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Gemma shows versatility in a variety of TV roles

Gemma Whelan is a renowned star of British drama and comedy, graduating from London Studio Centre in 2004, she has established herself an all rounded career on and off screen. Gemma is best known for playing the role of Yara Greyjoy in the drama TV series Game of Thrones yet also has a highly recognisable flare for her talents in comedy, as she was awarded the Funny Women variety award for stand-up comedy in 2010. She is now starring in a range of television programmes including the dark comedy-drama The End of the F**king World and the hit Netflix series, The Crown.

Gemma Funny Woman Award 2010Gemma winning the Funny Women award in 2010

After graduating from Middlesex University, Gemma undertook the One-Year Professional Diploma programme at London Studio Centre where she performed with the college’s music theatre company, Seedtime. She is now an established actress, however the programme provided Gemma with training in all disciplines of music theatre including dancing and singing. She even began her career as a member of the Beaux Belles dance troupe!

With her ability to adapt to different roles, Whelan established herself as an extremely diverse artist. She appeared in Hollywood films such as The Wolfman (2010) as well as a variety of roles in live theatre including One Man, Two Governors (UK Tour and West End) and Dark Vanilla Jungle (UK Tour, Soho Theatre). A review for the Telegraph described Whelan as giving ‘a tremendous performance, working hard to give both light and shade’. Gemma can even be heard as a voiceover for some well-known video games including Soul Sacrifice and Mass Effect Andromeda.

Gemma Dark Vanilla JungleGemma playing the role of Andrea in the play Dark Vanilla Jungle

But it is within television that Gemma has made the most impact. In 2012 she was cast as the fierce and powerful Yara Greyjoy in HBO’s award-winning fantasy-drama Game of Thrones. Yara began as supporting character for several years, but in last year’s series she became a central character featuring in all episodes.

Gemma Game of ThronesGemma as Yara Greyjoy in the TV series Game of Thrones

 

Last year, Gemma starred in the challenging role of Karen Matthews for the BBC’s stark drama The Moorside which received much praise from critics. She also played more comedic roles such as Kate Shakespeare in the BBC’s Upstart Crow as well as D.C. Eunice Noon in Channel 4 and Netflix’s The End of the F**king World.

Gemma End of the WorldGemma playing DC Eunice Noon in End of the F**king World

Gemma demonstrated her versatility again whilst appearing as Patricia Campbell in The Crown, Peter Morgan’s biopic of Queen Elizabeth II. This more sensitive role is a big contrast to the harsh armour-wearing character she’s best known for in Game of Thrones and is a true credit to Gemma’s versatility. Gemma really is the perfect illustration of the diverse and fantastic successes that come out of LSC. Who knows in what roles she could end up next!

Gemma The CrownGemma playing Patricia Campbell in The Crown on Netflix 

Toyan Thomas-Browne performs in UK's first all-black 'Guys and Dolls'

In October 2017, it was announced that the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester would present the UK’s first all-black production of the classic American musical, Guys and Dolls with London Studio Centre alumni Toyan Thomas-Browne in the role of Moe.


Toyan and the cast of Guys and Dolls perform Luck be a Lady

In his third year at London Studio Centre, Toyan was a member of the music theatre company, Seedtime, and impressed audiences at the end of year performances with his renditions of Not My Father’s Son from Kinky Boots and Too Darn Hot from Kiss Me, Kate. 

After graduating, Toyan had a busy 2016, performing in the ensembles for We Will Rock You and That Man at the London Hippodrome. That same year he performed with the Pet Shop Boys at their Inner Sanctum concerts at the Royal Opera House where Becky Howell (LSC alumna and now teacher) was assisting with choreography. Towards the end of the year, Toyan joined the ensemble for Christmas on Ice at Canada's largest gaming resort, the Fallsview Casino.

Toyan getting into his costume for the Caterpillar in WonderlandToyan getting into his Caterpillar costume for Wonderland

In 2017, Toyan was cast in the original UK tour of Wonderland, Frank Wildhorn’s Tony Award-nominated musical based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Performing alongside Wendi Peters (Queen of Hearts), Toyan was a member of the ensemble and first cover for the Caterpillar. He debuted his sassy and humerous take on the Caterpillar at New Wimbledon Theatre, where he had previously performed in London Studio Centre’s Dance Overture.

Toyan as Moe in Guys and DollsToyan as Moe in Guys and Dolls

Following the Wonderland Tour, Toyan performed in a one-off concert of new musical The Prince at the Arts Theatre before joining Guys and Dolls which opened at the Royal Exchange Theatre on the 2nd December. Whilst it isn’t the world’s first all-black production of the musical (a previous production played Broadway in 1976), director Michael Buffong’s bold casting decision comes at a time when representation and casting are hot topics in the world of music theatre. By transporting the musical from glitzy 1950’s New York City to pre-war Harlem, Buffong explores the African American culture of the time and features hip-hop inspired choreography by Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy (who choreographed the powerful Death of a Dynasty for Jazz Dance Company’s 2017 Dynasties tour). Buffong explained that Harlem in the 1930s was “all about the hustle” and that the creativity of the era inspired much of today’s popular dance and music.

Prince Edward and the cast of Guys and DollsPrince Edward and the cast of Guys and Dolls

The show has enjoyed a great extended run including a special 40th Anniversary performance for the Royal Exchange where Toyan and the cast performed for Prince Edward. The show also received fantastic reviews with the Guardian claiming the new context gives Guys and Doll “an extra jazzy swing in its step and more grit to its characters”, whilst the Express called it a “smart production with a talented cast” – a brilliant accolade for Toyan! We can't wait to see what he does next!

Additional 10,000 sq ft of studio space, new for 2017

2017 was such a successful year for London Studio Centre, full of many challenges, achievements and commendations.

The 2017 summer break allowed LSC to complete the redevelopment and expansion of its facilities at the award-winning artsdepot. The project saw the addition of 10,000 sq ft of state-of-the-art space including two new dance studios, two new drama studios and three new singing studios. This now means London Studio Centre has over 40,000 sq ft of space in its artsdepot campus, including two fully equipped theatres. The new facilities were officially opened at the start of the autumn term and students and teachers have been enjoying the benefits of them since.

Studio 2London Studio Centre's new facilities include two additional dance studios,
two additional drama studios and three additional singing studios

In May, LSC underwent a review by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. The expert panel reported that LSC had not merely met the threshold benchmark for higher education institutes but ‘commended’ it for the excellence of its learning opportunities. Following a rigorous examination of its provision the Panel also noted the following good practice:

  1. The systematic approach to the professional development of all staff, including part-time and self-employed faculty staff, which enhances learning and teaching, and support for students (Expectation B3).
  2. The embedding of professional practice throughout the curriculum and the extra-curricular activities, including engagement with professional networks, enabling students to enhance their employment opportunities (Expectation B4).
  3. The extent and accessibility of student support that reflects the particular needs of its students (Expectation B4).

It’s also worth noting that QAA Reviews usually contain recommendations as to how a higher-education institute can improve their provision, however the Panel made no such recommendations for London Studio Centre. Whilst London Studio Centre is extremely proud to have received no recommendations, the college continuously strives to improve the student experience.

Screen Shot 2018 02 02 at 17.37.50

TEF Silver logo words RGBLondon Studio Centre received excellent reviews from
the Quality Assurance Agency and the Teaching Excellence Framework scheme

2017 was the first year that London Studio Centre applied for the newly introduced Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a scheme lead by the Department for Education that aims to recognise excellence in teaching, learning and outcomes and help inform prospective students’ choices for higher education. The TEF panel reviewed London Studio Centre’s metrics and submission and in June 2017 awarded the college with a Silver Award, giving the following praise:

Overall, the TEF Panel judged that London Studio Centre delivers high quality teaching, learning and outcomes for its students. It consistently exceeds rigorous national quality requirements for UK higher education.

London Studio Centre is proud to receive a Silver Award in its first application to the scheme, and for 2018 it aims to achieve Gold.

Screen Shot 2018 02 05 at 12.15.23Screen Shot 2018 02 05 at 12.25.06London Studio Centre is accredited by the CDET and is on the CDET's Accredited Schools list.

London Studio Centre continues to be accredited by The Council for Dance Education and Training (CDET) and remains listed as one of CDET’s Accredited Schools. A representative attended London Studio Centre’s 2017 Spring Showcase performance at The Pentland Theatre, artsdepot and reported:

The Performance as a whole was of a very high level, and it was difficult, at times, to believe the students involved were only in their first or second year of training. This has to be a tribute to the teaching and staff within the school - CDET, 2017

Corridor 2London Studio Centre officially opened its new facilities at the start of the 2017 autumn term

And finally, after several years’ detailed consultation with the industry, staff, students and alumni, LSC was able to enhance the entire curriculum and in September 2017 rolled out the newly validated BA (Hons) Theatre Dance programme to new and continuing students. The new course structure enables students to follow specialist professional pathways in Classical Ballet, Contemporary Dance, Jazz Dance or Music Theatre from their first to final year, allowing more focus whilst still retaining and encouraging versatility and a breadth of training. As always, the development and delivery of the course is being closely monitored.


Office 1London Studio Centre now as over 40,000 sq ft of space in its artsdepot campus

This is just a snapshot of the successes that LSC has enjoyed over the last few months, and obviously does not include the many fantastic shows and performances that the college has produced. Whilst this is a great chance to reflect and rightly feel proud of the fantastic things London Studio Centre and its staff and students have achieved, it is also important to look forward to the year ahead and plan how the college can build upon these accomplishments and achieve further success. 

 

Gabrielle Parker becomes latest LSC alumni to join 'Cats'

Over forty London Studio Centre alumni have performed in the award-winning musical.

Having just graduated in July 2017, LSC alumna Gabrielle Parker has managed to secure herself the much-desired role of Victoria the White Cat in the UK and International tour of Cats. Featuring in multiple solos, the role of Victoria is incredibly demanding and requires flexibility and extensive ballet training. Although Gabrielle focussed on music theatre in her final year at London Studio Centre, the BA (Hons) Theatre Dance programme’s emphasises on versatility meant that Gabrielle continued to receive in-depth ballet training throughout her degree.

Gabrielle joins the ranks of a huge number of LSC alumni who have performed in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning musical.

Cats first opened in the West End at the New London Theatre in May 1981. A year later, LSC alumni Jacqueline Harman joined the cast to be the second person ever to play the role of Victoria, under the direction of Trevor Nunn. Jacqueline played Victoria up until 1986 when she switched to the role of Demeter for two years before taking on a swing role from 1988 to 1990. Jacqueline later performed in Chess and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat in the West End before establishing the Jacqueline Harman School of Ballet in 1994.

Amanda Courtney Davies VictoriaAmanda Courtney-Davies as Victoria the White Cat in the West End

Amanda Courtney-Davies was the second LSC alumna to play Victoria in the West End. After joining the cast in 1988 to play Tantomile, she switched to Victoria for the 1989 and 1990 productions. She later appeared as Toni in Grease’s London revival in 1993 and as Rosie in the Royal National Theatre production of Oklahoma! in 1988.

1995 was a particularly big year for LSC alumni in Cats with Samantha Biddulph (Tantomile), Daniel Crossley (Bill Bailey), Damien Delaney (Bill Bailey), Belle Dowson (Swing), Leah-Sue Morland (Swing) and Kimberley Partridge (Jemima) playing in the West End and Mark Joslin (Swing), Lucy Middleton (Rumpleteaser), Robbie O’Reilly (Cassandra) and Rachel Pressland (Swing) on the UK Tour.

Cameron Ball Ziz Strallen Sophia Ragevelas Kathryn Barnes resizeCameron Ball, Zizi Strallen, Sophia Ragavelas and Kathryn Barnes in the Cats revival at the London Palladium

In 2002, Cats closed in the West End but was revived in 2014 at the London Palladium featuring alumni Cameron Ball (Admetus/Macavity), Kathryn Barnes (as Tantomile), Sophie Ragavelas (as Grizabella) and Zizi Strallen (as Demeter). Matthew Krzan joined the show in 2015 as Munkustrap and was even featured on the show poster.

Matt Krzan Cats tube poster 2015Spotted on the London Underground: Matthew Krzan as Munkustrap featured on the Cats poster in 2015 

Most recently Natalie Bennyworth joined the UK Tour in 2017 as Cassandra and, as previously mentioned, Gabrielle has now joined the UK and International tour, proving that LSC is still producing alumni that are of a consistently high-standard.

Listed below are over forty LSC alumni who have appeared in the West End and UK Touring performances of Cats. This does not include the many alumni who have appeared in international performances of the show and we are sure there are others we have missed, so please let us know if you have not been mentioned! London Studio Centre is extremely grateful for the fantastic opportunities this show has provided to our alumni.

LSC alumni who have appeared in West End and UK Touring performance of Cats:

Cameron Ball
Kathryn Barnes
Sharron Benson
Natalie Bennyworth
Samantha Biddulph
Lauren Brooke
Amanda Courtney-Davies
Daniel Crossley
Lindsey Dawson
Damien Delaney
Lisa Donmall
Belle Dowson
Douglas Franklin
Jye Frasca
Matthew Gould
Lorraine Graham
Jaqueline Harman
Julia Hinchcliffe
Neil Johnson
Adam Jones
Mark Joslin
Wendy Kitching
Matthew Krzan
Stephen Mear
Lucy Middleton
Rachel Mooney
Leah-Sue Morland
Zak Nemorin
Callum Nicol
Sophia Ragavelas
Robbie O’Reilly
Gabrielle Parker
Kimberley Partridge
Jason Pennycooke
Rachel Pressland
Richard Roe
Louie Spence
Zizi Strallen
Anne-Marie Summerell
Drew Varley
Bryn Walters
Anna Woodside
Katherine Whittard
Adelle Young

LSC alumnus Jason Pennycooke stars in Hamilton, West End

Hamilton: An American Musical has already made big waves over in America. The musical, which is sung and rapped throughout, follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s Founding Fathers. Hamilton opened off-Broadway at the The Public Theater in February 2015 where it had an extended run and completely sold-out. It transferred to Broadway in August 2015 at the Richard Rogers Theatre where it gained unprecedented advance box office sales and impressed audiences and critics alike. At the 2016 Tony Awards, Hamilton received a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations, winning 11 including Best Musical. The show was also awarded the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. That same year the Chicago production of Hamilton opened at the CIBC Theatre and the show began its U.S Tour.

And now Hamilton has been brought to the West End at the Victoria Palace Theatre and stars LSC alumni Jason Pennycooke in the joint role of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson HamiltonJason Pennycooke as Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre (2017) - Photographer: Matthew Murphy

Jason trained at London Studio Centre under a scholarship and graduated in 1993. For his first professional job, he joined the UK tour of CATS playing the roles of Coricopat and Mister Mistoffelees. In 1994, Jason joined the original European Tour for the award-winning Five Guys Names Moe, playing the role of Little Moe and the next year reprised his role at the Albery Theatre in London’s West End. In 1996, Jason joined the cast of Starlight Express at the Apollo Victoria, where he played Rocky 3.

Jason Pennycooke Little Moe Five Guys Named Moe Albery Theatre West End 1995 c Michael Le Poer Trench squareJason Pennycooke as Little Moe in Five Guys Named Moe at the Albery Theatre (1995) - Photographer: Michael Le Pour Trench

Jason then went on to appear in Soul Train, a musical compilation devised by Mark Clements and Michael Vivian celebrating classic soul hits such 'Under The Boardwalk', 'Soul Man', 'Dock Of The Bay', 'Living In America' and 'Love Train'. From 2001 – 2003, Jason played the role of Benny in Rent and performed in the record-breaking original UK tour and in two successful runs in London’s West End at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

In 2002, Jason played the role of Joe Grant and was the Associate Choreographer for Sammy, a musical biopic of Sammy David Jr which was produced in association with the Sammy Davis Jr Foundation, New York. The following year, Jason played Joe Grant again, but this time in Golden Boy at the Greenwich Theatre for which he received some great reviews.

”As Joe, a lean Jason Pennycooke suggests a boxer with some brains as well as brawn and demonstrates natty footwork both on the dance floor and in the ring. After the Greenwich run, this certainly deserves to go a few extra rounds.”
- Evening Standard

“One of the best things about the evening besides the tremendous array of terrific black talent on stage, is the way it shows ordinary black people struggling in a white man’s world. The major performances are a knockout – particularly from Jason Pennycooke as the wiry and rather winsome Joe.”
The Guardian

“Jason Pennycooke as the young hopeful Joe balances a superb physical performance with a fine tenor voice. Pennycooke grows into his character naturally through the songs.”
- The Stage

Jason went on to appear in the European company of Stomp where he also performed with the French Touring Company, visiting Mulhouse, Versailles and Brest and then London’s West End.

Jason Pennycooke StomopJason Pennycooke on the poster for Stomp at the Vaudeville Theatre

From 2005 - 2006 Jason played Sammy Davis Jnr in the The Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas at the Savoy Theatre, London, which was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment. He was then nominated for the 2009 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor his performance as Jacob in the La Cage aux Folles which opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory and subsequently transferred to the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End in 2007 – 2008.

Jason went on to play Paul in Kiss Me Kate directed by Trevor Nunn at the Chichester Festival Theatre before transferring to The Old Vic in 2012. He then joined Memphis The Musical as Bobby Dupree at the Shaftesbury Theatre which closed in October 2015 after a year of sold-out shows.

“Pennycooke injects piles of humour into Bobby, a janitor with hidden skills of the performing variety”
- Talk Stagey To Me

Jason Pennycooke Bobby Memphis the Musical Shaftesbury Theatre West End 2014 15 c Johan Persson 398Jason Pennycooke as Bobby Dupree in Memphis The Musical (2014) - Photographer: Johan Persso

Last year, Jason played Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls at The Phoenix Theatre, performing alongside Samantha Spiro & Richard Kind, later taken over by Rebel Wilson and Nigel Lindsay. Jason received fantastic reviews again.

“Olivier nominee Gavin Spokes’ Nicely-Nicely Johnson is now joined by Jason Pennycooke’s dazzlingly elastic Benny Southstreet, making a comic and musical treat of the title song.”
The Stage

“Pennycooke is the brightest and most idiosyncratic Benny this production has seen, alternating between camp humour and furtive lewdness with calm and measured aplomb”
Live Theatre UK

Guys and Dolls Jason PennycookeJason Pennycooke as Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls at The Phoenix Theatre (2016)

Jason also has a great background in choreography and has worked on shows including I Was Looking At the Ceiling and Saw the Sky (Barbican/TTRSE 2010), Crazy For You (Sweden 2011), Five Guys Named Moe (Belfast 2010; Underbelly 2016), End of the Rainbow (Trafalgar Studios and Broadway 2011), Soul Sister (Hackney Empire and Savoy Theatre 2012), Shrek (Sweden 2013), and Into The Woods (Manchester Royal Exchange 2015) to name but a few.

Last July, London Studio Centre was proud to welcome Jason as the Guest of Honour for the 2017 Graduation Celebration at New Wimbledon Theatre. Jason presented all graduates with their certificates and awards and gave some great words of advice for those starting their new performing arts careers.

GraduationJason Pennycooke presenting the Espinosa Award to Rebecca Bennett at the Graduation Celebration at New Wimbledon Theatre (2017)

Last week (Wednesday 6th December), Jason took to the stage for the opening night of Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre, which opened its door for the first time after a year-long expansion and restoration. Jason plays two characters in the show. In Act One he plays Marquis de Lafayette, a close friend of Alexander Hamilton and a Revolutionary ally. In Act Two he plays the key role of Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton’s rival and future president of the United States. The role is incredibly important in the show and requires the ability to adapt and play two very different characters.

Victoria Palace TheatreHamilton at the newly refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre

Audiences have been waiting in anticipation as the first run of tickets which cover December 2017 – June 2018 sold out way back in September. But it seems the wait was worth it as audiences have been taking to social media to sing the show’s praises with #hamiltonldn trending on Twitter. Even the show’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also played the title role in the original Broadway cast) took to Twitter to say:

That. was. insane. Thank you.
Lin-Manuel Miranda

Whilst tickets are sold out, the show is now offering a daily £10 lottery which can be entered here.