Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Half a Sixpence Interview with Devon-Elise Johnson and Bethany Huckle | LittleEllieMae



During my time in London last week, I had the awesome opportunity to sit down with Bethany Huckle (Flo) and Devon-Elise Johnson (Ann) from the hit West End show 'Half a Sixpence'. We chatted all things theatre, from starting out in the industry, to their Chichester run and now bracing the West End stage. Half a Sixpence is without a doubt one of my favourite shows on the West End at the moment, and its such a shame to see it leave on September 2nd. It was a pleasure to sit down with some of the show's leading ladies who are the most delightful and funny characters I've met in this industry. Check out what we got up to below:

How did you get into theatre?

B: I was one of those little kids that started dancing at the age of 2 or 3. My mum had friends with little girls the same age as me, so she was like, "Go on then, you'll really enjoy it!". She said I was just skipping around for the whole lesson, so I obviously liked it! Then I joined a local dance school, throughout my primary and secondary school. On a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday after school, I'd have dinner in the car, go to dance class, do my dance exams, we did festivals and musical numbers so every weekend I'd be competing aswell. When I was 15 in Year 11, my Mum suggested I try out for a performing arts school. Though there aren't a lot of performing arts schools that take at 16, but I wanted to give it a go. We weren't the richest of the richest, so we knew that if I couldn't get a scholarship or funding, I wouldn't be able to make it. But I did, I got accepted at some dance schools, got some funding and I started there! I graduated early to start Seven Brides and Seven Brothers at Regents Park Open Air Theatre which was just amazing, from dancing in the rain to falling over! Then did stuff like panto, some workshops, now Half a Sixpence!

D: I started dancing at 2 years old (badly... I wouldn't exactly call myself a dancer!). I went to various different dance schools- in total I went to 11 dance schools because every time I went to one, there would always be a different dance school that would do extra that I wanted to do, so I'd just keep moving around Essex! Then I did Billy Elliot when I was 13 which I didn't really want to audition for because I was quite a shy child, but my Mum just said, "Go for it... see how you get on", went for it, got it! I remember on opening night, walking in front of 1500 people, I was like, "OH MY GOD! This is insane!" And from that moment, I thought I could do this for the rest of my life. I played Susan Parkes in Billy Elliot which was so much fun so I used to run into the boxing bag every night..! It was just incredible... I used to get time off school! Then I just kept auditioning, and worked professionally and then I went to drama school. I did it a bit backwards! I went to London School of Musical Theatre for a year when I was 19, and I've been lucky to be working pretty consistently ever since. Though there have been little stints at Boots in between, selling perfume and what not!



What made you audition for Half a Sixpence?

B: I heard about the show when I was doing panto actually... I was travelling to and from London for auditions. My mates told me that Andrew Wright was choreographing Half a Sixpence, and I was like, "what's Half a Sixpence?!" I remember my Nan telling me it was great. Anyway, I always fall for an old- school musical: from the dancing to singing to the cheekiness. Its good old fashioned fun! I was in France on holiday, and I got a recall with a music demo for Simple Tune and I just thought, "This is going to be absolutely hilarious!" - its a crazy, crazy song... god knows what we were going to be doing! It was old-school but they've taken it and given it a really cool twist.

D: It was a weird one for me! I was auditioning for Wicked at the time, and I was in the finals but then my agent phoned me at like 10 o'clock on a Saturday evening. She asked me what I was doing and I was just chilling with my Mum! Then she told me that I had an audition on Tuesday for Half a Sixpence! I was like, "woah, slow down! What is that?!" She sent over all the material straight away and I had to learn it all by Tuesday! So I locked myself in my bedroom and learnt nine pieces of material in just a few days. It was a whirlwind! I went in on the Tuesday for my preliminary audition, on Wednesday I went in to meet Cameron Mackintosh, on the Thursday I met the whole team, sang on the piano with Stiles and Drewe... then 10 minutes later, I got a phone call to say I got the job! It was the weirdest experience of my life! I had to say sorry that I couldn't do Wicked anymore! I didn't really have time to think about Half a Sixpence- I just quickly learnt all the material. But I very quickly fell in love with it. I absolutely adore this show... the songs, the dancing, the script is just lovely.

Why do you think audiences resonate with this show?

D: Well a lot of young people don't really know about it, they think its going to be all 'fuddy-duddy' but actually, when people come and see it its nothing like they expected. Its so much more vibrant, its funny!

B: Its relateable! Even though its set in a completely different time, people have to same problems...

D:People have the same problems with love and money and social class...

B: Its not too heavy

D: But the costumes are!!!

B: There are some heartbreaking moments, as with any story, but it gives it substance.



How does the West End production differ from the original Chichester run?

D: Its really quite different actually. We've got songs that have changed...

B: Stuff like the layout, because Chichester was such an open stage- it was kind of in-the-round(ish) so we could play out to different spots in the auditorium. Whereas its different in the Noel Coward... though the revolves are still the same...

D: Do you remember the first time we went on the revolves?!

B: "Everybody stand in a circle... we're just going to walk, two at a time." ... we just collapsed!

D: Because they go in different directions, we all looked drunk! But now, its easy!

Have you had many mishaps on stage?

D: YES!

B: From falling over, to conveyor belts not working, making up words... everything!

D: We've done it a few times...

B: Its really nice though, because the audience are still with you. It reminds them that we're still human

D: Its a live performance... its what audiences enjoy. Me and Charlie in particular have had some really funny moments on stage... where we are just looking at each other, hoping one is going to dig the other out of their hole!

B: You have to be telepathic!

D: Its only like, 4 seconds but seems like an eternity!

What are your favourite songs in the show? 

B: Ohhhh... its got to be Touch of Happiness!

D: We're not biased or anything, as we perform it together! Its so much fun! It comes at a moment in the show which needs light relief. You get to see both our characters in a different light. As you've seen 'Nice Ann' and 'Serious Ann' so its nice to just see her have fun!

B: Flo is constantly with the boys so Touch of Happiness is her girl time! Saying things she can't speak to the boys about...

D: Like willies and stuff..! When we originally heard the song, they wanted to call it a 'Touch of A-ppiness (a penis)'!

B: Cameron Mackintosh loved it, but Lord Julian Fellowes did not approve!

D: He just rolled his eyes at us!... I also love Flash, Bang, Wallop!

B: I also like Money to Burn Part 1 too... its growing on me every week. Especially with different people going on holidays and stuff, its a nice challenge to put my head around which boy is who... we have different conversations so its different.



Have you seen any shows in the West End recently?

B: I actually went to see The Wind in The Willows last week, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I heard a lot of controversial stuff about it but I went in with an open mind. I just felt like I was at Disneyland or something, it was lovely! The storyline is quite basic, but what they do with it is beautiful, especially the layout which fills the massive Palladium stage. I had some mates in it... the leads were great but I couldn't stop watching the ensemble, it was so strong. Stiles and Drewe (who did the music for Half a Sixpence) did their music too, and made every single individual character count. Its great.

D: You know what, I haven't managed to watch anything in a really long time! Until we had our Wednesday matinees with a free evening, that's my social time with my "normal" friends so that's all I've been doing really. Though, next Wednesday I do desperately want to see The Ferryman as I've got a friend who is dressing on it and I've heard it hilarious.

B: I also can't wait to see Five Guys Named Moe! Both my mates are in that too.

How was West End Live?

D: Terrifying!

B: I didn't expect that many people to be there. They were still queuing as we were performing!

D: Its the first time I've ever performed there, and to perform it with this cast... it was mental. That's one thing about this show, its given us so many opportunities. Things that I've always dreamed of doing, like Children In Need, radio, The One Show. I genuinely didn't expect so much to come from doing this show

B: Its amazing what a show can do when you least expect it!

If you could take on any role in the theatre, aside from performing, what would you do?

D: I know! I'd be a wiggie. I love hair and I'm quite good at it aswell. A lot of time in the show, I do my own hair. I don't wear a wig as they didn't like the wig on me, it was like Christine from Phantom's hair! They preferred my natural hair. So they cut the wig and gave it to Beth!

B: I'd either be the cheeky follow spot because no one sees you! You're like a little lightning strike. Or... I've taken this from Half a Sixpence actually... I'd be a backstage crew but the onstage backstage crew. So in the pub scene, we've got people pre-setting things behind the bar and they're sitting behind the bar for the whole 10 minute scene! I'd love to do that!

If you could play any other character in Half a Sixpence, who would you play?

D: I'd play Chitterlow. I just think he's great! Hell yeah, I'd get to ride the car at the end! Though Charlie would never trust me..! Chitterlow is so much fun and I really like the wig... its hilarious, like a curly, ginger Annie wig!

B: This may sound strange, but I'd love to be part of the ensemble. You get to do the woodwork scene, then you get to dress in a green dress... its just so many different characters each, you're always doing different funny things! You're fooling the audience, because you change your wig and you become a different person!




If you could take one prop and one costume from the show home with you, what would you take?

B: Ooooh I just want to take my shoes home with me! But they won't let me because they're very expensive.... I'd also love to take my wig.

D: I want to take my wedding dress home... I really want that.

B: I don't think they'll let you...

D: Or maybe my crown, my veil. I want to nail it into my wall!

B: Shall we ask if we can take the fortune teller?! Or the seagull!!!

D: Aaaaww the seagull!

B: At the start of the garden party, there's an appearance from a certain bird..! The initial plans for this bird were brilliant... they were going to make him poo on Lady Punnett's hat, everything was going to happen for this bird! But turns out, he just pops in to say hello then goes back up!

What are your dream roles?

B: I don't know... it's hard as adore dancing shows. Whether it be old-school shows or new ones, like Legally Blonde, would be incredible. Cats- I want to tick that one off! Or something like Thoroughly Modern Millie... A Chorus Line! That sort of stuff, I love. I'd love to take on a full-on, triple- threat role where you can lead a massive dance number then go onto a ballad. But obviously, its just when those shows come around... they don't come around often... well, I mean, Cats does!!

D: Oh god... I've actually never really had dream roles as if you focus so much on a role and you don't get it, its such a bummer. But there's lots of roles that I'd like to play- I want to be Roxie in Chicago. I've been singing those songs since I was 10! I love it... she's such an iconic character, she's so sassy! I'd like to be Mary in Mary Poppins- it's so different to this. I'd like to be Eliza in My Fair Lady... I just want to try all different stuff. Originally, I was classically trained and I thought I'd always do old musical theatre, like Christine in Phantom of the Opera. When I came out of college, everything I did was pop. This is the first musical that I've done that is legit musical theatre but it's still actually a little bit pop-y!



How do you cope with being in such a fast-paced industry?

B: Its hard because college trains you to be a certain thing but as soon as you're out and you have 3 auditions a week, you have no idea what you're up to next! Like Devon said, you could be chilling with your Mum then the next minute you get a phone call and your mindset completely changes.

D: You just have to instantly switch, lock yourself in your room and get down to work.

B: Its a rollercoaster. You just have to go with it. When one stops, you have to obviously think what you're going to do to get some money in, what's going to make you happy, whether its dancing, teaching, having another profession. Its hard but you have to relax awkwardly and just let everything happen to you. Obviously you have to put the work in and do your homework but you have to let everything happen to you.


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Thanks so much to Bethany and Devon for taking the time to sit down with me for a chat- it was an absolute delight.

First presented at Chichester’s Festival Theatre, last summer’s hit “HALF A SIXPENCE” will play its final performance in London on Saturday 2 September, having extended its limited season twice. Tickets are priced from £12.50 - £77.50. A limited number of £20 seats are released each day from 10.00am in person at the box office. www.halfasixpence.co.uk - Catch it soon, before its too late!


Ellie Mae x


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