The Elephant Man | Meet Liyah

2 Jul 2018

The Elephant Man has officially opened and to celebrate we've been getting to know the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School students. Here, Liyah Summers talks us through her experience of working on Bernard Pomerance's award-winning play. 

Where are you from and how did you get into acting? 

I am from East London, Leyton. I first caught the acting bug in the very classic way – during a school play in year 8. It was called Olivia (the female version of OlivaTwist, because I went to a girls’ school) and I was playing one of her naughty orphan mates and a school girl. I just remember thinking “Wow! People do this as a job?!” From there I joined some youth theatres (Arcola and Almeida) and went to The BRIT School for college to study acting full time before coming to BOVTS. However I’d always been quite a dramatic child. I used to march around the house pretending to be whatever character I’d just seen on tv with serious commitment (which is why I was banned from watching Tracy Beaker as a child… it was tough for my parents).

Who are you playing in The Elephant Man and what challenges have you faced in that role? 

I am playing the conductor, Princess Alexandra and one of the Pinheads in The Elephant man. I think the most challenging character of the three has been Princess Alexandra. She’s the furthest from me in that she is massively high status, full of natural elegance and grace and speaks with a Heightened RP accent. The challenges have been incorporating these things whilst still trying to portray a truthful, loveable and 3 dimensional character in a very brief appearance. However I’ve enjoyed the challenge, and learning about the real Princess Alexandra and discovering the impact she still has on our lives today (she started the choker necklace trend due to a scar on her neck she was always trying to hide!). Playing the pinhead has been an interesting challenge too, trying to play a character who is extremely childlike and innocent, but not at all stupid. That’s been a lot of fun!

What research did you do whilst preparing for your role? 

To prepare for my role, firstly I watched The Elephant Man film to get a better grasp on the story. I watched a variety of documentaries about John Merrick, to get a well rounded idea of what his life had been like, so I was familiar with the story I was about to be a part of. I also watched the film Freaks, and re-watched The Greatest Showman to get a better understanding of the circus culture and the concept of being a “freak”. I’m quite a visual learner so watching all these things really helped me get an idea of the time and the culture. I did a lot of research on Princess Alexandra, which was fascinating, as I’d literally never heard of her until this play. We learnt off each other too, we shared and chatted a lot in the rehearsal room. I am constantly learning new things about the play and the people and the society.

What's your favourite thing about training at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School? 

My favourite thing about training at BOVTS has to be the family feel. The school has quite literally been my house for the past 3 years. I spent more time there than I spent anywhere else in that amount of time. I love that my year group has just become my family. We’re all basically related. We understand each other, annoy each other and love each other. I’ve loved the opportunities we’ve had since being at the school and the wonderful things we’ve been exposed to. It’s been a magical 3 years.

Are you excited to perform on the Bristol Old Vic stage? 

I am so excited to be doing a show at Bristol Old Vic. After working so closely with it through the school over the past 3 years, doing various workshops or sometimes having our lessons there, after doing 24 hour plays there and getting a taste of what it is like to perform on that stage and having seen so many AMAZING plays there, it feels so rewarding to get to do a show at Bristol Old Vic. It’s going to be a beautiful end to our time here.

The Elephant Man continues until 7 Jul. Book your tickets here