I felt like an impostor that had just gate-crashed some celebrity party,’ laughs Laura Jane Matthewson, 24, as she describes the Evening Standard Theatre Awards that took place at the London Palladium on Sunday 30th November. The Sunderland-born actress was brushing shoulders with everyone from Ian McKellen (‘I bumped into him as I was heading to the ladies!’), to Kim Cattrall (‘She told me she liked my eyelashes’), at the glitzy event which celebrates the best in British theatre, where she was being recognised for her role as Rose in the musical Dogfight.
Feeling incredibly lucky just for being shortlisted for an Emerging Talent Award, Laura Jane was completely shocked (and a little unprepared) when she won. ‘I hadn’t planned a speech,’ she admits. ‘I knew who I needed to thank: the producer, the director, my co-star and parents, but it was all a bit of a blur. Normally I’m a bit of a wild card when it comes to public speaking, as whatever I’m thinking just comes out of my mouth, but afterwards everyone was complimenting me on my speech!’
To celebrate, she spent the night partying first at the London Palladium before heading to a celebrity-filled after-party at Sienna Miller’s hotel, mingling with stars of the screen and the stage. However, the next day saw her travelling back to Yeovil, where she’s currently based, for a 10-hour rehearsal for a pantomime. Her role? The Vegetable Fairy. ‘It’s a bit funny because of everything that has just happened, but I had already signed the contract before I had even got the role in Dogfight or been shortlisted for an award,’ explains Laura Jane. ‘I could never have even imagined at the beginning of this year that any of this would have happened, it’s just crazy!’
Laura Jane went to Seaham Youth Theatre from the age of 11, before heading to Newcastle College to study Musical Theatre. She then auditioned for The Royal Academy of Music in London, and was accepted onto their Musical Theatre course when she was just 17 years old. ‘It was amazing! I felt so scared about moving to London, but the course was just the best, and I made some amazing friends,’ she gushes. ‘Everybody was much older than me, as I was the youngest person to have even been accepted onto the Musical Theatre course, so they all took me under their wing and looked after me.’
She made her London stage debut playing Rose in Dogfight in August this year. ‘It was a dream role. I’d never heard of the musical, so I watched the movie and listened to the soundtrack after I got the recall, and just fell in love with it. Rose is such a relatable character for me. When people used to congratulate me on the performance, I used to say, ‘You know that I’m just playing myself?’ because she’s a waitress who loves folk music and writes her own songs.’
Winning the Emerging Talent Award for what she describes as her dream role, more doors are already opening for Laura Jane. ‘When I was in Dogfight, it had already got the ball rolling: I got a fantastic new agent, and had more auditions than ever before, but the award has put me on the map. Casting directors will say, ‘Oh, Laura Jane Matthewson? Yes, she won the Emerging Talent Award. Let’s see her,’ rather than being just another name on a pile of CVs. So, at least for the next few months, the award will hopefully get me in front of more casting directors.’
Although the bright lights of London are calling her, she admits that she does still miss the North East from time to time. ‘I always joke on about missing garlic cheesy chips because I can’t get them down south,’ she laughs. ‘I do miss my family a lot. I feel like the pace in London is so different and fast. It feels like you’re always doing everything on fast-forward.’
Laura Jane Matthewson