Interview With Emma Kingston: Heather Chandler at The Other Palace
Updated: Mar 20
As a card-carrying CornNut, you all know I’ve been living vicariously through theatre fans enjoying the three productions of Heathers in the U.K this past year.
This week I got to take my own little trip into the world of my favourite show by meeting virtually with The Other Palace’s reigning Heather Chandler, Emma Kingston, as she approaches her final weekend in Heathers.
Had you seen the musical or the original film before getting involved with the production?
I had. I saw it a couple of years ago, so it was always something that was in my mind.
Heathers has a delicate balance of serious themes alongside dark comedy and the ‘big fun’ elements of musical theatre, how do you navigate this as an actor?
I think it’s finding where you have to identify the root of a very large problem, and essentially show that to the audience, and take care of that moment, but then you have to let the audience know that they are allowed to laugh.
When I die as Heather Chandler, I drink drain cleaner, and that’s pretty gruesome. Actually, in the film it’s really awful, her mouth turns blue and she falls through a glass table. The way the musical has shaped her death is that she comes back as part of Veronica’s thought process. So the fact that Veronica then starts seeing her, she’s not a ghost, she’s much more a figure of Veronica’s conscience, and I think that’s the way the show beautifully kind of gets around the humour and comedy of having such dark themes in the show.
How do you prepare to bring Heather Chandler to life onstage, do you have any preshow rituals?
I don’t really have any preshow rituals, I’ve never really had that sort of thing.
I think in terms of styling, I think once I have found makeup that really works in terms of colours, I seem to not be able to divert away from a certain style that I have created for her look. Which is very different from other characters I’ve played. I know that when I've had my nails done, there is a certain colour red I used for Evita that I didn’t want to use for Heather Chandler. In my head the colour I used for Evita was so signature to that character, that I didn’t want to almost “mix” the two characters together.
I don’t know if that’s really a preshow ritual or more of me finding who she is away from other characters I’ve played before.
Do you have a favourite moment during the show?
There’s something that Ailsa (Davidson), who plays Veronica, and I have created within The Me Inside Of Me that I love playing with her, with that.
There’s a moment where Miss Flemming is reading out a suicide note that Veronica has forged and Heather Chandler, obviously this is her first time hearing it, and they’re giving away all of her stuff to charities and that sort of thing. Heather’s like, in my head anyway, Heather would never do that. So now that we’ve established that Veronica sees me, I have a moment now with Ailsa where I sort of turn around to her and I’m like, “You’ve given all of my stuff away?”
That’s very much evolved over time in how we’ve found our characters and how we use the humour to play. Because also, I think for our two characters, if we play the humour we lose the humour, whereas if you play the truth in it, like I’m livid she’s given my stuff away, an audience can find that quite funny. I think playing the truth in that makes it really enjoyable to play.
In your opinion, what makes Heathers a cult classic?
I think the language it created. I think, you look at what it’s inspired, for example the easiest one to think about for my generation is Mean Girls, and everyone can quote Mean Girls back to front and inside out. Like, “Stop trying to make fetch happen” or “You go Glen Coco”, all the things like that which are so much of our vocabulary.
When Heathers came out and you have things like, “Did you eat a brain tumour for breakfast” or “How very”. It’s such a language that allows teenagers to have a new vocabulary, and I think that’s why it became a cult classic.
Also, both of those shows and films, they focus in on really relevant problems that never seem to go away, this idea of bullying and peer pressure. I think if Heathers was made now, how would the Heathers torment Martha? It would be on TikTok. And instead of using a note or whatever, there would be ways of forging a video together that someone would be able to put something on Instagram or TikTok, that kind of thing… I think the issues are unfortunately still there that the themes are timeless. I think that’s why it became a cult classic.
You’re coming to the end of your run as Heather Chandler at The Other Palace, is there anything you would like to share, like a favourite memory or something you’ve learned from the experience?
Especially after the pandemic, actually, I’ve learned to grasp the moment a little bit more. I think we put so much worth, as actors, on ourselves in our work. We feel if we’re in between jobs or not doing a job that we’re passionate about, it reflects on us as people.
I was offered Heathers seven days before it was due to start rehearsals. So, that’s an immediate day to day change and shift, rearranging plans that you had, I was supposed to go on holiday with my mom and dad, that suddenly has to go, and you’re at work and doing that sort of thing. I think that I’ve loved the opportunity to do something without inhibition, because I think sometimes when you get thrust into something so quickly, you don’t have time to be self-conscious. It was a really quick rehearsal process, don’t get me wrong I would have loved some extra time, but it meant that you just have to trust in yourself and go for it. I think if anything, I’ve learned, it’s to trust in my instincts and my ability. I think sometimes that can get lost with a long rehearsal period, you start to doubt your choices, or you get caught up in the whole rehearsal process for such a long time that without an audience, if you have nothing to feed off, it’s suddenly overwhelming when you get in front of an audience and someone laughs or doesn’t laugh in a certain spot you thought you were funny.
My previous roles to date have all been fairly… I think I’ve always played the straight, serious character. It’s nice to play something that’s a bit silly, totally different to who I am. Most of my characters have been, but… The last big show I did was Evita, contrasting this to Evita is huge, even in terms of the kind of stamina you need for a role like Heather Chandler is very different to the stamina you need for a role like Eva Peron. Both characters die, but they come to that in a very different way.
I would say I’ve learned to trust in myself and know that from the shows that I’ve done, I can’t be pigeonholed. I’m lucky that everything I’ve done has been really diverse in what I’ve been able to achieve. And I think that for me it’s a nice note to casting, that you can trust us, actors, we’re good at what we do.
I would love to extend a huge thank you to Emma for joining me here on Both Sides Of The Curtain, and best wishes for her final weekend of shows in Heathers.
Another thank you goes out to her agent, Gena, for arranging this chat!