Interview | Kerry Ellis | The Importance of Being Earnest

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Broadway and West End star Kerry Ellis arrives in Manchester next week with Oscar Wilde’s brilliant and hugely funny The Importance of Being Earnest in which she takes on the role of Gwendolen.

Starring alongside the legendary Gwen Taylor as the formidable Lady Bracknell, Susan Penhaligon as the luckless Miss Prism plus Downton Abbey favourite Thomas Howes as Algernon this will be Kerry’s first role in a straight play after an impressive and enormously successful 20 years in musical theatre.

We caught up with Kerry ahead of the show opening at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 13th March to hear all about the play, her impressive career and her thoughts on taking on this new challenge.

ON: This is a real change for you, are you enjoying the experience?

KE: It’s the first play I’ve ever done really, I did do a short play with Trevor Nunn as a bit of a try out, but this is the first major play I’ve done and I’m really proud of it, I’m with a team of people who are just wonderful. Gwen Taylor is just a dream, the whole cast are great. To get to do an Oscar Wilde and a comedy as my first play has just been wonderful, I just love it. The audiences have been brilliant, it’s been very special so far, I’m absolutely loving it.

ON: Are you finding much difference between working on a straight play compared to a musical?

KE: Of course there’s the obvious with no music but yes it is quite different, with musicals there’s always so much going on, big sets and big ensembles, lots of music, songs to learn but with a play it’s literally you and your voice, your dialogue and just a few other people on stage with you. Essentially we’re doing the same thing and telling a story but it does feel quite different, we have different scenes which of course happens in both plays and musicals so the essence is the same but there’s definitely a difference.

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ON: From the production shots it appears the play will be traditionally staged are you enjoying wearing the costumes?

KE: They are stunning, they were made by Camden Costumes, they’ve all been tailor-made to us, the fabrics are amazing, the productions shots look great and show just how beautiful they are, I just feel very fortunate to wear them, the last time I wore costumes of this style was back when I was in My Fair Lady. My character Gwendolen is from a very well-to-do- family so they fit just perfectly with her character. The two dresses that I have are incredible and the hats, just phenomenal. Earnest does take me back to my My Fair Lady days as there definitely are some similar themes. What I love about this production is just how funny it is, the class system and the ridiculous things we do are to be laughed at, sitting in corsets drinking tea, it’s so silly really.

ON: You’re working with a hugely talented cast, have they offered any advice?

KE: Just watching them has been incredible, particularly Gwen who has just had her 79th birthday, I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing that information. To watch her work and be in a rehearsal room with somebody of such talent and experience and to watch her go through the same kind of things we all go through, the developments, the confidence on one night, the self-doubt on another night, seeing how she reacts to an audience, how much she cares about the show, watching her work has been very educational and I feel privledged to be in her presence. I know that probably sounds a bit cheesy but it really has been an incredible privilege to work with her.

ON: You’re celebrating 20 years what are you career highlights?

KE: There are so many, what’s interesting about doing this 20th anniversary tour is I didn’t even realise it had been 20 years, it was my manager who suggested calling it my 20th anniversary tour and I said ‘don’t be so ridiculous it can’t even be close to that’. Looking back over things I’ve done and asking audiences what they’ve seen me in and enjoyed it’s amazing what people come out with, things I’ve forgotten I’ve even done, I don’t know how I fitted everything in. I feel very fortunate that I’m still doing what I love doing and this anniversary tour is to celebrate that and to give something back to the people who have supported me over the years, I’m loving it. To do it alongside the play is wonderful.

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ON: What can audiences expect from your concert?

KE: A little bit of a trip down memory lane, there are some classics in there I can’t not sing Gravity and songs from We Will Rock You, but I am essentially singing lots of new things from my new Golden Days album. I’m also working on some new music with Frank Wildhorn who worked with Whitney Houston so there’s some of that in there so it’s really a celebration of then and what I’m doing now as well. I like to bring people new things and take them on a bit of a journey.

ON: After such an incredible 20 years in the industry do you have any advice for young performers?

KE: I feel very fortunate that I love doing what I do, I’ve made a passion for it and you have to as there are times like now when you’re touring and are away from your family, I’ve got two young boys so I’m away from them and my husband and I do have to make those sacrifices, you do have to love it and you have to make sacrifices for it, you have to have drive for it because it’s tough and it’s brutal and competitive and all of those things but it is the best job in the world. I don’t think you ever tire from hearing an audience reaction, people say it’s in your blood and I really do believe that. I was speaking to Brian May recently, we often talk when we’re on tour as we both understand how it feels, we were emailing the other night while he’s away in Australia and asking the silly little things like ‘how’s your hotel room?’ but it’s those things that really help when you’re away from your family.

ON: Are you looking forward to coming to Manchester?

Yes, I love Manchester, I was there not too long ago with Wonderland, I always have a great time there, the city is great, the people are wonderful and the theatres are fabulous, the shopping too of course is wonderful!

Tue 13 – Sat 17 March, Opera House tickets available here.


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