A young actor from Newcastle is set to make her debut on London’s West End this autumn, appearing in three plays with the UK’s leading youth arts organisation, the National Youth Theatre.
Leah Mains, who has previously worked at Northern Stage and Live Theatre, will now follow in the footsteps of famous NYT alumni – including Daniel Craig, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Helen Mirren – to perform in the organisation’s sixth annual West End REP season – comprising of the plays Consensual, Victoria’s Knickers, and an abridged production of Macbeth.
‘I’m absolutely buzzing!’ says Leah. ‘I only had about eight weeks or so between finding out that I’d got in to move down and find somewhere to live, but it’s been so exciting. I can’t believe how far I’ve got!’
The National Youth Theatre’s REP company, inspired by the traditional repertory theatre model, was set up by Artistic Director Paul Roseby in 2012 to provide a much-needed free alternative to expensive formal training. Dedicated to championing the diversity and complexity of Britain’s youth in all its forms, and working tirelessly to provide access to creative opportunities for young people from social, cultural and economic backgrounds that are underrepresented in the creative industries, this year 56 percent of the company are actors of colour, with over half coming from low-income backgrounds.
‘Not everyone in the industry wants to train professionally,’ explains Leah. ‘But when you do, like I really wanted to, drama schools are so expensive. So for REP, as a London-based organisation in particular, to give free opportunities to people like me, from the North, to come down and work with industry professionals and be trained in an intensive period of time, as well as perform on the West End, is just incredible.’
The first of the three plays Leah is involved in is Consensual by Evan Placey, which will be performed at the Soho Theatre between 22nd October–9th November. Exploring teacher-pupil relationships and the blurred lines of sex and consent in the UK, it’s a dynamic and playful drama in which Leah promises to bring some Northern representation to the London stage.
‘My character is Taylor, a 15-year-old in the school,’ says Leah. ‘It’s an absolutely brilliant character to play, she’s so fun. I get to dance and MC, so I’ve got a bit of Geordie New Monkey in there! And she’s quite cheeky, the joker of the class, so she’s basically me as a 15-year-old. I think when my Mam comes down, she’s just going to be like: “Leah, it’s just you from school!”’
In Victoria’s Knickers, a comical play following the romantic exploits of a sassy, young Queen Victoria, written by Josh Azouz – which will also run at the Soho Theatre between 26th October–10th November – Leah will play two roles which will, again, bring out the comedic side of her acting abilities.
‘I’m the guard, but I’m not very good at my job,’ says Leah. ‘I’m not doing the things that I should be doing to protect the Royal Family, and I’ve also got a little love story going on with another guard. And then I’m also playing a character called Sonia, who owns the pub where we have a cock fight.’
The last of the REP company’s autumn offerings is a new, gender fluid adaptation of Macbeth, abridged by Moira Buffini, which runs at the Garrick Theatre between 20th November–7th December. It has been in tackling her two characters in this production in particular – both of which traditionally played as men – that has been a new and interesting challenge for Leah.
‘In Macbeth, I’m playing the Porter and I’m also playing Angus,’ she explains. ‘I get to play the comedy in a tragedy, which is really fun. But being in the scenes that I’m in, and being a woman, has really changed the text. Angus is one of the lords, so being in a room full of men at one point and me being quite direct with my language has made me feel really powerful saying the words that I do. And one of the Porter’s lines in his big speech is “to stand to or not to stand to”, where he’s talking about lust and sex. That line is usually referring to himself, but because I’m a woman, I’m now directing that to men. So it’s been interesting to be in that situation where, all of a sudden, you’re looking at the language from a totally different perspective.’
Leah’s route to the West End stage – through a gruelling, four-round audition process – was kick-started back in the North East, where she worked for both Northern Stage and Live Theatre in a series of productions.
‘I worked with Mark Calvert at Northern Stage in a couple of Christmas shows, and then from there I made the connections that helped me to get a job at Live Theatre,’ explains Leah. ‘So then I got to know Katie Weir, who runs theatre company Odd Man Out – I went to Johannesburg with them last year on an international collaboration – and that led to making connections with the NYT. So if it wasn’t for Mark Calvert and Northern Stage, I definitely wouldn’t have met the people that I did back then which have got me to here.’
But performing at the West End for a season isn’t the end of the road for Leah, who has ambitions to remain in London for the foreseeable future and give her acting career the best possible chance for future development.
‘We’ve got a final, one-off show on 21st January, we’re doing To Kill A Mockingbird at The Criterion,’ explains Leah. ‘That hasn’t been cast yet, but we’re doing that with our Assistant Director, Megan Doyle, who is also from Newcastle. And I’ve been sending emails out for representation too, because I’m not represented by an agent at the moment. So that’s what I’m hoping for after we’ve finished our run. I would really like to stay in London and give it a proper shot.’
22nd October–9th November
26th October–10th November
20th November–7th December
To Kill A Mockingbird
For more information, visit www.nyt.org.uk