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Linzi Hateley: ‘I need to shake myself up a bit’

Linzi Hateley. Photo: Darren Bell

Next time you watch Les Miserables in London, play close attention to Eponine’s scream as she warns Valjean and Cosette about an impending attack by Thenardier and his gang.

The scream you’ll be hearing is likely to be that of Linzi Hateley, recorded 25 years ago when she first appeared in the West End production of the musical. It was recorded to protect her voice, as she was playing Eponine night after night, but when Hateley returned to the show last year – this time in the role of Madame Thenardier – she realised it was still being used.

“It was bizarre,” she chuckles. “I watched the show and asked the sound guy, ‘Who is that screaming?’ and he said, ‘It’s Linzi Hateley’. Can you imagine if I had been paid for that? All those years later I would not have needed to work again. But it was very strange, getting ready to play Madame Thenardier every night and hearing myself scream. I was very good at screaming, though – I had done a lot of it when I was in Carrie.”

Ah yes, Carrie, the musical which marked Hateley’s professional debut in 1988 following her training at Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. The show ran in Stratford-upon-Avon with the Royal Shakespeare Company, before transferring to Broadway. There it lasted just 16 previews and five performances before being pulled.

And for 17-year-old Hateley, the brutality of the industry she had just joined was suddenly very clear.

“I was very young and naive,” she recalls. “I was like a sponge, and did what everyone told me to do. To begin with, I thought it was the most amazing opportunity – to have that sort of break. But it was a big break at 17, particularly for it to then become such a catastrophic disaster. That is a lot on some little shoulders.”

[pullquote]You never know where the next job is coming from. As you get older, you want it to get easier, but if anything, it becomes harder[/pullquote]

She adds: “Later in your career, you are wiser and have more protection around you. But the experience made me what I am today – and not all of that is good, as now I am always doubtful something will be successful. Things can go wrong, and your dream can be shattered very quickly and harshly, which has stayed with me.”

Although she learnt that things can go awry, Hateley moved on from Carrie straight into Les Miserables and has gone on to enjoy the kind of longevity in musical theatre that some performers only dream of.

More than 20 years since Carrie flopped, Hateley has appeared in some of musical theatre’s biggest success stories, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Chicago, Mamma Mia! and London Road at the National Theatre.

Nods to many of the musical theatre songs she has performed over the years will be given in Hateley’s new cabaret show, True Colours, which plays at the St James Theatre in London later this month.

She is no stranger to cabaret, having performed many at the capital’s Pizza on the Park some years back. But she still describes the experience as one that takes her out of her “comfort zone”.

“When I did Pizza on the Park I was known at the time, as it was just after Joseph [1991] and I could pull in a crowd, but it was frightening and exposing,” she says. “It takes courage to do cabaret. And in a funny way I was happy to let that go for a while and be a little cog in a bigger set-up – as part of a show with other performers.”

She continues: “But I have got to the time in my life where I thought I need to be brave enough to do something like this or remove myself altogether. I need to shake myself up a bit.”

Hateley admits to being concerned that it is all too “self indulgent” to do cabaret – and expresses concern that no one will want to hear her singing certain songs. “I doubt whether it’s what people want,” she says, which is perhaps a hangover from her Carrie days. Despite her concerns, people evidently do want to see and hear her, as the gig is sold out.

So what can they expect from the show? “People will get an intimate and honest evening of me, just being me really,” she says. “I would like to think that the way I sing is an extension of who I am. I celebrate the last 26 years.”

They certainly seem to be years worth celebrating – and Hateley continues to find reason to celebrate, too. When we meet she is on a high, having appeared as part of the National’s 50th birthday celebrations.

She was in a segment devoted to London Road, which she appeared in at the venue when it was revived in 2012. She also appeared in other extracts for the 50th celebrations, including The Absence of War, alongside Christopher Eccleston.

“It was the most extraordinary couple of weeks I’ve ever been involved in,” she reveals. “You never dream you will get all these people into once space – and there was not an ego in sight. I cannot big Nicholas Hytner up enough. He was calm, generous and respectful, and made the whole thing a complete pleasure to be a part of.”

Hateley goes on to reveal that she is likely to be involved with the film version of London Road, which is set to be made next year. She says that everyone involved in the stage production, which featured verbatim text put to music, left feeling they had learnt a new skill.

“It was so unique, and everyone learnt it differently,” she says. “The cast who read music found it harder to learn, as they could see how difficult it was. I don’t read music so learnt it by ear. It was fantastic.”

On that production, Hateley says she got to work with people she first appeared alongside more than 20 years ago as a young performer starting out.

Her own interest in the performing arts was sparked after her parents sent her to dance school aged five because she had “lots of energy”.

“We did competitions and the tutor would say, ‘I think we should put Linzi in for a song and dance number’. Everyone wondered where this voice came from in such a little person,” she recalls.

At the age of nine, her mother took her to London to audition for the film of Annie. She didn’t get the part, but later joined a tour of the musical as one of the orphans. Then, at the age of 12, she auditioned for Italia Conti, singing Bohemian Rhapsody – the Royal Philharmonic version – which she picked up in her local library in Tamworth. “I think they let me in because of my sheer gall at doing that,” she laughs.

Italia Conti was right for her, however, because it had “lots of colourful people and characters”.

“It was up my street,” she says. “It was full of personalities and I thought, if I was not going to be at home, this was somewhere I could be comfortable.”

And at the school, her singing teacher did not try to shape her voice into something it wasn’t. “He said to me, ‘I am not going to do anything or teach you anything, as you have a natural sound. So just go with it’,” she recalls. “That was the best advice. I just kept singing songs and was not told to do things a certain way unless I was at risk of damaging my voice. Most teachers want to try and shape you, so I am grateful for that.”

So, with a cabaret lined up and a film of London Road in the works, what is next for Hateley?

She admits to not knowing the answer to this, and says that, despite her experience, the profession doesn’t get any easier. “You never know where the next job is coming from,” she says. “As you get older, you want it to get easier, but if anything, it becomes harder. In other professions, if you’ve done 20 years of work, you feel secure in the knowledge that you are doing something right. But actors and performers often doubt that and are made to feel as though there may not be another job. That is exhausting and scary.”

That said, Hateley has a role that she admits is her most important to date – that of playing mum to her 14-year-old daughter.

“I play second fiddle to what is my best production, and that is her,” she says. “There is no comparison. I am proud of what I have done, and would like to hope if I leave anything behind, I entertained a lot of people and made them happy. But ultimately that does not compare to being a mum.”

Linzi Hateley’s True Colours cabaret takes place at the St James Theatre, London, on December 18

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