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A Pretty (Scots)Woman | Interview

Discussing the West End, coronavirus, walking dogs with a dog allergy, self-care, and more with Elly Jay—the 26-year-old Aberdeenshire actress who’s making waves at the Savoy Theatre.

By Isabelle Hampton-Zabotti

Pretty Woman: The Musical has been Elly Jay’s West End debut, under the direction of two-time Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell (the mastermind behind West End hits such as Legally Blonde, Kinky Boots and Hairspray). The film, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, has recently hit its 30th birthday. The story follows a Hollywood escort who meets a high-flying businessman, and with time, they realise that their statuses mean nothing in the face of love.

Its musical adaptation has been nothing less than a success, and in this Q&A with Gaudie Arts, Elly tells us about her childhood dreams being realised and how to make or break on the West End amidst huge changes in the world around us.

As a Fraserburgh-born girl, what's it like being so far from Aberdeen?

I do miss home now and again. I have two nieces and a nephew now, so up until then I wasn't really missing home, but then when you have younger ones in the family, you do miss it.

But then when I get to explore the world for my job, it's incredible. Getting to see so many different cultures and countries widens your perspective on everything. I love to travel and it makes my career even more worthwhile. I've been on a cruise ship, I've worked in Japan for two years, I've worked in Germany and so, in doing all those things, I’ve really broadened my horizon. Now, I'm obviously back in London and this was the main goal—West End.

So, being in London, how are you finding it and what has been your experience performing at the Savoy?

My, I've loved it. It has been my dream since I was a kid. But it does feel like it's out of reach when you're that young. It just seems like a dream.

[…] I was hired as second cover [for Pretty Woman] as well as a female swing, which means I cover all seven ensemble girls—-along with the lead, Vivian Ward. So, at the beginning of the contract, I thought to myself: the girl who was on maternity leave has had her baby now, surely I won’t get to go on for the lead before she returns in the next few weeks.

My debut week on West End had arrived, and I went on for my first ensemble track as Edward's ex-wife, and also as a tourist. I did that track for two days, and then I got a phone call from my company manager in the afternoon asking, how's your Vivian? And I said, fine….Why? She then asked, would you be okay to go on and I was like, what?! Yes!

[…] and my whole family was down that weekend as well to see my debut. I don't know what it was, but everything just aligned. I kept asking myself, ‘what is happening right now?’ I remember that moment when I was standing, about to walk on stage. I wasn't even nervous, and I thought, this is exactly where I am meant to be. So, yeah, it was amazing. It was incredible.

[Elly is now 1st Cover Vivian Ward and Swing until Summer 2023]

Courtesy of Helen Maybanks

So, from my perspective, that's an insane amount of pressure. It seems that sometimes you may need to safeguard your mental health. How do you take care of yourself with your schedule?

I'm not going to lie, I've struggled lately, but I try. I struggle to find other things to do 'cause I'm so work-focused that it can be unhealthy at times. Something that you're told, from the get-go, is to have a life outside work because if not, it will take over you. I started going dog-walking through the day, but I'm actually allergic to dogs so I shouldn't [laughs], It can affect your singing.

Love dogs that much?

I do, I do and this is the thing. Like, I started [dog walking] more for company after I moved to London. But now I've met someone and I’m happy as Larry spending my time with him.

And it must be something you get immersed in. It might be just hard to switch off and leave it at the theatre.

Yeah, if you have a bad show, sometimes it's like, I can't believe I did that. Being a perfectionist, you notice every minor detail that you do differently. It is just having to brush it off. It's more of a struggle to let go of auditions that you’ve prepared day and night for. All it could really be is, you're the wrong height, or you don't have the right face or vocal tone.

There's a lot of having to be kind to yourself, isn’t there?

It's being patient and accepting your worth and accepting the path that's right for you. If something’s for you, it won't pass you.

So, it's just believing in that process, like before I got Pretty Woman, I got a few noes or I couldn't make the final. And it was during COVID and flying up and down to London, I preferred just doing a self-tape, because I was living in Glasgow at the time, or I was abroad and I couldn't make it. But then, that show ended up shutting early because of COVID, so all those things happen for a reason.

Elly Jay with co-star Danny Mac, courtesy of Craig Sugden

I actually wanted to talk a little bit about COVID. Where were you when everything happened because it completely changed kind of the face of theatre for a while. So, I wanted to know what was your experience with that?

Yeah, theatre got knocked a lot. Performers were teaching online, everybody was Zoom teaching, but I was in Germany doing Ghost: The Musical. And then we got an email saying, can everybody come in to work early? We had a meeting and then within half an hour, there was a social media post: everybody was getting refunds for that show that night, and then we all knew that we were shutting early. So, we found out via social media before we were told in person.

And I remember giving it a few days, as my flight to go home was in ten days time. Then I thought, maybe I should fly this weekend [laughs]. And thank God I did! Otherwise, I would have been stuck in Germany when the borders closed.

I then had another contract that got rescheduled twice, two summers, it was supposed to be in Austria, and then Brexit happened. I then flew over to do the contract and because I didn't have a work permit—even though it was less than 90 days—you still needed a work permit, so I then didn't get to do that contract and I had to fly home. So, a lot of stuff was just...

Changing all the time.

Yeah, and constantly having to pay for your PCR tests to go fly anywhere for auditions. I think the only thing that was good about it was that casting teams all around the UK started doing self-tapes, which was great, and they did keep up for a while, but now they're saying they want to see people in-person again. For the likes of Pretty Woman, I did two self-tapes rounds and then my finals in-person, so it saved a lot of money for me.

But yeah, COVID was a bit of a nightmare. So many performers had to get 9-to-5 jobs again. I saw myself working in my local furniture store, which, to be honest, I do miss now and again [laughs] 'cause I loved having normality in my life. Yeah, but it was the unknown of when I’d get back to performing, because it's just, it was not me.

And just some final questions, what are your next steps after Pretty Woman?

I'm here until summer next year, so I've not thought about it too much. That's another thing that can get you in a downer is when you're constantly panicking about what's next, and so this is probably the first time I've felt at peace [laughs]. But I'd love to keep auditioning for lead roles and cover lead roles, probably Six the musical, Heathers is a big one at the moment, as well as Wicked. Obviously, I'd love to cover Elphaba or Nessarose.

And do you feel like you will stick with theatre, or have you thought about other acting roles?

I'd love to do some TV work, but I feel like I'd need to go and do some workshops and whatnot, because theatre acting and TV acting are very different. I've just never auditioned for any TV, but I would love to.

Pretty Woman: The Musical will be at the Savoy Theatre until April 2023, with tickets starting from £23.80


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