Half a Sixpence to An Officer and a Gentleman, Emma rings changes

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An Officer and a Gentleman

Leeds Grand Theatre

Run end on Saturday, April 28

Emma Williams has been nominated for the prestigious Olivier acting award four times making her Halifax’s most successful acting export, writes Paul Clarke.

And she is now playing at Leeds Grand Theatre at the start of a UK tour of An Officer and a Gentleman.

She plays fiesty female lead Paula Pokrifki who falls in love with wannabe pilot Zack in the stage adaptation of the smash hit Eighties movie with the classic ending which starred Richard Gere and Debra Winger.

The role comes hot on the heels of a West End run of Half a Sixpence and Emma says.

“This show is as far removed from Half a Sixpence as I could get and I wanted something that was a really big change.

“To go from Mrs Henderson Presents to Half a Sixpence to Dick Whittington to An Officer and a Gentleman means I’m not ever getting pigeon holed or comfortable.”

“I’ve never been one to take the safe option. There is something really exciting to me about new musicals, and something particularly exciting about stepping away from what you are associated with and pushing yourself.”

Playing Paula requires Emma to belt out Eighties power ballads and her training back home in West Yorkshire stood her in good stead.

“My training really started when I went to a local dance school in Halifax run by Sandra Whiteley who still teaches in town,” recalls Emma.

“I went to a local am dram group called Halifax Amateur Theatre Youth, and I played my first role with them when I was 13, which was Peggy Sawyer in 42th Street.

“From there I went to Stage 84 in Bradford where we would put on shows and whilst I was there I was spotted for a few episodes on TV and then a film.

“My amazing vocal coach Michael Hampshire, who still teaches in Halifax, saw something in me vocally, and took me under his wing.

“He helped to develop my voice in to what it has become, and I still go to train with him as I’ve never found anyone quite as incredible as he is.

“I’m really fortunate that I have amazing parents who are incredibly supportive and they’ve always allowed me to follow my dreams no matter how ridiculous those dreams are.

“I think there is something about the Northern sensibility that when you are given an opportunity that seems to be too good to be true you just run with it, and do what you can, because they don’t come up every day.”

Playing a venue just up the road from Halifax gives Emma a chance to come home.

But Leeds, where An Officer and a Gentleman started its run this week has a special place in her heart both professionally and emotionally.

“I’m popping home to see my parents and two of the nights I’m staying with them.

“Leeds is particularly special to me as it’s where I met my fiancée three and a half years ago on White Christmas at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

“My fiancée James is a Bradford lad, and he also went to Stage 84, but at a different time to me.

“ He’s a drummer in musical theatre so it’s really nice I get to come back to Leeds to revisit all those lovely places,” she said.

An Officer and a Gentleman runs until Saturday, April 28 when there are shows at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. For tickets call 0844 8482700.

Alternatively the show arrives at Manchester’s Palace Theatre and Opera House from August 13-18. Tickets available from 0844 871 3018.