At my feet sits an empty suitcase. The yawning, zippered mouth seems cavernous right now but judging by the chaotic jumble of clothes around me, I have no doubt I'm about to put its capacity to the test as I attempt to cram my life inside it for the next five months. Ladies and gentleman I, Emma Williams, am a Tour Virgin.
I don't quite know how I made it this far into my career without getting to do a tour. I've played various phenomenal regional producing houses but I've never had the pleasure of visiting so many wonderful cities with one particular job and it is going to be fun. A lot of hard work, a lot of travelling but an awful lot of fun... if only I could narrow down the 42 pairs of shoes that I own!
The Annie Get Your Gun company have spent the past four weeks holed up in North London, rehearsing what is certain to be an epic production, under the guiding hands of Ian Talbot (director), Lizzi Gee (choreographer) and Steve Ridley (musical director). We block the scenes through roughly, play around with characterisation and then begin adding in the detailing, the icing on the theatrical cake if you will. We have drawled our way around Southern accents, spent copious hours perfecting gun handling and drilling, belted and trilled and skipped and swaggered, and now suddenly, all too soon, it's time to head out onto the road.
All in all it's been a wonderfully exhausting few weeks. We began with a meet and greet - fuelled by adrenalin, caffeine and a not too shabby pastry, moved through to glorious vocal harmonisation, briefly dipped into appearances on BBC's The One Show and company nights out (for bonding purposes you understand!) and even made a pretty little stop off at circus training!
This is not your every day production of a classic Irving Berlin show. This is more than all-singing and all-dancing. It says an awful lot about how truly wonderful this company is that on a tea break, rather than head for refreshments and a biscuit or two, they are more likely to be found juggling and stilt-walking, practicing acrobatic balances, or perfecting dance combinations. They are an utter joy to be around and I'm so proud to be a part of this team.
As such I've been trying my darnedest at my own circus skill for the show - the trapeze. Lunch breaks have been spent, where possible, at the National Centre for Circus Arts learning the beautiful, yet surprisingly difficult, art of aerial work. I bear my aerialist bruises now with pride (and a healthy smothering of arnica cream), and I am simply itching to finally get my hands on my own personal trapeze once we move into the Manchester Opera House. As a lifelong acrophobic I never thought I'd say this but I'm actually looking forward to making that trapeze my own, though I must admit I do now understand why aerialists often don't wear a great deal. If you think trapeze is hard, try it in a corset, holster and gun!
Whilst we've buffed and polished our routines, shined up our solos and broken in our dance shoes, everything only begins to fall properly into place as we run the show through from start to finish. Notes are given, tweaks are made and the process repeated. My glorious leading man, Jason Donovan, and I have clearly found a natural ease with one another as Frank and Annie, and our offstage banter is almost as fiery as the onstage. With the magnificent Norman Pace presiding paternally over the company as Buffalo Bill, there's a real sense of camaraderie and the air is buzzing with excitement.
The next week will bring joy and tensions aplenty. The wonder of a sitzprobe where we finally hear the score with full orchestra, the inevitable agony of perfecting a technical quick change, my desperate prayers to not fall off the trapeze as it swings through the air and then the exhilaration of finally showing the audiences the fruits of our hard-earned labour. But for now we have one more final run-through rehearsal of the show to do before we must head station-wards for the Manchester Express, lugging our be-suitcased lives. Now if only I could get mine to close...
You can read more about the exploits of Emma and the Annie Get Your Gun company as they tour the UK, at www.emmawilliamsactress.blogspot.co.uk and visit http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/annie-get-your-gun for tickets.