Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2019: Introducing the rising stars on our Emerging Talent shortlist

L-R: Johan Persson/Marc Brenner/Manuel Harlan/Sarah Lee
L-R: Johan Persson/Marc Brenner/Manuel Harlan/Sarah Lee

It’s an electric feeling: watching a performance by a young actor who you can tell has something special. And big things surely await the four talents on the shortlist for the Emerging Talent Award, in partnership with Access Entertainment, at this year’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

Here we introduce the contenders, with the winner announced on November 24 at the London Coliseum.

Bobby Stallwood

Faith, Hope and Charity at the National Theatre

(Sarah Lee)
(Sarah Lee)

In Faith, Hope and Charity, Bobby Stallwood had the line that audiences couldn’t forget: “When we’re hungry, we go to sleep.” He played Marc in the final part of Alexander Zeldin’s trilogy of plays about inequality in the UK; along with his mother Beth (played by Susan Lynch), he’s a regular at a community centre threatened by cuts that provides a vital foodbank service. That line, a heartbreaking strategy for survival, was based on the experiences of a real family.

This was the second time that Stallwood, 17, had worked with Zeldin, who he describes as “a very special, unique director”. (He was also in Love, the trilogy’s middle part, set in a homeless hostel at Christmas.) “He comes in with a script. We read it, then he throws it away and gets us to improvise it. Then he writes what we’ve improvised,” he explains. To help devise their characters, Zeldin sent Stallwood and Lynch into Waterloo with just £1.50 and asked them to find a present for Hazel, the character who ran the community centre (played by Cecilia Noble).

Currently living in Walthamstow with his family, Stallwood has dyslexia and couldn’t wait to leave school. He never knew acting was a career choice - “I just loved attention, really” - and has been training at RAW Academy, a professional performing arts college in Waltham Forest, for the past eight years. “It’s a real stepping stone for people to find their feet in this world.”

He looks up to Lennie James and castmate Nick Holder, actors with similar working-class backgrounds to his own, and in future he’s keen to play more characters like Marc, “real people who don’t have a voice”. The show has left a strong political impact: “I can no longer walk past a homeless person without stopping to help.”

Shiloh Coke

Chiaroscuro at the Bush Theatre

(Johan Persson)
(Johan Persson)

Before reading Jackie Kay’s Chiaroscuro, Shiloh Coke wasn’t used to seeing people like herself depicted on stage. “It’s not often that a queer woman looks like me,” she tells me.

As Beth, a black woman allowing herself to be loved by Opal, a lighter-skinned woman of colour struggling to come out, Coke, 27, was extraordinary. “I’ve never played a love interest before – and in this show I had two!” she laughs. As Lynette Linton’s first show as artistic director at the Bush, the show had added significance .“She’s a game-changer,” Coke says. “In this play we could speak openly about themes you’re not often able to fully touch on, like colourism and privilege within the POC community.”

But the show reached a level of rare emotional heights when the characters expressed themselves through song, with music also written by Coke. Having co-created the music for Arinzé Kene’s Misty and worked as associate music director for Small Island at the National Theatre (where she also played Celia), it’s central to what she does. “It’s a universal language, and probably my favourite form of storytelling. Because regardless of the language it’s in, you understand what’s at the heart of it.”

Born and raised in West London, she joined the local steel orchestra as a teenager before doing a course in acting and music at Rose Bruford College. From what she describes as “a very Jamaican family,” her mother (also a musician) raised her along with her grandmother and aunt (her mum’s identical twin). “I grew up pretty much around the matriarch,” she says. At school she didn’t get the necessary support for her dyslexia, but a music tutor took her to watch operas, which sparked a fascination with theatre.

Currently she’s writing a few new projects and composing new music. As someone who composes and acts, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a big inspiration. “In my career I was often made to feel I had to choose. Now I’m realising that I don’t.”

Grace Molony

The Watsons at Chichester Festival Theatre and Menier Chocolate Factory

(Manuel Harlan)
(Manuel Harlan)

Grace Molony would like to apologise to whoever was sat behind her at a performance of Annie that she saw as a child. “Apparently the orchestra started and I just stood up and my mouth was open and I didn’t sit down for the whole show,” she laughs.

In Laura Wade’s dazzling stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel The Watsons, Molony, 24, played a heroine to rival Elizabeth Bennet. “She’s such a feisty, forward-thinking feminist,” Molony tells me. “She’s got a real fire in her, but also a massive vulnerability.” She fell in love with the play from the minute she read it, and audiences love it too. At a recent performance, 70 American students came to see it: “They were screaming. Literally, screaming, at points.”

Molony, who grew up in Teddington, originally thought she wanted to be a doctor, lawyer or detective. “It wasn’t until I was about 17 that I realised my career choice totally depended on the TV show I was watching at the time,” she says. Although she has early memories of being reluctantly dragged on stage to sing in one of her production manager dad’s pantos, she hopes one day the Molony family will all be able to work on a show together (her mum is an actress, her brother a musician who also works with theatre scenery). Now living in a house-share in Vauxhall with four secondary-school friends (who all do “muggle jobs”), she trained at LAMDA straight from school before getting her first job in a stage adaptation of Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls at Chichester in 2017.

Claire Foy, Denise Gough and Jessie Buckley, who all nimbly switch between stage and screen work, are three of Molony’s biggest acting inspirations. She puts having “a face that looks like I’m from the past” down to why she’s been cast in so many period roles, and is up for something “gritty and modern” soon. But she’d also love for more people to see The Watsons in a bigger theatre. “I’d absolutely love to give it another life.” She can tick that off her list: a West End transfer has been announced today.

Laurie Kynaston

The Son at the Kiln Theatre and Duke of York's Theatre

(Marc Brenner)
(Marc Brenner)

Laurie Kynaston didn't get a place at drama school. “LAMDA, Bristol, Cardiff, RADA... didn’t get in,” he tells me. But that didn’t stop him: he’s just finished playing the lead role in Florian Zeller’s critically-acclaimed drama The Son, which opened at the Kiln this year before transferring to the West End.

In The Son, Kynaston, 25, meticulously captured the pain, shame and rage of a teenage boy confused by the darkness of his own depression. He’d previously seen The Father, Zeller’s portrait of a man stricken with dementia, and “was completely blown away by it”, and jumped at the chance to work with director Michael Longhurst.

His initial interest in acting came from doing a school play at the age of 10; he was excited by things going wrong. “I loved the calamity of it all,” he says. His family mainly have science-related careers, but it was a musical household; his mum played the cello and took him to classical concerts. Now based in Hackney, he grew up on the North Wales and Shropshire border. It was being in the National Youth Theatre of Wales that allowed him to audition for a starring role in The Winslow Boy at Theatr Clwyd at just 19. (He got the job.)

With its themes of mental health, The Son made a deep impact on many audience members. “That was really apparent at the Kiln, because there’s no stage door – we’d come out through the bar, and lots of people would come and share their own experiences,” he says. “It’s hard to hear sometimes, but I thought if it just made one or two people able to talk about it, we’ve done our jobs.”

In between starring in The Son, Kynaston has been busy filming several TV projects, including The Split, where he worked with Nicola Walker, one of his acting heroes. The big screen beckons: he’s just finished work on the film adaptation of Caitlin Moran’s novel How to Build A Girl alongside Beanie Feldstein and Paddy Considine. “It’s such a cool, punk film that’s super-funny. I think people are going to really enjoy it.”


The 65th Evening Standard Theatre Awards, in association with Michael Kors, take place on November 24. standard.co.uk/theatreawards #ESTheatreAwards

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The 2019 Evening Standard Theatre Awards shortlist in full