Just a few weeks after graduating from drama school, Melissa Jane Fleming is now in the spotlight starring as Cinderella at Lynn Corn Exchange.
It’s a dream come true for the 23-year-old from Newcastle Upon Tyne, showing what is possible with talent and determination.
But when auditioning for pantomime roles, Melissa didn’t expect she would go to the ball as Cinderella in the Jordan Productions show which runs until the end of December – as she explained to the Lynn News during final rehearsals.
She said: “Through my agent, Winterson’s, I had many pantomime auditions in different locations around the country and with Jordans I was auditioning for roles such as Cinderella, Belle (in Beauty and the Beast) or Snow White.
“I had a recall and it was possibly either Cinderella or Belle. I never thought I would be Cinderella … I suppose that was because I’m a brunette and I always think of a blonde Cinderella.
“Then when I found out I had got the part for the show at King’s Lynn I was so excited to be, officially, a princess. It’s every little girl’s dream to wear the pretty dresses to go to the ball and it’s all so magical – for me on stage and for the children in the audience.”
As a young girl, growing up in the north-east, Melissa often enjoyed festive pantomimes with her family and she also went to dance classes. Then, as a young teenager she had singing lessons, but it was not until sixth form at school that being expressive in theatre took a hold.
Initially, she went to Guildford School of Acting for a year on a foundation course in musical theatre, which stood her in good stead for the next move for a three-year course at the Mountview Academy of Arts in London – where the president is Dame Judi Dench and alumni include Brendan Coyle, Glynis Barber, Connie Fisher and Amanda Holden.
Melissa left Mountview in July and graduated with a BA honours degree in Musical Theatre on November 7.
Talking to the Lynn News during rehearsals, she said: “I’m now just so happy I chose theatre as a career, but as my first professional job on stage is here in pantomime it has been such a learning curve because it is so different and so challenging.
“At Mountview they have the philosophy that any sort of work and being creative on stage is amazing, but obviously with pantomime it’s a different part of our craft to be able to stand on the stage, breaking down the fourth wall [a theatrical term for the imaginary ‘wall’ that exists between actors on stage and the audience] and you are engaging with the audience all the time – and they are there with you. If I was on stage in a piece of Shakespeare or if I was in a musical on the West End we are telling a story and it is very naturalistic.
“Ian [Marr the director] has been telling me to ‘turn out a lot more’ or to ‘speak out louder’, but this is such a good place to start. I’m learning so much here in this production but it doesn’t mean I cannot be naturalistic and go back to something such as a straight play or TV or film.”
Audience favourite Marr is also on stage as Ugly Sister Marjorie Hardup (joined by Steven Kynman as Floribunda Hardup in a hilarious new double act) and Melissa says that working with such a consummate professional is good experience: “Ian? Yes, he’s excellent and he knows pantomimes inside out … the timing, the comedy and just everything about the show.
“We haven’t got a long time in preparation, it’s quite short, but it doesn’t seem rushed or panic. We are having fun and that’s the main thing, keeping it really bright and it’s brilliant, really good.
“Yes, there will be some first night nerves, especially as I’ve heard in the last day or so that I would be walking on stage alone, in front of the curtains, starting the show, but I can’t wait for that moment.
“I’ll definitely be nervous then and even for the rest of the run. But I don’t think it’s the same if you are not nervous; those nerves kind of give you an inner excitement and you are buzzing the whole time. Perhaps it will calm down when we get to do two shows a day.
“I’ve got my mum and dad and sister coming down around Christmas and they are staying just across the road – and they’ll be coming to see the show a few times.”
Looking ahead to life after Cinderella and the panto, Melissa said: “Long term? Well I love everything about musical theatre, but obviously I do need to keep working and the dream would be to keep going and move from job to job and on stage wherever it takes me.
“I would love to be in straight plays whether in the West End or on the fringe or touring or anything like that. I would like some variety. I don’t want to say I’d only like to be in certain shows; I want to experience a wide range including plays, television and film, etc.
“In August, I did an episode of Doctors, the BBC daytime soap which doesn’t come out until January. That was really good experience for me and I would love to do more of that.”
Cinderella continues at King’s Lynn Corn Exchange until Saturday, December 31. For performance times and ticket availability, call the box office on 01553 764864 or visit www.kingslynncornexchange.co.uk