INTERVIEW: Amy Conachan on the transition from TV to musicals as she stars in Orphans

This month, the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) takes to the stage with the new musical, Orphans. As the show opens in Edinburgh, we caught up with actress Amy Conachan about the project and representation on stage. 

A new Scottish musical is set to make waves in Edinburgh this month as Amy Conachan takes to the stage in Orphans. Based on the film ORPHANS which was written and directed by Peter Mullan for Channel Four and the Glasgow Film Fund in 1997, the musical is a darkly comic play about family, grief and forgiveness set in the streets of Glasgow. 

After opening in Glasgow, the show is now touring in Edinburgh and Inverness, also signalling the return of NTS live performances in some of Scotland’s largest theatres. 

Actress Amy Conachan plays Sheila in the musical as she makes move from Channel Four soap Hollyoaks to the stage. We caught up with Amy to talk about landing the roll, taking on something new and representation on stage. 

What was the process like in securing the role of Sheila and starting rehersals? 

At the very beginning I was still in Liverpool working on Hollyoaks and I was weighing up my options for when that was done. It was a self-tape and you do a lot of them and often don’t even hear back – I didn’t hear anything for a little while and then it came through that we were going to do development for the play. I’ve never been in a musical before, I had done plays though, and so I didn’t really know how development works on musical productions. 

Credit: Peter Dibdin

Development is the stage where the director gets everyone together for the first time and the play is spoken througj, in this case there was obviously songs too, but the writers were there and it’s just a chance to see what works and what doesn’t, to push things further. It was of course being developed from the film and so we were all very conscious of it staying as close to the film as possible. I think people would see Orphans made into a musical and wonder how it would work, but it’s brilliant. 

It was a very interesting time, sharing the songs and meeting everyone because we were all so involved. At that point I knew it was something very special. The lead up coincided with COVID but then now here we are in 2022, rehearsing and putting the show on: it feels like a long time coming but everyone is just so excited now and it’s a really special show. 

How did you find the transition from working on Hollyoaks to starring in a musical? 

Working on TV and on musicals is so different, it’s changing how you use your expression, your voice and your body, but it has been fantastic. It was a big transition from doing Hollyoaks to this just because of the different natures of the projects. While this is the case, I’ve absolutely loved it and it wasn’t as hard as I initially thought. 

I’m used to having a camera right in my face and so with never having done musicals before it was it was different, but it has also pushed me to do new things.

I feel quite proud of myself: I’ve put myself to the test and haven’t just done things where I feel comfortable. 

It’s been a lot of hard work and new things, but you get to moments like right now and appreciate all of your work and there’s this excitement to show people what you’ve been working on. 

Representation is embedded into the musical and it’s cast, why do you feel this is important? 

I think it’s important with anything, we have to make sure that we reflect the society that we live in and the audience coming to see the show because that’s what the world looks like so it’s super important. I think for most people that’s what they would like to see on all stages. With this production, British Sign Language interpreters will actually be integrated into one show in every venue, and we will also have audio description and captioning.

Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

Last year I did a play that was totally integrated BSL and that was the first time I’d ever seen that. I think if someone is coming to see the show and they’re used to seeing an interpreter standing by the side of the stage then they would be really pleasantly surprised. It just adds to the story, I think it’s so beautiful and expressive, especially for Orphans with it being so hard-hitting. It will be something new for people to see and because it’s integrated you don’t have to pick one show to come and see, we’re at this stage where things are combining so I think we’re on the right track. 

Do you think representation on stage is improving?  

I think we’ve come a long way, even since I graduated from drama school there’s such a difference and huge changes to diversity on stage. It’s happening but we also still need to be fighting for more representation, it proves that we should continue to do that and it will just get better and better.

Things have even become more accessible for me working as an actor, but we have to tell more people’s stories and get more people talking because it puts diversity at the forefront.

We need people from diverse backgrounds telling their stories and I think that’s what we’re seeing on stage and what audiences are coming to see. 

How did NTS ensure your needs were taken into account during rehersals and now shows? 

Honestly, this was a given because NTS had done their research, they knew what venues were accessible and we of course weren’t going to ones that aren’t. By the time I got here it was all organised so I didn’t even have to think about it. I think that’s brilliant but that’s how it should be, it shouldn’t be my job to do that groundwork and it never normally is. They have always asked me questions and taken my input on board which is also important, but my experience as an actor shouldn’t be any different than for an able-bodied person when I come in. 

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Featured image credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

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