We’re not saying that Alice Fearn specialises in playing fairy-tale characters, but her CV does include roles such as Rapunzel (Into The Woods), a gingerbread man (Shrek The Musical) and now a witch.
But this is no ordinary candy-covered, cottage-dwelling hag. This is musical theatre’s most iconic witch: the green-skinned, gravity-defying Elphaba from hit show Wicked.
Alice Fearn tells us more about the long-running production, following in the footsteps of theatre legends and why she looks forward to her commute:
How would you describe Wicked?
It’s a story about friendship, love, triumph and loss. If you’ve seen The Wizard Of Oz or know the story, Wicked looks at Glinda The Good and the Wicked Witch Of The West through different, fresher eyes. It follows their childhood and friendship, and shows the audience the journey they go on to become the witches we think we know.
You play Elphaba, known to many as the Wicked Witch Of The West. How would you describe her?
Strong. Determined. And often relentless in her pursuit of what is right. She would never stand to the side and watch injustice. Everything is black or white, right or wrong. Without thought to the outcome, she will run to the aid of anyone. A kind-hearted, thoughtful person who never lets being green stop her.
You followed performers including Idina Menzel and Kerry Ellis in the role. How do you feel about that?
If I think about that too much, it is, of course, a daunting prospect. Such strong iconic female performers to follow in the footsteps of. And if you think about trying to emulate their success it could terrify you. But I have always tried, throughout my career, to attack any part I play by going back to the script. Why does she say what she says? What is driving her? Why does she react here like this? Etc etc… If you come at the part from that angle, not only do you create your own version of the character but you also never feel like you are trying to be as good as anyone else who has come before you; you are just doing what you do. People will always have their favourites; I just want my version to be just that… Mine!
You’d previously been standby for Elphaba. How did it feel to take on the role full time?
Glorious. I had really loved my year as standby. You do get a lot of downtime, which you have to get used to, but I quite enjoyed that. I could get so much done and you always have to be ready at any point to go on, which keeps you on your toes. Taking over was a major gear change and suddenly you have to get used to eight shows a week. But, actually, I found it really enjoyable and took the challenge head on.
Wicked is one of London’s most popular shows. Why do you think that is?
Well, firstly the music. It is, without doubt, one of the most exciting and thrilling musical scores of the modern era. Secondly, it is definitely a spectacle. The costumes are out of this world. There are heart-stopping moments throughout the piece which still stun people on their third or fourth visit. And finally, I’d say the story inspires and touches anyone who sees it. The heart of the show is undeniable and that keeps this show a firm favourite for our audiences.
Defying Gravity is one of modern musical theatre’s most iconic songs. What is it like to perform that moment in the show, high above the Apollo Victoria Theatre stage?
I never let that moment become the norm for me. I constantly remind myself how spectacular it is, so that I never do it a disservice. It truly is magnificent. And even 11 years down the line, it still amazes an audience. I swear, if I wasn’t singing so loud and the orchestra wasn’t at its maximum, I could hear an audible gasp from the auditorium. It astounds people every time. It really is a theatrical moment, so perfect. It’s hard to believe I get to do it every day.
What was your first experience of theatre?
I remember being in my primary school’s production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat back in 1987. But I probably shouldn’t call that theatre. I would have to say watching the 10th-anniversary concert of Les Misérables at the Royal Albert Hall [starring Michael Ball, Ruthie Henshall and Colm Wilkinson] was a major game-changer for me. Then I vividly remember seeing Heathcliff starring Cliff Richard in Glasgow when I was about 11, 12. I still love that musical to this day and wore out my cassette tape of it.
Why is watching a live performance so special?
You can lose yourself at a live performance. For a couple of hours, you are transported to another world, another story, and I think that is hard to replicate in any other genre.
What one piece of advice would you give aspiring performers?
It sounds somewhat negative but my major advice is to not let the “nos” get you down. In this business we get “no” way more than we get “yes”, and it’s very easy to take it personally. But more often than not, the “no” is nothing to do with what you did in that audition room. It can be based on height, hair colour, age or they just go the other way because that day wasn’t your day. If you let them get to you, you won’t last long. A thick skin is, sadly, vital for this industry.
Apart from the Apollo Victoria Theatre, which is your favourite London theatre?
I LOVE the Savoy Theatre. I performed there during Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and I totally fell for it: the architecture of the building, its proximity to the Savoy hotel and how it has used the grandeur and decadence of that hotel to inspire its makeover. It’s glorious!
Why do you think London is such a great place to experience theatre?
There is so much variety. We have revivals of classic musicals and plays of years gone by. We have the juke-box shows that fulfil people’s love of all-time classic artists and music eras. Plays that defy logic and push our emotional experiences like never before. New works that bring music and styles to audiences, which have never been attempted before. It is an extraordinary theatre land to be in and it is forever changing and growing.
Which one other London show are you excited about at the moment?
Well, I have to jump on the bandwagon and say Hamilton. I was lucky enough to catch it in January and it really is quite a spectacular piece. Moving, clever, witty, inspiring and educational. The way the choreography, music, lyrics, direction and setting work seamlessly together is extraordinary. Nothing was missed. It really deserves all the hype it is getting.
Where is your favourite place to visit in London?
I love my train journey home at night. I get to travel over the river and see the night lights on Chelsea Bridge and along the Embankment. It really reminds me what a beautiful place I work and live in.
What’s your top tip for a trip to the theatre?
Don’t be too set on what you want to see. Read up on things, yes, but maybe see what takes your fancy on the day. There is so much to experience. Shows or plays you might not have thought you would enjoy could transform your day. But, of course, don’t miss Wicked if you’re in town!