Ulster actress steps into the lead role in London West End musical
This week the curtain went up on a brand new musical in London's West End, and it was a Belfast actress, Christina Bennington, who stepped into the lead role.
Bat Out of Hell, based on the smash hit albums by Meatloaf, opened at the London Coliseum on Tuesday June 20 and 25-year-old Christina was eagerly looking forward to the opening night.
Born in Lisburn, Christina grew up in Belfast and it was while she was a student at Methodist College that she found her voice as a performer and decided that she wanted a life on the stage.
“I did GCSE and A Level music and drama,” explained Christina. “I was heavily involved in choirs at school, and the drama department were very supportive and gave me a lot of responsibility to be part of the creative team for the junior school productions and I helped with choosing the shows.
“I always knew I wanted to do this. I come from a very creative family. My parents own a graphic design company, my dad is very musical, grandad is a playwright.
“From a very young age my parents said if this was what I wanted to do I should do it.”
Christina’s teachers wanted her to go onto university but she decided to pull out of the UCAS process and only apply to drama schools.
After leaving Methody, she was accepted to the Guildford School of Acting in Surrey in 2010 and began a gruelling but hugely enjoyable three year course.
“The course was very intense,” she continued, “We would be in at 8.30 in the morning for a ballet class and wouldn’t leave until 9 at night.
“We had classes in singing and acting disciplines. It was intense but also enjoyable.
“The amazing thing is that it is kind of a continuation of school because you are told where to be and what to do every minute of the day,
“I didn’t have to be very self-motivated but I had to be very dedicated, I think I was only off sick for one day in three years.”
At the end of her three years at the Guildford School of Acting, Christina was lucky to find herself an agent and stepped into her first role in A Christmas Carol.
“It was a really good mix of people and it was an interesting introduction to the professional world,” she said.
“You can’t really plan out what you do in acting, it depends on what is available. I have been extremely lucky.”
Since leaving drama school. Christina has had a number of leading roles, including, most recently, Johanna in Sweeney Todd (Derby/Colchester production) and Kim/Cover Magnolia in Show Boat in the West End last year.
It was her agent that put her up for her new role as Raven in Bat Out of Hell and she was thrilled to get the part.
“The casting director knew me from other auditions,” Christina explained. “I wasn’t sure a rock musical was my kind of thing because I had done more traditional musicals.
“I met the production team and they kept calling me back. I couldn’t believe it. It was so surreal. I was shocked, thrilled and excited. I had done a run of legit musicals and then I was thrown into this huge commercial rock event. It is rare for an actress of my age to sing these kind of rock songs. Usually I am the sweet ingenue singing pretty songs but this time I can really let rip.”
Bat Out of Hell tells the story of star crossed lovers Raven, the daughter of Falco, the despotic ruler of the dystopian city Obsidian, and Strat, the leader of ‘The Lost’. “Jim wrote the Bat Out of Hell albums and always intended it to be a musical,” explained Christina. “There are a lot of Peter Pan influences, as well as Romeo and Juliet.
“The main thing about the show is that it is about love. The song ‘I would do anything for love’ is very important. It is about being young and throwing yourself into something regardless of the consequences,”
Ahead of its official world premiere this week, the show had a preview run in Manchester, where it received a rapturous reception.
“We had a run in Manchester for three months which went really well. The audiences loved it, which we were thrilled about. I am so excited about opening night in London. I don’t really get nervous before a show, I just get a lot of adrenaline. I would love to be in the show for as long as they will have me,” she added.