What kind of musical is The Light Princess?
I'm worried about saying it's a conventional musical because I don't think it is. Tori writes from a certain place within her, and her wealth of influences is vast. I can't compare it to a particular composer; I genuinely haven't heard anything like it before. There are lots of songs - there must be about 25 songs in Act One alone. But it's not long; it's really pacey and everyone's been surprised by how quickly it moves.
Would you describe it as a family show?
No, I wouldn't say it's a family show, although you can come as a family. I don't think people should come expecting a fairytale. It's not so dark that you couldn't bring a young child to it, but it's definitely dealing with issues that aren't your typical fairytale issues.
Tell us about the character of The Light Princess
Althea is 16 and is grieving deeply for her mother, who died when she was four. Ultimately that's why she floats, to get away from the grieving mass below her, but her father didn't know how to deal with it so he locked her away. We're approaching the floating as being similar to a 16 year-old who harms herself or has anorexia, and the parents don't know how to deal with it. She's trying to cope with normal issues you have as a teenager, working out who the hell you are and dealing with the changing hormones. But she's also dealing with an entire kingdom calling her a freak, because she's seen as a great problem for them. I'm making it sound really serious! But she's also really fun. She's just completely complex, that's how she is.
Do you think she'll speak to a generation saturated with self-image, in particular on social media?
Absolutely. I know for certain if I was watching a show like this when I was 16 I would be thinking ‘thank goodness that somebody is saying it's not always great to be a teenager'. I think people will identify with it, especially in this day and age when social media is so huge. We're seeing it daily in the press how problematic it is to grow up nowadays. I think the show's quite modern in that aspect.
And there's a romance element with a neighbouring prince
Yes, he's grieving as well, but his grieving makes him very solemn - so I'm light and he's heavy, basically. They do get together but it's not traditional; they meet one another and then it goes terribly wrong. It's not the conventional 'boy meets girl and it's solved' - there's a huge twist.
Are you in some sense a manifestation of Tori Amos on stage?
I'm glad you asked me that because it's been mentioned many times. But it was honestly never discussed in rehearsal, the fact that me and Tori look alike. People would say I got cast because of having red hair, but it's really not because of that! If they hadn't cast me and had gone for a blonde or a brunette, people would have embraced that. It wouldn't have been about a girl with red hair, because it's not.
What can you tell us about the staging effects?
I don't know how much I can tell you without spoiling it – I think it would be such a shame if people were expecting something. There are so many different elements that make up the floating, but ultimately it's not flying. It's certainly not your conventional 'bung her on a wire and there we go'. It's very inventive, as you can imagine from Steven [Hoggett - choreographer], Marianne [Elliott - director] and Finn [Caldwell - puppetry director]. It's just really different and it's not been done before.
Is that you in the poster?
It is. We did a dry land shoot to get the top half, with me flicking my hair to the side. Then we went to a pool at Pinewood Studios and spent a day there getting all kinds of shots. I was in a scuba mask, holding my breath for I don't know how long! Tori was very clear about the image she wanted for the show, and they got an amazing photographer who works for Vanity Fair. They wanted to evoke lightness as in weightlessness, as opposed to a beacon of light, which I think they've achieved superbly.
It's the biggest musical the National has staged in a long time
Indeed - when we did London Road, we didn't even look on that as a musical. I guess it wasn't really, it was our little weird wonderful world of London Road. This is huge – it's interesting that Nick [Hytner] has chosen to do it, and has been very careful about developing it.
Were you involved at the early stages, when it got postponed?
Yes. At the time it was very sad, but we were always told it was never cancelled, just postponed as we were still working on it. At the time we didn't feel that way, but it has definitely been for the best. It's almost like a gift that Nick gave the entire creative team, because they were able to go away and do more work and bring more experiences to it. The changes that they made absolutely proved he made the right decision. He's a clever man.
Could you tell us more about those changes?
When I first started on this project four years ago I was playing a character called Edwina who is completely gone now. I was playing her for two and a half years in the workshops - that's how much the story has changed. Even now you come in and there are rewrites, but I feel like they're not saying ‘let's just put a little ditty there.' It's all completely story and character-led, and Tori is in the room the entire time as is the writer, Marianne, Steven, everyone. It's everyone joining together rather than people in rooms working away and doing their own thing and botching it all together.
It must be a strange feeling to finally be presenting it to the world
We're all really excited to get the show out there, because it can't ultimately be complete until we show audiences what it is. I really, really hope people love it as much as we do because we've been working on this for so long. It's so focused, and there's not one person on the team who hasn't given their all. It's been like having an amazing present to give to somebody, but you don't quite want to give it to them yet because if they don't like it it's going to break your heart. But whatever happens, I know I'll never regret doing this as long as I live.
The Light Princess is currently in previews at the National Theatre, where it officially opens on 9 October