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The Review - FEATURE
Published 7 December 2006
Dr Emily Grossman
Dr Emily Grossman
The Snow White who started as a doctor

Gerald Isaaman tells how a talented young PhD graduate gave up science for a life on the stage

SNOW White has a secret that not even the Seven Dwarfs know about. And as Emily Sidonie plays the sparkling role in a musical Christmas production next week, not even Prince Charming and the other members of the cast will be aware of it either.
For her real life identity is that of Dr Emily Grossman, brilliant academic holder of a first in natural sciences at Cambridge and a PhD from Manchester University, where she discovered a new molecule during four years at the Paterson Institute of Cancer Research.
But then she threw it all up, went off to Guildford School of Acting Conservatoire and, armed with a postgraduate diploma, embarked on a hard and lonely life in musical theatre which she has now extended into acting generally.
Now she has landed her best-paid job ever, earning £450 a week playing the star role in a musical version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which opens at the Southport Theatre, just outside Liverpool, on December 7 for a month’s run.
“And I’ve never been happier,” insists dynamic, 28-year-old Emily, her blue-eyes shining.
“I am happier about what I am doing day to day and feeling excited about what I am doing next. I am very fortunate to have incredibly strong, incredibly passionate genes that can help me with what I am doing.
“The determination which got me through my PhD is still there. Anyone who has worked in research knows that there are times when you want to say: ‘I can’t do this anymore!’ That’s when you spend three months on one experiment and it turns out to be a no-no.
“But what kept me going through that is exactly the same tenacity that keeps me going on stage. I’ve been through all the stress of being rejected at auditions, writing hundreds of letters and making endless phone calls. But I am completely determined to succeed.”
Indeed, her father, a professor of endocrinology, and her mother, a travel and TV writer, even her doctor grandfather and novelist grandmother were flabbergasted when Emily announced on the day she achieved her PhD that the theatre was to be her career.
But all the family – both her parents have married twice and Emily now has six half-sisters – will be at Southport to see her shine as Snow White.
“They are fabulously supportive,” says the dashing girl who lives in a flat off Highgate Road, Kentish Town.
But her parents couldn’t have been too surprised because, aged 10, Emily was plucked out of a class at South Hampstead High School for Girls to play the title role in a school production of Oliver! which earned her many plaudits.
As her soprano voice and acting skills developed, she took part in choir concerts, Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, operas, plays and Shakespeare as she went up to Queen’s College, Cambridge, with four A-grade A Levels, won a first class degree and went off to Manchester University, a venue too for more theatricals, as well as serious singing lessons.
“I have no idea where this acting syndrome comes from, though the more I do it the more it seems to work,” she says.
“Even at five or six I remember singing little songs in concerts. Oliver! was my first real taste of the limelight. That was a real buzz and great fun. I do want to entertain, to bring enjoyment to people – and to help people understand how things work.”
So her exacting science training provides the discipline for her to sustain herself financially, working as a private tutor for GCSE and A Level students and working in schools spreading a love and understanding for Shakespeare.
“It can be tough presenting a Shakespeare workshop to a group of rowdy teenagers who just don’t want to be there,” she recalls. “But after an hour one of them said to me: ‘Say, that’s cool. This bloke Shakespeare is al- right.’ So I have carried on my passion for science in terms of teaching.”
A few of her actor friends know she is also a doctor and one who also teaches. “It’s not something I tell people from day one,” she confesses.
“There’s no point. I have two lives. I even have two names. So it’s not relevant. Perhaps it might be cooler to say I’m an actress who teaches physics to 14-year-olds.”
She toyed with the idea of being a doctor before going off to do research into yeast. “It was an amazing experience, very tough with hurdles and misery all the way,” she explains.
“The thing with science research these days is that 90 per cent of the time is just as much about closing doors. I had a great time in Manchester with some really fantastic people.”
But the theatre always beckoned and appearing as Constanza in a production of Amadeus provided the tipping point. “I knew then this was where my heart lies,” adds Emily quietly. “This is what I love.
“While I am proud of the science research I was doing – the people in the lab are still working on this new molecule I discovered – I started feeling what my heart really wanted was to be in the theatre.”
She knows the road is rocky but nevertheless holds ambitious dreams of a part in the West End, on television and even with the Royal Shakespeare Company one day.
“Life as an actress is a very difficult lifestyle, emotionally it is a very lonely life-style because you are always travelling and you are the only person who really cares whether you get work or not,” she says.
“There is the magic of maths and the magic of make believe, and I have found some ways of combining them. Now I’m in Snow White mode.
“I can’t wait for the curtain to go up…”
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