Actress Abigail Lawrie has starred in the TV miniseries of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which aired on BBC One earlier this year, but she’s nervous and excited to be taking to the ‘in-the-round’ Stage in When We Were Women at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre this autumn. Words: Will Gore
The Harrodian School has built up quite a tradition of producing famous young actors. Robert Pattinson is perhaps the best known of the school’s thespian alumni, but Will Poulter, star of The Maze Runner and We’re The Millers, George MacKay, most recently to be seen appearing at the Young Vic, and comedian Jack Whitehall have all also been through the Barnes school. Now, doing it for the girls, is another former Harrodian pupil, Abigail Lawrie, who has only just left the school, having recently completed her A-levels. The Twickenham resident already has a major BBC series under belt and is about to make her professional stage debut at the Orange Tree Theatre.
If you saw Abigail in JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy on BBC One earlier this year, then you probably won’t recognise her now. In that series she played a troubled teenager, complete with dodgy fake tan, garish clothes and a broad West Country accent, a world away from what she’s really like. Abigail, who is 18, is friendly and well spoken, with a gentle Scottish accent that’s a product of her early years in Aberdeen. In her upcoming Orange Tree assignment, appearing in When We Were Women by Teddington writer (and mother of Kiera Knightley) Sharman Macdonald, she gets to utilise that accent, albeit an exaggerated version of it, as the play is set in Glasgow during the Second World War.
‘The Glasgow accent is a bit different to mine, it’s a lot harsher and stronger, and I’ve unfortunately lost bits of my own accent anyway since living in Twickenham,’ she tells me when we meet at the theatre.
In the play, Abigail plays Isla, a young girl who falls in love with a naval officer and falls out with her mother at the same time. ‘It’s a love story about lots of different kinds of love, between family members and between my character and the naval officer MacKenzie,’ says Abigail. ‘It’s also all about secrets and the things we keep in the dark.’
There has been a great buzz around the Orange Tree ever since Paul Miller took over as artistic director last year, and there will be plenty of attention on When We Were Women as it opens the venue’s new season. Abigail says she was very nervous at the first read through, but if she’s nervy now she’s not showing it. She’s relaxed and excited about stepping out on to that ‘in the round’ stage, which is quite remarkable considering that her experience up to now, The Casual Vacancy aside, consists solely of performing in school plays.
Abigail moved with her parents and two brothers to Twickenham at the age of 14. Her subsequent education at the Harrodian School, and particularly the time spent in the drama department, has clearly made quite a mark on the teenager, who praises her teachers at every opportunity. ‘I loved Harrodian and I’m so glad I went there,’ says Abigail. ‘The drama department is amazing. We did a few plays every year, my teacher would write them or we did some adaptations. We took a show to the Edinburgh Festival for two weeks, which was the longest I’d ever performed anything. I just loved the whole experience up there and it was when I really started to think I’d like to do more acting.’
Her audition for The Casual Vacancy role (another understandably nervy experience, she admits) came about after one of Abigail’s teachers put her in touch with an agent who put her forward for the part. Clearly, she has a sparkling talent as that first professional audition resulted in the plum role of teenage tearaway Krystal Weedon. How did her friends respond to the fact she was suddenly starring on prime time television? ‘All of my friends were really nice about it and everyone was really excited, which was good because it could have gone the other way. The teachers were great, too, so it was nice to have that kind of support.’
Away from her career, she says her family, particularly the male element, are very happy to be living in Twickenham at the moment as the Rugby World Cup comes to town. ‘My dad and brothers are die-hard Scotland fans, but I don’t really know how they’ll do,’ she says, trailing off like she does, in fact, fear the worst for her team.
As we round off our chat, I ask Abigail what her parents make of her fledgling career as an actor. Like her, she says, they have gone into it without knowing what to expect and have been enjoying the ride so far. ‘It’s all new for all of us, and I think they are just as curious and excited to see how it all works,’ she adds.
Abigail is about to take up a year out and weigh up options that include trying for drama school and going to university. She has a couple of acting jobs in the pipeline and is keen to do more theatre and television, and even branch out into film. ‘I don’t mind what I do,’ she says, ‘I just want to be exposed to more of it because I’m learning so much.’
When We Were Women, Orange Tree Theatre, September 3 – October 3, for more information, visit orangetreetheatre.co.uk