Home   News   Article

Amanda steps back into the spotlight for lead role in Inverness company's musical

By Margaret Chrystall

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!

A drama teacher who has taught a generation of Highland youngsters including Hollywood actress and director Karen Gillan is getting back on stage for Inverness theatre company Starlight’s next production Sunshine On Leith.

Amanda Luscombe-Smith. Picture: Matthias Kremer
Amanda Luscombe-Smith. Picture: Matthias Kremer

Amanda Luscombe-Smith is going to play Jean, one of the main characters in the jukebox musical based on The Proclaimers’ songs.

“I have taught musicals and directed musicals, but this is my first time being involved in one here in Inverness,” said Amanda, a former member of Eden Court’s Creative team before that was dismantled a few years ago.

“The reason I auditioned is because I feel when you are teaching you are saying things to pupils and actually sometimes you have to go out there and do it again yourself to remind yourself exactly what you are asking those pupils of yours to do.

“The other reason is that my children are a lot older now and I just felt I wanted to do something for me.”

Amanda confesses she almost didn’t audition for the show which will be performed at Eden Court in September.

“It was bizarre because I thought and thought about it, but didn’t apply,” she laughed.

“But I talked to a past pupil – I meet up with quite a few when they are home, and Heather said to me ‘Just do it!’. I said I thought it might be the last day and too late, but she said ‘No, you’ve got till midnight!’ so the pupil became the master – and I did apply.

“It was like being 17 again and auditioning for drama school, but I did it and in my head I decided ‘If I do alright in the audition and don’t make a complete eejit of myself, I’m happy’. But I ended up getting the part of Jean which was a massive shock, to be honest! I didn’t go in expecting to get a part at all.

“The room is full of past pupils and people I have worked with – there are quite a few I don’t know – but still, no pressure there for me!

“It’s kind of like ‘You have talked the talk Amanda, now you have to walk the walk'!.”

Amanda is finding the experience “amazing”.

Sunshine On Leith brought to Eden Court in September by Starlight.
Sunshine On Leith brought to Eden Court in September by Starlight.

But throwing herself into new experiences is something Amanda has done a lot in her career.

Her first memory of a performance making a big impact was sneaking back downstairs after bedtime as a six-year-old to watch the rest of the Olivia Hussey film of Romeo & Juliet film through a crack in the door.

Her mum found her and let her stay up, realising the impact it had had.

After that, her dad – who was a medieval historian – read Amanda Shakespeare as her bedtime stories.

She loved dance, got the lead in a school musical, realised she wanted to perform and with her drama teacher, worked to audition for the Italia Conti Academy of Music and Theatre, where she majored in television technique.

Afterwards, Amanda knew she needed life experience before pursuing a performing career and worked in a pub, and as a nanny. But she had an unhappy time with a family in Paris.

“I ended up running away to the circus!” she laughs.

“I toured round the whole of France and had lions as my alarm clock. It was really knackering, you travelled all night, set up, did a matinee and an evening performance, then took it all down again and travelled again. I rode in the ‘beast’ lorry with the lions that set off first. I remember once in Nice, we stopped at the red lights and we instantly fell asleep and had the rest of the circus behind us, coming and banging on the windows – we were holding up the whole of the centre of Nice!”

Amanda helping out with the animals during her time with the circus in France.
Amanda helping out with the animals during her time with the circus in France.

Back in the UK, Amanda became involved in theatre and education productions and moved to the Highlands after she met her partner and his job brought him North.

She took a job as a member of Starfeis, an innovative group of drama teachers who started outreach work across the Highlands, in a bid to give shy Highland pupils confidence, as well as the chance to become involved in drama and it saw Amanda and the team teaching youngsters such as Karen Gillan and actor Malcolm Cumming, two of those who went on to follow a career in performance.

“Doing drama is not just about becoming an actor or actress or being in the business,” Amanda said. “It’s about confidence and learning to speak in public, being able to communicate really well, to think outside the box and problem-solve and be creative within that. And they are valuable skills in any line of work you have.”

Amanda taught the LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dance) performance qualifications to many, among them Karen Gillan with whom she keeps in touch.

“Karen is a lovely lass and incredibly good at what she did – and does. She is very creative, so kind and very grounded. She was vocal and asked questions. If she had a different idea, as her teacher I would listen and say ‘Try it!’. She was just an absolute delight.”

Karen Gillan – who had been taught by Amanda Luscombe-Smith – returning to Eden Court for the screening of the first episode of Doctor Who with her big role as Amy Pond. Picture: HNM
Karen Gillan – who had been taught by Amanda Luscombe-Smith – returning to Eden Court for the screening of the first episode of Doctor Who with her big role as Amy Pond. Picture: HNM

Amanda had also taught Malcolm Cumming, the young actor from Inverness who has been seen at the theatre in recent years in The Stamping Ground, James IV and most recently as one of the leads, Alan Breck, in Kidnapped.

Amanda found herself sharing a movie set with him when she signed on as an extra and appeared as a dancing dinner lady in zombie musical Anna And The Apocalypse.

“I was meeting Malcolm who was in his first year at the Royal Conservatiore and I thought ‘He will laugh his socks off!’ and he said ‘I’ve got amazing news!’ and I said ‘So Have I!’ and eventually I said ‘It’s not a zombie musical is it?’.

“When I was filming, I travelled with him and a lot of the cast were able to go to the red carpet I Edinburgh. So it was one of the most hysterically brilliant times ever!”

Malcolm Cumming (right) – had learned with Amanda Luscombe-Smith at Eden Court – here as Alan Breck Stewart in Kidnapped. Picture: Laurence Winram
Malcolm Cumming (right) – had learned with Amanda Luscombe-Smith at Eden Court – here as Alan Breck Stewart in Kidnapped. Picture: Laurence Winram

Starfeis at Eden Court had evolved into Creative, but it was dismantled before Covid with many of the Creative team being made redundant.

Amanda’s voice conveys the loss she felt.

“I was absolutely devastated to leave as were all of us and it is something that we will all remember as an amazing time, like the golden age of Eden Court. Unfortunately I’m not sure that it was fully understood or appreciated just what the outreach department did.”

Moving on to the next thing didn’t happen quickly for her.

“It took me a long time and it was a very dark time,” Amanda said. “Eden Court was a second home, my children were brought up there with everyone keeping an eye on them. It was a safe space and a place I felt at home, happy and relaxed – and then it went.

“It was like a death and with any death you have to grieve and I did grieve for quite some time, to be fair.

“But I am never one to rest on my laurels and I think I made a conscious choice ‘This will be what I do next’. I knew I needed to keep going.

“Today I still teach LAMDA which I love and it is going really well and I have lots of lovely pupils I work with.”

The pupils have just put on a show in the Kenneth Street Halls called Watch What Happens.

“I started my LAMDA classes towards the end of Covid, I did loads of online ones and students were emailing me asking ‘Can we do something?’. Eden Court had decided it didn’t want to do LAMDA any more about three or four years ago. But I did it from my time at Italia Conti, and I just ran with it really.

“I think it was me getting back into that groove.

"I think Covid hit everybody and I thought I had to be on my best game, which I am. In this last set of exams in April, one of the LAMDA pupils got 100 per cent, amazing student that she is! The coming term starts in August.”

Back teaching LAMDA, Amanda will also be producing Annie Junior as this year’s Glenurquhart High School Christmas show which she has done for the last 20.

Being busy and constantly wanting to challenge herself, is how Amanda chooses to live.

“I am very much one – as you may have gathered – for adding strings to my bow and saying yes to opportunities.

"You never know what you are missing, if you don’t say yes – who you might be going to meet, what you are going to learn, affect and change and morph your future world, by learning all these different things and with different people.

“It gives you a better shape. You are not two-dimensional, you have so much more information and understanding. I am pretty much a ‘yes’ kind of person – I’ll give it a bash!

“I think while I can, I will.

"I want to live – to live, not to survive.”

Next, is Sunshine On Leith, and what would the teacher returning to performance say is the biggest challenge to embrace with the role?

“I pick up accents really easily and when we moved up here I had to stop myself doing a Scottish accent – I didn’t want people to think I was taking the mickey,” she laughed. “But for Jean I have to go ahead, dig deep and do it!”

Starlight presents Sunshine On Leith at Eden Court from Wednesday to Saturday, September 20-23. Tickets: eden-court.co.uk

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More