With some of the most iconic roles ever written on her list of theatre credits, Emma Hatton is among the most venerated West End leading ladies of her generation.
But the performer – who is starring as Eva Perón in Evita at Phoenix Theatre – didn’t take the well-trodden path into the industry that we have become accustomed to. In fact, rather than spending her formative years at drama school, Hatton studied English, sports science and physical education at university. It was only through a series of occurrences that she eventually came to undertake a year of professional training at the London School Of Musical Theatre.
Hatton, who originally hails from Gloucestershire, says, “I’m from a very rural area and there weren’t that many opportunities around. It never really seemed like a viable career option for me. It was a hobby, a hobby that I loved.”
But after performing in a college showcase of When Midnight Strikes, Hatton was invited to be part of the cast when the production was staged at London’s Finborough Theatre.
The show marked her professional debut and boasted a notable cast, including Shona White. The established musical theatre star would go on to become a mentor to the young performer. The show’s music also left its mark on the up-and-coming Hatton. “I got to sing this amazing song called You Know How To Love Me. It became my audition song for years afterwards.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing from then on, however. There were bumps in the road to success.
“Life can be cruel and this industry can be tough. I’ve had some good jobs, some great jobs, some terrible jobs. I’ve had earning jobs and learning jobs. The friends you make on the tough jobs are with you for life. Had I not had my education behind me it would have been more difficult.”
But there was one job Hatton was determined to acquire. After auditioning five times, she finally joined the cast of We Will Rock You in 2011.
“Still, for me, that show is very special because it’s the one that was vocally right for me. I’ve never experienced a job like that. We got to meet Brian May and Roger Taylor and I was living the dream. I still am.”
Hatton then joined the cast of the phenomenally successful musical Wicked. She was the standby for the green witch, Elphaba, before landing the role fulltime in 2015.
“I still see photos of me in that production and I can’t quite fathom that it was me who did that.” Hatton explains, “That role, that show, that production is just second to none. I would love to play Elphaba again someday. I’d love the opportunity to do it on Broadway. I just adored it.”
Hatton moved from one iconic role to another as she led the cast of the revival of Evita on a national tour before bringing the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical to the West End for a limited run at Phoenix Theatre.
“It’s a real honour. When you look at the people who have played the role previously – Elaine Paige, Marti Webb, Patti LuPone – it would be very easy to get a little bit freaked out by that, but it’s such an incredible role as an actress to get your teeth into.”
After belting out Defying Gravity in Wicked for eight shows a week, Hatton is revelling in the challenge of performing the famous song Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.
“I’ve tried not to think of it so much as the iconic song. I’ve tried to think of it more in terms of where it sits within the piece. It’s a monologue and it’s her manipulation speech in front of all of her people and the aristocracy, so it’s her opportunity to use her position to get people onside.”
Despite Evita being written in 1978, Hatton still feels that the show is infinitely relatable. “I think the music was ahead of its time. It still feels incredibly fresh and incredibly current. I think in today’s political climate – when youngsters with social media are very aware of what’s going on in politics – a story about a political woman, in particular, is very poignant.”