BWW Interview: Alexia Khadime Talks SLEEPING BEAUTY at Hackney Empire

Alexia Khadime in Sleeping Beauty

Alexia Khadime made her West End debut in The Lion King aged 17, and went on to play Nala. Her other West End leads include Wicked, Les Miserables and The Book of Mormon, and this Christmas she stars as Princess Tahlia in Hackney Empire's Sleeping Beauty.

What was your first theatre experience?

The first show I saw and wanted to do was Lion King. I remember seeing it when it first opened and it blew me away. Ironically, my first acting job was at Hackney Empire - I was in the chorus of Cinderella. It's great to be back!

Did you think about drama school?

I went to drama classes after school and got an agent through that - she was sending me up for auditions while I did my GCSEs. But I didn't think about it seriously as a career. It never occurred to me that was possible. Then Lion King happened, making my West End debut in the show I'd always loved, and that was it.

You've played some iconic roles. Were you working towards those?

It's more that opportunities arose. Something like Elphaba or Eponine, that wasn't remotely an option in my mind, so when it happened it was bizarre - brilliant, but surreal. Book of Mormon was more a show I really wanted to do early on. It's so different and I'd never been part of an original company - I'd always taken over a part from someone else. It's very special to originate a role. You're part of that creative process, finding out what works and what doesn't.

Is it intimidating taking over roles from some of these great actresses?

The best way you can approach it is attacking it head on - doing it as you would do it, not how anyone else has done it. You have to find your perspective; everyone thinks differently and reacts differently. That keeps it fresh. So I haven't felt pressure, more excitement that I get to bring something new to a brilliant part.

Did you go to pantos growing up?

Actually my mum used to take me to the ballet a lot at Christmas - things like Nutcracker. I always really looked forward to that. My first panto was when I was in panto!

Alexia Khadime and Sharon D Clarke
in Sleeping Beauty

What makes Hackney's panto special?

It's always fresh and current. The kids in the audience can really relate, sing along to songs they know, see and hear people like them. Hackney takes it to another level - it's really amazing. There's always a high-quality cast too, with brilliant people like Sharon D Clarke and Gavin Spokes. I've worked with these guys before and it's such a lovely, lovely company and fantastic crew. It's West End talent with a Hackney voice, plus all the fun of panto - and it's affordable, which is so important for families coming to the theatre.

What's your Princess Tahlia like?

Suzie McKenna writes amazing scripts, and in the room she never says "The character has to be like this" - it evolves and you really find it for yourself. She's definitely not a classic damsel-in-distress - she's a kickass, powerful, strong woman. It's great to move with the times. Women are in much more prominent positions now - you don't have to wait around looking pretty. You can be the one who does the rescuing.

How does it compare with doing a West End show?

Rehearsals have been so much fun and it's magical in the theatre - genuinely a joy to come in and do it every time, even two shows a day. There's a real family feel, so it's a nice way to spend the Christmas period. We might not have all the technical stuff of the West End, but there's great connection with people. Panto is a different technique - you have to keep cranking it up, getting the crowd going, and the audience participation definitely keeps you on your toes.

Do you have family coming to see it?

My nieces are incredibly excited. They'll get to come backstage and see all the fun stuff!

What else have you got coming up?

A bit of everything. I'm trying to keep my options open, maybe do some screen work as well as stage.

Any advice to budding performers?

Keep at it. Always be prepared so that when auditions come around, you can put your best foot forward - that way, even if you don't get the job, a casting director might remember you for something else. Respect your craft. You've been blessed with a gift, so don't take it for granted.

Sleeping Beauty is at Hackney Empire until 8 January, 2017

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From This Author Marianka Swain

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