Actor Irvine Iqbal’s first big role was in Bombay Dreams in the West End. He tells John Byrne about why being thrown in at the deep end is the best way to learn
My first big commercial job was Bombay Dreams. It was the first South Asian musical produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and was written by Meera Syal. It opened at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in June 2002. When I saw the casting being advertised, I asked my agent to put me up for it, as it was a show that was perfect for me, especially being a musical, and with my ethnic background.
I remember going through at least seven or eight audition recalls, with my last recall at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in front of all the creative team, including the late Steven Pimlott, who was directing. Being my first commercial show, the final recall was nerve-racking, but the creatives made me feel very comfortable. I thought to myself: ‘If I don’t get this show, then something is wrong.”
Sometimes as actors we question ourselves. I remember telling myself to be prepared to do something out of my comfort zone. Lo and behold, I was asked to sing a Bollywood song, which I hadn’t prepared at all.
I think you learn the most on your first job. Remembering the routines and tracks quickly was important. During rehearsals, one of the actors dropped out of the show, so the director asked me to cover his role. Being thrown in at the deep end is always the best place to learn. The most important thing is to know all your lines even before rehearsals start; the lines may change, but you will have context to build on.
I’m very happy with the path I’ve taken since that job. My training at the Royal Academy of Music taught me about preparation, technique and repertoire. If it wasn’t for this training, I would have been lost.
Training is essential for any actor joining the industry. Listening to the creatives and maintaining a strong work ethic are also extremely important. Demonstrate to the creatives how versatile you are as a performer, get as much advice as you can from senior and experienced members of the company, and if asked to step into something new, get on with it and welcome the challenge.
Training: Brunel University (1996-99); Royal Academy of Music (1999-2000), Associate (2017)
Theatre includes: The Boy in the Dress, Aladdin, Bend It Like Beckham, Little Shop of Horrors, The Far Pavilions, Bombay Dreams
TV includes: The Bill, EastEnders, Casualty, Doctors
Agent: Neal Wright at Jewell Wright
Irvine Iqbal was talking to John Byrne