The summer family show Swallows & Amazons is extra special for Laura Soper as it marks the first time she has appeared at York Theatre Royal as a professional actor. But it is by no means the first time she has trod the boards at the theatre.
As a member of York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre, she has appeared in main house shows including The Wind in the Willows, King Arthur and Peter Pan (as Wendy). She has had other work since graduating from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School two years ago but Swallows & Amazons marks her debut in York as a professional.
She will also be appearing in the Youth Theatre’s production of Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson making this a double homecoming treat.
“Joining the Youth Theatre was the best thing I ever did,” says Laura. “I was always around the theatre as my parents’ big hobby is opera and both are in York Opera. Growing up I would be in a dressing room or watching them from the wings.
“I grew up knowing that world and was in my first opera when I was 8, in the children’s chorus in Carmen. When I was younger I was quite shy and didn’t know if the whole theatre thing was for me. It was a case of ‘if my parents are doing it, I might as well’.
“After joining the Youth Theatre at 14 I came to realise that this world was for me. My years in the Youth Theatre were such an influential chapter of my life and the opportunities were amazing.”
She made wonderful friends and had great fun in this “important step in my becoming a professional actor”, explaining “My aspirations were taken seriously, I was constantly being pushed with new challenges and was given the most amazing opportunities to perform in professional productions which was such invaluable work experience.
“I feel so lucky to have been a part of it and it’s lovely to be back in the place where everything became possible.”
What brings her back is this year’s summer family production Swallows & Amazons? Co-directed by artistic director Damian Cruden, he helped and encouraged Laura prepare when she decided to audition for drama schools.
“The Youth Theatre believed in me and that really helps your confidence. The opportunities are amazing in Youth Theatre which meant I got to perform on the main stage. In the summer shows the experience of being in a professional rehearsal room made all the difference. I wasn’t going into it thinking, ‘oh, I want to be a star, I want to be famous’. I just really liked the whole process. I absolutely loved the rehearsals, perhaps more than the shows actually.”
Swallows & Amazons, Arthur Ransome’s story of youngsters enjoying adventures afloat in the Lake District, is a great choice to bring her back as the Soper family has regularly holidayed in that region. “I feel connected to the Lake District and also I really like how Arthur Ransome’s writing doesn’t patronise children. He takes them seriously. For them it’s a big deal, a proper adventure however childish and silly it may seem from an adult point of view.”
She is playing Susan, leading Laura to wonder why whenever four children go on adventures, there is always a Sensible Susan. There is one in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe too. “I feel a bit sorry for all the Susans because they are left to make sure everyone gets to bed on time, has enough to eat and does the washing up,” she says.
“I feel like a bit of responsibility to stick up for Susan, to show people she is having fun as well as everyone else but in a different way. I don’t want people to think she’s the boring one because she isn’t.”
This version has music by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and features a cast of actor-musicians. Laura plays trumpet, piano and concertina but in Swallows & Amazons will be playing the recorder, which she learnt to play in an early music ensemble at the National Centre for Early Music in York. “I always get excited to have the opportunity to show that the recorder is a proper instrument, not just a source of ear ache to parents and school teachers,” she explains.
While playing in Swallows & Amazons, Laura will be rehearsing as the only professional in the cast of the Youth Theatre’s summer production, Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson. She has already started aerial training – on hoops – with aerial choreographer Jen Parry at High Hoops studio in Deighton.
“It will be a challenge physically. I’m new to the whole circus thing but it’s great to have the opportunity to learn something new. And, of course, it’s really nice to be working with the Youth Theatre again,” she adds.