Andrew Lynford became a household name playing Simon Raymond in the popular soap opera EastEnders. Since leaving his career has diversified and he has also established himself as a director, television presenter, producer and choreographer. His next project is the world premiere production of Carnival Dreams the Musical which will be presented at the Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon from 3–6 February.
You originally trained as an actor but was it your intention to eventually direct?
My early dream was to be an actor. After graduating from Mountview in 1992 I worked pretty consistently, in drama and musical theatre, with some great people, making brilliant contacts and always learning. Then in 1996 I was offered the controversial role of Simon Raymond in EastEnders and appearing in such an iconic programme really raises your profile. When I left in 1999 I was given the opportunity to diversify into other areas and as a creative person I get a real buzz from new challenges. My CV now includes writing credits as well as directing plays and musicals. I have also produced, I teach and I work as a theatrical agent. I love the variety that my career has given me. I enjoy everything I do and long may it continue.
Your impressive directing credits have covered a wide spectrum of genres, from drama and comedy to musicals and pantomime – do you have a favourite?
That’s difficult! Panto is always fun and I love the fact that you are creating a spectacle for the whole family. I am really passionate about all forms of entertainment so to pinpoint one genre is tough.
You are currently working on Carnival Dreams the Musical. Tell us a bit more about the show and your vision?
Carnival Dreams is a musical with many faces. It has the vibrancy of carnival but also carries a strong message about community and diversity. There are dark elements to it because it tackles issues such as bullying, abuse, racism and homophobia, but it is also inspiring, showing how we all should work and live together to overcome such issues. My vision is that it will entertain and make the audience laugh, but also make them think.
What would you like your audience to go way thinking after seeing Carnival Dreams?
Obviously I’d like them to go home thinking they’d seen a great show, but I’d also like them to think about the social messages and how it affects their community.
As you mention, the musical covers a range of issues such as bullying, bigotry and physical and mental abuse. Is it a challenge highlighting those issue surrounded by the feathers and sequins of Carnival?
Yes of course, because people often think that musicals are frothy and frivolous. But you just have to look at some of the great musicals such as West Side Story and Les Mis. They are strong and bold. The music and story totally absorbs you – and I hope that will be the case with this production.
You workshopped the musical last September. Was this useful in the development of the project and did it help you creatively, knowing a public performance was to be launched?
Of course! It was great to be able to workshop the musical and I am delighted that I can work on the actual production. Workshops are so useful because you can see things that work and things that need to be developed. It gave all the team the opportunity to reflect and learn.
What were you looking for during the casting process and did your opinions change during that time?
I am so thrilled with the cast that we have. We have some very experienced performers who will be brilliant and some great new talent too. It was important for all of us to get the right actors for the roles and we have done that. We always wanted a name for one of the leads and in the early stage we were not sure which role that would be. Then we met with Cheryl and everything fell in to place.
The wonderful Cheryl Fergison is heading the cast. Like you she became a household name due to EastEnders, but is in fact a hugely talented actress and musician. Do you think audiences will be surprised?
Cheryl is so experienced and has done masses of work. I think if people come along expecting to see a duplicate Heather in EastEnders, they will be very pleasantly shocked – she is going to be brilliant and very moving too.
There are so many wonderful and well-established musicals being presented at the moment, why do you think people should support new musical theatre?
Because we always need new work. Over the years so many great, memorable musicals have been created, but there is always room for more and that should be encouraged, otherwise we become stagnant.
You’ve written a musical yourself, what is the most difficult aspect of creating something new?
You have a vision that you commit to paper and then you have to bring it to life – and sometimes you have to compromise. I think that can be the most difficult aspect, especially when it is your baby.
Has making your name in a soap being a blessing or a hindrance to your career development?
Without a doubt, it was a blessing. Obviously people get worried about being typecast but EastEnders opened lots of other doors for me and I will always be grateful.
What are your future plans?
Well, after Carnival Dreams I am locating to LA for a year, which is very exciting – part of my work will be with the agency but there are other possibilities too so watch this space.
Andrew has written a 1970s musical called Disco Crazee, which was produced by Bruce James in 2005 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and subsequently toured Britain. He has also scripted many pantomimes across the UK.
Since 2005 Andrew has been a freelance director and writer. His directing credits include The Cheeky Chappie, Side By Side By Sondheim and Ken Hill’s The Curse of the Werewolf. He directed the comedy Dirty Dusting at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin and on tour in Ireland and Scotland, and Menopause the Musical at the Tivoli Theatre, Dublin and on tour. He recently directed Mum’s the Word and Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather. Other credits include Don’t Stop the Music (Leicester Square Theatre); the national tours of A Night of Dirty Dancing; The Cemetery Club; Girl’s Night-the Musical; Who Killed Agatha Christie?; The Spirit of the Musical; The Boogie Belles; Misery; Wuthering Heights; the UK tour of the Nell Dunn play Steaming; Oklahoma!; Alice in Wonderland; Julius Caesar; Thoroughly Modern Millie; A Christmas Carol; Barnum and Dirty Dancing.
Full cast details for Carnival Dreams the Musical
Full cast details have been revealed for the world premiere of Carnival Dreams the Musical which will be presented at the Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon from 3-6 February 2016.
EastEnders star Cheryl Fergison plays loyal and abused wife Teresa. Nicholas Ransley is her bullying and bigoted husband Jose, while Connie Jackson plays their daughter Cristina.
Cristina’s love interest, Duarte, is portrayed by Kit Esuruoso and the flamboyantly camp drag queen Carmen by Tom Whalley. The embittered Maria is played by Liz Watts-Legg and her ex-husband and former dance champion, Andre by Davis Brooks.
Playing other roles are: Lauren Alexandra, Curtis Brown, Aarron McCauley, Myles Cork, Vicky Hoyles, Jamie-Leigh Nelson, Ryan Ogden and Penelope Simons, who also choreographs.
Carnival Dreams the Musical, with book and lyrics by Norman Mark and music by Robert Orledge, will be directed by Andrew Lynford and produced by Stuart Morrison. Michael Lovelock is musical director, Cleo Pettitt is the designer and Fridthjofur Thorsteinsson is the lighting designer.
Cheryl Fergison became a household name for her award-winning performance as Heather Trott in EastEnders, but her credits include a host of other TV appearances including Little Britain and The IT Crowd. She is also a hugely experienced stage actress and has appeared in the West End and with the RSC as well as starring in several pantomimes.
Nicholas Ransley’s varied career has taken him all over the world. He has many acting credits including Neil Armstrong in Man On the Moon for Channel 4 and Mike in the BBC’s award-winning Flashmob – The Opera. He has also regularly performed in opera.
Connie Jackson is a graduate of the Bird College and was seen in the original cast of Jackie the Musical in Dundee; Kit Esuruoso graduated from Mountview last year and has just completed a run of Show Boat at Sheffield Crucible; Tom Whalley has just completed a successful pantomime run in Sunderland; Davis Brooks’ credits include the award-winning production of Assassins at the Union Theatre. Liz Watts-Legg’s many credits include the West End production of Les Misérables and she also presented Play School and Play Days for BBC.
The story revolves around a small community dance group in Argentina which is preparing for the annual Samba competition.
Former dance champion Andre is fighting his own inner demons. The bible-quoting misogynist Jose who mentally and physically abuses his wife, treats those around him with contempt and hates his daughter’s boyfriend Duarte, simply because of the colour of his skin. The flamboyantly camp drag queen Carmen hungers for stardom which he hopes will take him to a more tolerant place. Then a heart-wrenching tragedy unfolds. Can the dance troupe survive and win against this adversity?
After this initial run at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon, the producers intend to tour and hopefully launch a London production.