Just three years ago, 28-year-old Michelle Hopewell could be found selling ice creams and showing people to their seats. When the stage version of Roald Dahl’s popular children’s story stops off at The Playhouse, however, Michelle will be on the stage, playing one of the principal characters, Mrs Phelps the Librarian.
Matilda tells the story of an extraordinary little girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny.
“It is an incredible privilege and honour,” she says. “I couldn’t have imagined that one day I would get to step on that stage as a performer and so it’s truly a gift to return.”
Michelle worked at The Playhouse from October 2015 to March the following year before moving to London when she landed a role in the original cast of Aladdin.
“But when I am not on tour, Edinburgh is my base and the place I call home,” she says.
“I moved there in my late-teens and my family is still there; both my parents are ministers and yes, they’re seeing the show.”
Michelle worked at The Playhouse while studying drama at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and has fond memories of her time as part of the front of house team.
She recalls: “I worked front of house and so depending on the show the job varied which always kept things exciting. Everyone was passionate about the arts and incredibly supportive and accommodating of each others’ passions as a lot of us were still working artists as well as employees.”
She adds: “One of the gifts of working in a theatre is getting to watch other performers master their crafts, so it was always a privilege to catch glimpses of performers on stage. We were always very busy, which didn’t leave much time for day-dreaming but I was definitely inspired regularly.”
One show that left a lasting impression on the young actor was Shrek, she reveals.
“It was one of the busiest shows of that time and it was so special to see all of these excited families seeing one of their favourite animated characters come to life.
“I found I had a permanent grin because that atmosphere was so full of joy.”
On one occasion, Michelle did get a taste of what to expect when Matilda checks in.
Helping out with a show while was working as an usher, she found herself standing on the stage of The Playhouse, looking out into the auditorium.
“It was a truly special and humbling moment. I was a new graduate at the time and stepping on the stage to assist another performer confirmed that I was doing what I loved,” she recalls.
When next she steps onto that same stage, it will be as Mrs Phelps. “Mrs Phelps is one of the most fun characters I’ve played,” she reveals.
“She is full of life and love. She has a profound love and respect for stories and in a lot of ways they are the things that feed her energy.
“She represents all of us as audience members looking to escape into the magic of stories and the joy we find in them.”
And Michelle has these words of support for anyone currently working front of house and dreaming of being on the stage.
“It’s about the journey not the final destination. Enjoy the time you spend working towards your dreams because every little moment and encounter helps inform you and educates you as become the artist you are.”
Matilda The Musical opens at The Playhouse on April 2 and runs until April 27.