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Brief Encounter with ... Kiss Me Kate's Hannah Waddingham

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Following highly acclaimed performances as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz in the West End and the Witch in Into the Woods at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, Whatsonstage.com Award-winner Hannah Waddingham thought it was high time that she “do something with my normal face” and play a non-witchy role.

Former RSC and National Theatre artistic director Trevor Nunn, with whom Waddingham worked on Sondheim's A Little Night Music 2009, was happy to oblige and cast her in the title role in {Kiss Me, Kate::L583672012} at the Chichester Festival Theatre, which opens this week (27 June 2012, previews from 18 June).

With music and lyrics by Cole Porter, and starring Adam Garcia, Alex Bourne, David Burt, Adam Garcia and Clive Rowe alongside Waddingham, the show runs until 1 September. It will transfer to the Old Vic on 20 November, running there until 2 March 2013.

Here Waddingham, halfway through the show's preview period, tells Whatsonstage.com about playing Lilli/Kate as part of Chichester's 50th anniversary year, working with Hugh Jackman on the Les Misérables film and embracing family life in Australia.

How is the show going?
Having worked with Trevor before, I feel very safe in his hands. It’s just such a pleasure to get back to working with him again. He and I have always had a real meeting of minds. He can start a sentence in the note session for me and I can finish it. We’re just on the same page and it makes for a very harmonious working life together. And other than that, the cast – everyone is having a bit of a laugh and a party. We have to remind ourselves that we’re meant to be working, which is really nice to be able to say and mean.

What was it about Kiss Me, Kate that got you excited?
There are some insanely clever lyrics in it and I just thought the marriage of that with the exquisite old-school musical style and the songs that I have to sing – to go from a mixed voice (if you’re talking technically) in "So In Love" to a full belt voice as Katherine singing "I Hate Men", to then sing high operatic soprano as Kate in the same act is a tall order and I always like to push myself. I like to find pathos and comedy in one part and this just has it in absolute bucketloads.

How has the show been going down with audiences so far?
Great! I think the Chichester audience know their stuff: they already know The Taming of the Shrew; they already know {Kiss Me, Kate::L583672012}. You can feel a real energy of ‘ooh, we’re getting into this one now’ so it feels like there’s a real belly of warmth underneath us all which makes it much easier. Previews are always quite a stressful, nerve-wracking time because we’ve barely been onstage or in our costumes ourselves, so it’s really lovely. And I think it’s quite exciting to be down here in Chichester’s 50th anniversary year, smack bang in the middle of the whole programme for the summer – it’s a nice buzzy time.

Are you excited about the show's transfer to London in the winter?
Yes, because all the work we’ve done down here I think should be shown there as well. It feels like the natural journey for it to make with this calibre of cast and with this calibre of director.

The Kiss Me Kate company. Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore
You announced earlier this year that you're moving to Australia – are those plans on hold now that you'll be playing Kate at the Old Vic?
I’m emigrating to Australia in September to marry my fiancé. Trevor said: “Do you think we should get you back in November?” and I talked it through with my other half and we decided that that was a good thing to do. I’ll be here through til March. It just lets producers and casting directors here know that just because I’m going to be based over there doesn’t mean I’m falling off the face of the planet. It’s 24 hours away, it’s not any big deal really. I'll hopefully be keeping the musical theatre, straight theatre, television and film balls all up in the air.

Speaking of film roles, how was it working on the Les Misérables film?
It was great fun. Myself and Kate Fleetwood were the two main bitchy factory workers bullying Anne Hathaway as Fantine. I developed a really nice relationship with Tom Hooper, the director of The King's Speech, because he was being cheeky about musical theatre. We all just had such a laugh and Anne’s a lovely girl and of course the lovely Hugh Jackman who was just wonderful and very down to earth and made it really enjoyable.

Having achieved so much in your career already, what drives you now, in terms of ambitions?
I’m actually not that ambitious. I’m very fatalistic about these things: I think what comes my way is meant to come my way and that which doesn’t, doesn’t. I’ve been very lucky to be a leading lady on Broadway and here and now I’m even more lucky that my personal life has slotted into place as well so I’m more than happy for things to continue as they are. It’s lovely to come down to Chichester and do {Kiss Me, Kate::L583672012}, but then I’ll be looking forward to the Old Vic, but then by the same token I’ll be looking forward to the gap in between of being a wife and stepmother to Harry’s children. And I love the fact that he’s a carpenter and nothing to do with this business so it keeps me well and truly grounded.


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