Recently, Aharon Rayner made his professional debut originating the role of Hassan in the world premiere of Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary‘s production of The Great British Bake-Off: The Musical, which had a limited run at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre this summer. Whilst training at ArtsEd, for Aharon’s third year shows, he was part of the European premieres of SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical (with which he was Dance Captain) and Lysistrata Jones, and he also performed at this year’s Olivier Awards. Answering our questions, Aharon spoke to us about being in the cast of The Great British Bake-Off: The Musical world premiere, originating the role of Hassan for his professional debut and the third year shows he performed in with ArtsEd.
You have recently finished performing in The Great British Bake-Off: The Musical at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre, what was the show like to be part of?
Well, being able to be a part of something as funny and as heart-warming as this has been a complete blessing.
The show, amongst tears of laughter, brings a real family and unity feel to it and connects with audiences on a relatable and emotional level.
I feel that having the chance to be a part of that was an incredible journey for me. I’ve learned so much from the amazing cast and creatives and have given so much of myself to the story. Absolutely mad to think it’s over already.
How was it originating the role of Hassan in the world premiere of the musical and what was he like to play?
I can’t even begin to explain how it felt for me.
Being part of an original cast has been a dream of mine since I first entered this acting world, let alone being able to originate a whole character in a show with a background that holds so much weight.
Bringing Hassan to life was the interesting part! I feel like everyone who created that character had an idea of how he would be portrayed. However, when I started to bring options to the table he became a wider character. He is a streetwise, cheeky guy with a great understanding of other people and vulnerability.
Do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role and how was it having Hassan as your professional debut?
I WAS GASSED!!! Me and one of my close friends were just leaving the door, heading out to watch another friend perform in a concert.
Prior to this, I had been on hold for the part about a week. As we were leaving, I heard an email buzz on my phone, so I took it out not thinking anything.
Me and my friend slowly start reading it together at the same time and start getting louder and more excited all the way up to the part where they’re like ‘we’d like to offer’ and then we just went nuts.
Running about the house, jumping up and down. The neighbours must have hated us!
I believe having Hassan as my stage debut is a really good start for my career and one that I’m eternally grateful for. Hopefully, moving forward, this will reflect well on my short time in the industry since leaving training.
How was it working with the rest of the cast and what was it like reading the script for the first time?
Well, as I’m sure many are aware, this cast was full of amazingly talented performers with big names and huge credits from years of being in this business. Their talent on stage backs this up and I was honoured to share the stage with them.
Being the only person in the cast that had just graduated and didn’t have any other credits, it was a little scary walking into it with no experience, however, the cast were like a family and each person looked out for the other. I learned so much because of this.
The first read of the script was a crazy day because nobody knew what to expect from this show other than those who took part in the workshop. But it was full of laughs, wows and, of course, pastries!
What was it like seeing the audience response to the musical and what did you enjoy most about working on a world premiere production?
In my opinion, rehearsing anything that is a comedy or that contains a lot of comedic features is hard as things can become repetitive and feel less effective than usual.
As soon as we performed the show in front of an audience, it felt so rewarding and emotional. Almost every single show had a standing ovation over the two weeks and it was a beautiful experience to be asked for autographs and pictures by lovely members of the public.
What are some of your favourite memories from performing in The Great British Bake-Off: The Musical?
Definitely the rehearsals in Pimlico, getting to know and form friendships with all the cast members and creating the show together was a memory I’ll never forget.
You graduated from ArtsEd this year, was there anything that encouraged you to train there and how was your time as a student during the pandemic?
Around about five years ago I didn’t even know what musical theatre was, I auditioned after two years training at Emil Dale Academy, which was my foundation on learning what musical theatre was and entering this world.
During the pandemic, I was encouraged and supported by all my peers and teachers. The team there really are the best at what they do and work hard to look after all individuals under circumstances like myself.
I don’t come from any privileges and ArtsEd as a whole made me feel welcome, and supported me financially, mentally and materialistically.
Whilst training, you performed in the European premieres of SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical and Lysistrata Jones, can you tell us about working on these shows?
For third year shows, I was shocked when I found out what they were.
However, they were amazing and challenging to work on! Both were completely different styles.
Being a Dance Captain on SpongeBob taught me how to lead and command a room and it was amazing to be the choreographer’s right hand.
In Lysistrata, I was able to work on a character called Uardo and sink my teeth into the context of the character using all the tools I’d been taught over the three years.
How did you find the experience attending and performing at this year’s Olivier Awards as part of ArtsEd?
One of the most amazing nights in my life to be dripped out (dressed up) and be invited to attend and perform! At one of the most beautiful theatres.
A real blessing and one I hope to have the honour of attending again one day.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you get into it?
I used to be a boxer, I remember watching movies and musical films such as Hairspray and The Greatest Showman and thinking ‘wow, I’d love to do something like that’.
Two years later and I was accepted into the two-year BTEC at Emil Dale Academy, where I learnt the foundation of musical theatre and trained to a standard that got me recognised by ArtsEd. So essentially you could say I jumped in last minute, haha!
Being able to discover characters with complex emotions and deep conflicts within their stories and themselves is something that really brings out my love for what we do. It’s amazing to be someone else and make others happy doing so.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
OF COURSE! My favourite show is Hamilton, just because I dream of being part of it at least once a week, hahaha!
Shows that I would LOVE to watch are Cabaret, In The Heights, Sweeney Todd and Aladdin.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
Me and my girlfriend share an apartment together and she’s also in the industry.
We both believe quality time with each other and friends outside of work is essential to not getting too caught up inside the industry mindset, as this can wear you out.
Things such as working out, cooking, spontaneous days out and exploring new areas are some of the many things I enjoy doing away from work. And obviously sleeping… lots of sleeping.
Have you been given any advice over your time as an actor so far that has stuck with you?
Two things that will stick with me forever that I heard whilst training.
One was at Emil Dale Academy and my Head of Dance said to us – “Be a sponge and soak up every bit of information you’re taught. Take it with you and use it for future effect”.
And the other was told to me at ArtsEd by Harriet Thorpe. “Don’t let your life in the industry reflect on who you are as a person, if you are nothing without a job then you’ll be nothing with a job”.
What are you hoping the next year brings for your career?
Since leaving ArtsEd, I’ve been blessed enough to achieve many of the goals I dreamt for myself in third year.
So for this year I have a new set of goals which are to work in the West End, be nominated for an Olivier and to be part of an original cast recording.
Hopefully my work ethic and mindset will help me obtain these goals and, looking forward, I am grateful for every moment inside and outside this industry.
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