Having run Peer Productions for eleven years and now trained well over one hundred young people on our unique actor training programme, it is a tremendous pleasure to see updates from our graduates or to bump into them and hear their news.
I live a little vicariously through them and I root for them as they grow and develop, not just as artists, but as people. I am a mother hen and, even as our first couple of cohorts approach their thirtieth birthdays, I feel proud and in awe of their brilliant achievements. Collating an article like this is no mean feat, with so many extraordinary people doing so many extraordinary things. Here’s just taster of what some of our gang have been up to.
Every year, we send practitioners on to drama schools and very year I now have the joy of seeing a flurry of graduation pictures from schools like LAMDA, GSA, Central School of Speech, East 15, Rose Bruford and many more. This year, amongst those graduating is Christine Mears (PP Class ’14), who will be leaving Rose Buford after three years on the European Theatre Arts Degree, where she has recently won the Jacqueline Nicholls Award for Excellence in Directing.
“I first had a taste of directing at Peer Productions when I directed my first show. I can honestly say that this is where my excitement and enthusiasm for directing started! I am currently preparing to direct a children’s show called How to Save a Little World by Matthew Anderson, which will be performed on the 16th of July in the second largest greenhouse in Britain, The Winter Gardens in Avery Hill Park in Eltham, Kent” says Christine.
I can’t wait to see what Christine does next as she joins so many of our graduates who produce original, interesting and insightful theatre. This time of year also prompts a cascade of Edinburgh Festival plugs. Most years, we have so many of the extended PP family there that I wonder if we should just take over a venue! Exist Theatre will be returning to the festival with their one-man play, Bleach, written and performed by alumnus Dan Ireland-Reeves (PP Class ’09). This is following its success at the Manchester Fringe Theatre Festival and International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2017, where Dan was nominated for the Micheal Mac Liammoir Award for outstanding Male Performance.
Amongst others, Dan will be joined by alumni Polly Bycroft-Brown (PP Class ’13) who, having graduated from East 15 studying Physical Theatre, is heading to the Fringe with Ditto Theatre Company and their production, Ingo’s War.
Alex Maude (PP Class ’13) – who went on to train with The Bridge – will also be treading the boards in Paul Vitty’s play, Lipstick and Scones at The Space on The Mile, and Alice Cockayne (PP Class ’15) – currently training at Rose Buford – will be in a comedy sketch show called Two Girls and a Lot of Carrots.
Closer to home, our team continue to make their mark. Having finished a run in the West End in The Book of Mormon earlier this year, Lydia Fraser (PP Class ’09) shared her improvisation skills playing Beyonce in Murder in Successville on BBC3. Meanwhile Anthony Stephen Springall (PP Class ’08) announced another impressive collaboration for his company The Alchemist Theatre Company working with Bear Trap Theatre and writer Janet Etuk to complete the final development of MKPA MBIET (Dead Grass).
Katherine Carlton’s (PP Class ’10) impressive CV continues to develop. She’s currently on a UK tour with a new version of The Railway Children until the end of the year, and is in a soon to be launched Virtual Reality game, called The Invisible Hours. We must also not forget alumnus Rebecca Alloway (PP Class 13) who, in addition to developing her own work in theatre and comedy, is Associate Director and oversees our training programme here at Peer Productions.
It is not just in the theatre world where our graduates continue to impress. Robert England (PP Class ’13) now works in journalism for BBC news, and Simon Overington-Hickford (who has recently completed a Traineeship with Unlimited) works with an arts commissioning programme that aims to embed work by disabled artists within the UK and international cultural sectors, reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people.
This week, I was lucky enough to bump into Daniel Brewerton (PP Class ’08) who, alongside his successful voice-over work (Cadburys and Disney are amongst his clients), has devised a show he toured to older people’s centres, specifically for those with dementia and has developed Seeing the Sound. This innovative project produces short Audio Animated Stories designed specifically for children who are visually impaired. Dan approached the Royal Society for Blind Children and gained funding from Arts Council England to produce the first six Audio Animated Stories, which will aim to inspire progressive, accepting morals and will include a diverse ensemble of voice actors playing a wide range of differently abled protagonists.
The alumnus who has been on my mind the most though, without a doubt, is Chris Aukett (PP Class ’08). Chris has a special place in the company, as he was in a youth theatre production which inspired the project and it was his performance which, unconventionally, won us our first grant. Back in the early 2000s, it was fashionable for young people to be given money with which they could commission services. I found myself with a bunch of great youth guys sat in front of a cynical group of teenagers who held our fate in their hands. One of the less sympathetic amongst them, not really understanding the nuances of Applied Theatre Practice, said “so you can act – prove it!”.
I opened my mouth to tell them they’d do no such thing, concerned about the devastating effect it could have if one of our guys performed and we were refused the grant, but 16 year-old Chris was already up and waving me away. “I got this” he said, and I watched on helpless as he stepped up on the stage. He performed a monologue from the play we were touring and you could have heard a pin drop. It was his performance that won us our first grant and that made Peer Productions possible. Chris trained with us in 2008 and went straight onto LIPA, where his already considerable raw talent was honed. He has worked regularly since then, but has always fallen just shy of the bigger jobs. This year, he made his West End Debut in Wind in the Willows and three week’s later, he found himself in the lead role of Toad with only two hours rehearsal after Rufus Hound became too unwell to perform.
‘Chris Aukett, stepping in for an unwell Rufus Hound as Mr Toad, is flawless, proving that any performance with the understudy is no less fantastic. His energetic madness on stage is a marvel to watch and certainly does the almost legendary character justice.’ – The Upcoming. Of course, I already knew he could perform under pressure and we wish him every success in what I am sure will continue to be a sparkling and exciting career.
Interested in how to cement your own performing future? Applications for our 2017/18 cohort on our free one-year, full-time Actor Development Programme are still open.
Nina Lemon, Artistic Director