Being a good role model for impressionable young Australians isn’t an easy thing to get right these days, but actor Elise McCann has nailed it.
After months touring Australia as the sweet and brave Miss Honey in Matilda, the award-winning musical by Australian composer Tim Minchin from the iconic book by Roald Dahl, Elise represented a beacon of light in every show and showed children how to fight the bullies and triumph in the end.
Elise played Miss Honey more than 600 times, and became so immersed in the world of Roald Dahl that she decided to record an album of Dahl songs, called Dahlesque.
“Roald Dahl is the master of storytelling, and in this album we wanted to bring those characters, emotions and adventures of this legend and master to life in a whole new way,” she said.
Playing Miss Honey has been the greatest privilege of Elise’s performing career to date.
“Miss Honey is such a beautiful, complex and genuine character—there were always things to find and play with. I felt so honoured playing this role and having been given the opportunity to originate this role for Australian audiences,” Elise tells Warcry.
Audiences and critics agree that Elise’s portrayal is superb, with the performer winning the prestigious 2016 Helpmann Award and 2015 Sydney Theatre Award for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical.
The story of young Matilda, an exceptionally bright little girl who, with the help of Miss Honey, withstands incredible bullying from her ghastly headmistress Miss Trunchbull, has charmed Australian audiences, with well over a million tickets being snapped up by eager theatregoers.
Elise is passionate about the power of theatre.
“It can help people escape and have a moment of joy and bliss, but it can also be an important vehicle for change, for understanding, for growth,” she says.
“Roald Dahl had this capacity to slip little bits of morality into his work without ever making you feel like you were being preached to—he is a mirror reflecting the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ qualities of humans.
“To fight for what you think is right, to be brave, to be kind and be joyful—we all need a little bit more of this in our lives these days,” Elise suggests.
Elise’s approach to life is certainly in sync with the Bible, where we are told to fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith (2 Timothy chapter 4, verse 7).
Fighting for those who suffer disadvantage is a central part of Elise’s personality, as she is a regular performer for charities, including Sydney’s Westmead Children’s Hospital, Mission Australia and the ACON World AIDS Day concert, to name just a few.
While Elise loves performing, she expected to become either a journalist or a lawyer, despite finishing drama school at Sydney’s NIDA.
“I actually went and studied law at the University of New South Wales, and I’ve always wanted to play a lawyer in a legal drama or film,” she recalls.
But the legions of fans who fell in love with her as Miss Honey need not despair.
“I don’t think I will ever practise law in my real life, but I do love how it taught my brain to think about things—I think it ties in really well with acting, as it requires a sense of empathy and a search for understanding, and arguing on behalf of someone else.”
Fans in Melbourne can look forward to seeing Elise in the musical Brigadoon in October, while everyone can share Elise’s passion for Dahl in her new Dahlesque album available now.