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FEATURE: Former Sudbury school student lands starring stage role at Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal

Lauren Chinery first stepped into the spotlight on a Suffolk stage when she was six. She was playing a tiger and remembers smudging her face paint and throwing her mum into a panic.

This Christmas, she is back ... starring in the title role of Peter Pan at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.

She and fellow cast-members will be working flat-out until the middle of January to bring the magic of J M Barrie’s much-loved children’s story to thousands of people.

Lauren Chinery (23461391)
Lauren Chinery (23461391)

Audiences young and old can revel in all the cherished traditions of pantomime as Peter, Wendy, Tinkerbell, Tiger Lily and their Neverland friends face the fearsome villain Captain Hook.

The panto opened at the end of November and, during its seven-week run, the cast will be on stage every day – often twice – with breaks only on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

But Lauren, 25, an ex-Sudbury Upper School student whose parents live in Great Yeldham, is thrilled to be working so close to home.

Lauren Chinery as Peter Pan and Jasmine Hackett as Wendy in Bury Theatre Royal panto 2019 (23461560)
Lauren Chinery as Peter Pan and Jasmine Hackett as Wendy in Bury Theatre Royal panto 2019 (23461560)

She grew up in a family devoted to music and theatre, and cut her theatrical teeth in amateur productions. An acting career always beckoned.

As a child, she was no stranger to the Theatre Royal, both as a performer and member of the audience.

“From the age of eight to 12, I went to the LMA Stage School in Bury, so I’ve been on stage here a couple of times before,” says Lauren. “And I’ve been to see lots of things here as well when I was younger.”

Lauren Chinery aged 10 as Annie (23461397)
Lauren Chinery aged 10 as Annie (23461397)

She made her acting debut with the Centre Stage Company in Haverhill, where she appeared in numerous productions.

“I used to do a lot of shows with them. That was where I started off doing everything,” she says.

“My parents, Roger and Karen, are both musicians. Mum’s a violinist and dad plays the trumpet. They play in the orchestra for the shows.

“My granddad, Les Ager, was musical director there and my mum took over that role from him. My brother, Adam, plays guitar an, at one time, we were all involved.

“I learned so much. My very first role was a tiger. I was six.

“I remember I sent my mum, who was helping with make-up, into a panic at one show when I smudged my face a few minutes before I was supposed to go on. She had to very quickly re-do it.”

Lauren has theatrical genes from both sides of her family. “My gran, Jill Chinery, was a ballerina. But my grandpa, Michael Chinery, is an author who writes about insects and nature. Someone had to be in the audience ... and that’s him,” she says.

After starting her education at Great Yeldham Primary School and Clare Middle School, Lauren went on to Sudbury Upper School.

“I chose Sudbury because it was known for arts, drama and dance – and it was so good,” she says.

She then trained at the Performance Preparation Academy in Guildford. “I did a three-year course in musical theatre, which was brilliant. I do enjoy the singing and dancing element.

“Since then, I’ve had a great few years doing shows up and down the country, and a few things in London.”

Being in panto usually means spending the festive season a long way from home.

“It’s nice to be here in Bury, close to home, especially for Christmas,” says Lauren.

“The last two Christmases, I’ve been in Doncaster, playing Bella in Beauty and the Beast, and Chatham, where I was Fairy Bow Bells in Dick Whittington.

Lauren says a career in the theatre is her dream job. “I went through a phase when I wanted to be a geologist, but it was pretty clear from a fairly young age that this was what I was going to end up doing,” she says.

But she is under no illusions that it is an easy option. And you must learn to take the rough with the smooth and develop a fairly thick skin.

“There is a lot of competition for parts,” she says. “It’s a very uncertain career, that’s for sure, but when it works, it’s totally worth it.

“If you don’t get a part, you have to tell yourself you just weren’t right for it, take it with a pinch of salt, and move on to the next one. But when you get a nice job, it’s great.”

Her first professional role was Myrtle Wilson in Gatsby at Leicester Square Theatre, and she recently did the show again, this time as Jordan Baker.

Lauren is also a musician, playing clarinet and saxophone, so is able to take on specialist roles that need someone who can not only act, but play an instrument, too.

“Having musicians as parents, my brother and I grew up playing instruments. He’s now a professional guitarist” she says.

“I did Dreamboats and Petticoats on tour playing Babs, which is an actor/musician role playing sax as well. It was brilliant and such fun.”

Preparing for a role is not just about learning the lines and the moves. Fitness and taking care of your voice is as much a part of an actor’s job as the rehearsals and time on stage.

“Keeping yourself healthy is important. You rely so much on your voice and your body to work,” she explains.

But not everyone in the cast is professional. “We’re working with a chorus from local schools,” says Lauren. “They remind me of me when I was little.”

And performing to school parties enjoying their end-of-term treat is a special experience for the actors.

“School shows are brilliant because the children just go mad,” she says. “You’re trying to say some lines, and we have this wall of sound coming back at us.

“They are so invested in it, and they will all have favourite characters. Some of them will be rooting for the villain.”

When the panto come to an ends, Lauren is looking forward to a well-earned rest before tackling her next role.