With The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole the Musical transferring to the West End earlier this year, Riya Vyas played the role of Pandora Braithwaite and was in the cast of the show’s final performance at the Ambassadors Theatre in September. Riya made her professional debut in 2016, when she was in the cast of Ragtime at the Charing Cross Theatre, and she regularly performs at the Rose Theatre Kingston as part of the Rose Young Company, with her most recent shows being The Railway Children and Alice in Winterland. Starting her career with The British Theatre Academy, Riya has performed in many productions with them over the years including Little Women and Mary Poppins, and she is currently preparing for her next show with them – The Little Mermaid Jr. Talking with Riya, we found out about her time as Pandora in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole the Musical, making her professional debut in Ragtime and her ongoing musical theatre training.
Can you tell us about your time as Pandora Braithwaite in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole the Musical at the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End?
I cannot express how much this show has meant to me on both a personal and professional level. The year before this casting, I was really sick and in and out of various hospitals for some horrible tests because the doctors couldn’t find what was wrong. I had to turn down jobs because I just didn’t have the strength and I missed most of the academic year at school. I wondered at the time if it would be a case of missed opportunities. So, when I got the call from the Sylvia Young Agency to say I had been cast as Pandora! in Adrian Mole! in the West End!… to say I was over the moon would be an understatement!
Performing in such a fun, energetic and relatable show was the best experience! I loved every minute of being on stage and bringing Pandora to life. She was a really interesting character to play as she has so many layers of snootiness, intelligence and diva with a lot of feminism which was great as Pandora fights for equal rights. I feel so lucky to be part of such an amazing show with such a talented cast.
How did you find the experience working with Jake Brunger (book and lyrics), Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics) and director Luke Sheppard?
I am so inspired by Jake and Pippa and what they have achieved. It was so warming to hear the history behind bringing Adrian Mole to the West End and how the vision of Sue Townsend was incorporated to the production before she sadly passed away. I learnt so much from the direction of Luke Sheppard and Simon Kane, who both really helped me bring Pandora to life. All the creatives, cast and crew were really amazing to work with.
Do you know if you performed to any celebrity guests while in the show?
I believe Jason Gardiner and Tony Blackburn were in the audience during the run!
What are some of your stand-out highlights from performing in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole the Musical?
The whole experience will stay with me forever. The people, the show, the part… all of it! Gala Night was a really special experience where we celebrated the show’s opening and had an afterparty at Browns. I also got to perform the final show on closing night and the atmosphere was amazing. I managed to hold back my tears until the bows!
You made your professional debut in Ragtime at the Charing Cross Theatre in 2016, what was the show like to perform in?
Ragtime will always have a special place in my heart, not only because of the heart lifting, emotional story it told, but also because of the talented cast who performed on stage whilst playing their instruments at the same time!
Do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role and what was the auditioning process like?
I was so excited when I found out I had been cast and, from this moment on, I definitely knew more than I did before that performing is what I want to do in the future! The audition process was really tough and I remember feeling very nervous. My theatre school (The British Theatre Academy) put me forward for the audition and I will be forever grateful to Matthew Chandler, Danielle Toronto and Thom Southerland for the amazing opportunity.
At the Rose Theatre Kingston, you’ve most recently performed in The Railway Children as Phyllis, how much did you know about the story before booking the role and how was your time working on the show?
This was one of my favourite books so I did know the story. When I found out that this was going to be our next show, I remember wanting to play Phyllis because she was my favourite character in the book so I was so happy when I got that part.
Prior to your run in The Railway Children, you were in the cast of Alice in Winterland, can you tell us about this?
Alice in Winterland was the big annual Christmas production at the Rose a couple of years ago. I played Rockhopper (a penguin) which was really fun, I remember Ciaran McConville (our director) taking us for a run around the block to improve our physicality and energy. We were taught so many different skills from stage combat and physicality of our characters to exploring different accents. It was so nice to witness the smiles and laughter from the audience which is made up of the local community and beyond. Little kids would dress up in their Alice costumes and my four-year-old brother was mesmerised by the show!
What do you enjoy most about performing at the Rose Theatre Kingston?
The Rose Theatre is a really special place, I feel so lucky to be part of their young company. The theatre is huge so you really have to project your voice!
We understand you are part of the Voice in a Million choir, how did you find the experience performing at Wembley Arena?
I have been a member of the VIAM stage choir for three years. Stepping out on the stage at Wembley Arena was so special and the atmosphere was electric. Performing on the same stage as HRVY is one of my highlights of this experience. VIAM is linked to a really great cause which raises awareness of people in care around the world and problems which face perspective adopters.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
From the age of four, I was really shy at school, at home and, in fact, everywhere! My mum enrolled me in Stagecoach to try and boost my confidence. After only a few months, I realised how much I loved singing and acting. I was given some great parts in Stagecoach productions and I guess you can say I didn’t look back! It was at Stagecoach were I met a really special person, Helen Williams, who used to teach me LAMDA and whizzed me through my grades. Today, Helen remains my acting coach, she prepares me for auditions and helps me develop my skills further 😊.
I then saw an advert for some auditions for Annie Jr. with the BTA. I auditioned and was invited to join the school after my first show with them. Before I knew it, I was performing in Ragtime at the Charing Cross Theatre and, as they say, the rest is history!
A lot of people said to me that I would never be cast as a lead role because of my ethnicity and having to resemble the character I was playing, and therefore I should choose my career carefully, well I am glad I didn’t pay much notice to them! It’s so warming to see how much the performing world is progressing with diversity!
Can you tell us about your training?
I get my musical theatre training from The British Theatre Academy, who provide lots of opportunities to perform in full-scale productions. I am a member of the Rose Young Company. I attend the Voice in a Million stage choir when possible and try to get to workshops where I can at Sylvia Young, Spirit Young Performers and NYMT. The last couple of years I have been coached by the most talented singing tutor and actor, James Buchanan, who has helped me immensely with my voice, and I have dance lessons and regular acting lessons with my amazing acting coach, Helen Williams, whom I would be lost without. I am happy to have recommenced singing lessons with Julie Thomas also, who taught me from a young age. So, I do a lot of training but I love every moment of it!
You’ve performed in many shows with The British Theatre Academy including The Secret Garden and Mary Poppins, can you say about some of them?
I have done quite a few shows with BTA. My first show aged eight was Annie Jr., which we performed at both Hampton Hill Playhouse and the Arts Theatre in London. I then went on to perform in The Wizard of Oz, Elf, Pinocchio, The Secret Garden (which was actually at the Ambassadors Theatre where Adrian Mole played) and many more. My two favourite shows with them would have to be Little Women at Stockwell Playhouse and Mary Poppins, where I played the Bird Woman.
Have you seen any theatre shows recently you would recommend and do you have any favourite actors?
During my weeks off from Adrian Mole this summer, I saw Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (thank you, Layton (Williams), for the stage door photoshoot!), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Waitress and Hamilton. All four of these musicals were incredible but I really loved Hamilton (although I might be biased because I am a big fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work). Most recently, I saw & Juliet, and this is definitely my new favourite! I recommend everybody goes to see this 😊.
My favourite actors are Naomi Scott, Emma Watson, Will Smith and Joe Sugg.
What are your plans for the upcoming months?
I have an interesting project I am working on in the next few weeks, I am also rehearsing for The Little Mermaid Jr. with the BTA where I will be playing Ursula. I will also be spending my time developing my training further as teenage years are a bit more difficult to find work due to most shows having strict height restrictions. Hopefully my agents at Sylvia Young can put me forward for some auditions too 😊.
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