Star-studded theatre debut for CH pupil
12-year-old Ruari Finnegan, a Second Form/Year 7 pupil at Christ’s Hospital, has landed a starring role in the award-winning play Shadowlands at Chichester Festival Theatre. Ruari, who is from Faygate near Horsham, will be playing C.S. Lewis’s stepson Douglas, opposite Hugh Bonneville and Liz White, in William Nicholson’s much-loved play. The play will be running from 26 April to 26 May, with Ruari sharing the role of Douglas and acting in half of the eight performances per week.
Rather surprisingly, this is not the first time Ruari has worked with Hugh Bonneville; just last November, Hugh gave a drama masterclass at Christ’s Hospital, in which Ruari took part and was lucky enough to receive Hugh’s expert coaching and acting tips. “I performed a monologue from Shakespeare’s Richard III, which was quite daunting,” says Ruari of the drama masterclass. “It was an amazing experience to get feedback and encouragement from a famous actor like Hugh Bonneville! His advice was really helpful in looking at scripts in a different way. At our first rehearsal for Shadowlands in London, he joked that he wanted my autograph!”
As the Shadowlands role involves acting Douglas between the ages of eight and eleven, Ruari was asked to switch between the two ages in his audition to see if he could “get” the different layers of maturity. “Douglas and his mother move away from his father who is an alcoholic, so he has a lot of sadness in his life, which I have to try and show,” he explains.
As if this wasn’t challenging enough, Ruari is acting in several scenes of the play, so he has a lot of stage directions, as well as lines, to remember. “I’m lucky because I only need to read a page of lines five times or so to learn them,” says Ruari. “I get nervous sometimes, but once I’m on the stage I’m fine and I like to see people’s faces and reactions rather than shut them out.” He also has to be on stand-by in case he is needed for rehearsals at short notice (one of the requirements for the part was that the young actor should live no further than an hour’s drive away from the theatre (Ruari lives 58 minutes away).
Since joining Christ’s Hospital in September on a drama scholarship, he has wholeheartedly embraced all the many opportunities on offer. “I came to an open day at Christ’s Hospital and after that it was the only school I wanted to go to,” explains Ruari. “I saw all the sports fields and the amazing theatre and was very excited about going to school here. I also came to see The Crucible (a theatre production) before I started at CH and I realised how good the drama is here and how seriously it’s taken. My drama teachers here are all so supportive and enthusiastic – I’ve already had the chance of being in LAMDA and school productions and I’m really looking forward to taking part in big school productions, such as the junior production of Rumpelstiltskin in the summer term.”
“It’s brilliant having a real theatre at school where we can learn and improve,” Ruari enthuses. “The technical team can change the layout and appearance of the stage in any which way we want to suit the performance. The days at CH mean I can fit drama in to my school timetable without affecting other lesson time. I think drama skills help in other lessons with presentations and speeches; for instance, although I find English hard, drama has been a huge help to me to present my pieces without nerves.”
“Ruari throws himself into everything – he is in the rugby and cricket team and takes part in every acting opportunity the school offers, which is a lot,” laughs John Johnson, Director of Drama at CH. “Ruari is very self-critical and has a clear idea of what he is trying to achieve when he acts; he also recognises if he hasn’t quite got it right, so as to work on getting better. That is a real skill and means he can only improve,” says Mr Johnson.
“So far in my acting career, I’ve had the pleasure of eating cheesy biscuits with Inspector Thursday (Roger Allam, a former Christ’s Hospital pupil), a Belgian bun with C.S. Lewis (Hugh Bonneville), and Christmas cake with Barry and Honey from Eastenders (Shaun Williamson and Emma Barton),” beams Ruari. In the future, he would ideally like to be a film actor and with his quiet confidence, likeable persona and humbling drive, this dream seems wholly achievable. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing Ruari in lots of CH productions over the next few years!
Shadowlands premiered in the West End in 1989, winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Play and was nominated for a Tony Award on its subsequent Broadway run. Originally a 1985 television drama, it became a feature film in 1993. The story follows celebrated writer C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, and his relationship with an American fan, the writer Joy Gresham. Hugh Bonneville returns to Chichester to play Lewis, following his acclaimed performance in An Enemy of the People (2016). His many television and film appearances include Downton Abbey, W1A and Paddington. Liz White makes her Chichester debut as Joy Gresham. Her many TV series include Life on Mars, Ackley Bridge and The Halcyon, while her extensive theatre work includes Road (Royal Court), Electra (Old Vic), Port and A Woman Killed with Kindness (National Theatre). For more information and to book tickets, please visit: www.cft.org.uk/whats-on/event/shadowlands