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Interview with Gaby French  on the Hangmen

Gaby graduated from ALRA in 2017. Originally from Cardiff in South Wales, she brings a sensitive warmth to each character. Gaby also has a beautiful singing voice as well as being a talented sportswoman.

Gaby is currently playing Shirley in the Broadway transfer of Hangmen at The Atlantic Theatre in New York. Gaby took over the role from another ALRA graduate, Bronwyn James, who made her professional debut in Hangmen at Wyndham's Theatre in London after a run at the Royal Court in 2015.

There has been a huge surge of interest for the writer Martin McDonagh’s work Since Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the biggest film winner of The Golden Globes, (winning four awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama), and the Oscar wins (Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role - Frances McDormand and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role - Sam Rockwell).

Appearing alongside a cast of acclaimed actors in Hangmen, Gaby is enjoying a fantastic start to her career, having performed at The Hampstead Theatre last year in her first professional role before graduating.

We had the chance to catch up with her between shows. Here’s what she had to say:

ALRA: We are all thrilled for you to be in New York and working on such a high-profile production. Tell us about the audition and rehearsal process on Hangmen? 

Gaby: Thanks very much! I'm very lucky to be here.

In the audition, I read through the script, and then Matthew re-directed me and gave me new things to think about. I'd just got off the train in Cardiff a few hours after the audition when I found out I was recalled and needed to be back in London for 10.00am the next day, so I jumped straight back on a train. The recall was the same process, but we focused more on the monologue and played around with that a few times. The director, writer and casting director were in the room both days. I found out that I'd got the part later that day.

I loved the rehearsal process. We'd do circuit training every morning as a warm-up followed by a bit of yoga, then we'd go straight into the scenes, so everyone was focused and ready to work. We had a 4-week rehearsal period, and Martin was in the room for the majority of the time too so that we could ask him any questions on the script as well as Matthew. I always find rehearsing really exciting because you're constantly discovering things that you'd never thought about. 

ALRA: You’re working with some highly experienced actors in this company. What are you learning from them? 

Gaby: I'm always learning from my cast mates. Things are always fresh and exciting, and that's reflected in their work on stage. I loved watching them in the rehearsal room- always playing and trying different things out. It keeps everything alive and makes you listen. Especially those actors who were in the London cast, they've done this show hundreds of times, and they could easily have slipped back into how they were doing it before, but they continued to explore their characters. And still do so. 

ALRA: Without giving anything away, can you tell us a little bit about your role in the play and what specific aspects of your ALRA training are you drawing from? 

Gaby: I play a 15-year-old called Shirley whose mum and dad own the pub that the play is set in. Her dad Harry is a hangman. Shirley's constantly being told she's mopey and moody, but she's actually just shy and is discovering herself. Her emotions are always tipping and therefore makes some decisions that prove fatal. We did a lot of researching our characters in various ways at ALRA, so I was able to draw on that.

When I warm up before the show, I use things I learnt in voice lessons like focusing on warming up a specific part of my voice as I'm playing younger. The play is set in Oldham. I use a different accent to my own so articulation is really important - especially here in America as the accent is alien to them.

I do the same warm up every day when I get to the theatre - a bit of stretching and then a vocal warm up. Then we play volleyball as a group to get us communicating and energised. 

ALRA: It’s not been a year since you graduated from ALRA. What are your fondest memories of your training? 

Gaby: I loved my time at ALRA, so I have a lot of fond memories. I was lucky enough to be in an amazing year group, and everyone was/still are very supportive of each other. We were very close-knit, and this helped massively throughout our training. So that was definitely the highlight for me - spending three years with a lush group of people. Winning a Laurence Olivier bursary in the second year will always be very special too. 

ALRA: It’s often the case that as an actor you will spend a lot of time away from home. What are you missing most? 

Gaby: Definitely missing a roast in my favourite Toby Carvery. I managed to find a roast dinner place out here but the gravy's not quite the same, so I am looking forward to getting back to TC in Mitcham. I miss my family and friends too, but thankfully it's easy to talk to them. 

ALRA: Finally, what advice would you give to prospective students who are auditioning for drama school?

Gaby: Never lose hope. There's constantly knockbacks in our business, and you have to be able to put them behind you and look forward. Have confidence in the audition, be in the moment and be yourself - that's the most important one I think, and it's what makes you unique. There's no other you - celebrate that. 

ALRA: Thanks so much for sparing the time to talk to us and we wish you all the very best for the production.

If you are alumni and would like to share your story or current projects with us, please get in touch at alumni@alra.co.uk.

Keep up to date with what our graduates have been up to by visiting our dedicated alumni page.