Tag Archives: Scottish Performers in Focus

INTERVIEW: George Ure

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George Ure talks to Glasgow Theatre Blog about his beginnings as a schoolboy in Lanarkshire to starring in London’s West End.

Can you tell us what inspired you to go on the path from schoolboy in Airdrie to West End star?

My parents took me to the local children’s theatre when I was about 8, purely to give me something to do on a Saturday. I was already studying piano and trumpet by this point so it was my first real experience of drama as such. Needless to say I loved it from the word go and have been at it ever since! I was fortunate to train at some great schools in Scotland, and also had a very supportive team of drama/music teachers at high school, so I was always very well guided.

You went straight from graduating into the West End, that doesn’t happen to many performers; how did your training prepare you for life in one of the biggest shows in the West End?

I certainly count myself as one of the lucky ones. It’s all about timing, and it just so happened that my dream job opened up at exactly the right time. I had the most wonderful three years at drama school, and I don’t think I would have been mentally prepared to go in to a show like Wicked without it. Lots of people are very talented singers, actors, dancers-that’s why they get in to colleges. But we were always given a very honest and realistic view of what to expect from the business, and likewise, what not to. Apart from the stamina of keeping up 8 shows a week, it’s how to deal with being a good company member, how to negotiate different personalities in a group, and how to remain grounded whilst being part of such a phenomenon.

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As Boq in Wicked

What’s your best memory from your time in Wicked?

I spent three years with the show, so it would be impossible to pick just one. Admittedly, my very first show on 9th June 2008 will stay with me forever. Hearing that overture start then looking out to 2300 people was truly the most exhilarating moment of my life. I had only dreamed of being in the show, so the reality was everything I could have imagined, and so much more. Getting the call to say I was going to play Boq was huge too – it was the absolute cherry on top. There are too many funny moments and offstage memories which kept every day different. Some of them will stay closely guarded secrets!

Wicked fans are known for their fervent devotion to the show; have you had any interesting encounters with the fans?

I was (and am) always overwhelmed by the tremendous loyalty and support shown by fans of the show. They are a big part of your experience as a member of the cast and I always found them to be supportive, respectful and generous. There were a few interesting moments, like getting followed home on the tube, but you have to be prepared for the attention in such a huge West End show, and remember that it’s a heightened reality.

What do you think your strengths as a performer are?

I like to consider myself versatile, and always look to broaden my skills. The business calls for multi-faceted performers these days, so you have to be very pro-active in maintaining your voice, body and mind, and learning new things that can open up work to you.

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With the students at Mountview Academy

You have been working at Italia Conti with young performers: can you tell us about that?

Being able to work in drama colleges and teach the standard of talent I am presented with every day is truly a joy. I spent a wonderful year with the students at Mountview Academy, and it’s great to have new faces at Italia Conti. Its reputation is world famous and the students are a joy.

What advice do you find yourself giving to the aspiring actors there?

I always aim to be completely honest with students, whether it is what they want to hear or not. This is a very exciting business to work in, but it is also a tough one, and I think it is vital to inform students of the highs and lows, and the do’s and dont’s as I see them from my experience.

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Harriet Thorpe as Madame Morrible in Wicked

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

The beautiful Harriet Thorpe (above) once told me “there are two types of people in your life; radiators and drains. Go to the radiator”. I stick by that at all times. I am always grateful to have been surrounded by such true friends.

You have been working as a freelance vocal coach, tell us about that.

This job takes me all over the place and makes every day interesting. I have the joy of being able to go to different colleges/schools, and work with highly talented individuals looking to make their way in the industry. I have recently been appointed Head of Music at West End Masterclass, which is a tremendous training ground for talent. The buzz from being a teacher is just as huge as standing on stage. When a student calls you to say they have their first job it’s the best. Last night I saw two of my boys play leads in Taboo, and have never felt prouder.

There are many Scottish theatre performers currently making their mark in musical theatre, what particular traits do you think that Scots performers have that makes them stand out from the rest?

The accent! Regional accents instantly grab people’s attention, and make you stand out. Also, Scots have “the banter”!

What advice would you give to a young person in Scotland who is thinking about embarking on a career in musical theatre?

Go for gold. Set your eyes on the prize and never settle for second best. If you are hungry, passionate and driven then you are half way there. Be a sponge – listen to EVERYONE and see what works for you. Be open and eager to learn. The only thing that will hold you back is yourself so aim high and push through.

What ambitions would you still like to fulfil?

There are lots of things I still want to do. I feel I am only at the start, and always look forward to what new opportunities may arise. An Oscar would be nice. So would a Tony and a number 1 album…time will tell. I’m not in a race to the finish.

Tell us what’s next for you in 2013 and beyond.

I am off to Dubai in April to play Tobias in Sweeney Todd for a limited run. This ticks off two of my dream roles and I am delighted to be part of this epic new production. After that…who knows? That’s the exciting part!

Do you have a message for your fans?

Thank you for your unwavering support, and for always being so wonderfully kind and loyal. You will never know how much it means to know you have so many people on your side in what is an unpredictable business.

Finally, describe yourself in three words for us!

Positive, Passionate, Happy….(And just a wee bit mental 😉 )

G x

Follow George on Twitter @george_ure

More information about West End Masterclass here

INTERVIEW: Kieran Brown

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Over the past few years Kieran Brown has managed to firmly establish himself in the West End with roles in such blockbuster shows as: Love Never Dies, Wicked and the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary concert at the O2. As well as this Kieran is an established international concert and cabaret performer and pantomime veteran. Glasgow Theatre Blog had the chance to ask him some questions in a rare break from his hectic schedule.

You’ve just finished appearing in Scotland’s biggest pantomime as Prince Charming at The King’s Theatre; tell us how the panto experience compares to your usual musical theatre and concert work.

Well, I’ve done quite a few panto’s before, but nothing NEARLY as big (or important to me) as the Kings in Glasgow – it’s the one that I’ve wanted to do since I was a little boy, when I used to come see them as a child. It’s just been the most TREMENDOUS fun with the BEST company of people, who treated it with respect and care, which is what so many other panto companies and productions don’t do. The rapport that you get to have with the audience in Glasgow is second to none. Every friend of mine who visits Glasgow with a production mentions how “up for it” and friendly the audiences at the Kings are and it’s true!

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Jenny Douglas and Kieran Brown as Cinderella and her Prince Charming at this year’s King’s Theatre pantomime.

Who or what inspired you to become a performer?

Not sure really. Certainly I was encouraged by my old Drama teacher/Mentor, Bill Graham who died a few years back. He had a HUGE influence on me, from when he directed me in the Falkirk Children’s Theatre and throughout high school and my time with Tryst Theatre Company. He really gave me the very best base training, encouraged and prepared me for drama school. I’ll always be incredibly grateful to him for that.

What advice would you give to any aspiring performer?

Be realistic about your goals, don’t take anything personally, and persevere. If it’s really your passion, then take the knocks (and there are many!) but don’t give up.

You have a full CV ranging from musicals, concert performances, cabaret, as well as directing; where does your heart really lie?

At the moment it is still performing but I have done a bit of directing and I think certainly in the future it is where I want to go. I can’t see me ever wanting to give up performing, so if I can flit between then great. I am a bit of a perfectionist and a control freak and it is very hard when as an actor you are asked to do something by a director that you KNOW inside you is the wrong choice, but my job as an actor is to do what I am told. Directing however, is different, and a HELL of a lot more stressful, but it’s definitely what I want to do more of. I am currently assistant director for a very exciting new production of Chess at the Union Theatre. A very good friend of mine, Chris Howell is directing and I am enjoying watching his processes and reasoning as he guides his actors to get the best out of them and the piece.

You have been involved in mega musicals such as Wicked and the 25th anniversary Les Mis concert; what is it like to perform in something so big and so beloved by so many?

It’s quite surreal to begin with but the most important thing is to remember that these people love the piece and they have paid a lot of money to watch it, so you HAVE to do the best that you can do. With Wicked, it’s such a well oiled machine and is VERY carefully looked after by a brilliant team who know the piece inside out so you know you are in safe hands. It’s the same with most of the big, long(er) running shows. What I’d love though is to be involved in something new. That’s a real goal –  to be in the original cast  and create something that hopefully people will love in years to come. I am SO envious of all these amazing performers who were involved with the original productions of shows like Les Mis, or Phantom etc. That’s really a dream of mine.

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Wicked is known for its rather devoted fans; did you have any interesting stage door encounters with the super-fans?

They are really the most amazingly dedicated bunch and I have met some real sweethearts and lovely people at the stage door, who’ve become good friends! The support from some of them has carried on after I left Wicked – a few even come up to Glasgow to see me do Cinderella and came to my cabaret “A West End Christmas In Glasgow” which I was really touched about. It’s always a bit disconcerting when you walk out of stage door and you see people “greenified”! I usually didn’t get recognised as I had to have a shaved head for the show. You do get a few who are a bit pushy/rude and are only interested in the two lead females, but on the whole it’s a great atmosphere. Takes a bit of getting used to. On our last night (Rachel Tucker’s last) it was CRAZY! I’ve never seen so many people at stage door anywhere before! My favourite was at the last night of Love Never Dies. Hundreds of people, and one lady asked if she could have a picture with me. I obliged (of course!), and the woman behind asked if I would sign her programme. When I did, the lady with the camera came to me and asked if I was the Phantom. “I wish” I replied, then she said very disappointedly “Oh” and promptly deleted the picture of me right in my face…! I just laughed!

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Kieran as Raoul in Love Never Dies

I see you’ve worked extensively in Vienna as an actor, concert soloist, and as a director; can you tell us about that?

I spent 6 years on and off living in Vienna and dividing my time between there and the UK. It’s really one of my favourite places to be and like my second home so I try to visit my friends there as much as I can. There is a great theatre scene over there and I worked for the International Theatre, which is now sadly closed, and the Vienna Theatre Project (sic). I recently did a series of three cabaret concerts called “West End Winters” with a German musical star Caroline Frank, which sold out, so we are hoping to make them a regular thing and do some more in a couple of months. There is nothing like that on the theatre scene in Vienna and word of mouth quickly spread so by the last night we had 30 people queuing for returns which was a lovely feeling! Vienna also gave me an opportunity to direct – I did “Over The Threshold” (which I was also in) and “A Christmas Carol”. It was a great place to dip my toes in the directorial water and I really learned a lot from the processes.

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A Christmas Carol in Vienna

What ambitions would you still like to fulfil?

Well, to direct more, do a bit more TV again, and there are a few parts I’d love to play – Phantom in “Love Never Dies”, Joe in “Sunset Boulevard” (and there was me thinking I wasn’t such a Lloyd Webber fan!!!). I really want to do more plays/straight theatre again though. I’d love to do a period drama, like Bleak House, or Downton Abbey or something similar.

If you could create a fantasy production to star in what would it be and who would you cast alongside you?

Eeeek, this is a hard one! Well, ANYTHING with Dame Judi Dench, of course! Sorry if that’s a bit of a cliché but it’s true.

What do you do to chill out when you’re not on stage?

Not much! I find I have VERY little time – I’m always doing gigs or concerts so my spare time is somewhat precious! I’ve made a resolution to create more time for myself this year though, so we’ll see – maybe I’ll have time to discover a hobby!

Tell us what’s next for Kieran Brown.

At the moment, I have no idea! Chess will keep me busy for now, but I’m generally waiting on my agent to call with auditions! I will be back to Vienna I’m sure in the spring to do some more concerts, I am a guest performer for Annemarie Lewis Thomas (Principal and founder of the MTA in London), alongside the AMAZING Ria Jones, Shona White and Caroline Kieff at the Landor Theatre on Feb 15th.  Other than that… watch this space!

Finally, describe yourself in 3 words!

Sparkly. Ambitious. Scottish!

For more about Kieran visit his website at http://www.kieranbrown.com/

Follow on Twitter @LuciferBox

Chess is at the Union Theatre from 13th February – 16th March details here

*My interview with Kieran’s co-star Jenny Douglas here

INTERVIEW: Jenny Douglas

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Since her first appearance as an 18 year old on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for Dorothy in Over The Rainbow, Jenny Douglas has made a huge impact on the musical theatre scene. Personally headhunted by Queen’s Brian May to star in the tour of  We Will Rock You, she has gone from strength to strength as a performer, with her powerhouse voice winning her a legion of  fans the length and breadth of the UK. I had the chance to catch up with Jenny to ask her about her phenomenal achievements in the few short years since leaving Over the Rainbow.

You’ve just finished your first pantomime as Cinderella back home in Scotland; how does the panto experience compare to something like We Will Rock You?

Cinderella was my first Panto and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as it’s so different to anything I’ve done before! I had such a blast at the Kings! There is so much audience participation to keep you on your feet! And with an audience like Glasgow there’s never a dull moment! Panto gives people a chance to let go and get involved.

Did you learn any panto tricks or tips from your co-stars?

I fell ill towards the end of the run and the term “Hot Toddy” got thrown around a few times!  Basically – have a wee whisky to coat yer throat lol!

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You’ve achieved so much at such a young age, can we go back to where it all started? When did you discover that you had a talent for performing; was it at a very young age or did anyone or anything in particular inspire you to pursue a career in theatre?

I have always loved musical theatre; it’s a big family thing. I’ve always loved changing my voice to different characters and styles it’s just so much more fun than straight up acting or singing!

We can’t go without mentioning Over the Rainbow; what are your best and worst memories from your time on the show? 

My best and worst memory from Over the Rainbow was when we were at the Dorothy Farm with the final 50 girls. We were split into groups and asked to perform our final song and then the judges would whittle it down to the top 20 for the live show. Once we had performed we were asked in true reality TV style to line up and sing “Over The Rainbow” repeatedly. Charlotte Church was given the awful task of then walking around the lines of girls and tapping the unsuccessful girls on the shoulder and that would be the end of their journey. Charlotte did so well to remember all the girl’s faces from the photos she was given but had accidentally tapped my shoulder. I knew this was it for me and joined the other girls who were going home… It was safe to say I was gutted. The final 20 where left and it was then that a producer came towards me and said: “You’re meant to be over there Jenny” You can imagine my absolute disbelief and pure joy as I joined the final 20! I’ll never forgot how that felt, all in a matter of 3 minutes I had experienced both sides! A total roller-coaster!

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You interrupted your training to appear on Over the Rainbow, is there anything you regret about giving up your studies?

I did at first, I had so much more to learn and had always thought I’d spend at least four years training up in Scotland. Everyone has different paths to take in life and mine just happened to lead me to learning on the job. I learned so much playing Meatloaf in We Will Rock You and to be honest no matter how long you train for you never stop learning ! 🙂

Have you changed as a performer since we saw you in Over the Rainbow?

Absolutely! I was 18 when I auditioned for Dorothy and I had no training or experience behind me which wasn’t great for my self-confidence, especially being surrounded by so many talented girls: some who had trained for years at top London schools and others who had even done West End shows! It was safe to say I felt out of my league! It’s the same as any job there’s always going to be people who excel in things you don’t, the important thing is to believe in your own abilities and give it everything you have!

In a short time you went straight from appearing on TV to a starring role in We Will Rock You. It must have been a complete whirlwind, how did your life change after these amazing things started happening?

By this point I had just turned 19 and I was about spend 18 months away from home which was really hard to comprehend. I’m really independent but without sounding cheesy “There’s no place like home” ha ha! I actually met my boyfriend on the tour and we have lived together for just over two years now and that was something I never expected to happen! I also got my courage up and climbed Kilimanjaro in the summer – it was a truly awesome year!

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Meatloaf is such an iconic stage role. How did you make your own mark on the character?

I saw “Meatloaf” as this real comical character. She is one of the Bohemians searching for the lost music, a scavenger who has just happened to rummage across a studded corset, ripped denim shorts paired with some fishnets, suspenders and zip-up biker boots! She stomps around on stage, never crosses her legs and barks orders at all the other Bohemians…. Including her other half Britney Spears. In short; she’s the Boss, she wears the trousers… well hot-pants!

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Two of the actresses who have played Meat (Kerry Ellis and Rachel Tucker) have gone on to play Elphaba in Wicked; would that be a role you’d like to play?

I’d love to, a girl can only hope.

Are there any other stage roles that you’d love to play or shows you’d like to be in?

Oh jeez there are so many…I don’t know how much space you have! I’d love to do Mamma Mia and My Fair Lady… If Calamity Jane ever comes back I’d be on it like a car bonnet!

In a long tour like We Will Rock You, you’re away from home for long periods of time, what home comforts do you take with you?

My hot water bottle.

What interests do you have away from the stage?

I play my guitar in any spare time I have and I occasionally paint, but I am truly awful at it.. I think I just like to get messy.

What ambitions would you still like to fulfil?

Honestly, as far as theater goes it’s just such an unstable job to have I’d be happy just to work consistently.  I’m easily pleased. I would like to be able to get to a higher standard on my guitar as at the moment I’m just starting to comfortably accompany myself.

What advice would you give any aspiring performer?

“It’s never a NO… It’s just not right now.” Auditions can be tough and you can face a lot of rejection, The important thing to remember is to believe in your abilities!

What have you got planned for 2013 and beyond?

Auditions. Auditions. Auditions… and unpacking as I’ve just moved flat … not got round to it yet he he!

Do you have any message for your fans?

Oh jeez…Thank-you! To everyone who voted for me on Over the Rainbow right at the start of my career… I have you to thank for everything that’s come my way. Honestly I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you guys ! 🙂

Follow Jenny on Twitter @Jaydeedouglas

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