A Spotlight On: LIVE
Venue: The Pump House Theatre, Watford
Cast: Hosted by Matt Hemley, in conversation with Jon Robyns, Courtney Bowman, and Kate Flatt OBE

A Spotlight On: Live is an 'in conversation with' event featuring some of the biggest stars from London's glittering West End. Get up close and personal and discover how they do, what they do and what it takes to stay at the top of your game. Interwoven with thrilling live performances, A Spotlight On: Live invites you to step through the Stage Door and discover the behind-the-scenes world of theatre like never before!

A Spotlight On was created by theatre producers Chris Wheeler and Paul Morrissey as a video streaming service to house all your stagey content in one place. Its chock-full of masterclasses, interviews, workshops and more, about theatre and the people who make it, and you can sign up for free or upgrade to premium for access to more, exclusive content. A Spotlight On have made it their mission to bring those who usually work in the dark to centre stage, and truly spotlight every area of theatre, from casting directors to tech swings and everything in between. 

Filming for this exciting new venture began in February 2023, and the service was launched on 23rd April, in the aftermath of the government campaign to encourage those working in the arts to ‘retrain’, and branding us ‘unskilled’. This year's Watford Fringe festival saw the first ever live episode of A Spotlight On, hosted by Matt Hemley, and featuring Jon Robyns, Courtney Bowman, and the legendary Kate Flatt OBE. The audience were treated to some stagey anecdotes, interviews, industry tips, incredible performances, and an extra special surprise.

The show was opened by the outrageously talented Maya Waghorn performing ‘I Like Play Rehearsal’ from Be More Chill the musical. Maya is a theatre performer, practitioner, and choreographer, and was performing their own show at the Watford Fringe on Saturday night - Maya, Jono, Tom & Ruby live – when Chris Wheeler, who happened to be in the audience that night, sought them out to demand that they perform the next day! Maya brought so much life and personality to the performance, truly showing us the difference between singing and performing.

The conversation then started with Matt sharing that he and Jon have performed together in the past. It turns out that during the run of Spamalot at the Playhouse Theatre in 2012, Matt had the scroll under his seat and was pulled up on stage. Spamalot is the longest consecutive period Jon has spent on a show, totalling 3 years. His third stint in Les Mis lasted 4 years, but was interrupted due to the lockdown. The first show he ever saw was a matinee showing of Les Mis at the Palace Theatre for his mum’s 40th birthday, and this was the beginning of the 20 year dream that came true the day he was cast as Val Jean. Jon was a theatre kid from birth. One of his favourite memories is as a three-year-old at a Barmitzvah, where he made his way onto the stage and proceeded to sit under the feet of the lead singer, holding an orange the size of his head, and didn’t move the rest of the night. At 16, he went to see a production of Jesus Christ Superstar in Cardiff, with Fred Johansen playing the role of Judas. Johansen locked eyes with Jon in the audience during bows, and he nodded at him. This was an incredibly special moment for Jon, as he realised the importance of the connection between stage and audience and wanted to be able to pass that feeling on to others. 

He trained at Mountview Theatre Arts and graduated in 2004, having already booked a job on the musical Miss Saigon, and at 20 years old, is still the youngest person to have played the role of Chris. Jon told us a little about his current role as the Phantom in Phantom Of The Opera, sharing that he loves it, and it can also be a rather lonely role to play as while on a stage full of people, he only exists in Christine’s world. Jon also gave us an insight into how the boat scene works, no spoilers here but the actors are given a chance to operate it in rehearsals and Jon immediately crashed it so we’re glad to know it is not self- controlled during the show! Jon left us with one last anecdote before the beautiful Courtney Bowman came to join us! This was before Jon was in Les Mis, and Judy Dench was performing in her own show at a theatre down the road. She would run down to The Sondheim during the interval of her show to form part of the barricade scene, and then run back for her second act. Most of the audience would never have realised, and often those on stage didn’t either! Imagine sharing a stage with Dame Judy Dench and not knowing about it!

There was an uproarious reaction as Courtney Bowman took the stage. Star of Six The Musical, Courtney’s CV is full to the brim of roles that scream female empowerment. She talked us through the audition process for Six, and during the third round of call-backs she was in a rush to leave the audition as she was performing that night. On her way out she ran straight into a pillar, exclaiming ‘ohhh what am I like?!’. She later found out that it was this line that sealed her the role of Anne Boleyn. It was really exciting to also hear a lot about the audition process for Legally Blonde. She started by auditioning for the ensemble, and mentioned that she was the very last thought for the role of Elle as the creative team asked her to tape for almost every other role in the script, before finally asking her to tape for the lead, which took her completely by surprise.

Anyone who is plugged into the theatre world news will have seen some of the horrendous backlash that was thrown Courtney’s way over various things relating to the show. She remained totally professional the entire time, not acknowledging any of it, and I hope she took the time to relish the thousands of positive comments and the amount of love and support she received during the process. Courtney shared with us that the first comment she saw was in the middle of an act. She had checked her phone while she had a moment offstage and a nasty tweet had been forwarded to her, she then made her way back on stage to finish the show as if nothing had happened. I was lucky enough to catch one of Courtney’s astonishing performances as Elle Woods at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and you’d never know she had any idea what was being said, the way she so intricately designed every single moment she spent on that stage, and I hope she knows just how many young lives were inspired by seeing her on that stage. Courtney says that the thing about performing is that ‘it exists in the gap between where you do it, and where it is received.’ It’s worth reminding ourselves that all feedback, both negative and positive, comes not from what you did, but what they saw.

We then had the absolute pleasure of meeting the wonderful Kate Flatt, original choreographer of Les Mis the musical! Kate attended the Royal Ballet School, where she was promptly told she would ‘never look right in a tutu’, and proceeded to share her work in the form of her first on stage piece, when she was just 17 years old. Kate was awarded her OBE in 2020 and upon meeting the Queen, she was asked ‘so where do you do this chor, choreee, I can’t even say it!’ Kate had two young children at the time of the first call from Cameron Macintosh’s office to say that Trevor Nunn was going to be calling her later. She was so convinced that this was an elaborate ruse, that when Nunn eventually did call Kate nearly dropped her 11 month old baby! Kate still has as huge an influence on the theatre and dance world today as she did many years ago. She popularised the term ‘Movement Director’ and shifted views to what we understand it to mean today. Jon proudly shared that the choreography that is in the show today has remained almost completely true to what Kate created in the 80s. Kate has written a book called ‘Movement Direction’, which can be found here.

There was an extra surprise thrown in, in the form of a video message from Gloria Estefan to Courtney, and we got to experience her raw reaction of pure excitement and awe. Kate Flatt then invited members of the audience to learn a section of the choreography from ‘One Day More’ to perform on stage to close the show. While they were doing this, the rest of us were treated to a performance from the incomparable Becky Neal, who dazzled us with a medley from Les Mis. The level of control that Becky demonstrates when she sings is beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. She made the whole performance feel completely effortless, and the room was so still you could hear a pin drop. The absolute stand out moments for me were the section of ‘On My Own’, and the encore of ‘Diva’s Lament’ from Spamalot the musical, which gave me goosebumps.

It was a really joyful evening, and a lovely way to engage in theatre that’s something different from a trip to the West End. You can sign up to A Spotlight On here for access to theatre interviews, shorts, documentaries, performances, masterclasses & more! 

You can use code STAGEPAGE10 for a £5 discount on annual memberships - making it just £45 for a year of content.

Written by Rachel Sarah Leveney

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