“It’s just the best job ever,” says former Chichester High School for Girls student Emily Tierney as she takes to the stage in Wicked at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre (until November 15).
“And it’s great to be playing at Southampton, which is so nearly my home turf! All the Tierneys will be coming across to see it. My mum and dad are in Chichester. One sister is in Petersfield. One sister is in Portsmouth. It’s going to be lovely!”
“I was at the high school, and I did all the productions there. My first ever leading role was Joseph in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat... a terrible show for casting in a girls school! Nearly all the parts are male! But I was 13, and I was Joseph, and that was that!”
But actually the ambition goes back even further than that.
“I haven’t played the Mayflower before. It’s my first time. But I remember going to see Ruthie Henshall in Les Mis when I was ten or 12, and I remember saying to my mum ‘That’s what I want to do! I want to be her on stage!”
A little bit of magic later, and now here she is, leading the company in one of the great stage phenomena of recent years, the cult musical which has taken the world by storm.
Based on Gregory Maguire’s acclaimed 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the show offers an alternate look at the land of Oz.
It tells the story of the friendship between two girls who meet as sorcery students at Shiz University: the blonde and popular Glinda and the misunderstood green-skinned Elphaba. The musical version debuted on Broadway in 2003, transferring to the West End in 2006, and has proved hugely successful on both sides of the Atlantic.
For Emily, playing Glinda in Wicked represents the culmination of a long-held ambition – and she admits she was just a little bit naughty when she secured it.
“When I found out the auditions were going on, I actually went in for the other part (Elphaba), but I begged them in the room to consider me for Glinda, which is absolutely not the thing you should ever do as an actor. But I wanted to do it. I just thought ‘I am not a name, I have not been in a big TV show, I am still very young to be playing Glinda’, but it didn’t put me off.”
However great her on-stage success, Emily will never lose sight of two people crucial to getting her there: Chichester-based opera singer Jacqueline Fugelle and Pam Lippiett, an inspirational teacher at Chichester High School for Girls.
“We had such a fantastic drama department at school, and Pam Lippiett was head of drama. She was great. It was basically down to her and my singing teacher, Jacqueline. I had opera lessons with her. I think I started when I was 13 right through to 18. She was wonderful.
“But when I was 18, I had to decide whether to go down the opera route or the musical theatre route. I think my heart was always in musical theatre, and also with that you might get the option of doing straight theatre. But I always loved singing opera, and I am so grateful that I had that classical training with Jackie and that technical side that she instilled in me. But I have never had a moment’s regret that I went down the musical theatre route. I had always known that I had made the right decision.”
And just to prove it, Emily trained at Mountview where Jackie’s daughter Abigail Jaye also studied. Abigail has gone on to great success in a string of musicals from Evita to The Rocky Horror Show, from Joseph to Cats.
Emily graduated in 2008, and her first job was in Wicked in the West End as a member of the ensemble: “I just idolised Dianne Pilkington who was playing Glinda. I was fresh out of drama school. I was 21, and I just thought that it was the best part. I always thought that she looked like she was having so much fun.”
But Emily realised that there might just be an obstacle to following in Dianne’s footsteps. At five foot eight, Emily thought she’d be too tall for the role... and wouldn’t fit in the bubble. In the event, it’s something they’ve been able to get around.
“But I just thought that the part was so much me. I absolutely love doing the comedy stuff. I feel that that is one of my strengths. It’s just such a giggle to play, and the great thing is that vocally it is much more of a classical role than the green witch. Elphaba has to be more of a belter with the songs. Glinda just really suits me. I just have to wear a slightly smaller crown and flat shoes!”
Emily remains with the show right the way through to July next year. A long time? Well, yes and no.
“The lovely thing about being on tour is that you don’t have a chance to get bored because you are constantly putting the show into different spaces. It has been incredible fun.”
As for the future: “There is so much other stuff that I would love to do. I would love to do more TV, but always when I am doing TV, I miss the stage, and when I am on stage, I miss doing TV. But I am lucky that I have got an agent that pushes me into quite a lot of different things.”