Wicked’s Ashleigh Gray relishing Edinburgh return

Ashleigh Gray in Wicked. Pic: Comp
Ashleigh Gray in Wicked. Pic: Comp
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IT’S the phone call all actors dread. Having been out of the West End production of the musical Wicked for a couple of months, Ashleigh Gray found herself thrown back into the world of Oz, reprising the lead role of Elphaba the Green Witch, with just a few hours’ notice.

Recalling the moment, the actress, who is currently playing the same role at the Playhouse, says, “I had been part of the West End company between 2007 and 2010 as the standby Elphaba. That’s the thing about the role, it is so massive, they need a standby as well as an understudy.

“On this occasion everyone was too ill to go on. I got a phone call quite late in the day saying, ‘I don’t suppose you remember it?’

“So I went in. It’s amazing how the muscle memory kicks in... and it all came back.

“I guess I’d been doing it for so long it was all still with me. I didn’t have time to be nervous. I just had to get on and do it. At the end however, I asked: ‘Did that just happen?’ ”

Returning to the role for the Playhouse season was a very different story, and the 32-year-old from Newtongrange admits she was far more nervous about opening in the theatre she frequented as a girl.

“It was an absolutely amazing evening and the audience were fantastic, which just made it all the easier for us to respond to,” she smiles

“Stepping out onto the stage and imaging all those people sitting out there watching, just like I used to do, was really special.

“Elphaba makes such an entrance; the doors are thrown open and she storms to the front of the stage. I was so nervous and excited that I envisioned myself running right off the edge of the stage,” she laughs.

Later, Gray found a special visitor knocking on her dressing room door, Britain’s Got Talent’s Susan Boyle.

“I didn’t know Susan was coming until the company manager said she was in and wanted to pop back to say hello afterwards. It was really lovely to see her, a great surprise,” says Gray, who last appeared in the Capital at The King’s in I Dreamed A Dream: The Susan Boyle Musical.

“It is the first time that I’ve performed at the Playhouse,” she reveals, “Since I moved to London 14 years ago, most of my work has been there, but I have done a couple of tours that have brought me back to Edinburgh, though always to either The King’s or the Festival Theatre, never the Playhouse.”

Her first return home was in the cult 80s musical Taboo.

“That was the Festival Theatre, my first job. I was so lucky. It was great,” she says.

It obvious that The Playhouse, however, holds a special place in her heart, and brings back many happy memories.

“For a period I saw every show that came here, but the two that stick in my memory are Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera - I think I saw Phantom about 16 times.

“They were both fantastic shows, but I also saw others like Summer Holiday with Darren Day, Grease with Ian Kelsey. I saw most of them to be fair.”

It was on a much smaller stage, at the Brunton, in East Lothian, that Gray made her musical debut as Brigitta in a Musselburgh Amateur Musical Association (MAMA) production of The Sound Of Music.

She explains, “When I was nine, my Gran found an advert for the show in the local paper. I’d always performed at home, where I’d put on little shows for the family, and my Gran said, ‘Why not see if you enjoy performing for other people too?’

“So I went along. Funnily enough, the week after doing The Sound of Music we did Joseph And his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at school - I played Joseph, randomly. A piece of cross-gender casting, but I had the long hair for it.

“Then one of the cast and the musical director of MAMA set up a youth group in Prestonpans. I did shows with them for about five years. That was my real step into performing.”

It’s plain to see that Wicked is an emotional homecoming for Gray, and she admits she will miss the Capital when the show moves on in January.

“I’ll miss be being in Edinburgh, staying with my parents, and getting spoilt rotten,” she laughs. “Yes, I’ll definitely miss that.”

Wicked, Playhouse, Greenside Place, until 10 January, various times, £11.50-£75, 0844 871 7627