"It’s difficult to believe that The Sound of Music has never been done in Chichester before"

As Emma Williams says, it’s difficult to believe that The Sound of Music has never been done in Chichester before.
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And that’s all the more reason to be delighted to be in it now. Emma is playing Elsa Schraeder – Baroness in the film but Frau in the stage show – in Adam Penford’s new production running on the main-house stage from July 10-September 3.

“I'm a huge fan of Rodgers & Hammerstein anyway and it is just fantastic to be doing it at Chichester Festival Theatre. I just can't believe it hasn't been done here before. There is just something incredible about the show, the fact that it's based on truth. Musical theatre does not very often come from true stories, but Rodgers & Hammerstein took the story of Maria and Captain von Trapp out of the remarkable times that they went through and it is just astonishing especially when you consider that Rodgers & Hammerstein have created something that is so enduring and so heartwarming and so uplifting at the end. You realise that there are reasons why it has stood the test of time.”

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And certainly there are many resonances with now given what has happened with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The show follows the annexation of Austria by Germany: “Particularly for my generation and maybe a bit older that have not had the experience of undergoing something like war, there is something very poignant and pertinent about this show at the moment and certainly a new awareness and resonance. We have done so much historical research. We are very, very fortunate that we've got an amazing creative team that have done a lot of work in terms of talking about Austria and the Anschluss and all the political and economic upheaval, and that has been so important for us. It is fascinating that apparently something like 85 per cent of Austrians were in favour of the Anschluss. I think it's really interesting to know something about that. And it really does make a difference to how you approach your performance. I'm a big fan of research. So much of it goes into the way you play it.”

Emma Williams as Elsa Schraede in The Sound of Music. Pic by Manuel Harlan.Emma Williams as Elsa Schraede in The Sound of Music. Pic by Manuel Harlan.
Emma Williams as Elsa Schraede in The Sound of Music. Pic by Manuel Harlan.

For Emma, it’s her third time in Chichester – after Half A Sixpence in the main house in 2016 and Love Story in the Minerva in 2010.

“Love Story was one my most favourite shows I've ever done and there was something just so lovely about trying out a new show on that lovely thrust stage in there.” And of course, it's a thrust stage in the main house too: “And I love that relationship you get with the audience that comes from the fact that they are so far around you. It actually feels very natural and I do think it's very liberating to be on that kind of stage because you're not just playing to the front all the time.”

Since Half A Sixpence seven years ago Emma has become a mum, with her daughter born in 2019. This is her first big eight-shows-a-week show since then and her first big show since the pandemic: “And I do think it still feels a little bit strange. You’re not used to being in a room with so many people and actually my last big show does actually feel so long ago and it is! And I know it because I've now got a little three-and-a-half-year-old marker of time with me now!”