Aasma Day talks to Lancashire lad Matthew Hawksley about landing his first acting role in musical West Side Story
“IF at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”
The world of acting can be tough and most artists prepare themselves for a multitude of knocks when it comes to auditions before landing themselves a role.
So Lancashire lad Matthew Hawksley was stunned and thrilled to strike lucky at his first audition after graduating from performing arts college and land himself a part in iconic musical West Side Story which is touring around the country.
Matthew, 21, who grew up in Tarleton, near Preston and went to Tarleton High School before doing his A-levels at Runshaw College in Leyland and says is was there that he discovered he had an ambition for acting and performing.
Matthew explains: “I met a few people at college who were really into their dancing and I did performing arts as one of my A-levels and really got into it.
“I have always been keen on acting and I did a lot of music in my A-levels and played the trumpet so I loved the thrill of performing.
“My friends at college gave me the encouragement I needed to pursue my dream and to audition for professional musical theatre colleges.”
Matthew got himself a place at Doreen Bird’s College of Dance in Sidcup, Kent, and the intensive three-year course included ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary dance as well as ensemble classes and preparing students for the world of auditions.
Matthew soon realised he loved acting and performing and longed to perform before an audience in theatre.
He says: “You get a real sense of achievement when you are in a show and I have to admit, it is also great to get so much attention.
“There are so many great stories and parts to perform and so much variety, I think it is something you could never get bored of.”
Matthew graduated from performing arts college in July last year and just three weeks later, he was straight into rehearsals for West Side Story. With a broad smile, Matthew says: “It was my first audition and I got a part!
“The audition itself was nerve wracking and I was quite apprehensive with it being my first audition.
“You can’t really prepare properly as so many different people tell you so many different things, but you just have to experience it for yourself.
“But as well as feeling a bit nervous, I was really excited about the audition too.
“I was ready to leave college and show people what I was capable of doing.”
West Side Story changed the course of musical theatre when it opened on Broadway in 1957 and it still remains one of the most successful stage shows of all time.
The 1961 film version won 10 Academy Awards.
Based on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is set on Manhattan’s Upper west Side and explores the rivalry between two teenage gangs: one white, the other Puerto Rican.
When the male lead character Tony falls in love with Maria, the sister of the rival gang’s leader, the feud takes on a new dimension and as their love blossoms, so begins a fatal journey overshadowed by violence and hatred.
West Side Story was originally directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, has a book by Arthur Laurents and music by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
This production features the entire original Jerome Robbins choreography.
Some of the popular songs in the iconic musical include Maria, Tonight, Somewhere, America and I Feel Pretty.
This production of West Side Story features the entire original Jerome Robbins. Matthew plays the part of Action, who is second in command to one of the gang leader’s called Riff.
Matthew explains: “Action is very hotheaded and temperamental and has a troubled personality.
“When Riff dies, Action naturally takes over the gang and in the process, he reveals different parts of his character.
“Action can turn quite dark and is a very bitter person, but there are elements of comedy to him as well.
“I absolutely love being in West Side Story as it is such a wonderful musical and has singing, dancing and acting all in the same show.
“I don’t think there is another musical that can compare with it.
“The story is very moving and is based on Romeo and Juliet but is a lot grittier with the insight into gang culture.
“The show has a very fresh feel and every time we go to a new city to perform it, there is another dimension to it.
“Touring is quite relentless and is very tiring, but so thrilling. It is very exciting getting to visit so many different cities and go to places I have never been before and perform in front of different audiences.
“I have particularly enjoyed our run at Manchester Palace with it being so close to home.
“It meant that I was able to go home for Christmas Day and my family and friends have been able to come and see the show.
“Getting a part in West Side Story has been such a great start to my performing career and it has made me get the acting bug even more than I already did.
“I am now looking forward to the year ahead and seeing what the future holds.”
West Side Story is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday. Tickets cost between £15 and £55. Call 0844 871 3019 or visit: www.atgtickets.com/manchester