ArtsEd students are very much in evidence in Chiswick, usually in an exuberant gaggle hanging out in the coffee shop on the corner of the Bath Rd or the kebab shop in Turnham Green Terrace at lunchtime and after classes. Next time you run in to them, bear in mind it might be a future 007 or the star of a West End musical that you’re dripping your decaff latte onto, because the schools’ alumni are a phenomenally successful bunch, and you are likely to come across them again at the cinema, the theatre and on TV.
Current students of ArtsEd Day School and Sixth Form have recently performed in numerous West End productions, including The Lion King, Matilda, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and Kinky Boots alongside countless ArtsEd alumni. Here are a few former ArtsEd students who are making a big name for themselves.
Lashana Lynch. publicity shot for No Time to Die, her Instagram photos filming in Jamaica and her portrait shot when she was at ArtsEd
This summer, a former graduate of their BA (Hons) Acting course made the headlines when she was named ‘by an industry insider’ as not only the next 007 but the first female and the first Black 007 in the James Bond franchise.
Lashana Lynch, who graduated in 2010, has had a stratospheric career since completing her degree. Having had a part in British TV drama series The Bill in 2007, her debut film Fast Girls (2012) saw her playing runner Belle Newman in a British drama about female athletes. The story was about two women on their path to becoming professional sprinters and the director chose young actors who could be credible as their team mates. Over the next four years she played roles in several well-known British TV series including Silent Witness, Death in Paradise and Doctors and she played Ashanti in BrOTHERHOOD, film sequel to Adulthood and Kidulthood – ‘a day in the life of a group of troubled 15-year-olds growing up in west London’.
From the gritty gang culture of London’s mean streets she stepped into the main cast list of an American period drama television series Still Star-Crossed, (2017). In a contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet, Lashana played Rosalind Capulet. Following the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, she is betrothed Benvolio Montague. While she’s busy trying to prevent the marriage, a war between the two families erupts around the unhappy couple. Still Star-Crossed was dropped by the network after one series, but it represented a major boost to Lashana’s career, as it was produced by Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and the political thriller series Scandal.
This year she has really hit the big time, as the ‘breakout star’ of Captain Marvel, alongside Brie Larson (in the title role), Samuel L Jackson, Annette Bening and Jude Law. The film is the third biggest grossing film of the year so far and is the first female-led superhero film to pass the billion-dollar mark. Her character Maria Rambeau is a mate of Captain Marvel’s, a single mother and an Air Force pilot who goes by the call sign “Photon”, who Lashana describes as “an incredible badass” and someone “that you don’t feel like you need to help”.
What better training for her role as 007? Quite what that means we don’t yet know, as Daniel Craig is still the star of the 25th Bond movie. Reportedly, he’s brought back from retirement in Jamaica to fight a new villain. The Mail reported in July: “There is a pivotal scene at the start of the film where M says, “Come in 007”, and in walks Lashana who is black, beautiful and a woman … It’s a popcorn-dropping moment. Bond is still Bond but he’s been replaced as 007.”
Filming No Time to Die in Jamaica is in one sense going back to her roots, as Lashana is of Jamaican heritage. But in another way, appearing alongside Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes (M), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) and Rami Malek (villain) in one of the most successful film franchises ever must seem a long, long way from growing up in west London with ambitions to be an actor. No Time to Die will be in UK cinemas from 2020.
Jac Yarrow publicity shot, on stage with Jason Donovan and Sheridan Smith in Joseph and portrait photo taken while he was at ArtsEd
While Lashana is 31 and already twelve years in to her career, Jac Yarrow hadn’t even graduated from his degree course at ArtsEd when he walked into a lead role in the West End. He found out on his 21st birthday in March this year that he’d got the part of Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Palladium. The show opened in July and he is due to graduate this month.
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber joined Jac and fellow cast members Jason Donovan and Sheridan Smith on stage on the opening night, as the production marked the 50 year anniversary of his first collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice. They were developing Joseph and Jesus Christ Superstar more or less at the same time. Joseph may have made it on to the stage first, but Jesus Christ Superstar was their first collaboration to be performed professionally, on Broadway in 1970. It won Lloyd Webber the Drama Desk award for ‘Most Promising Composer’. I think we can safely say he fulfilled his potential, as nearly 50 years later, this summer he has had no fewer than five musicals playing in London. ArtsEd is lucky to have him as their President and benefactor. The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation made it possible for their fabulous state of the art theatre opened six years ago, owing to a generous donation of £3.5 million and his Foundation is dedicated to encouraging participation and nurturing talent.
It must be quite intimidating for Jac Yarrow, a 21 year old in his first professional gig, to stand on stage as Joseph beside Jason Donovan, who made such a success of the role in the same theatre in 1991 (and now plays Pharoah in the current production). Jac is grateful to the ArtsEd for the thorough grounding they gave him, telling The Stage: “It nailed every element of training. I feel so prepared going into the show.” He’s also been revelling in having the biggest dressing room, which was once occupied by Judy Garland.
Jac has had rave reviews:
LondonTheatre.co.uk – ‘it is newcomer Jac Yarrow who is the stand-out star’ of the show.
The Guardian – ‘Sheridan Smith and Jason Donovan bring charisma to a jubilant revival – but neither can match the young dreamer at its centre … He stops the show with his rendering of Close Every Door, which he delivers with rising anguish’.
The show ends 8 September.
Billy Nevers performing at Arts Ed and posing for his agency
Billy Nevers has also gone straight from the ArtsEd to the West End. He completed his studies in the Sixth Form this summer and started work in July, making his professional debut as part of the Ensemble cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, which has just finished its run at the Barbican. The multi award-winning production played there in July and August following two sell-out seasons at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
A “gorgeous, thrilling, heavenly musical” proclaimed the Guardian.
“A mass delirium of amplified agony and ecstasy” wrote Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph.
‘A hot take on what could easily have become a tiring classic’ said What’s On Stage.
What a fabulous start to a career in musical theatre. In the last week of that production he was already rehearsing for his next professional engagement. He is about to open in &Juliet – Her musical, a brand new pop musical opening in Manchester on 10 September and transferring to London’s West End on 2 November. ‘If music be the food of love, play pop’ says the promo. ‘What would happen if the final scene of Romeo and Juliet changed?’ Audiences are welcomed to the 21st century revamp of this tragedy, in which Juliet lives. ‘Making attempts to get over Romeo, Juliet travels to Paris with the Nurse and her best friends, going on a journey of self-discovery’ which involves songs by Britney Spears, The Weekend and Ellie Goulding apparently. Not one for Shakespeare purists, but I’m sure there’s an audience out there who will love it. Booking currently until Saturday, 28 March 2020.
Thomas Dennis in War Horse, Wireless Operator, a photo from his Instagram account of him meeting a veteran wireless operator, his agency profile shot and appearing in a play at Arts Ed
Thomas Dennis also went straight from the Arts Ed to performing in the West End, direct from the sixth form to the lead role in Simon Stephens’ brilliant play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time three years ago. Thomas, who had come up through the day school at Arts Ed, was the youngest actor to play the part of Christopher Boone, the autistic teenager whose attempt to find out who killed his neighbour’s dog during the night marks the start of an uncomfortable journey.
Even while at school Thomas had played Michael Darling in Peter Pan at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, going pretty much straight from the wrap party into his A Level History exam. “I was squeezing in revision around rehearsals and performances. It was a hectic time but I’m so grateful that the school didn’t make me choose between performing or my studies – they made it possible to do both.”
He has also played the lead role in War Horse, touring the UK in the moving tale of Albert and his horse Joey and their terrifying experiences during the First World War. Playing the role throughout the centenary of the end of the First World War made it a very special experience. He told a journalist last year: “I am honoured to be able to tell this story at such an important time. I am passionate about history and I believe this to be a once in lifetime opportunity. Performing this show during the First World War centenary will be an experience I never forget”.
When he finished touring with War Horse in the summer, he went straight to the Edinburgh Fringe, where his one man show Wireless Operator has had great reviews. When a real wireless operator, a veteran of the Second World War came to see the show, he Tweeted: ‘Having a Veteran Wireless Operator see the show was special. He spoke more about his experiences with me than he ever has before, 75 years later! What an Honour! We could never thank you enough’.
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See also: ArtsEd centenary film
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