West End and Broadway star Rachel Tucker has told how the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement forced her to confront everyday racism and stop being a “bystander”.
The north Belfast Olivier Awards nominee, who lived in New York during three separate stints on Broadway, said Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last year had made her “sick to the stomach” and unable to speak for days.
And she said she was inspired to join thousands of protesters who took to the streets of London in the aftermath of the 46-year-old man’s killing. The brutal treatment of Floyd, the subsequent anti-racism protests and the storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters, also inspired her to write a new song, What About Us?, after she learned to play guitar during lockdown.
Rachel, who had just started on Broadway in the multi-award-winning musical Come From Away when the pandemic hit in March 2020, has released a new EP titled Lessons containing the original track and a second self-composition, The View, about the pressures of social media.
She said: “Locked up at home in London, I was seeing all these things happening in the news and just couldn’t ignore them.
“The murder of George Floyd and that horrendous nine-minute footage of the police officer kneeling on his neck seriously made me sick to the stomach. I didn’t feel like talking for days. I didn’t go onto social media or celebrate my birthday.
“What we witnessed meant we couldn’t avoid it; it was there for the whole world to see, and it forced us to stand up and take account of how this was happening to mainly young black men.
“Floyd’s murder was a turning point for me. I couldn’t be a bystander anymore.
"Since then I’ve refused to let racist comments go by the way I might’ve done in the past. It’s a hard conversation to have with someone, to tell them: ‘Can you please not say that?’
“No one wants to be that person who’s pulling people up, but I really believe that we’re all partaking in racism if we don’t stand up and say ‘stop’ and call people out.
“It doesn’t have to be done in a way that starts a fight, but instead in a way that encourages conversations and makes people more aware of what they’re saying.”
Rachel said she had always wanted to learn to play the guitar so when Come From Away was postponed after 10 shows and she had to fly back to the UK, she used the free time to begin twice weekly Zoom lessons.
Her teacher was Dan Giles, her musical director and collaborator, and together they worked on several new songs.
When the material was finished Rachel and Dan recorded the tracks in a converted shed using hung-up duvets to soak up the sound. They then headed into a studio in Guildford with a socially distanced four-piece band to record the EP. Lessons also features several covers — The Beatles’ Blackbird, Nick Cave’s The Ship Song and In The Arms Of An Angel by Sarah McLachlan.
“I really enjoyed the writing process and learning to play the guitar,” said Rachel.
“I was very fortunate to have a creative outlet over lockdown when so many people in the arts were out of work.
“Of course it was disappointing that Come From Away was pulled after only 10 shows, but I think it would have been much more devastating if I’d had to stop for personal reasons. As it was, the whole world was in the same position.”
Rachel, who also starred in the West End and Broadway productions of Wicked, is expecting to return to New York in September for the reopening of Come From Away.
The Canadian musical is set in the week following the September 11 attacks and tells the true story of what happened when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small Canadian town of Gander. Rachel picked up an Olivier nod for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for the role.
However, with theatres closed for almost a year-and-a-half, Rachel auditioned for straight drama roles in television, securing a guest slot in Holby City and a part in new BBC series Hope Street, currently being filmed in Northern Ireland.
It’s her first time acting in a TV show back home and she’s loving it. The mum-of-one was due to come back to Belfast with husband Guy Retallack and their young son Ben at Christmas, but the pandemic forced them to cancel.
“Television is such a different discipline to stage but I’m really enjoying it and would absolutely love to do more,” she said.
“And it’s so lovely to be home and shooting in Northern Ireland for the first time.
“I’m taking the positives out of the last year. If theatres hadn’t closed, I wouldn’t have applied for these roles, so there have been some silver linings.”
Lessons is available for purchase at https://racheltucker.co.uk and on iTunes and Spotify.