I'm an accidental stage mum

Debbie Beacock lives with her husband, Daniel, and their daughters, Lucy-Mae, 11, and twins, Emily and Rosanna, eight. After a traumatic few years of health issues and family tragedy, she was amazed when all three children ended up performing on stage in London's West End.

My husband works in finance at the Chickenshed Theatre in North London and our girls all went there from an early age. Lucy-Mae clearly had a flair for acting and had quite a prominent role in her first show at seven. At eight, she was given a speaking part and said to me, "I want to be on the West End stage, Mummy." And I thought - yes, you and a million others.

She was very keen, though, so I registered her with a casting agency, Byron's Management, and didn't think much more about it. She was asked to audition for a few things but we were never available.

"I'm going to be Matilda one day"

Lucy-Mae used to love watching the film, Matilda. She'd say, "That's me. I'm going to be Matilda one day." When the stage production came out, I registered an interest on the website and the agency also put her forward for the role. She was nine at the time.

To our amazement, she got an audition. She'd worked so hard on her singing piece and a poem, and the audition went well. During the day they gradually let children go and by the end just six girls remained. One of them was Lucy-Mae.

This was her first ever West End audition and she got through to the final stage. Lots of the girls had been in the auditioning process for several months but Lucy-Mae and one other girl were new to it.

After the final audition, the production team contacted us to say that she hadn't got through on this occasion, but not long afterwards they emailed to say they'd like to see her again.

Lucy-Mae with posterWe had a two-week wait before they rang to say that she'd got the part of Matilda! As I put down the phone, I burst into tears.

Being Matilda

That was the start of an incredible journey for Lucy-Mae. As well as the show, she did a Royal Variety performance, performed at the Regent Street Christmas lights ceremony and appeared with the other Matildas as a judge on Junior Masterchef.

Rehearsals were very intensive and Lucy-Mae spent so much time rehearsing that she didn't have the energy to show us what she was doing when she was at home. So the first time she performed, I'd never even heard her read the script. I didn’t know whether she knew all her lines. But as I was waiting for the show to start, I told myself that the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) wouldn't put her on if she wasn't ready.

And of course, she was ready: she didn't even seem nervous. As soon as she came on, I cried and cried. I was a wreck. That first show was amazing. Lucy-Mae transforms when she's on stage: she's totally focused and very serious about performing. Friends who came to see the show would chat to her before or afterwards, and it was difficult to correlate her stage persona with the child we know. She's completely different.

We met the most wonderful group of parents, so it was a very sociable experience for all of us. It was stressful, especially if she ever had a hint of a cough or a cold, but it was wonderful. I saw Matilda as often as I could; I never tired of seeing her.

Against all odds

What nobody in the audience knew when our daughter came on stage was that Lucy-Mae was born with spina bifida, which is a problem with the development of the spine. When she was diagnosed, we didn't know whether she would ever be able to walk.

She still has problems associated with her condition and has had two major operations. When she was a baby, her spinal cord had to be untethered from the base of her spine, where it had become attached. Then, when she was two, her bladder had to be enlarged, as it was tiny. It's amazing what surgeons can do.

So the first time I saw her in Matilda, with all that in the back of my mind, was just incredible. Every time I saw her perform, I cried again. I couldn't help it. Her achievement felt all the more amazing because of everything she’s been through. When she took the bows at the end I was overwhelmed by emotion.

Tough times

Over a period of five years we had a really challenging time. After Lucy-Mae's birth and spina bifida diagnosis, we had the shock, adjustment, treatment and operations to cope with.

Then I fell pregnant with our twins, Emily and Rosanna. We were living in a tiny house that we adored but we had to move because there wasn't enough space. When the twins were little they had reflux, and were projectile vomiting for the first year.

When Lucy-Mae was five and the twins were almost two, my lovely mummy died. She was so, so close to the girls but she never even heard Emily and Rosanna speak properly. They were still babbling and she'd say, "When are they going to talk?" It's very sad to think she's missed so much.

All these things happened in a short space of time and felt very sudden. Stress can either push you apart or draw you closer together and, in our case, it has made us stronger as a couple and closer as a family unit.

I think losing her grandma has helped Lucy-Mae to express emotion on stage. If Mummy could see her granddaughters now, she'd be so happy and proud.

School, friends and everyday life

Even though her West End role meant Lucy-Mae missed a lot of school, she kept up with her work and did well in her SATs. Playing Matilda has also boosted her confidence: she's very mature and can talk to adults easily.

She played down her role in Matilda – she's very modest. I was the one who would say, "Yay! My daughter's Matilda!" Lucy-Mae grew apart from some of her friends during that time, as well as making new ones, but her acting didn't really affect her social life.

She also became great friends with other children in the cast of the show, especially the other Matildas (children can only work for a limited time each week, so they take it in turns to play a role).

You feel as though you're in a bubble when your child is doing a big show. Children do grow out of their parts, though, and while Lucy-Mae was taken on for an extra two months after her first six-month contract, she was growing up and there comes a point where a 10-year-old can't play a five-year-old any more.

Once Matilda finished, we went away for half term, because we'd not had much family time when she was in the role. The following summer, she got a part in a play in Bath with an incredible cast including Richard Wilson, which was a brilliant experience for her.

"We want to be on stage, too, Mummy"

Emily and Rosanna were only seven when Lucy-Mae was in Matilda but they were the proudest you could possibly imagine. They loved everything about the show.

So I wasn't too surprised when they said, "Can we audition for stuff, Mummy?" How could I justify saying no to them when I'd allowed their big sister to be in Matilda? I always try to be fair, and it wasn't fair to say no to them.

They joined the same agency and almost immediately got a part in an advert that called for identical twins. The shoot was during half term, so they didn’t miss any school. At their next audition, for The Sound of Music in Regent's Park, they both got to the recall stage. I started to wonder whether they had some talent!

Emily and RosannaThen they auditioned for Once the musical, a relatively new show at the Phoenix Theatre in the West End. There is just one child's part in the production and Emily and Rosanna both got the role!

It could have been a logistical nightmare but we were very lucky because the production team kindly paired them together (one in the performance; the other on standby; then swapping). That meant Daniel and I didn't have to do the theatre run every day.

The girls had a fantastic time. They didn't have a speaking part, but they sang and interacted with the cast during the show.

Managing the school-and-stage run

Both Emily and Rosanna have gained confidence through being on stage. They're very different personalities but they've both benefited from the experience.

During their time in Once, the twins had two lovely chaperones. They spent a lot of time doing maths, reading and writing with the girls. So although they missed some school, their schoolwork improved no end.

Being in the show didn't really affect their social life at school: they’re also quite modest and didn't talk about it much.

Both girls found being in Once very tiring. They're only eight, and they were doing three nights a week. Normally, the child who is on standby would be collected at twenty past nine, but because they are twins, they were both collected at 10 o'clock, when the one on stage finished. While they were sad to leave the show, I think they were happy to catch up on their sleep!

One of the cast said to me, "We do eight shows a week but we don't have to get up early. Your girls are here for four shows but they have to get up in the morning for school."

The logistics of being a stage mum

Children in theatre productions have to be dropped off at the stage door. You're not allowed in. I've never been backstage at either the Cambridge Theatre or the Phoenix Theatre. Everything is done by chaperones, and that's the way it should be. They don't want parents saying, "Do it like this..."

With Matilda, the call times were very early and the schedule was very full on. With Once, the twins didn't need to be there until half past six most days, or earlier for matinées.

My husband and I took it in turns to take them into the West End by tube. And then the other one of us would drive into town to collect them. Emily and Rosanna used to put their pyjamas on in the theatre so they could fall asleep in the car. They'd go straight to bed when they got home.

The girls go to state schools, where they’re getting a good education. Daniel and I both work full-time so we’ve always used a childminder. The one we have now comes to our house after school, which made life much easier when the children were performing: she’d give them an early dinner and take them to Chickenshed if necessary.

Lucy-Mae is fairly self-sufficient now. She can get the bus to my office or her dad's office. She attends classes at NLPAC (the New London Performing Arts Centre) three days a week. She's very busy!

The girls have been very lucky. Lots of children attend countless auditions without getting a single role. The downside is that we miss a lot of family time because we spend our whole lives running around.

Money-wise, the girls each have a separate account for their earnings. The only thing we use it for now is classes relating to their performing arts careers: it costs an arm and a leg! They'll be able to access the rest when they're older.

Moving on

When Lucy-Mae was coming to the end of Matilda, we were advised that she needed to keep working at all her skills. She's taking exams in ballet, tap and musical theatre and she's just started doing street dance, and loves it. The twins are doing ballet, too, and will be starting at the NLPAC stage school soon.

Now Lucy-Mae’s 11, there aren’t so many roles around. She's getting a bit big to play younger children, and the teenage roles tend to go to older girls.

Emily and Rosanna, on the other hand, are getting plenty of work at the moment. They've just been cast as identical twins in a major film. The details are under wraps, but filming will be in London, France and Morocco. Luckily, unlike in the theatre, we'll be able to chaperone them on the film, which is good as I wouldn't want them going abroad without us. One of us will stay here with Lucy-Mae and the other will go with them.

As soon as Lucy-Mae found out about the film, she got Emily and Rosanna a card and a present each. She was very happy for them and so sweet about it. She would love to do a film as well and in the meantime, she's doing a spring production at Chickenshed. Long-term, she’s keen on a career in the performing arts, but she’s very astute: she also wants to get a teaching qualification.

Our family

My husband and I hardly see each other sometimes, but that's probably good for a relationship! We snatch evenings out when we can and we try to do as much as possible as a family.

Family is important. I never want any of my children to feel left out, whatever the others are doing. We go away when we can. There's a working farm in Yorkshire, where I've been going since I was little and we try to go every spring so the girls can help with lambing.

Our extended family is close, too, although I miss my mum keeping it all together. Our girls have lots of cousins that are a similar age to them, and they all get along well. When one of them had to write about someone he admired for a school essay, he wrote about Lucy-Mae.

I sometimes look at our lives and think, how did this happen? My husband can sing but he's very, very shy. He'd never perform in front of people. I have confidence and no talent. So our children are a mixture of both of us.

I look at myself and think, you're such a stage mum! But it wasn't intentional and I’m not pushy at all. It's all come from the girls.


Photo credits
Photo of Emily and Rosanna outside the Phoenix Theatre by Alex Lentati/Evening Standard
Other photos provided by Debbie and Daniel

NLPAC

The New London Performing Arts Centre is based in North London and provides dance, drama, singing and music classes for children and young people between the ages of three and 19. It is the largest children's performing arts centre in the country.



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