Evita, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much-loved musical about the life of Argentine leader Eva Peron, has returned to the West End following a tour of the UK and Europe. We chatted to the show’s leading lady Emma Hatton about taking on the iconic role.
You've been on tour with the show since early this year, and the tour will continue after the West End tenure. Is it nice to have a comparatively long stretch in one venue?
Having been extremely fortunate to have spent five years straight in the West End, (two years in We Will Rock You and three years in Wicked) I was really looking forward to touring again. It’s lovely to take a show to different regions and European countries in our case, as you get such different responses. It is also really lovely to visit some beautiful places and enable friends and family who aren’t London-based to come and watch the show. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but nothing beats sleeping in your own bed! It can be very tiring on tour and particularly at weekly venues you never really feel 100% settled! It was so lovely to unpack my bits and bobs in my dressing room and know that it would be a nice stretch of time before I have to pack up again!
There are so many fabulous songs in the show - showstopper solos Don't Cry For Me Argentina, Another Suitcase In Another Hall and Buenos Aires, as well as group songs and stirring duets such as High Flying Adored and I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You. Which song from the show do you have a particular soft spot for?
As you say, there are so many fabulous songs in the show and being asked to choose my favourite is just impossible as it changes from day to day. However, I do have a soft spot for the Lament. It is such a beautifully simplistic, haunting number which is a summation of Eva’s life and the choices she made, from her perspective. It is a gorgeous number to sing and never fails to bring a lump to my throat.
Is it especially challenging that the musical is through sung?
A sung through musical does, of course, present its own challenge - there is no room for error! If my voice is tired or I am ill, there is nowhere to hide. If I didn’t have a strong technical foundation this would make it impossible to perform when I am not at full physical or vocal health. Having said that though, from a stamina perspective I actually really enjoy it as you hit the ground running and there is a real flow to the piece. You can start a show thinking that it’s going to be a real struggle but by the end of Act One, you feel great!
Prior to this production you were most recently in the West End playing Elphaba in Wicked. Is there a noticeable difference playing a non-fictional character? Do you feel a sense of responsibility, especially when it is someone held in such high esteem by so many?
Absolutely! Whilst we are given a certain amount of creative licence, we have to honour the truth of the historical events! But at the same time, with Elphaba, even though she is a fictional character you still owe it to the writers to acknowledge and honour the character traits which they intended that character to have.
As well as having a stint of being the lead actress for Elphaba, you also spent quite some time understudying the role, as you had also done previously with roles in We Will Rock You. Are understudies appreciated enough? What's it like to get that call that you are going on that night?
I categorically would not be where I am today and coping/dealing with the pressures of the responsibilities involved had I not learnt the ropes and had the opportunity to understudy some fantastic performers. I think, particularly when the person playing the role is a ‘name’, there will always be a hint of disappointment when the audience realise they are seeing an understudy because the belief is that the understudy is not as good as the person who is playing the role full time. And sometimes this is the case, but more often than not the understudy simply has less experience or it just didn’t go their way that time and there is something incredibly special about witnessing an understudy go on stage and absolutely nail it! Being an understudy doesn’t suit everybody - some people are so hungry to go on and can’t wait to get the phone call and others live in a state of panic. I loved it but I have to say I enjoy the fact that I know exactly what will be expected of me each day and my heart doesn’t race over time as my phone rings! It’s all part and parcel of this crazy but wonderful industry though!
You originated the role of Donna in Dreamboats and Petticoats in 2009, which became your West End debut. Do you have fond memories of that time?
It was an amazing and life-changing experience for me. To originate a role and work with the writers was such a privilege and an opportunity that I hope I find myself fortunate enough to experience again. The show was, and still is, adorable! The music is wonderful and the story is just so heart-warming. Nothing beats seeing the older audience members reliving their youths and up on their feet dancing. I felt so lucky to be able to bring such joy to people’s lives. We were an incredibly close cast and I will always be grateful for that job.
In your youth you were also in a production of my all-time favourite play, Denise Deegan's jolly hockey-sticks boarding school romp, Daisy Pulls It Off. Although not a musical, would you consider a role in a future West End revival of that?
Daisy Pulls It Off was so much fun! It was the first play I’d done and it felt so strange not to have any songs to break into! I’m always open minded about what projects I would like to be involved in next, so who knows!
You've also been quite often involved in charity work such as for the Moorfields Eye Charity and the MAD Trust, but particularly for the British Heart Foundation. Why is that charity so close to your own heart?
My first ‘career’ job out of University was working with the British Heart Foundation and I was based at Loughborough University which was where I had studied and I had the most amazing experience. My role was the Manager of a scheme called Jump Rope For Heart which I had participated in as a youngster myself. I went into schools and worked with PE teachers and children to raise their fitness levels and through this, I witnessed the devastating effects of heart disease and worked incredibly hard to encourage physical activity as a part of heart health. To be able to make a difference is a big part of what drives me and I am incredibly proud of the work that the British Heart Foundation do.
Next year will be the fortieth anniversary of Evita's West End debut. What do you think makes the show's appeal so enduring?
I think it is still such an utterly ground-breaking piece – such a ‘wild card’ choice of subject matter by Tim Rice and the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber still sounds incredibly fresh. In these very political times, to witness a woman in the 1940s creating such waves - what’s not to love?!
Eva Peron is a very complex character that people have strongly differing opinions of. Does that make it easier or harder for you to get to grips with the role?
As an actress, this is a gift of a role. To portray a real woman who demonstrates real characteristics - be it vulnerability or ambition, empathy or venom - is to me, a much more desirable role than a character that is more straightforward. Whether it is easier or harder I couldn’t say, but as a human we are complex! To be able to tap into all of those special aspects of her character, so long as you’ve done your research to understand what motivated that behaviour, that means it never gets dull! If I played her as solely evil, no-one would empathise with her towards the end. If I play her too nice, the story doesn’t read. I can’t rest on my laurels and that makes this job so enjoyable!
How would you sum her up in three words?
Passionate, ambitious, loyal.
Evita is playing at the Phoenix Theatre until 15th October.
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