London born actress and singer Alexia Khadime has had an enviable career in the West End, playing dream roles such as Elphaba in Wicked and Eponine in Les Miserables. Now she’s returning to Hackney Empire to appear as the lead Tahlia in their annual pantomime Sleeping Beauty, set in enchanted Hackneytonia. We spoke to Alexia about her incredible West End CV, her love of baking and how she started out staging shows with friends in exchange for sweets as a child.
London Calling: How are rehearsals going?
Alexia Khadime: It’s full on! We’re in the final week of rehearsals, you get used to rehearsing but it never gets old. You just think ‘oh my god where have all the weeks gone?’
LC: Is it fun to rehearse?
AK: It’s a lot of pressure ironically. But at the same time it’s a weird kind of happy vibe, doing some of the numbers in the piece is really good fun! I love working with Susie (Mckenna) and Steve (Edis), their writing is so good and there are loads of new ideas in the rehearsal. Also the cast are really great, it’s just talent upon talent upon talent. Everyone is so enthusiastic, and we are so spirited and joyful. Even though our days are long, there is so much energy and love!
LC: And tell us about your character, Tahlia.
AK: Well, she’s certainly not your typical Sleeping Beauty. Tahlia has a very tomboy feel to her, very girl power!
LC: You appeared in Cinderella at the start of your career in 1999 and you’ve been in pantomimes at Hackney Empire since– is it good to be back for another year?
AK: I was, which is crazy! This is now my third time back, when I first did panto here it was before all the refurbishments, so it does feel different. Hackney feels like home even though I’m not actually from there. Hackney pantos, I’m not being biased, they’re just brilliant, they just are. I always love how the stories have a moral to them, it’s good teaching for the kids as well as letting them have fun.
LC: How does doing pantomime differ from other forms of musical theatre?
AK: I guess musicals tend to be a strict formula, for instance I’ve just done The Book of Mormon, and you see the same show on Broadway as you do on the West End. But with pantomime it evolves a lot more, like Hackney Empire has done Cinderella before but no two Cinderella productions are the same. It’s not as strict and can evolve during the rehearsal period. It constantly has this new essence and is of the time. I think to myself ‘oh I have to be in panto mode!’ because the way you deliver your lines really is completely different. You can’t afford to be anything less than big in panto.
LC: You have a pretty hectic schedule – what do you like to do to unwind?
AK: I love knitting and baking, a lot! They’re just so therapeutic and over the Christmas season I do a lot more baking. Next week it’s technical week and we’re going to need all the sugar we can get. Everyone calls me a feeder!
LC: How do you think you developed such a love of being on stage?
AK: It’s weird because I’ve asked my mum where I get it from. From as early as I can remember I’ve loved singing, dancing and being on stage. I used to get all my cousins and friends together and I’d make everyone put on a show! I was obviously director. We’d run downstairs to make an audience and everyone paid in sweets.
LC: That’s adorable!
AK: Ironically I never thought it would be a career. It kind of evolved that way. I used to watch the Pointer Sisters on VHS again and again, I was obsessed, with (sings) ‘I’m so excited!’ and all that.
LC: What does it feel like to be up there on opening night?
AK: I’m always nervous because you really want to put your best foot forward. But once it’s up and running I am able to enjoy it more and get sucked up into those moments. Working with the other actors really elevates your performance; sometimes I forget the audience is there.
LC: What has been your favourite role so far?
AK: Ooh, that’s like the hardest question that anyone has ever asked! None of my roles have been similar so far. Ah, I don’t know what to say! Nala in The Lion King is dear to my heart as it was my first principal West End role. I saw it in 1999 and thought ‘I want to play that role one day’ and I did! Also, Elphaba in Wicked, I never thought in a million years I would play that role! When I got it I was like ‘this is happening!’ the show was on my birthday too, and it’s such a big role, possibly the biggest in the industry for a female. Les Mis was fun because again it was so different, and it was the first production I was in that was all just singing. I really love bits of all of them as they’ve brought something new to me, they each gave me this new fuzzy feeling.
LC: Do you have any advice for young people trying to get into the industry?
AK: Everyone’s journey is different, I never went to theatre school for example, and I don’t think there is any single right way of doing it. The way you learn the most is in the workplace, you can go to school and get the groundwork and foundation, but where you learn the most is the workplace. Enjoy those moments and believe in yourself. If you’re a vocalist, look after your gift. I believe what’s for you is for you and nobody can take that from you.
Sleeping Beauty runs from 26 Nov 2016 - 8 Jan 2017 at Hackney Empire, tickets are between £10-£36. Find out more here.