IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Stars who ‘owe a great deal to Anna’

Actors and musicians return to celebrate 50 years of theatre school that changed their lives

26 January, 2018 — By Helen Chapman

Anna Scher with husband Charles ­Verrall

ZAWE Ashton, best known for playing Vod in TV comedy-­drama Fresh Meat, was in tears during speeches and tributes paid at the Anna Scher Theatre’s 50th anniversary.

Ms Ashton said: “We are literally in bits because it feels like everything happening now leads back to our time here.”

Zawe Ashton and Katrina Mansoor

Like many who attended the Islington-based theatre school – including EastEnders stars ­Patsy Palmer and Susan Tully, and Spandau ­Ballet’s Martin and Gary Kemp – Ms Ashton ­started at Anna Scher as a child and had lessons for 14 years.

The celebrations on Sunday included performances from past students including comedian and cello player Kate Shortt, as well as poetry and work performed by Ms Scher’s current pupils.

Michael Demetriou, Vinesh Veerasami, Lawrence Nague and Yan Toby-Amisi

Tameka Empson, who played Kim Fox in EastEnders and performed in Strictly Come Dancing, started learning with Ms Scher aged seven.

She said: “I can’t believe it’s been 50 years. Being with Anna gave me grounding – a lot of her lessons I have taken into life. She taught us to be true to ourselves and she always celebrated the individual.”

Kate Shortt, Gail Shaw and Zanna Walsh

The school began in 1968 at Ecclesbourne Primary School. Within five years it had 1,000 pupils and 5,000 on the waiting list. It is now based at St Silas Church in Angel, where a new wave of budding actors continue to learn from Ms Scher’s methods of improvisation and confidence-building.

Students from the past and present spoke of how the school had guided them in life as well as their careers. Yan Toby-Amisi, a 20-year-old who started at the school four years ago, said: “I owe a great deal to Anna. Coming to her school raised my confidence.

Shirley Anne Hazel and Sunni Zort

“When going to an audition I know that I’m surrounded by people who want the same thing as me but, instead of being scared, I just go with it.”

Other attendees on the day included Cassie Robinson, who formed the Anna Scher Pupils and Friends Collective in an effort to return Ms Scher to the theatre’s old home in Barnsbury Road. Ms Scher lost the venue after suffering from a bout of depression in the early 2000s.

Ms Robinson told the Tribune: “I had a very troubled childhood but Anna has helped me more than any of the official services have and she has helped millions of others too.”

Siobhan Bayford and Tameka Empson

Charles Verrall, Ms Scher’s husband who has previously been a co-director at the theatre school, said: “I am tremendously lucky to have met Anna. I think this is a happy place. You must learn what you enjoy and enjoy what you learn.”

Anna’s mottos include “Laughter is the best medicine” and “The most important tools an actor must have is the voice, the voice and the voice”. She told her students: “I hope you all don’t smoke and if you do you should give it up.” Ms Scher added: “It’s delightful to celebrate this today and lovely seeing everyone again.”

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