Tell us about your journey into musical theatre and studying at the Academy.
I had been involved with amateur dramatics at home in Stoke since the age of about four, and then I joined the Stoke Youth Musical Theatre Company.
By chance, I had seen a post on social media looking for a tenor to help with a showcase of a new musical in London. I sent them a video of me singing ‘Anthem’ and ended up being accepted onto the showcase. During the showcase the cast suggested I should go to drama school instead of Bath Spa, where I already had a place.
The first open day I went to was at the Royal Academy of Music. Within 20 minutes of arriving, I knew it was where I wanted to go. I can pinpoint the exact moment I realised. We were walking from the main entrance to the York Road space and there was a cacophony of noise from every single side – opera, trumpet, violins, everything. It was chaos and I just thought ‘this is home’. In the lunch break I cancelled my applications to all the other drama schools.
I knew it was a long shot because I didn’t have an undergraduate degree and I was a 19-year-old who had never had any singing lessons. When the letter came through offering me a place, I screamed myself hoarse with excitement.
When I look back now, I can’t believe that little kid from Stoke went to the Royal Academy of Music and worked with all these amazing people who have shaped the industry. It still blows my mind, but it was one of the best years of my life and set up the rest of my career.
What were the highlights of your time training at the Academy?
The first one that comes to mind is our performance of A Little Night Music. It has been my favourite Sondheim ever since then. It was the first time I’d ever been able to let loose with my acting. I remember one day having a rehearsal where I kept getting everything wrong and went home and cried my eyes out. The next day I came in for a rehearsal with Matt Ryan [Project Director on the Academy’s Musical Theatre course], and within five minutes he just looked at me and said, ‘You’ve got it’. I had really been doubting myself, but that one line gave me so much confidence and reassured me I was good enough.
The whole year was just a never-ending stream of positives, from opening what was the St James Theatre (now the Other Palace) to singing an unbelievable a cappella version of ‘Barcelona’ with our entire year group at graduation. I have nothing but good memories of my time there.
You mentioned doubting yourself. How do you get over those feelings, especially in such a competitive industry?
I’ve only stopped having those thoughts in the past six months, since I got The Phantom of the Opera. Suddenly cast members and creatives on the show were saying all these wonderful things to me. Your mental health can do its best to knock you down, but when enough people are telling you positive things, at some point you have to listen. So now, if doubt creeps into my head, I remind myself that I wouldn’t be where I am now if I wasn’t good enough.
The worst thing that can happen in an audition is that someone says ‘no’. You can’t let the setbacks destroy you otherwise the industry will start to take its toll on you.
I think there needs to be a dedicated, trained mental health professional on every show. It needs to be a free service, because a lot of the actors who may need it wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Everyone can struggle with their mental health. It’s normal. Especially in our industry, where 90% of the time you’re being told ‘no’. Being in a show is a job, and as with most jobs, there are days you might be thinking ‘I’d rather be at home’. We’re supposed to be eternally grateful for being in a show. We’re never ungrateful, but there are just times when you’d love an extra day off. And that’s absolutely fine. It’s a human reaction.
How did the Academy help you to prepare for the realities of the industry?
One of the biggest things the Academy drummed into us was work ethic. If you work hard and bring a good energy, people will want to work with you again.
Also, our Course Leader at the time, Karen Rabinowitz, gave a talk to all the graduates and said, ‘It’s going to be difficult. You’re going to struggle. You’re going to feel sad. That’s OK – that’s the industry’. I don’t think many drama schools tell you that.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
Without question, going on as Count Quintet in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Magician’s Elephant.
The show was on last Christmas, and it was still peak Covid times. We had people dropping like flies from the show. There was already one cover for the role of the Count but I offered to be another one as a contingency plan, thinking it would never come to anything.
I was travelling back to Stratford-upon-Avon after the Christmas break when I got a call saying that both the actors playing the Count had gone off. For the rest of the car journey, I was watching archive videos of the show, trying to learn the dance numbers, and then went straight into rehearsals.
I went on as the Count the next day, after about five hours of rehearsal and a cobbled-together costume, doing a dance number with a life-size baby elephant puppet on stage. I still don’t know how I did it, but I have never been prouder of myself in my life.
One of the positives within the industry, since the pandemic, is that covers and swings are getting the respect they deserve. They have been the unsung heroes and it’s about time they are the sung heroes. For me, being a swing is the hardest acting job out there. It pushed me to my limits.
You were also asked to be emergency cover for The Phantom of the Opera. How did that come about?
It had been two-and-a-half years since I’d last done Phantom. I was waiting to hear from my agent about another audition when I got a call asking if I could go and be emergency standby Piangi due to Covid absences. I ended up going on for three shows and had an absolute blast.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?
I can’t really say any actors because I never knew enough about them growing up. My inspiration comes from people who have helped and nurtured me – my mates, my parents, the people who helped me at Stoke Youth Musical Theatre Company. They’re all people who pushed me and made me fall in love with theatre.
I’m from a working-class town and I’ve had to work to get to where I am. So for me, inspiration comes from the people who are constantly met with adversity and work hard to push through it.
What is your dream role?
How long have you got? The big three at the moment would be Phantom, Valjean in Les Misérables and Beetlejuice, which is one of my favourite new musicals.
What’s your next project?
I’m auditioning and waiting to hear back on a few jobs. I also perform piano singalongs at the Phoenix Arts Club and the Piano Works three or four times a week. It’s great because now I’m a gigging musician as well, which is something I never thought I could do. I’m getting to live out my childhood dream of being a rockstar!
People can request any song they want, and no night is ever the same. One shift I went from playing ‘Vincent’ by Don McLean to Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ to a song by Ed Sheeran.
When I first started this gig, I had a bit of imposter syndrome because the other performers are all incredible musicians who can play solo pieces for hours, whereas I play chords and sing. But I play rock music which brings my own unique energy. It means even when I’m not in a show I’m still performing live music. I’ve locked onto the dream job and I absolutely love it.
What advice would you give to the current graduating students on the Musical Theatre course?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough or that you’re not worthy. The people who say that to you are feeling insecure in themselves or their own ability – they put you down to make themselves feel better.
Work hard, but don’t work yourself too hard.
Stop trying to be perfect. I know some people who will spend hours working on their self-tape auditions, doing 50 or 60 takes trying to get it perfect. I do a maximum of three takes. I don’t put any stress on myself. If there’s a noise in the background and the casting directors get distracted, I’m obviously not doing a good enough job to keep their attention. The whole nature of theatre is that it is live and it’s never going to be perfect. You can keep striving to be better, but don’t strive for perfection because it’s an unachievable goal.