Tell us a bit about your journey into musical theatre and how you came to study at the Academy.
I’d always done musical theatre in amateur dramatic settings such as community centres and schools. I grew up in Shrewsbury, and occasionally touring productions would come to the local theatre – they were so polished and well produced that it felt like a world away from what I was doing. I didn’t know how to bridge that gap, so I didn’t think about pursuing it as a career.
After university I moved to London to work for a TV production company. I also sang in a choir and through that I found out that Hamilton was holding open auditions. I sent in a video and ended up being called in to audition for the Swing. I got a call back and eventually got down to the finals. I didn’t get it, but they liked me and suggested that I do some more training. Cameron Mackintosh’s office pointed me towards the Academy and a week later, I auditioned with Dan Bowling. Three weeks after that I started the course – it was quite an unusual route to the Academy. I actually had to start a week late because I had to hand in my notice at work!
What was your experience like on the Musical Theatre course?
It was incredible – I had no idea how much I didn’t know until I started. The course is structured in a way that takes you through the history of musical theatre, starting with Rodgers and Hammerstein and going right up to Lin-Manuel Miranda and the present day. We investigated different movements and trends – it really opened my eyes to how varied and expansive the world of musical theatre is. Physically it was very demanding but also very satisfying – straight away you’re doing dance, vocal, singing and acting lessons, so it stretched me every direction.
We did a lot of really interesting projects with different creatives. One of the great things about the course is that they bring in people who work in the industry – the focus is always about making you aware that you are a hair’s breadth away from the professional world, so it really feels tangible.
The network of MT students and alumni is very strong – have you found that a support since you’ve left? Are you still in touch with many people from the course?
The department is on one long corridor, so you bond with the people in your year very quickly – it’s such a furnace of activity that you are all melded together. I was fortunate that when I finished the course to go into Hamilton, my classmate Sam Oladeinde came with me, and between us we ended up covering all the male roles, so he and I are firm friends.
When you leave, you quickly realise that the Academy’s musical theatre network (the #RAMFAM as it’s known!) is really strong and goes across social media and real life. I often bump into people who went to the Academy before me, and now, people who have graduated after me. There’s a real sense of community and shared experience. When I first started at Hamilton, Christine Allado, who graduated about five years previously, was the original Peggy/Maria, and straight away we started chatting about the Academy. It’s really nice to see the #RAMFAM represented across the West End.
You left the course early to join the Hamilton cast. What was the experience like?
It was a real whirlwind. I started the course a week late and then finished a term early, so I think I might be one of the people to have spent the shortest time at the Academy! We had our agent showcase on the Monday and then the next day Sam and I started rehearsals for Hamilton, so we had to miss the after-show party. We joined as they started rehearsing for their Olivier performance, so we sat in rehearsals with the entire cast, as well as going to individual rehearsals to learn the roles of Hamilton and Burr respectively. Coming straight off the back of the course, we were used to the high intensity and were still in a sponge-like absorbent mode, so going to two hours of vocal and two hours of movement classes every day didn’t faze us too much.
I was fortunate to be thrown in at the deep end, as I made my professional and West End debut as Alexander Hamilton less than a month in – it was really amazing. The company was really supportive and the whole thing felt manageable even though it was so unbelievable. The show went surprisingly well, so I was happy.
What have you been up to since?
I was in Hamilton for almost two years and I’m the only UK Hamilton to have played him across all three casts. I left Hamilton in early 2020 to go into the Globe and have just finished doing A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It and The Tempest. It’s been fun to do something that, on paper, is so different to Hamilton, but in reality, it’s surprisingly similar in that it’s very lyrical. I’ve been really lucky to work with such great material – it really helps you progress as a performer and gives you a safety net when you’re not sure what direction to go in.
You’ve been back on the stage since the pandemic shutdown. What has that experience been like?
It’s been really interesting – the Globe was one of the first big spaces to open in London because it’s open air. We kept socially distanced in the rehearsal room and performances, so if anyone was pinged or went down with Covid we’d be able to carry on. As a result, we weren’t able to hug or have any physical contact and it made us really aware of how important physical proximity is to our industry. It really did feel like something was lacking. When we were back on stage, we weren’t sure how audiences were going to react, but it felt like people were hungry for theatre and that they had missed it. The audiences were so generous and gracious, and willing to meet us halfway as we built back to a place of community and security together. I think a lot of creatives are feeling a bit fragile and vulnerable at the moment, but we’re still hungry to contribute something with that creative energy.
Tell us about your podcast Generation Vex.
It’s a literary and pop culture podcast that I do with two other West End performers, Sharon Rose, who’s currently playing Eliza in Hamilton, and Vanessa Fisher, who’s just about to go on tour as one of the leads in Bring It On: The Musical. We interview British writers of colour about their books, their journey into the industry and what it means to be a voice of the global majority. It was something we started when Sharon and I were both in Hamilton – we wanted to have a book club to force us to read more and we wanted to find a way to hold ourselves accountable. We got in touch with a friend of mine who works in publishing – she helped us contact a lot of the authors. We were still putting episodes together over lockdown, talking to people over Zoom, and it was good to have that distraction.
Do you have any advice for the current students on the Musical Theatre course?
The course is super intense, and it feels like it goes by really fast, so don’t feel like you have to be able to do and manage everything that’s thrown at you. I found the course to be such a useful, almost therapeutic, drilling down to the centre of who I was. My advice is to use your time to find out who you are and who you want to be. Work out the kind of songs you want to sing, the kind of stories you want to tell and the kind of audiences you want to reach. Work out the real reason you want to do it.