Belfast Telegraph

Belfast barrister Bobbie-Leigh takes on lead role in The King and I

Belfast barrister Bobbie-Leigh Herdman with Kerry Rooney in The King and I at the Theatre at the Mill
Belfast barrister Bobbie-Leigh Herdman with Kerry Rooney in The King and I at the Theatre at the Mill
Belfast barrister Bobbie-Leigh Herdman with Kerry Rooney in The King and I at the Theatre at the Mill
Bobbie-Leigh Herdman
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A barrister from north Belfast will be swapping her wig and gown for a much more elaborate costume as she takes on the lead role in Kaleidoscope's production of The King and I.

Bobbie-Leigh Herdman (29) will be stepping into the spotlight at the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey next week performing the iconic role of Anna Leonowens.

The acting side of things may be new to this multi-talented individual but Bobbie-Leigh is more than capable of belting out classics such as 'Getting to Know You' and 'Shall We Dance' from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's classic production.

With an impressive background in singing after performing in Westminster Abbey during her time at Methodist College and in cities such as New York, Paris and Prague with St Catherine's College Choir, Cambridge, Bobbie-Leigh has loved every minute of her foray into the acting world.

Balancing her work and personal life with rehearsals has been the biggest challenge facing Bobbie-Leigh, who married her husband Ken in August, but it is a challenge she has relished.

"The rehearsals will have lasted eight full weeks by the time we open," she explained. "I'm self-employed so I don't have nine to five office hours and then you add in 10 to 13 hours of rehearsals a week.

"Any day there is a rehearsal I'm there because I'm basically in every scene in the show so it has been a big commitment.

"I'm in a number of choirs and things so I just stopped all of that for this eight week period to try and balance everything. It has been tough to balance but it's so enjoyable that it makes it worth it."

Bobbie-Leigh took up acting in March in a production of The Sound of Music but was, admittedly, "very much a back room court member".

However, her lead role in The King and I will be her first performance in any musical theatre.

The Oscar-winning musical also holds a special place in her heart as she grew up watching the King and I and Anna Leonowens with her grandmother.

"I've always loved musicals, I was always in choirs and I've always just really wanted to see if I could do the acting side of things," explained Bobbie-Leigh.

"I saw this opportunity to audition for this part so I thought I'd try for it. I love The King and I and I grew up watching it with my granny so I thought I would audition for it and if I got the main part I would make it work.

"I didn't know anyone who was on the panel before that day. I did the audition and then there were recalls and then I was cast in the part."

Praising the director of the production, Kerry Rooney, who will also be playing the part of King Mongkut of Siam, Bobbie-Leigh added that he has really helped her get to grips with the stage.

"In terms of acting I have never really acted in my life," she continued. "It's been a massive learning curve and a huge challenge.

"It's great to be out of your comfort zone because the singing doesn't really stretch me because I'm so used to it, but this is a whole new world.

"I've had to work really, really hard and Kerry has been very hands-on in terms of the direction, but I'm more than happy to take constructive criticism."

Comparing the acting stage to the courtroom, Bobbie-Leigh, who graduated from Cambridge University with a law degree in 2012 before doing a Masters in Human Rights Law at Queen's University, explained there have been many transferable skills involved between the two.

"I suppose in a way I'm acting in work every day in a very different kind of context," she said.

"You're having to suspend your natural inclinations to self-consciousness.

"That is what you have to do in court every day, you can't think about how you feel about it but you have to be very focused on the message you're trying to deliver.

"I suppose it's very similar to the acting side of things. I am used to speaking in front of large groups of people under pressure on a daily basis so that transfers across as well."

Kaleidoscope's production of The King and I will run from next Tuesday, October 29, to Saturday, November 2, and tickets are available from the Theatre at the Mill's box office.

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