by Hannah Grace Lawson
Theatre, and strangely enough Les Misérables, has always been a part of my life; my mum trained on the dance course at Laine Theatre Arts when she was sixteen (in the same year as Ruthie Henshall). Two years into her career she met my Dad, a drummer on the pantomime she was performing in, and quickly their relationship blossomed! She then stopped performing and had me and I was sent to dance classes as soon as she could enroll me; I started at three doing tap and ballet and I LOVED it.
A few years into lessons, my dance teacher convinced my mum that I could also sing, so at ten years old I auditioned for a “stage experience” in Manchester, where they were staging a production of Annie. To my parents’ surprise, and mine, I was given the leading role! It was such a valuable experience; working with a very focused, professionally run team.
Some of my older cast mates attended a nearby Performing Arts College and they informed me that they needed a young Cosette for their production of Les Mis, so after singing for the team I was offered the role. Then, at the school where I completed my GCSE’s, I also got to play Cosette in their production! I’ve had the pleasure of doing the show another two times with amateur dramatic societies too, this time playing Eponine!
I was fortunate enough to later audition for drama colleges in London and attained a place at Arts Ed. It was an amazing place to be; fantastic tutors were coming in to work with us, the facilities were exceptional and I loved the equal importance placed on all the skills we were there to learn. My confidence was knocked a little when I was placed in the lower set for dance ability, but, looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened for me. My pick up skills weren’t great and it pushed me to improve and keep up with everyone else. I would stay extra hours after classes ended, which was hard work, but it payed off when I got to play Dale Tremont in our third year production of Top Hat!
During rehearsals for Top Hat, our principal brought some casting directors in for a meet and greet. We were each given one on one time to audition for them, with the hope of professional auditions to follow. My first was for Mamma Mia! The recall process was grueling and it was my first experience of auditioning in a room full of other girls who looked and danced like me! I didn’t make it past my recall, which was my first taste of rejection blues. But I dusted myself off and concentrated on another audition I had coming up, for Les Mis.
I knuckled down and learnt all the Cosette and Eponine material I was sent, I fought off the dreaded winter colds and went in feeling determined. Eventually I was informed that I was being considered for the role of Cosette, alongside my friend from college, Amara Okereke.
I arrived for my finals at nine o’clock in the morning, nervous but determined and walked on to the stage of the Queen’s Theatre, to audition in front of Cameron Mackintosh himself. I remember thinking to myself, “whatever the outcome, this experience is incredible”.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the role, but I couldn’t have been happier that it was given to Amara! After a tense three weeks of not hearing anything, I was offered the chance to understudy the role! I was over the moon and felt such a relief that I would be starting my career in London’s West End.
The first day of rehearsals was unforgettable; the old cast welcomed us all so well and we shared fun facts to get to know one another. We started by learning the music and, after hearing those iconic songs being sung by such an accomplished cast, I just thought to myself, “Wow, this is so special”.
I have already learned so much about myself as a performer and a person. Eight shows a week is certainly improving my vocal stamina and I still make sure I attend regular dance classes, just to keep in shape!
In college, I worked so hard to get the results I wanted, sometimes resulting in me getting into my own head and doubting myself. Whereas now, I feel like I have achieved my goal, so I don’t feel the need to prove myself to anyone other than myself. It feels very freeing!
I often wonder if the ten year old me, singing "Castle on a Cloud" in her audition, would ever have thought her dreams of performing on the West End stage would finally come true.
You can catch Hannah in Les Miserables at The Queen’s Theatre, London.