Running with Lions to star Bridgerton’s Ruby Barker as full casting announced at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company today announce full casting for the world premiere of Running with Lions starring Ruby Barker (Bridgerton), Wil Johnson (Waking the Dead), Suzette Llewellyn (EastEnders), Nickcolia King-N’da (The Death Of A Blackman) and Velile Tshabalala (Call The Midwife). The debut stage play from new writing talent Sian Carter will be directed by Talawa’s Artistic Director Michael Buffong (A Kind of People, Guys & Dolls) in the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre’s Main House from 10 February to 12 March with opening night for press on 15 February.

The production brings together Ruby Barker, best known for playing Marina Thompson in Netflix’s hit series Bridgerton; Wil Johnson who has performed extensively on stage and the screen for 30+ years including all nine series of Waking the Dead as DS Spencer Jordan; Nickcolia King-N’da most recently on stage in The Death Of A Blackman at Hampstead Theatre; Suzette Llewellyn who most recently played Sheree Truman in EastEnders and will mark her first appearance in Hammersmith where she was born; and Velile Tshabalala recently seen as Viv in Hollyoaks and who has previously starred as Kareesha Lopez in Kerching, Monique Hyde in Call The Midwife and Rosita in Dr Who.

Michael Buffong, Artistic Director of Talawa Theatre Company, said: “Sian Carter is a brilliant new writer; her story of an intergenerational family learning to overcome the challenges we all face today is, I think, life-affirming. To be able to co-produce this play with the Lyric is a welcomed dream. We have an amazing cast and I believe this is going to be an absolute treat for audiences.”

Rachel O’Riordan, Artistic Director of Lyric Hammersmith Theatre said: “I’ve long admired the work of Talawa Theatre Company and Michael Buffong and it’s a joy to be working with them on Running with Lions, our very first co-production together, and championing an exceptional new writer, Sian Carter. We can’t wait to welcome an incredible cast and team to the Lyric and share this bold, exciting work with audiences in the New Year.”

Set and costume Design is by Soutra Gilmour (Macbeth – Almeida, Out West – Lyric Hammersmith Theatre), Lighting Design by Aideen Malone (Death of a Salesman – Young Vic and West End), Sound Design by Tony Gayle (Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical – West End) and Casting by Chandra Ruegg (Lava – Bush Theatre).

Running with Lions is an intergenerational family drama about love, loss and hope: following three generations of women, it explores what it means to allow those we love to be themselves. It marks the first co-production between the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company, the UK’s outstanding Black British Theatre Company. The production is based on the audio play of the same name originally commissioned by BBC Radio 4.

Following the death of a loved one, a British-Caribbean family struggles to come to terms with their grief. Isolated by their generational beliefs and challenges to their faith and mental health, they live between the things they do and do not say. Running with Lions explores the journey of one family’s reconciliation after loss and the rediscovery of love and joy.

As part of the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre’s Free First Night scheme, all tickets for the first preview of Running with Lions on Thursday 10 February will be free to people who live or work in Hammersmith and Fulham. Registration for the ballot will open in January 2022 via https://lyric.co.uk/our-home/about-us/free-first-night/

Ruby Barker (Imani) is best known for playing Marina Thompson in Netflix’s hit series Bridgerton. Her other screen credits include the lead role of Yakira in the multi-award winning independent feature film How To Stop A Recurring Dream and Georgia Nixon in Sky’s political drama Cobra.

Wil Johnson (Maxwell) has performed extensively on stage and screen, and in 2016 he received the British Urban Film Festival honorary award for 30+ years’ outstanding contribution to film and television. Television credits include DS Spencer Jordan in all nine series of Waking the Dead, Carnival Row, The Larkins, Outlander, Death in Paradise, Vera, Lewis. Film includes Adulthood, Anuvahood and Macbeth. Theatre includes The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (Bridge Theatre), Women Beware Women, A Mad World My Masters (Shakespeare’s Globe), Sweat (Donmar Warehouse / Gielgud Theatre), Glengarry Glen Ross (UK tour), Rosencrantz & Guidenstern Are Dead (Old Vic), King Lear (Royal Exchange), A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes (Tricycle Theatre), Fuente Ovejuna (Royal National Theatre), Redundant (Royal Court), Leave Taking (Bush Theatre) and the lead in Othello (Royal Lyceum).

Nickcolia King-N’da (Joshua) most recently starred on stage in The Death Of A Blackman at Hampstead Theatre. Other theatre credits include: Boys (The Pappy Show), Venice Preserved, The Provoked Wife (Royal Shakespeare Company), King Lear (Orange Tree Theatre), Peter Pan (Park Theatre), See For Myself (Tabard Theatre), Astley’s Astounding Adventures (New Vic Theatre). Television includes McDonald & Dodds, Silent Witness.

Suzette Llewellyn (Shirley) most recently played Sheree Truman in EastEnders. Running with Lions will mark her first appearance in her hometown of Hammersmith where she was born. Previous theatre includes: Urban Afro Saxons (Talawa), Chigger Foot Boys (Tara Arts), Hell Screen (Vault Festival), Marisol (Traverse Theatre).Other television credits include Estelle Vere in Doctors, Nanette Duvall in Holby City, Wendy Sparks in Rocket’s Island, Top Boy, The Dumping Ground, The Windsors, Catastrophe. Film includes Real, Faces, Molly Moon, Babymother, Playing Away.

Velile Tshabalala (Gloria) most recently played Viv in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks. Previously for television she has starred as Kareesha Lopez in Kerching, Monique Hyde in Call The Midwife and Rosita in Dr Who and further roles in Birds of a Feather Christmas Special, The Mayoress, Utopia, Silent Witness and Class Dismissed. Theatre includes: Yap! Yap! Yap! (Gaggle Productions), Twelfth Night (Nottingham Playhouse), Case of Emergency (Stratford East). Film includes Euphoria.

Sian Carter (Writer) trained as a playwright with Soho Theatre Writers’ Lab and the Royal Court Playwriting Group and is an Alumna of the Almasi League of Writers. Her work was shortlisted for the 2020 BBC Studios Writers’ Academy. As an Assistant Director her credits include Human Animals (Royal Court), Fiddler on the Roof (Chichester Festival Theatre), King Lear (Chichester Festival Theatre), Quiz (Noel Coward Theatre, West End). In 2021 her audio drama Running with Lions, co-produced by Talawa Theatre Company and Feral Inc. aired on BBC Radio 4.

Michael Buffong (Director) is the Artistic Director of Talawa Theatre Company. He has previously directed Private Lives, All the Ordinary Angels, Six Degrees of Separation, On My Birthday and the multi-award winning A Raisin in the Sun for the Royal Exchange Theatre. Most recently he has directed A Kind of People (Royal Court), Guys & Dolls, King Lear, and All My Sons (Talawa Theatre Company and Royal Exchange Theatre). Film and television credits include: Tales From The Front Line (Talawa), Holby City, EastEnders, Admin, Placebo, Calais Rules, Doctors, Casualty, Comedy Shuffle, Hollyoaks, Feeling It, Blazed and Simple!.

Soutra Gilmour (Set and Costume Designer). Theatre includes: Out West (Lyric Hammersmith Theatre), Macbeth (Almeida), Romeo and Juliet (Lyttelton Films for the NT); & Juliet (Shaftesbury Theatre); Pinter at the Pinter (Harold Pinter Theatre); Evita (Regent’s Park); Timon of Athens (RSC/ TFANA Brooklyn); Guys and Dolls (Royal Exchange, Manchester); Knives in Hens, Inadmissible Evidence, Piaf (Donmar); Apologia, Richard III, The Maids, The Homecoming (Trafalgar Studios); The Guards at the Taj (Bush Theatre); My Brilliant Friend (Rose Kingston); Pitchfork Disney, Killer (Shoreditch Town Hall); Twelfth Night, Les Blancs, Antigone (National Theatre); I See You, The Pride (Royal Court); Assassins, Merrily We Roll Along (Menier); Bull (Young Vic); Reasons to be Happy (Hampstead); Urinetown (St James, West End); The Crucible, The Duchess of Malfi (Old Vic); Reasons to be Pretty (Almeida); The Caretaker (Sheffield Crucible/Tricycle); The Commitments, From Here to Eternity, The Lover and The Collection (West End).

Aideen Malone (Lighting Designer) has designed lighting for theatre, dance, opera and circus. She received the 2019 Knights Of Illumination Award for Best Lighting Design for Death Of A Salesman (Young Vic / Piccadilly). Other theatre includes: A Kind Of People (Royal Court);A Monster Calls (London Old Vic/Bristol Old Vic); Brighton Rock (York Theatre Royal/UK Tour);Strange Tale Of Charlie Chaplin And Stan Laurel, Napoleon Disrobed (Told By An Idiot); Darbar Festival (Sadlers Wells); La Strada (The Other Palace/UK tour); Peter Pan (NT); Jane Eyre (BOV/NT/NTP tour); Frankenstein (Living Spit); Raisin in the Sun (Ecilpse Theatre); Blood (Tamasha); Romeo and Juliet (The Rose Theatre); Hetty Feather (Vaudeville Theatre); Alice in Wonderland (Octagon Theatre); Wind in the Willows, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (Rose Theatre); Saturday Night Sunday Morning, (Mercury Theatre); Of Mice and Men (Nottingham Playhouse); Wizard of Oz (Royal and Derngate); Much Ado About Nothing (Salisbury Playhouse).

Tony Gayle (Sound Designer) received the British Black Theatre Recognition Award 2019. Theatre includes: And Breathe… (Almeida) Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical (Lyric), Shoe Lady (Royal Court), Poet In da Corner (Royal Court & UK Tour) Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (UK Tour), Jersey Boys (UK Tour), American Idiot (UK Tour), Songs For Nobodies (Wilton’s Music Hall & West End), Floyd Collins (Wilton’s Music Hall), The Wild Party (The Other Palace), Lazarus (King’s Cross), West Side Story (Bishopsgate Institute). Associate Sound Designer credits include: Dear Evan Hansen (Noel Coward), Tina – The Tina Turner Musical (Aldwych, Broadway, Hamburg, Utrecht), Here Lies Love (National Theatre, Seattle Rep), The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales, European Tour), Disney’s Aladdin (Prince Edward, Germany), Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (Aldwych) The Girl from the North Country (Old Vic, Noël Coward), Groundhog Day (Old Vic), Matilda (International tour), Spring Awakening (Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Novello).

Chandra Ruegg (Casting Director) started working in the industry as a child actress. After more than 20 years, she moved into the world of casting. For Theatre: Casting Director for Lava (Bush Theatre). As an assistant; two seasons at Chichester Festival Theatre, Dance Nation (Almeida Theatre). For Screen she has cast short films The Cunning (Hazel Lane Productions) and Tortoise (BFI Network/Persona Pictures). Her associate work includes: The Peripheral (Amazon Studios/Kilter Films) Tim Burton’s Wednesday (MGM/Netflix) The Witcher 3 (Netflix). Her assistant work includes: Outside The Wire (Netflix/42 Film) Voyagers (Lionsgate) and Censor (BFI/Film 4).

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