August 1, 2008

Niamh Goes on Bravely Would-Be Nancy Finds a New Musical

By Liam Rudden Arts and

IN the glare of the studio lights, the dream for 19-year-old Niamh Perry was a role on the West End.

One of 12 finalists to make it to the televised heats of I'd Do Anything, the Belfast-born hopeful sang her way through to week eight before being voted off the prime-time BBC ratings winner. Her ambition to play Nancy in Oliver! dashed forever.

Perry's West End dream may yet rekindled however, thanks to a new wartime musical receiving its world premier on this year's Fringe.

In Only The Brave which, if successful, could well be London bound, the TV favourite makes her professional debut playing a French resistance fighter called Belle, opposite Any Dream Will Do runner-up, former Dalkeith shelf stacker Keith Jack.

With original music and lyrics by Matthew Brind, additional lyrics by Stephen Coleman and book by Coleman and Rachel Wagstaff, Only The Brave is set against the backdrop of the Second World War and inspired by the true life stories of men and women who lived, loved, and fought for freedom; a husband and wife separated by war; a band of soldiers who would give up their lives for one another; and a soldier and a nurse, Belle, who find true love on the battlefield.

"You're never too sure about Belle's background," smiles Perry, during a break from rehearsals. "But you are aware that she is a member of the resistance and that she is helping feed information about the Germans to a group of Allied troops on a special mission to hold a bridge until reinforcements arrive."

It's after a shooting incident that Belle finds herself faced with a dilemma - enter Charlie played by Jack.

"I fall in love with Charlie, who is one of the soldiers, but because of the war I am frightened to fall in love.

"Although it is set during the Second World War, a lot of the themes in it are relevant today. Anyone in a loving relationship but unsure whether it is the right thing to do could relate to Only The Brave, as could anyone with family member on active service with the Forces. It is quite timeless."

Perry was snapped up for the role just two days after her final appearance on I'd Do Anything, although she admits that at first she was reticent to accept the offer.

"The producer and composer saw me on the show and offered me the part the Tuesday after I got kicked out. I was chuffed about that, but I wasn't too sure what to do until they sent me the demo CD.

"I listened to that and thought the music was spectacular. When I first listened to it I was reminded of Les Miserables, which is one of my favourite musicals, but then the score has real modern elements in it as well."

With a cast and orchestra of more than 30 performers, the musical was developed after composer Brind joined his grandfather, a veteran of World War Two, on an emotional return to the cemeteries of Northern France.

However, while it marks Perry's professional debut, the diminutive star is no stranger to the stage. Prior to I'd Do Anything, she had studied music and arts in her native Ireland and been a regular performer with the Musical Theatre for Youth company, appearing in productions of West Side Story, Sweet Charity and Guys and Dolls.

"When I was younger I wanted to be an opera singer, so I started singing classes," she recalls. "Then I came across the Musical Theatre for Youth and they introduced me to musicals and I completely fell in love with them.

"We did all the classics, and in a way that prepared me for I'd Do Anything because the way theatre group worked was to do a musical in a weekend - albeit a long weekend of four days. So I was used to intensive rehearsals and, in essence, for I'd Do Anything I had six days."

Of course, the big challenge for Perry will be to prove Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber wrong. She left the show after he voiced fears that she was ready to do eight shows a week.

Perry herself is adamant that her voice is more than capable of coping with such a strenuous workload, which is just as well as the Fringe run of Only The Brave requires the cast to deliver 26 performances in just 22 days.

"I think I'll be telling Andrew that," she laughs. "My voice is stronger now, although obviously strength comes with age. I believed I could have done eight shows a week, but he's the professional, he's kind of the king, and I have so much respect for Andrew Lloyd Webber that I take on board what he says."

Only The Brave, George Square Theatre, Monday-August 25 (not 5 & 11), 6.15pm; August 8-13, 8.45pm, GBP 6-GBP 25, 0131-662 8740

Originally published by Liam Rudden Arts and Entertainment Editor.

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