It’s a tough life on the stage at times and actress Emma Williams has the bruises to prove it – literally.
She takes up the title role in Annie Get Your Gun, which runs at Sunderland Empire from tomorrow until Saturday, and had to try to overcome her fear of heights for the part.
Not only does she fly high shooting a gun on a trapeze, she is covered in bruises as a result and she has to hold a long, long, long note while stitched up tight in a corset.
That said, she is relishing the role in the hit Irving Berlin musical which also stars Jason Donovan as Frank Butler and Norman Pace as Buffalo Bill.
It’s not the first time Emma has taken on a role which has seen her fly high despite her fear of heights – she was lauded as Truly Scrumptious in the West End.
At 18, she won the leading lady role in the original London West End cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which featured a flying car which “flew” into the auditorium with Emma among the passengers.
“I failed to tell the producers I have an insane fear of heights and you wouldn’t get me up a ladder normally,” Emma says on landing the part of Annie Oakley
“So this has been a challenge. How do you get over it? You take yourself off the week before rehearsal to take a flying trapeze class for the hell of it and you find yourself somersaulting through the air at 40 foot!
“That pretty much fixes it. If you don’t die doing that, you kind of go ‘well I’m fine then!’
“The first time we went up to full height was pretty scary. When you look out over an auditorium and see the height and people, it is unnerving.
“Both myself and my two covers have all been for trapeze training together. We went three or four times during rehearsals in our lunch hour. Our trapeze coach Amy has been fantastic and we set up a lot of tricks, there are swinging knee hangs, a trick where you hang by your legs and your arms are free. We can’t quite swing the trapeze the way we hoped at the moment but we are working on it.
“I’ve got all these tricks in my arsenal that I can’t use right now.”
Regardless of that, she has bruises all over her arm from the tricks she has been able to do!
It tells the legendary story of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West female sharpshooter, Annie Oakley and her romance with fellow sharpshooter, Frank Butler.
When Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show comes to town, it only takes one glance for sharp-shooting country girl Annie Oakley to fall head over heels for its star marksman, Frank Butler.
Both have truly met their match, revealing their competitive natures as they vie for best shot – and each other’s hearts.
It’s a musical rollercoaster of a ride as some of Irving Berlin’s finest numbers are put through their paces, such as There’s No Business Like Showbusiness, Anything You Can Do and I’ve Got The Sun In The Morning.
Anything You Can Do features one of the longest single notes I’ve heard on a stage, and it’s all down to Emma. “And I do it in a corset,” she laughs. “I hold it for as long as I’ve got breath. In the rehearsal room that was really fabulous, we were mucking around and I think I did a good couple of minutes once.
“You are severely restricted in a corset and it’s a proper corset so getting enough breath in that is pretty hard going.”
Despite being an “old-fashioned musical”, as the cast puts it, it is as relevant today as to when it was written and the era in which it is set.
“It is one of those nice shows that has a strong female protagonist. She’s feisty, a lot of female musical leads tend to be lovely lyrical sopranos, a little bit drippy, a little bit sappy, but this is kind of nice as she has guts behind her and she is a bit of a role model in many respects. She’s uncompromising,” says Emma.
“Annie herself was an absolute feminist, one of the earliest. She was a sharp shooter in a man’s world. She wrote to the president and she said ‘give me women and I will train you up 20,000 sharp shooters’.
“Even Frank realised she had this amazing talent and stepped aside to support her.”
Taking up the role of Buffalo Bill is Norman Pace, perhaps still best known as one half of comedy duo Hale and Pace.
He adds: “The real Buffalo Bill was a great proponent of women’s rights and Native American rights. He is quoted saying even in 1880 that if a woman is as good as a man at a job she should be paid the same money. In 2014 that isn’t always the case.
“Maybe that is one of the reasons this show lasts. Plus Ian Talbot, the director, and Lizzie Gee, the choreographer, work together so well, they are a tag team. You don’t get away with an inch. They notice everything.
“With all these brilliant people behind you, you owe it to yourself and the team to get out there and do your best. I have never worked with two people who have worked harder than Emma and Jason, and that’s the honest truth.”