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20th Apr 2012 5:09pm | By Alasdair Morton
The former Casualty actress now plays Tina Turner as the star of Soul Sister. She explains the challenges the role entails
How did you wind up playing Tina Turner onstage?
I first auditioned back in October. I did a Tina medley, a rocky number to show that I could really belt it out. I sang River Deep, Mountain High, and Don’t Let Go.
How did you think it went at the time?
I was working as a fitness instructor, so I had to run from the gym to the audition and then back again. It was literally in and out.
That sounds stressful…
That is the life of an actress. You have got to be able to drop everything and go – to be able to switch on and then switch off.
Were you surprised to get the role?
Absolutely. I thought my agent was having me on and then she called me back and said: “Emi you have got the part, it’s all systems go.”
Tina’s had had an up-and-down life. Did you have to much research?
I watched lots of Tina footage, and did lots of stamina building, because she is never still.
How did you approach the relationship between Tina Turner and Ike?
We looked at the reasons why she stayed with him [despite the domestic violence] because they had a complex relationship.
What did you learn about Tina?
I learnt she absolutely adored Ike, not in a foolish way, and that they actually got on at some point. She felt she couldn’t leave him out of loyalty, it would have been easier to stay with him. Ike was also very misunderstood and I got that she understood how he saw the world in a different way – I realised why she stayed with him for so long, but when I was first involved, I just didn’t get it.
Do you have more empathy for Ike now than you did before?
The show does not excuse domestic violence – violence is violence at the end of the day – but he is human, and for every character that’s ‘bad’ there’s a reason why they are the way they are.
There’s a key speech in the show where Tina explains how Ike has come to be Ike. The script shows the other side of him, his talent. He was a talented and charming guy and had women eating out of the palm of his hands.
Chris Tummings is Ike. How did the show go about choosing someone?
I was cast first and then helped audition the Ikes. Chris is very charming and has a way with words, too, and so was perfect for the part. It was a fun day, I can tell you that! We did three scenes, when Tina and Ike first met, when they fell in love and when their relationship broke down. These guys had to come in and show that kind of variation.
The show covers 25 years of her life...
We go right up until she is established as a solo artist, from when she was 16 through to the Eighties, and you have to age her accordingly, through body language and confidence, because she is a very confident performer.
Do you perform in your own voice or do you try to mimic Tina’s?
Tina Turner is in a league of her own, but it’s important to get her character and her spirit across. You don’t want to just do a copycat version of her, though.
Does the show show consider her spirituality, too?
It looks at her strength and how she finds it through her religion – Buddhism.
Is the civil rights movement involved?
The script lightly mentions the movement at the time – because you could talk about that forever – and the temperature of black culture.
Is the pressure on for you?
At the moment I am not thinking about the opening night, I’m just focusing on what I’m doing. When it gets a bit heavy, I go for a couple of boxing rounds – that’s I how I deal with it all.
Any onstage mishaps?
I am such a naughty person. On stage I’m professional, but I can be quite mischievous.
I am not going to tell you now – I have gotten away with them. But this is the most serious
I have been for some time, I have not played any pranks ... yet.
Soul Sister, Hackney Empire. 291 Mare St, Hackney, E8 1EJ
Until May 5
Station: Hackney Central