Cast and creatives on their first theatre experience

To mark World Theatre Day, stars and creatives recall the moment they fell in love with the stage.

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Today (Friday 27 March 2020) marks World Theatre Day and to celebrate, a selection of cast and creatives have taken a moment to reflect on their most influential stage experience. From witnessing the tear-inducing turmoil of now-West End staple Les Misérables for the very first time, to being mesmerised by the spectacular visuals of The Lion King, those dedicated to keeping the magic alive look back the moments that got them here.

Drew McOnie – Choreographer

Credits include: In the Heights (Olivier Award winner, Best Theatre Choreographer, King’s Cross Theatre), Jesus Christ Superstar (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Carousel (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Strictly Ballroom (West End)

My first live theatre experience was watching Jason Donovan in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was at the London Palladium. We had got the coach from Birmingham to watch it and I was totally entranced. I think it was 1991? It had a massive impact on me. I remember everyone screaming when Jason first appeared on stage. I got up and screamed too. Not really for Jason (sorry Jason) but because I loved the event so much and finally felt I was surrounded by people who loved it too.

Mazz Murray – Actor

Credits include: MAMMA MIA! (West End), We Will Rock You (West End), Chicago (West End)

I was six and taken to see BKL Production’s Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre. Jess Conrad was Joseph – Ria Jones was narrator and Robert Dallas was Pharoah. They were unreal and it was THE best thing Id ever seen – it became my dream and I was forever in love with musical theatre.

Monica Dolan – Actor/Writer

Credits include: The B*easts (Bush Theatre), Appropriate (Donmar Warehouse), All About Eve (Olivier Award winner, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, West End)

I have had plenty of experiences of seeing and doing theatre knocking around school and at youth theatre and going to see my older brother in the Wizard of Oz at the senior school, but the first experience of professional theatre I can actually recall is my drama teacher and Head of Year taking a few of us to see Les Misérables – that was back when it was starting out and at the Barbican!

I think the main thing I remember actually is their reaction to it and the affect it had on them – which I suppose is no bad thing to have the opportunity observe. My two teachers had already seen it twice and were full of it all the way there. When we sat down my drama teacher turned around to me and said that he usually started crying as soon as Fantine began to sing I Dreamed A Dream and didn’t stop for the rest of it. And it was true!

I strongly remember the musical refrains and Frances Ruffelle’s On My Own in the second half, but particularly the finale at the close of the first half which was so rousing and had every social perspective and displayed everyone’s cares going into the unknown.

One of my overriding memories actually is how bad the reviews were, and my Head of Year raging and blasting in his thick Yorkshire accent that the whole critical response was: “Intellectual snobbery at its worst!” The audience absolutely loved the show, of course – and now we know that it was a huge hit and ran for more than 30 years and 11,000 performances. This was a great gift of a thing to learn at that age!

Since then I’ve seen Les Misérables five times including with my brother. It was Javert who made him cry and that was fascinating to me. I think I can see why, and he is now one of my favourites too – a character with such idealism his obdurate belief system can only collapse and kill him.

I love the way this is demonstrated in his song Stars which introduces his forceful ideology within the framework of a very simple tinkly tune like a child’s to show the simplicity and limit of his thinking. On occasion, when I’ve had a few, I have been known to force my friends to listen to Les Misérables while I commentate and analyse for them how the music and lyrics operate together!

James Graham – Writer

Credits include: This House (National Theatre & West End), Finding Neverland (Broadway), Labour of Love (Olivier Award winner, Best New Comedy, West End), Ink (Almeida Theatre & West End), Quiz (Minerva Theatre & West End – soon to be a three-part TV drama series for ITV)

My first theatre experience was, I think, the Sooty and Sweep Show at the Nottingham Theatre Royal! (Very high brow). But even though it was based on a children’s tv show I remember the EXCITEMENT of travelling to the theatre, the finding your seat, the lights going down, and the laughter. Everything is better live. Everything. Years later I would have my own play touring to that same stage and the magic is still the same.

Stephenson Ardern-Sodje – Actor

Credits include: Hamilton (West End), Globe On Tour (2020)

One of my earliest theatrical memories is probably seeing The Lion King in the West End. I was about six, or seven years old, and growing up in a small town in the Midlands, I had never seen anything even remotely like it before. The scale and spectacle of the production felt like magic, and seeing a whole company of people who looked just like me really made me realise, for the first time ever, that performing was something I could be involved in. That glorious opening number, complete with magnificent puppeteered animals galloping across the Pridelands, is something I’ll never forget!

Michael Rose – Producer

Credits include: Sleepless, the Musical (Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre) and Big, the Musical (West End)

My first theatre experience was as a child of about seven or eight years old – so it was well over 50 years ago. My parents took my brother and I to see a production of Peter Pan at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle in north east England. It starred Wendy Craig as Peter Pan and I was mesmerised by a magical story unfolding before me and what seemed like thousands of people in the audience.

A couple of years later we had moved to south east London because of my father’s job and at the age of around ten years old – we went to the Victoria Palace in the West End. We were late and again we were sitting in the upper circle which meant we had to go out of the building after collecting the tickets and climb what seemed like never-ending stairs until we finally reached the rear of the seating in the sky.

As we stood at the back – I was so alarmed at the steepness of the seating which appeared like a sheer drop facing the stage – (now looking a long way away) I decided desperate action was required in the darkness as the show was in mid flight. I remember I slid down the steps on my bottom from step to step – which to a small child seemed like the only safe way to deal with the situation. The show was the live West End production of The Black and White Minstrel Show – inconceivable these days but hugely commercial and popular with British audiences 50 years ago!

Those early visits to the theatre embedded into my DNA the desire to recreate those essential few hours of escape from our ordinary and somethings stressful lives. For 35 years I have been attempting to produce the perfect antidote to the often depressing world news which is relentlessly spewed out at us every day on television. Theatre – on the other hand – is like the antidote to the the six o’clock news and much more like therapy – only readily available and cheaper!

Antonia Salib – Actor

Credits include: The Play That Goes Wrong (West End)

I remember seeing This House at the National Theatre in 2012, and although it wasn’t the first piece of theatre I saw, I was really moved by it. It has stayed with me to this day and shows how theatre has the power to affect you. I left the National thinking: I want to be on that stage.

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