If you go down to the woods today… you might catch a glimpse of the Spirit of Sherwood. Ashleigh Gray is no stranger to magic and mystery, having played Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West in the hit musical Wicked both in London and on tour. This Christmas, as the Spirit of Sherwood in Robin Hood, at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, she’ll be conjuring up yet more spells – but this time with the aim of leaving both cast and audience, happy ever after.
Hi Ashleigh, do you have any local links to this part of the world?
I’ve just moved to West Byfleet so I’m just down the road – and I went to Guildford School of Acting.
What is it that you love about panto?
It’s so much fun. No show is ever the same – especially working with Shane who improvises his way out for everything. Then there are the audience reactions; because it’s Christmas time and everyone’s up for it, it’s a real good fun atmosphere.
How did you get started in the business?
I always loved singing as a child and was lucky enough to have a singing teacher who made me realise that this thing I did as a hobby could be a career. So I came up through the AmDram route back in Edinburgh, where I’m from, auditioned for Guildford and the rest is history!
How did you feel when you got the call saying you’d got the part of Elphaba in Wicked?
I’ll never forget that call. I was in the Co-op buying broccoli for my dinner and my agent rang and said: “So, do you fancy playing Elphaba?” and I wanted to scream because I was so over the moon. I’ve got a longstanding relationship with the show and it holds a huge place in my heart. I feel very lucky to have been part of it for eight years, on and off. I originally joined it in 2007 when I was in the ensemble and then I became the alternate Elphaba, playing some of the shows in London, and then I got that call and took over as principle on the tour.
What was the biggest challenge for you in playing Elphaba?
It’s stamina, really and yes, she’s a pretty fearsome creature to play. She’s never off the stage, maybe just 15 minutes in the whole show. You have to be 100% on the ball all the time and it can be exhausting especially on two shows a day.
Do you have to wear any green make-up as The Spirit of Sherwood?
No green make-up, no, but lots of glitter this time, so I’m verging on Glinda the good witch with the blue dress and the sparkling eyes. It’s quite nice to play the good one.
Did you dress up for Halloween? If so, what was your scary costume of choice?
Oh, well, Elphaba’s witch’s hat had to have an airing…
How do you like to relax during the run of the show when you’re off duty?
I’m a huge fan of yoga and I always try and do at least 20 minutes in the morning to get my body and mind awake. But I’m a very crafty person too. When I was the alternate Elphaba I spent a lot of time in our wardrobe department and they taught me how to sew and cross-stitch and knit so any time I’m not on stage in Robin Hood, I’ll be backstage doing my Christmas cross-stitch and hand-making presents for people!
What will you be doing on Christmas Day this year?
Well, my family are coming down here this year because I can’t get back up to Edinburgh with only one day off. My other half is an actor as well. He’s in The Lion King so he’s only got one day off too. So I’m hoping that we can relax and put our feet up and the parents will do their stuff!
Any New Year resolutions planned?
It’s always to be more fit and I’m a perfectionist in everything that I do but, as I get slightly older, I’m trying to make deals with myself; not give myself such a hard time and enjoy myself more.
Do you get to fire a bow and arrow in the show?
Not actually fire one but I do assist in some bow and arrow action… And then Robin loses his way and I’m the one who helps keep him on track – in all senses!
If people are thinking of booking tickets to see a pantomime this Christmas, why should they come and see Robin Hood?
It’s action-packed, full of wonderfully vivacious characters, incredible set and music, a real spectacular – don’t miss it!
Robin Hood will play at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking from the 9th December until the 7th January 2018. To book tickets visit ATG Tickets.