BWW Interview: Chelsea Halfpenny Talks 9 TO 5 at the Savoy Theatre

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BWW Interview: Chelsea Halfpenny Talks 9 TO 5 at the Savoy Theatre
Chelsea Halfpenny in 9 to 5

Known to audiences for her roles in Casualty and Emmerdale, Chelsea Halfpenny has recently taken on the role of Judy Bernly in Dolly Parton's feel-good musical, 9 to 5, replacing Amber Davies.

BroadwayWorld sat down with Chelsea to talk about joining the show, Dolly Parton's music and her theatre idols.

What appealed about the show?

I've wanted to do a musical for a long time. Singing has been part of my life for so long, but only as a hobby. I've done gigs with friends or stuff in the North-East.

When the opportunity came through, I thought it was the opposite of what I've done before, which was attractive; it was an amazing chance to try something new. I knew it was a feel-good show, and then when I had the audition all the creative team were so lovely.

You've been in Emmerdale and Casualty - what are the challenges of being on stage versus television?

There's so many! Coupled with being out of my comfort zone - I don't get nervous on set and I know the terminology that's used - there's the threat of messing up. That's the biggest difference. In a positive way, you feed off what the audience are giving you. When you're filming, the crew can't react or they'd have to do the shot again. It keeps it alive in theatre. In this show particularly, what has surprised me is how the laughs are different each night, which is really nice.

Are there any particular examples you want to share?

There's one where Violet [played by Caroline Sheen] gets a spliff out and my character is just flabbergasted. Judy asks, "Is that marry-ju-ana?". One night, it was more heightened and I sort of screamed it, and the audience lost it.

How does it feel to join an existing company?

I've been on the other side: joining long-running dramas is similar, and then I've been in a cast with new people joining. I've always tried to ensure people feel super welcome and hoped that would be the same here, and it absolutely has been. I can't say I wasn't nervous. It's hard when people leave but everyone has been so nice, particularly Natalie [McQueen] and Caroline.

What surprised you about the rehearsal period?

I trained with the tour cast, but I thought I would be more stressed and that it would take me longer to learn the stuff. For the first week you learned the music, the second the dancing, and then from there you begin blocking. The next thing you know, you're running it as a whole show, and I wasn't playing as much catch-up as I thought. I loved the process.

Who inspires you as an actor?

I will say my aunty [Jill Halfpenny], who has done a bit of everything. That's what I want in my career. I'm always rubbish at these questions, but in terms of style, I love Olivia Colman. She's a comedy genius and everything she does is downplayed, which is the style I like. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is also great, and Sheridan Smith as an actress/singer - watching her made me realise that actors can be in musical theatre too. I love being moved by the actor.

What's your earliest memory of performing?

I remember in my nana and grandad's street, there was a bit of a hill. I put on a show with my friends: we knocked on the neighbours' doors, told them to bring their dining-room chairs and charged them to watch. We made about £8.50 and went to the shop and got some pick 'n' mix.

My family weren't particularly pushy - because my aunt is an actress, people think the family is all jazz hands. There was an audition for Biker Grove in the paper, and whilst I was in that I went to theatre school at the weekends. Singing came a lot later.

What's your favourite bit: before a show, during, or at the curtain call?

When we all gather in the wings and you feel people's energy and adrenalin, that's great. Then you hear the first notes of "9 to 5", which gets me excited.

Where do you think Judy is at the end of "Get Out and Stay Out"?

I love how the song has a proper journey and she is realising stuff as she's singing. That's the dream for an actor - every line means something else. She is gaining her independence, realising she doesn't need a man and appreciating how far she has come. By the end, she is so empowered and strong and ready to properly start her life.

How would you summarise Dolly Parton's music in one word?

I'll say empowering, because all of the songs in this show are so great. But they're also so catchy - I'll be on the train and just humming them or singing them.

Why is 9 to 5 not only enjoyable but also important?

When I came to see it once I'd got the role, I was amazed at how packed the theatre was. Social media means we hear bad news all the time, and it's not good to be dragged down. This show is so uplifting and that's what theatre should be: an escape. That's why this show is so popular - people just want a nice time.

Is there anyone you would like to worth with?

I've opened this door - I'd love to stay on stage. I remember meeting Jenna Russell briefly at the Royal Albert Hall a few years ago. She's ridiculously talented and so lovely - I'd learn a lot from her.

What advice would you give to young actors?

Always keep moving forward and progressing. I don't think anybody will be successful if you think you know everything. Whether it be three years training at drama school or doing lots of jobs, always challenge yourself. That might mean saying no to work. That's why I chose to leave Emmerdale and Casualty: I wanted to learn more and be challenged. That comes with a lot of downtime, and unemployment is really difficult.

Keep learning, that's the only way you'll get better. Be scared. There's an actress I love in America called Barrett Wilbert Weed who had a poster in her dressing room saying "Go above your nerve", which I think sums it up perfectly.

9 to 5 is currently booking at the Savoy Theatre until May 2020

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From This Author Anthony Walker-Cook