a role that is so demanding, your dressing room becomes your space of privacy. It’s your solace. You go there to breakdown, to have a cry, to laugh about something that’s happened. It’s like therapy.”

We Will Rock You and jazz

And even though landing Wicked and the role of Elphaba are the strict blueprints of countless West End/Broadway actresses’ personal glory, Hatton states how one of her earlier roles was the one that makes her feel most accomplished as an artist:

Playing in We Will Rock You was the career-defining moment for me. When I eventually got off at the show, I honestly felt like I was done, I’d achieved my goal.”

Emma got cast in the ensemble of We Will Rock You in 2011, understudying the role of Scaramouche as well. She then went on to stay for a second year at the show and additionally understudied the character Meat, as well as Scaramouche. She gave her final performance in We Will Rock You on 5 October 2013, shortly after being cast in Wicked.

We had this wonderful backstage area called Wardrobe Village where we all got changed. Everybody, when they weren’t onstage, lived in this space. It was like a social club, just amazing.”

As for what made the We Will Rock You experience so special for her, Hatton says it’s partially due to the way the show was seemingly tailored to her personal style:

It was a natural fit for me vocally. When I was at college, I wasn’t the traditional musical theatre singer, I didn’t have that pure voice. So, a show that was rocky and poppy suited me perfectly.”

And besides being an actress on the musical theatre landscape, Emma is also a passionate Jazz musician.

Her EP, titled Thirty Three and a Third features four mesmerizing jazz and blues tracks and was released on what would have been her grandfather and cornet/trumpet player Bill Hatton’s 100th birthday.

On how she manages to alternate between the worlds of musical theatre and Jazz, Emma answers the following:

At the end of the day, the reality is that I’m just a singer who feels and connects with what she’s singing. And it is hard sometimes when you’re in a musical that’s a little more restrictive, because there isn’t as much freedom to go where you feel like you want to go with the song. But it’s all about respecting the gig. When it’s my own choice of material, that is the gig there, I don’t over-rehearse, because I want to go where I feel it needs to go.”

When asked which one of her portrayed characters would handle the current situation caused by COVID-19 the best, Emma laughs with a unique mix of confusion and lively enthusiasm in her eyes:

I played a character named Donna in my first ever show, called Dreamboats. She was a joker, she just loved to laugh, to take the mick out of everybody, and she saw the funny in everything. She’s a ball of energy and positivity, and I think that’s what we all need right now.”

And when I ask what musical theatre moment she would compare our current period of time to, Emma chuckles once more before contemplating on the perfect answer:

Part of me is like, it should be the witch hunt from Wicked because it’s like absolute mayhem going on there. But I’m being drawn to For Good, since it represents stillness. It’s a scene that had a slowing down and working out what matters, which most of us might have forgotten to do.”

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