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Stage and screen star gives John Lyon students insight into an actor’s life

Theatre, television and film actor, Elliot Cowan, has visited John Lyon to speak to Sixth Form students about his life and roles on stage and screen.

The actor, who has credits in films including Alexander and The Golden Compass, in television on shows such as Lost in Austen, Ultimate Force and Peaky Blinders, and has appeared on stage at the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe and the RSC, visited John Lyon on Tuesday 24th September.

Taking a break from a production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the Lyric Theatre, Elliot Cowan spoke to John Lyon’s Theatre Studies students about the play, one of the most important stage works of the 19th Century. He discussed how Lyric production had been entirely re-imagined, moving from 1879 Norway to 1879 India at the height of British colonialism, and how he prepared himself to play the lead role of Tom (Torvald) Helmer.

John Lyon Drama Department Graduate Assistant Ethan Peters OL and first Upper Sixth student Adam Zoromba, reflect on the visit of the stage and screen star.


AZ: “Elliot Cowan was given a great reception by both Upper Sixth and Lower Sixth students, who were intrigued to find out more about his life as a professional actor, how he worked with literary scripts and how he made his way into the realms of the acting world. Talking about his roll in A Doll’s House, Cowan explained the challenges he faced when preparing for the project, including how to approach such a famous play, trying to entice the audience into thinking about the cultural and political issues that were occurring in colonial India at the time the play was being set.

“We were fascinated by Cowan’s honest description of what happens in the early stages of theatrical production, and how intricate details such as the phrasing and toning of words is thoroughly thought through and constantly changing and evolving during a rigorous six-week rehearsal process. We were given a much greater depth of understanding towards the play whilst also being captivated by the world of a professional actor.”


EP: “Elliot Cowan took the opportunity to share with us his experiences of acting on stage and screen, making it clear his heart was in theatre. He described theatre as a ‘crucible’ within which humanity can examine and criticise itself, something that really struck a chord with me.

The production of A Doll’s House in which he starred is a prime example of the way we can use theatre to examine our relationship with the past. English Bengali playwright Tanika Gupta’s adaptation of Ibsen’s text re-contextualises it within 18th Century India under the rule of the British Raj, and turning Nora into Niru, a young Bengali woman married to Cowan’s character, the English colonial bureaucrat Tom.

He mentioned how, as a white middle-class actor, he learnt so much about Indian culture that he never would have known otherwise. Listening to the way he spoke so passionately about the show reminded me how much of an impact live performance can have to expose us to new knowledge and ideas. Cowan’s talk emphasised to me how theatre takes us out of our comfort zone, both as performers and as audience members, and in doing so encourages us to broaden our horizons and gain new understandings of the world.”

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