Emily Tierney: ‘I’m always cast as a witch – I don’t know what that says about me’

Emily Tierney with Aashleigh Gray''Picture: Matt Crockett
Emily Tierney with Aashleigh Gray''Picture: Matt Crockett

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For the past few years, Emily Tierney has been carving herself a career out of playing the same character.

That may not be so unusual – actors have been doing it for decades. But Emily has been doing it by playing the same role in two different musicals.

The former Chichester High School pupil was Glinda, the Good Witch when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of L Frank Baum’s classic story The Wizard of Oz came to the West End in 2011.

And now for the past year, she has been playing Glinda in the touring version of Wicked, which is due to arrive at The Mayflower later this month.

Emily explains: ‘I’m always cast as a witch – I don’t know what that says about me, but it is the good witch!

‘It’s a very different Glinda in this show – the one in Wizard of Oz is much older.

‘In Wicked I get to take her on this amazing journey from when she’s young and at university and starting to realise who she is, right through until she becomes the good witch.’

The musical is based on Gregory Maguire’s acclaimed 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West – 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.

‘Ever since I saw the show eight years ago when it first opened in London, I wanted to play that part. I was in Wicked when I first graduated five or six years ago and I was in the ensemble. I always thought I was too tall to play or understudy Glinda.’

And she also took rather unorthodox measures in her bid to get the role: ‘When I found out the auditions were going on, I actually went in for the other part, 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. My agent slapped me on the wrist afterwards, but I was so desperate to be seen for it.

‘It’s so much fun to play – I get to have a good laugh in act one, and then I get a good cry in act two, and sing some amazing songs. Playing such a complex character, and playing a female lead in show where both leads are female - it’s a good bit of girl power.’

When Emily spoke with The Guide, the Wicked team were three weeks into their run at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre, but she was already looking forward to coming home to the south coast – and appearing for the first time on stage in a theatre she grew up attending as a musical fan.

‘They’re lovely audiences here in Liverpool, they’re really good and raucous up here, but I am looking forward to the home turf.

‘I’m born and bred down there, and all my family are still there – one of my sisters lives in Portsmouth, she’s an artist, Sadie Tierney, and my other sister, Abi, lives in Petersfield. I come back home a lot, I’m very close to my sisters, and I like to see my nieces and nephews as much as I can.

‘I used to go to The Mayflower all the time. I remember coming and seeing Les Miserables on tour, crikey, 10-15 years ago, Miss Saigon, Jesus Christ Superstar, all the big shows that would come to The Mayflower, so for me it’s a bit of a dream come true to be on the stage there rather than in the audience.’

But her first experience of the theatre was when her parents took her to see Follow The Star as a youngster.

‘We were really lucky growing up where we did, because we had the Kings Theatre in Portsmouth, The Mayflower in Southampton and the Chichester Festival Theatre, which is where I saw Follow The Star and it had Ruthie Henshall in it. I was about four. It was a good late ’80s/early ’90s rock musical.

‘It definitely had a big impact on me. Every single night after that my brother and me performed it to our parents. We were horrible stagey children,’ she says with a laugh.

Her younger brother Will Tierney is also in the trade. He’s currently touring in the Bill Kenwright show Dreamboats and Miniskirts.

‘Poor mum and dad have to follow us around the country,’ she adds.

And it looks like they’ve influenced the next generation of the family too: ‘My sisters’ children want to be in musicals now because of us. I think they want them to have nice sensible careers and not follow in Auntie Em and Uncle Will’s footsteps. I’m so pleased because my sisters’ kids are the right age to come see a show now – they think their auntie Em is a fairy. One of them was asked in school the other day what their aunts or uncles do and she told them: “Well auntie Em is a fairy...” I’m not going to correct her on that.

‘I’m so excited to bring it to Southampton, we’ve got so many friends who want to come along and bring their children. I think mum’s booked a small coach to come along.’

The touring version opened a year ago in Manchester, and is expected to run for a further 10 months.

‘We’re taking Wicked to cities where it’s never been before. I’ve never experienced a reaction from a show like Wicked gets, It’s unreal. I don’t think people expect the show to be of such a high standard – it’s everything you would expect to see if you saw it in the West End or on Broadway.’

Wicked is at The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton from Tuesday, October 21 to Saturday, November 15. Tickets are from £22.50 in the balcony to £59.50 in the stalls. Go to mayflower.org.uk.