IT is not often a Borders secondary school can boast one of its former pupils is starring in a major musical show in London’s West End.
But Earlston High School has three ex-students treading the boards of some of London’s most famous theatres.
Earlier this year, TheSouthern reported on the success of former Earlston pupil, Jack Lowden, who has been playing the leading role of legendary Scottish athlete, Eric Liddell, in the West End stage version of Chariots of Fire.
Now, as well as Jack, fellow former pupils Robbie Durham and Leigh Lothian are also making names for themselves in the performing arts world, with Robbie having spent over a year in the cast of Dreamboats and Petticoats at Wyndham’s Theatre, while Leigh is starring opposite Jack at the Gielguid Theatre in Chariots of Fire after taking over the role of the Olympic runner’s sister, Jennie Liddell, in the October cast change.
In May, TheSouthern caught up with Jack during a break in his punishing schedule playing Liddell, and the young Oxton actor told of what playing one of Scotland’s most famous sons on the London stage was like.
Both Leigh and Robbie, who were two years above Jack during the trio’s time at Earlston High School, say it was obvious early on that Jack was destined for life as an actor – as a teenager he became a familiar face on Scottish television screens playing the lead role in an advert for the fizzy drink Irn Bru.
As well as Chariots, Jack won plaudits for his role as Cammy in the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch while still studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
His previous theatre credits include Peter Pan for Kudos Entertainment, and Being Victor, Mr Moonlight and A Beautiful Day on television and radio.
Adapted from the film by Mike Bartlett, the theatre version of Chariots of Fire has been designed by Miriam Buether – who also worked on the original movie version – and she has transformed the theatre into its very own stadium, giving an immersive experience to evoke the atmosphere of the Paris Olympics.
The production will also feature music from the legendary Vangelis score, with additional live music and arrangements by Tony Award-winning composer Jason Carr.
Leigh, 23, told us this week: “Everyone knew Jack was destined for great things when we were all at school and its great to see him doing so well. It’s exciting watching to see what he will do next.” Leigh, who’s family lives in Bowden, is the first member of her family to pursue an acting career.
“Little did I know when I was prancing about when I was little, pretending to be someone else, that it would lead to this one day,” she laughed.
With Earlston High School placing such a strong emphasis on its popular annual shows, it was only natural Leigh would graduate to bigger and bigger roles.
“At many schools, I would imagine it’s not that cool to be joining choirs or whatever, but at Earlston it was always regarded as pretty cool to take part in performing.
“People always wanted to be in the shows. I also joined Gala opera and, after school, went to college in Motherwell to study acting.”
After college, Leigh made her way to London and started attending the constant round of auditions that all young actors have to endure. “It’s tough, but I’m loving it,” she said.
“But it is a difficult industry to break into – it is very small and everybody seems to know everybody else. You are auditioning all the time, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
“Chariots is a wonderful show to be a part of and it’s been great appearing alongside Jack.”
As for Robbie, 24, from St Boswells, he was considering a career as a professional rugby player or “something to do with history” before he took the sidestep into acting during his third year at the school.
“I got a taste for it at the school and then attended extra courses in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and that was me hooked,” he told TheSouthern.
An HND, along with Leigh, at Motherwell College was followed by three years studying for a BA in musical theatre at the Arts Educational Schools in London.
Just before the end of his course, in June last year, Robbie joined the cast of Dreamboats.
Robbie says much of the success that he, Leigh and Jack are now enjoying is due to Earlston High School’s inspired head of music, Jeff Thomson.
“We were all very blessed to have someone so passionate about performing as our teacher when at Earlston.
“Jeff was the driver behind the whole thing and put so much into the shows. It was like Glee Club in many ways,” said Robbie, referring to the hit US television musical drama series.
“Earlston High School has made a name for itself when it comes to producing performing arts students and that’s thanks to Jeff.”
Robbie says getting the chance to join the cast of Dreamboats was “a dream come true” but after a run of a year-and-a-half, he says he would like to try something else soon.
“My agent is trying to point me towards television acting and that’s something I’d love to try. That would be another dream come true.
“You just have to keep auditioning, keep working towards your goal. But I love it. I’ve always been a bit of a show-off, so I guess that’s why!
“Hearing people clap you is an amazing feeling and one you just want to keep having over and over again.”