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Hamilton and Me – Giles Terera

Hamilton and Me – Giles Terera

Giles Terera and company as Alexander Hamilton’s nemesis and killer, Aaron Burr.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

Giles Terera is one of those actors who landed not only the role of a lifetime in what has become the hottest multi-award-winning show in the world right now, written by the hottest and most celebrated musical theatre writer of his generation. But to top it all, he was then duly recognised for his performance by winning the 2018 Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
The first super exciting piece of news is that Giles kept a journal throughout his entire Hamilton journey. That journal is soon to be published, in hardback, on 1 July – and it’s brilliant. I’ve read it. I know. Sardines readers are able to pre-order Hamilton and Me at a specially heavily discounted rate of just £10.99. All the details are at the end of this article so make sure you order yourself a copy. And if you need another reason?

The second piece if news – that should REALLY get you excited – is that Giles Terera used to be like you and I, performing with his local amateur dramatics group in Stevenage. In Giles’ case it was the Lytton Players… a time which brings back some fond memories for the man who went on to play Aaron Burr, the historical figure who killed Alexander Hamilton.

“The camaraderie of being in an amateur company and going on that journey when you put a show on together is not that dissimilar to the journey I went on when I wrote my journal for Hamilton,” Giles told me over the phone, mid-lockdown.

After reading the book in a single weekend and realising this guy is the real deal, I mentioned to Giles that as an amateur performer, and representing the entire ‘amateur’ sector for a moment, it would be very difficult to apply that much scrutiny to an amateur performance… such as auditioning and finding out you’ve got the part a whole year prior to opening night. We simply don’t have enough hours in the day.

“Yes, but speaking about ‘amateur’ most of the people who I know and have worked with started off in their local amateur dramatics company,” the West End performer-come-author tells me. “That’s the natural way to start. We like it at school and then find the local amateur dramatics society. That’s certainly what I did. I went with my friend to the one group that was in town, and that’s where we did it, where we started.”

“The amount of dedication you see us applying is really just down to curiosity about a particular character who should really interest you,” continues Giles before reminiscing. “It takes me back; I remember starting out with my amateur dramatics company, we weren’t getting paid anything. So in order to get up there and do it you must really, really want to do it. You’ve got to love what you’re doing. ‘Amateur’. You have to be a lover of what you’re doing; you have to get up there and do it every week, make the costumes sometimes, build the set sometimes. It’s the whole thing. It’s that level of commitment that we strive for in the professional theatre. That’s why I’ve never understood the negative connotation in calling someone an ‘amateur’. You simply have to have the passion for what you’re doing. Otherwise, why else are you there?”

I really like this guy. He’s genuinely genuine. I’ll let him continue: “For me, it was just an extension of that; getting the same feeling as when I was 10 or 12 years old. I was with the Lytton Players Amateur Dramatic Society in Stevenage, and I loved it. We’d get there early and stay behind afterwards. We would even go round to people’s houses for some extra practice if we felt we needed it. Obviously now we are contractually employed by someone to do it but the reason why you do it – at the very core – it’s because I really like doing it. I love it. And to be honest I don’t think that’s very different, whether you are a professional or an amateur.”

Back to that contractual employment then and that little show called Hamilton. I bet he’s pleased he kept a journal? “The journal helps me in rehearsals and with my work process anyway,” discloses Giles. “I came back to it last summer and, when I read it through, I thought that it was something I would have liked to have had to read when I was training. It would have been really useful. Hopefully, people will be able to get a lot of things from it.”

The Victoria Palace Theatre.

Actually, the words “contractual employment” don’t get used once in the book. It’s as if Giles is still an amateur – something Ian McKellen always used to refer to himself as – I mean just because you’re getting paid it doesn’t mean you can’t still ‘love’ what you do. Speaking with Giles I got the feeling that – despite a strong body of professional work in the biog bank – being cast in Hamilton must have felt like achieving the role-of-a-lifetime.

“It doesn’t always happen like that,” is the response I was half expecting. “With Hamilton I think, like the show itself, my journey to it was a ‘coming together’ of lots of different things. I know that we are all passionate about our work and different jobs mean different things at different times in our lives, but for some reason at that point in my life, and taking into account the career I’d had up until then, as well as things in my personal life – everything came together in that one role. I had to draw on all those different things to perform that role and tell that story.”

“It’s like the book,” explains Giles further. “When I was doing the show I noticed a lot of Shakespeare comparisons in there, in terms of storytelling, the depth of the characters, and even their flaws. I’ve done quite a lot of Shakespeare and so I was able to draw on a lot of that experience as well as music performing. But yes, everything kind of came together for that one role.”

“Sometimes you become part of a play and you’ll know what you’re doing straightaway,” Giles told me to clarify his previous point. “‘I know why I have been cast as that person.’ And you just sort of do it. But with this I soon realised it was going to take everything that I’d got. It was very much an all-consuming thing. But I quite liked that about it.”

The genius behind Hamilton almost needs no introduction. Lin Manuel Miranda has also written the foreword to Giles Terera’s Hamilton and Me. Such a move is testament to giving the upcoming publication your final blessing. Giles was and still is in awe of the show’s creator, and even hails him as a modern-day bard: “Ha ha! You know what? When I was looking through the journal I noticed a lot of similarities,” laughs Giles before getting serious. “Lin Manuel is an extraordinary writer and an extraordinary storyteller… and so was Shakespeare. With Shakespeare, whether he’s writing about Hamlet, who’s younger, Lear, who’s older or Othello, who’s black, what we’re basically saying is ‘What do we deal with, as human beings?’ And really, that’s all Shakespeare is interested in. And I think Lin Manuel is exactly the same. Yes, he’s talking about history and yes, he’s talking about politics… but he’s also talking about brothers and fathers, sons, children. I think that’s why Shakespeare comes up a lot. Like any brilliant storyteller, they’re all going for the same thing.”

You might as well just say it, Giles… “I think Lin Manuel definitely compares to the Bard; I think he’s our Shakespeare.” Ok you said it, and time will tell I guess. “Shakespeare wrote about stories that existed,” enthuses the actor. “He hardly made anything up himself. Lin does the same thing. ‘I’ve got this story that exists. How can I connect it to an audience now?’ That’s one of the big things I loved about doing the show.”

Giles Terera accepting the 2018 Olivier Award for ‘Best Actor in a Musical’ as Alexander Hamilton’s nemesis, Aaron Burr. Photo: Televised screenshot

“Also, Lin says – as Shakespeare did – ‘I’m going to use whatever is available and make it connect to an audience now. Today,” continues Giles. “Shakespeare used a lot of jokes and songs of the time that he knew the audience would know. And Lin does the same thing, which is why we get a lot of hip-hop. You use whatever you can to get your story across to today’s audience.”

Speaking of music, Hamilton does appear to have Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical stamp all over it. But the score isn’t entirely rap and hip-hop. My personal favourite is called The Room Where It Happens which has more of a Blues and Boogie feel. And if you were to ask Mini Sardines he’d happily quote you some of Lin Manuel’s non-rap musical numbers from the animated film, Moana.
“When I first heard anything about the show I thought what everyone thinks, that it was all rap and hip-hop. But then when I listen to it… Wow!” adds Giles. “Lin Manuel knows as much about the classics of musical theatre as he does about rap and hip-hop. It’s all in there; Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Frank Loesser – Guys and Dolls. All of that stuff is in there as well, in addition to Lin’s Latin American roots. So it’s not just one thing at all. And he’s able to craft how a song works rather than just giving it a catchy melody; how the song builds and whether the character who is singing it changes or not. Technically, how to build a song is one of the great skills.”

Our last mention of Mr Miranda comes from a moment Giles experienced during his pre-audition visit to see the show on Broadway. “Funnily enough when I went to see the show in New York – that’s where I auditioned for it – I was really moved by the fact that the theatre next door is where Les Misérables is playing. There is no Hamilton without Les Mis, and it goes way beyond the subject matter; French or American Revolution. Just in terms of, historically, what a musical theatre production can do really moved me. Lin Manuel is absolutely an incredible scholar of musical theatre, as he is with rap and hip-hop. You wouldn’t necessarily think of the American Revolution coupled with, rap and hip-hop; how do you go about putting the two together? But he’s managed to do it.”

Prince Harry and Meghan went to see one of the performances of Hamilton, accompanied by Lin Manuel Miranda. Giles Terera (left) and the cast look on after the show as Prince Harry gives his thank-you speech.

As you can guess generous Giles likes to talk about other people before himself. Luckily there’s no shortage of talent or surreal experiences to mention, such as the incredible bond formed within the entire company, something that doesn’t always occur: “Those special moments do not happen every time,” confides Giles. “You do some things that really have a magic about them and they just come together and are very special. It’s probably like anything, any endeavour you undertake. For some reason, at that moment, with that group of people, coming together has a certain thing. No, it’s not always like that. I think it depends on the quality of the work; sometimes it can involve a different factor. But with Hamilton, the work is so rich and there’s so much to do such as the journeys of the characters, let alone the execution of it – the singing, the dancing. It takes so much that we all knew what each other was also going through… and that’s when those special moments can happen. It’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, Hamilton. But knowing that there were other people who understood that meant there was a really strong bond as well.”

“Plus, it was a really funny group of people. Brilliantly skilled and, at the same time, really nice people,”Giles remembers warmly. “Also it’s testament to the creatives of the show and especially Tommy Kail who directed it. He was very specific about the kind of person he wanted to keep in the company. During the auditions I remember he asked about who you are as a person, what’s your background, where you come from and what you care about. So it’s actually more than just singing and dancing well in the show; it’s about who you are as a person. That’s very important to all of them. And the more we did the show, as the year went on, the more I appreciated the really amazing people in the company. And we all still talk. There are only a few people in the original West End company who are still in the show but, two years later, we’ve still got our WhatsApp group and we still meet up. As I’ve said, it’s not always like that but with Hamilton everything was very, very special.”

No wonder it’s the most in-demand show of the moment. It makes you want to put it on doesn’t it? Although Cameron Mackintosh doesn’t give out his performing rights very often – maybe to schools though? “I would hope so,” agrees Giles Terera. “I know that in America certainly they have a whole education program linked to the production called ‘EduHam’ which is available to schools. I would imagine the natural progression of all of that would be to release some sort of performing rights.”

“One of the things I never got over in Hamilton was how much young people connected to it. There were videos being uploaded all over the place with young people doing bits from the show, so I hope it does happen. As I say, it certainly would feel like the natural progression for it to be released at some point in the future.”

Like all theatres the newly renovated Victoria Palace Theatre (Hamilton) has been closed for over a year. Giles spent a year in the show and was away with twelve months to spare: “I left Hamilton at the end of 2018 so I was out for a whole year before the pandemic hit everything,” he says in a sombre mood which lightens as he remembers his award. “I left in December and was lucky enough, in April 2019, to win the Olivier award. We were also asked to perform at the Olivier’s and we had to rehearse an adapted version of the opening in March. It all happened fairly quickly. There was quite a few of us who’d finished after the year was up, with some staying on for a second year. Then, they finished too just before lockdown happened… and then of course all the shows closed. But it’s starting up again soon. August I think.”

How one follows up a show like Hamilton is not a question I was expecting a happy answer to… although: “Erm… [long pause] I’ve written a play which I’ve been writing and developing over the last few years with Bristol Old Vic,” I’m a little surprised, but I don’t know why. “In fact the reason I was slightly late for our interview was because of a production meeting about it. We’re trying to do something in the autumn this year. They haven’t actually announced anything yet so I don’t know if I should say any more at the moment, but it’s almost official so hopefully it’ll be announced very soon and we can talk about it properly.”

SPECIAL OFFER FOR SARDINES READERS – Save £6.00 off the book price*

Hamilton and Me: An Actor’s Journal
by Giles Terera

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This discount also applies to copies signed by Giles Terera, which are exclusively available to pre-order via the Nick Hern Books website.

*This code is valid until Thursday 1 July.


Our recent cover star in action

Our recent cover star in action

All photos: Bonnie Britain

After appearing on our previous cover, Shane Richie’s digital run as Scaramouche Jones was soon back due to popular demand. The extra run saw the play appear on Stream.Theatre from 3 – 16 May.
If only it was purely down to Mr Richie’s star-turn on page no.1 – and not his skill as an actor. Ah, well.

Justin Butcher’s Scaramouche Jones or The Seven White Masks was filmed in at London’s Union Theatre under the direction of Olivier Award-nominee Ian Talbot.

Richie’s first foray into digital theatre saw the ex-EastEnder blending his TV and stage talents. Taking on the role made famous by the late great Pete Postlethwaite to critical acclaim, this new production was a powerful one-man drama as well as something of an acting masterclass.

The play is a bizarre, comic, and heartfelt portrait of a clown unmasked. Bursting with exoticism and lyrical prose, Butcher’s storytelling creates a fantastical life shaped by extraordinary misfortune as Scaramouche finds himself caught in the riptides of a cruel and changing world. A witness to pivotal moments of the 20th Century, Scaramouche enters the dawn of a new millennium, marking his own centenary and, ultimately, preparing for death.

If you didn’t catch Richie’s remarkable performance (or even if you did!) we’ve put up a reminder here of the many faces of Scaramouche Jones and indeed the man who millions will no doubt
forever refer to as Alfie Moon


PANTO SPECIAL 2021Peter Duncan – Hot to Trott

Peter Duncan – Hot to Trott

Jack and the Beanstalk | Peter Duncan as Dame Trott | Photo: Gordon Render

Peter Duncan, now in his mid-60s, will probably be forever known, by those of a certain age, as one of the 1980s Blue Peter presenters – in particular the John Noakes-style daredevil who cleaned the face of Big Ben without a safety harness (try doing that today!). Anybody who can’t remember the iconic show of the 80s might be scratching their heads trying to place the actor and presenter – that is unless you’re a big panto fan.

And I do mean ‘big’. In fact a cast of forty, plus a twelve-foot giant, plus an eco-friendly story, plus original songs and a real garden setting… all written by a clock cleaner (careful how you say that!).

Duncan has appeared in and written many pantomimes over the last thirty years. It’s a genre he’s very familiar with. “I grew up with panto,” he tells me over the phone (as is the way these days). “My father was a pantomime and summer season producer called Alan Gale and so I was steeped in the history of it from day one.” Not only that; he’s in no doubt as to the importance of pantomime across the country: “Especially after the year we’ve just had I realise how integral pantomime is to our culture and how people of all ages miss it when they can’t go.”

Can’t go is right. In fact the entire panto season for 2020, professional and amateur, has been completely wiped out thanks to a certain worldwide pandemic. That’s a lot of audiences, a lot of reality/ soap stars, a lot of fresh graduates in their first professional roles and a lot of money that hasn’t been spent this year. When Cameron Mackintosh closed the doors of his big four West End musicals (Phantom, Les Mis, Hamilton and Mary Poppins) back in 2020 until at least Easter 2021 people thought he was being a little overdramatic. Not so Mr Duncan; he also saw the writing on the wall very early.

“I didn’t share the opinion that it was a big surprise when it happened. Having studied what was going on around us, I had the opinion that it probably would be like this, and continue to be like this for some time. When it first kicked in this time last year straightaway I thought it would be good to do something else. I’m astounded by just how many theatre producers and owners said, ‘It’ll all be back to normal and it’ll all be over in three months.’ That never seemed to me to be the case which is why I did what I did.”

“And there is a kind of a strange status going on now where theatre producers are scared to produce anything because they’re worried that we might end up going into a deeper lockdown; or start rehearsing or employing people and then theatres won’t open,” discloses Peter. “Incidentally, it’s those theatres that have furloughed staff and are receiving some Arts Council money that can tick over while not producing anything. So it’s a very difficult place. What would be the point of opening up the West End anyway? There are no tourists or anybody to go to the shows. But I do think a hard rain is going to fall when the money stops. That recalibration may result in the industry bouncing back in a more healthy way. That’s what I think anyway. I’ve always had more actors than administrators; I’ve always very much taken more of an actor-manager role. You’re just not going to get much public confidence going on, even with the vaccine being rolled out as we speak. There’s a certain amount of doubt over its efficacy. Every day of every week there’s a different question being raised. That bounding confidence or returning to our previous lives isn’t going to happen anytime soon.”

The insightful actor, producer, writer, director, presenter, designer… (It’s a long list) told me of Jack and the Beanstalk’s early plans, way back in 2020: “I’ve had an idea for a ‘planet-saving’ panto in the locker-room for a while now. So I wrote a version which I knew I was going to film and, in the summer months we were very lucky to be in between [infection] waves. I had lots of ideas that came one after the other and I knew I wanted to work with a lot of people. I couldn’t go on a big audition spree which gave me the chance to work with many of the people I love be with… crew, technicals and actors. So surrounding myself with positive people was easy. I’d already had the idea to film in both mine and my neighbour’s gardens, which gives us huge scope, like a filming block really.”

“I was always doing this to go online only,” continues Peter not resisting the chance to take a swipe at the competition, “…which is what everybody is doing now after playing catch up for a while. Mind you most of them are streamed from theatres whereas we had always planned for this to go online and reach people through different mediums: Schools, Scouts… etc. What I hadn’t envisaged is for it to have a major film release.”

The ‘major film release’ Duncan is referring to is when Everyman Cinemas arrived on the scene and loved what they saw: “I have produced for the big screen before in the form of a bit of drama and travelogues,” recalls Duncan. “But it still meant I had to make some decisions for something that was always planned to be seen as a kind of live performance – there are live vocals only on the film for instance. I then needed something spectacular and I remembered that my neighbour has a kind of castle or folly in his garden.”

Pantomime on the big screen… what about the all-important atmosphere… the shouts, the boos, the cheers? “Everyman Cinemas subsequently became our co-producers. Then it was released all around the country – in those that were still allowed to open anyway. We did also have to upgrade some levels of what you do for a film release such as DCPs [Digital Cinema Packages]. It’s not a Hollywood blockbuster by any means but it was shot well and it works – especially the interactive parts. Everybody said that we couldn’t do a panto on film but for me that myth was busted when I sat at the back of a cinema and saw all the same things going on as with a live theatre show… shouting out, screaming at the action the lot.”

“There’s no doubt about it,” beams a triumphant Peter Duncan. “We took a chance to have a character look into the camera and expect a retort… and not fill the gap with lots of sound effects and noises. You have to participate when you watch it, even on your own. I think the experience of doing that came from performing panto and knowing the timings etc. and that goes for the good, bad and funny characters.”

“By the way, aspects from the production are all available for hire for anybody who wants to borrow them,” Dame Trott tells me, carving a beautiful link to amateur theatre. “Although you’ll have to pay.” Well we would expect nothing for free. Peter tells me about his mother’s days in am-dram: “My mother was a professional singer, and when she retired and came to live with us she joined the London Transport Players which, at that time, was one of the most established amateur companies. She did many shows with them and really enjoyed that. I remember when they did a big musical they would always have a full orchestra, which no commercial shows or pantomimes could ever afford. A lot of pros used to go and see the shows just to hear the music played as the composers had originally intended. She had a great second career with those amateurs and, generally, was complimentary about it; it was very slightly worse than the back-stabbing of the professional world, ha ha! She put up with it though and eventually made it on to the committee.”

“It’s absolutely correct that many of today’s professionals catch the performing bug with an amateur company,” Peter continues to enthuse. “Sometimes the pros tend to look down on it all without realising that this ‘hobby’ is actually a vocation. There aren’t that many hobbies left that people really enjoy. People are volunteering because they enjoy that association with young people and they’ll do it for nothing because it gives them enormous pleasure – it’s definitely that way with amateur theatre.”

It was hardly surprising that Peter ended up in the entertainment industry, but who would have thought he’d become a presenter on one of the most iconic and successful children’s television programmes of all time? “The Blue Peter thing was in front of a different audience to what I’d been used to at that time, much younger and with an iconic programme,” he says, casting his mind back some forty years. “The Blue Peter stint was a different shift and I didn’t really do panto until after those days really… even though it was always part of my make up.” I can tell that Peter would rather talk about the panto, although his heart does go out to the swathes of industry people who haven’t been as lucky: “It’s terrible for the freelancers in particular,” he ponders. “And I almost can’t imagine how difficult it is right now for younger people; it’s only the tenacious who will come through it. In the end the practicality of having to find something to do to earn money and put food on the table as well as paying for somewhere to live is going to become a priority… when the handouts stop.”

The word ‘tenacious’ reminds me of something Derek Jacobi once told me: “If you want to act, don’t bother, but if you have to act, do it!” Of course Peter has worked with Sir Derek. “Ha ha! Absolutely! One of my first jobs for Olivier’s company at The Old Vic was The White Devil,” says the name-dropping ex-Blue Peter presenter. “There was Derek Jacobi, Geraldine McEwan and loads of classic actors of the day. I’d come on as Prince Giovanni towards the end and condemn them all to death… so I’d quite enjoy that.”

Getting back to panto… and due to the current lockdown the cinema journey has ground to a halt. Not that it seems to be knocking our eternal optimist. “With the current lockdown it’s been stopped in its tracks a little, and we’re now purely online going into people’s homes. Hopefully things will calm down a little bit and cinemas might start to reopen, perhaps towards the end of March. It’ll be nice to have a second run but we just don’t know. The panto season is an odd thing now. The season is over and I can’t see any live productions going up now; the uncertainty is too great. That multi- generational audience include the most vulnerable in society. Are you going to come with your grandchildren? It’s a very difficult world to be in right now, particularly for pantomime.”

Well I’m not going to argue with the man who sees all, am I. “So I think we may be stuck with this online world for some time, but at least it does allow something to happen, and it’s been very well-received,” says Mr Duncan looking around for his soapbox. “We’ve had great reviews and lots of individual personal responses. There may come a point where it’s ok all of a sudden and then it’s how quickly people can respond and react. But again whether the audience will rush back into buildings is another thing. Every country is certainly different and we have no idea of the efficacy of the vaccine and we have no idea how things will develop. It’s such an unknown. And business people cannot bear indecision. How you can control something like this to fit your scenario – and you can’t. People say that they’re doing their best, but they’re often doing their best for what suits them.”

As well as his political views, Peter can’t resist one last swipe at some of the other so-called festive productions that have tried to compete within the pandemic. “There have been some terrible mistakes gone on; people recording overlong live Christmas shows, maybe at large institutions that shouldn’t be giving it away for free – I won’t mention any names but suffice to say there have been some spectacular mistakes. People who are not really panto practitioners, thinking they can knock it off… you might even know who I’m talking about.”

And we’re back to politics, not that Peter doesn’t make a valid point: “It’s extraordinary that the government hasn’t looked at it a bit better, let alone giving all the money to the big institutions. It’s the buildings again. They’ve forgotten that the lifeblood is the people, the creatives who make it all; that’s where it comes from. The Arts Council giving money to buildings and people who run buildings, for me, is not what it’s about.”

“If you want to be proactive and do something you have to make a choice, and one could make a good choice or a bad choice. But you have to be nimble, and I do feel sorry for theatre owners and councils because they are, like a lot of things in our society, moribund, stuck and over trafficked. Systems which don’t really work when you get into a situation like this. Generally, both in all forms of government and the way we behave as a society, there has to be a recalibration really and theatre’s just one of those things that will need to follow suit.”

Suddenly I wish I had a beanstalk in my back garden with bags of gold coins at the top.

To see Peter Duncan’s full-length pantomime of Jack and the Beanstalk, visit:


Here are a few production shots from our previous cover story: John Cleese’s new farce based on Georges Feydeau’s 19th Century comedy, Monsieur Chasse (Mister Hunting), starring Tessa Peake-Jones, Tony Gardner and Wendi Peters.
Tessa will be instantly recognisable to readers all over the country as Raquel from Only Fools and Horses.
In her own words: “It’s about a couple who live in Paris. They’ve been married quite a while and the excitement of their marriage has… ‘eased’ shall we say. Unbeknown to my character, Leontine, her husband, Duchotel [Tony Gardner], keeps making an excuse that he’s going hunting, but he’s really having an affair. So the story he tells his wife is just to cover his ground and make an excuse. He has a friend who is a doctor [Moricet – played by Richard Earle], who just happens to be in love with my character. They are having, what is best described as – a flirtation, and he arrives right at the start, even before the husband has left. So immediately there is a situation where one person should have already gone and the other two can’t discuss anything in front of them… and it goes from there really.

Bang Bang! is now touring the UK until 16 May. Find out more info and tour dates at: