When audience members meet Elise McCann at stage door after each performance of Matilda, they feel like they’re meeting the actual Miss Honey. There is something so genuinely warm and tender about Elise McCann, it’s easy to imagine you are talking to the character of Miss Honey.
“I am no longer Elise, I am Miss Honey!” McCann laughed.
“Not only with the kids at stage door, but with all the kids in my life – like all my friends kids. Leo Campbell – David and Lisa’s son – he perpetually calls me Miss Honey! … I’ve relinquished all of my own identity, which is wonderful!”
This connection makes it easy for McCann to slip into character for each performance.
“Some parts of her are easy to slip in to: she’s kind and generous and beautiful and warm,” explained McCann.
Spending time with the children’s cast before the show really helps.
“Honestly, being able to hang out with the kids – I love that. They’re amazing and they’re so exciting, so I can move into that really quickly.”
However, McCann is quick to point out that her character also has her challenges and she tries to leave those aspects of her Miss Honey back in the theatre after each performance.
“She’s got a really damaged upbringing – so there are parts of her that I actively try to let go of. I have a little bit of a ritual when I take off my costume, just because we do so many rehearsals and shows that you have to find a way to let go, because you do absorb some of that to play it truthfully. So those parts I try to shed – for sanity.”
Elise McCann already had an extensive career in the entertainment industry, but this role of Miss Honey has suddenly propelled her into the spotlight. It came as a surprise to McCann, who didn’t anticipate the increased attention and recognition.
McCann commented that back in the 1980s musical theatre created entertainment stars that were well known to the general public: stars such as Anthony Warlow and Marina Prior. She didn’t anticipate any public recognition coming from the role, but sold out theatres and a Helpmann Award for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical has only helped raise McCann’s profile.
“The audiences are unlike anything I’ve ever come across. They’re so vocal and so warm. I think it’s a tribute to Tim and to Dennis and to Matthew. It’s just so well constructed in every way that you just can’t help but react and respond to it,” said McCann with regard to the creative team of composer Tim Minchin, writer Dennis Kelly and director Matthew Warchus.
Each new city has meant working with a new children’s cast.
“In complete honesty, there are moments that were really hard. It’s so hard to say goodbye to those kids. We formed really strong bonds,” McCann said.
She explained the ending of each season is handled by Producer Louise Withers and the Royal Shakespeare Company in what McCann described as “such a beautiful way”.
“Life goes on and there are many other exciting things to do and it’s exciting to watch those kids grow up ,” she said about the children she first worked with during the Australian premiere season in Sydney.
The Brisbane season of Matilda is coming to a close on Sunday 12th February. It will also bring to a close Elise McCann’s time as Miss Honey. When the company transfers to Perth on February 28th, Lucy Maunder will take over the role.
No doubt it will be a bittersweet farewell for Elise McCann.
The last weeks sold out in Melbourne, so be quick to secure the final seats in the Brisbane season.