Island support for actors is ‘fantastic’

Reporter Gemma Nettle spoke to actor Saroja-Lily Ratnavel about the support available for actors in the Isle of Man and where her career has taken her.

By Gemma Nettle   |   Reporter   |
Monday 15th August 2022 4:00 pm
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A Manx actor has commended the resources and support in the island for aspiring actors.

Saroja-Lily Ratnavel is currently working in London on a production at the Young Vic Theatre.

From Douglas, she attended Queen Elizabeth II High School, where her love of drama began.

‘I think if I hadn’t grown up on the Isle of Man I might have had a different path,’ Miss Ratnavel said.

‘The opportunities in the island have been fantastic.

‘I’ve had such a supportive family who really encouraged me to go after my dreams and I did the Guild and went to places like Stage One drama school and dance classes.

‘There’s just so many opportunities in the Isle of Man for young people.

‘For anyone who has a passion for the arts, the Isle of Man is a really special place to grow up.

‘There’s so many talented people who are trying to pass that on to the younger generation. I’m so grateful and I love going to see things when I come home.’

The 24-year-old added: ‘It’s really great to see so many people my age, and younger and older, from the Isle of Man working in London at the minute.

‘I know people in the West End working right now and it’s just really cool to be a part of that.’

She is currently working on a production of ‘Chasing Hares’ in London, which she described as ‘a great experience’.

‘It’s going really well,’ she said. ‘This is my London debut, so it’s really fun to be performing at a really great theatre with a really cool team.

‘It’s quite a political story so we’ve had some really cool audience members, there’s a really diverse crowd of people coming in and watching.’

Before that, Miss Ratnavel was in a production of ‘Electric Rosary’ at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester from March until May this year.

She finished at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) in Hammersmith, London last year after a two-year masters course in acting.

Miss Ratnavel said: ‘I did university before that, I did English Literature at Durham. I did loads of different theatre there and it developed my passion.

‘I knew I wanted to go to university as well so I was really lucky to do both and I think that going to university gave me a few extra years of experience.

‘You grow up a little bit at uni, so I think that was good to have some more years on me before I went to drama school.

‘I always wanted to be an actor and the Isle of Man is so fantastic for youth theatre and performances at the Gaiety and Villa Marina – I loved doing things like that and doing all the theatre on the Isle of Man.’

Her time at LAMDA was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, having started in 2019 and getting about six months through her course before Miss Ratnavel’s classes were shut down and put online.

She said: ‘I was at LAMDA at such a strange time. In March everything shut down and our classes were moved online. I decided to come back to the island and I did all my drama classes on Zoom.

‘It was just such a surreal experience. There’s all these stereotypes of drama school and of funny exercises you have to do, and I could just hear my mum and my sister laughing from next door while I was doing it.

‘Not very glamorous at all, but in a weird way it was good because obviously everyone was going through such a hard time and it gave me a purpose to be doing something.

‘I had a routine in that way, I could be doing classes each day and it made us more resilient, so when we came back in the building we were really grateful to be there and be acting in person.

‘Acting over Zoom is so strange, no one wants to be doing that. You want to be in person when acting.’

Managing to get back to in-person classes in September 2021, her class performed a showcase, which agents and industry professionals were invited to.

‘I managed to get an agent off the back of that,’ Miss Ratnavel added. ‘I graduated in July and have been working since then.’

When asked if she struggled to get work at all fresh out of LAMDA, the actor said she had been ‘lucky’ in that she still had projects to do that she had secured in her final year.

‘That’s the aim, they want their students to be working obviously,’ she said. ‘I did a series of plays at the Almeida Theatre earlier this year called “The Key Workers Cycle”, it focused on everyone who helped during Covid. So, we had a teachers play, a funeral directors play, and I did one called “The Social Workers Play” and I was with a group of people over 65, the oldest was 90, and that was maybe my favourite experience this year.

‘There were these people who had never done theatre before just standing up on stage, doing something out of their comfort zone and just loving it and having the best time.

‘That was a real moment for me of “this is a really fun experience, I’m so grateful that this is my job and getting to be on stage with this amazing 90-year-old woman delivering a speech”. It was really special.

‘I had a little bit of a break after that and that was a bit of an adjustment I think to being a real life actor then, to realise what it’s like auditioning and getting rejection and keeping going and finding jobs to be doing when you’re not working as an actor.

‘I worked front of house at a theatre and I worked at LAMDA in their office and kept auditioning. It was great that I kept getting auditions through.’

Miss Ratnavel acknowledged that a career as an actor can be naturally turbulent, saying: ‘Everyone knows it is such an unpredictable career. You can work really hard but it isn’t always based on merit – a lot of luck is involved.

‘In our final year, it was a lot more industry focused and they try and get you prepared for that world of work.

‘They really drilled into us that you work as hard as you can and just keep trying.

‘They give you a mentor and they really encouraged us to start making our own work with our classmates, so I started writing some things with some friends of mine.

‘We actually wrote a TV show about the Isle of Man that we would love to get made at some point.

‘I think the Isle of Man is such a special place and it’s not really represented in TV much. I don’t think I’ve seen a story set on the Isle of Man.’

She added: ‘People are always intrigued when I say I’m from the Isle of Man because some people have never heard of it and some people are really excited by that.

‘Wherever you’re from, it’s part of your identity and part of what makes you unique.

‘I definitely try and rep the Isle of Man wherever I’m going.’

In terms of what’s next, Miss Ratnavel said she’s doing lots of auditioning for TV and film along with some more theatre projects.

‘I’ve got a few things in the pipeline but you have to go with the flow really,’ she said. ‘It’s very much out of my control.’

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