Liam Tamne stars as Rameses in Stephen Schwartz’s Grammy-nominated musical The Prince of Egypt, which is one of a handful of shows that has been able to reopen in the West End.
The Prince of Egypt opened in February 2020 before closing six weeks later due to the pandemic. The stage adaptation of the DreamWorks Animation film features a cast and orchestra of more than 60 artists and Stephen Schwartz’s acclaimed score includes his Academy Award-winning song When You Believe.
Over the last 15 months Liam Tamne has become an ambassador for diversity, with support and guidance from the show’s producers who organised diversity workshops for the whole company during lockdown. Liam currently teaches diversity within theatre at several performing arts colleges in the UK.
You’re back on stage as Rameses in The Prince of Egypt, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, what can you tell us about it?
The show itself is epic! The Prince of Egypt is an epic musical; the arrangements are just breath-taking. The cast, the ensemble, right through to the crew, because what is required of them is so unusual compared to a lot of musicals that are out there. It’s a huge masterpiece, I believe, in terms of the production side of things.
The show is the story of two brothers, both born into privilege – one discovering their deep, dark past and the other fighting the challenges of growing up, and the pressures that surround them, and what is required of them. It’s about oppression, love, faith, relationships, death, loss, hardship, privilege… there’s so much! Obviously, it’s very well-known biblically, and the animation was such a huge success, but the musical beautifully merges the culture of Ancient Egyptian History with the story that is known through faith to make such a great show.
What did it mean to you being cast in this role?
I’m a geek when it comes to Ancient Egyptian History, and everyone laughs at me for that in the company, so I was blown away when this opportunity came about. Stephen Schwartz, when I was working with him on another show (Working the Musical), wanted me to be a part of The Prince of Egypt and asked me to be involved, and actually made it happen. I’m over the moon because it’s the first role I’ve had to originate in the West End. I’m so grateful for that.
It’s just reopened, how does it feel being back on stage, and do you think restrictions have changed audience reactions?
To be honest, I’m not really noticing a huge difference in terms of the vibe and the atmosphere that they give because I feel like over the past 15 months, everyone has missed theatre so much that they are so invested, and want to be in an auditorium watching people performing right in front of them. Also, for us, the actors, musicians, crew, front of house, everybody, we’re just so grateful we’re in work.
Not a lot of shows have what we have at the moment to be able to open, but we’re very fortunate that we are at the Dominion Theatre who, I have to say, have been so accommodating in, not only, making everything so safe and secure for us, but for the audiences, it is amazing. At times it is weird looking out and seeing people wearing masks, but at the same time I’d rather that than not have it at all.
Tell us how you’ve made the most of those 15 months off stage and how did the support of the production help?
I’ve actually become a bit of an activist in the sense of representation inclusivity and equality in the theatre industry itself, and holding people to account that are in positions to actually put on productions, or do work, that essentially could employ more people of colour or disability, gender.. the list is endless. I’ve just really learnt a lot and learnt about the privilege that I have in comparison to other people in society, and how they are reflected, or seen and heard, and the opportunities aren’t just readily available for them.
So, I’ve gone on a whole journey and I feel that if I can use my platform (as small as that is) to highlight these issues, and make sure people are heard, and stand up and fight for them, then that’s what I’m going to do, be that if it hinders me, I think it’s what everyone should be doing personally.
I feel like if you go to watch a production but don’t actually think you’ve seen something that truly represents what the story is about, then it doesn’t serve its purpose as you’re not reaching out to the people the story is about.
That’s essentially what I’m fighting for at the moment, and the support from the production has been endless because we’ve created this diversity forum where we all talk about these issues, and I wouldn’t have had the time before when I was so busy.
It sounds bad saying that, and you could say that’s privilege because I would have been continuing with my work, but it made me reflect in these dark times and actually say “no, more needs to be done. I need to educate myself, I need to understand and know what to do”.
I mean, I’m African-Indian-Irish and I’ve experienced the difficulties, but nowhere near to the levels of some other people, and so the production has been so good because they’re listening and supporting, and our own well-being and mental health has been listened to, and our experiences have been vital for our production to grow, and to change, and to make it a more inclusive safe environment for everybody.
What does a day in the life of an ambassador for diversity look like?
I’m privileged that you’ve called me a diversity ambassador! It basically looks like messaging people. I’m working with Laine Theatre Arts at the moment and I’m their diversity, inclusivity and equality advisor, and so I work with them quite closely about how it can be more of an inclusive industry.
I’ve worked with Mousetrap recently, and went into a school in Kilburn to help with their musical that they created for the school, and that’s what I do, I give my time, my expertise in the field that I am in. I consult with producers, casting directors and other people, and discuss these matters.
I also hold people to account, I try not to do it so publicly all of the time, but if someone has ignored my contact, or they’ve done something like 3 times, I’m like “no, this isn’t acceptable” so I try and have those uncomfortable conversations, and try and make them see it from a different angle, because we all can’t empathise with everything just because we have a lived experience in something else because it’s never the same, but we can have an understanding and want to grow more, and actually try and be better human beings, but also make the industry available for everyone. No one should miss out on this!
What have you learnt from taking on the roles of Rameses and an Ambassador?
Rameses is someone that essentially is so privileged. He is born into privilege, born into having things readily available whenever he wants, I’ve looked into that more now and I feel like it’s helped my performance.
I feel like I’ve grown as an actor in the sense of bringing some stuff I’ve learnt along the way but also, I’ve learnt how to take on work that is challenging at times. There’s stuff in the show that I find very challenging, emotionally and vocally tiring, and I enjoy it at the same time because that’s the best thing about work is challenging and pushing yourself.
I’ve just learnt to be a better human being if I’m honest. I kind of feel like I’ve learnt how to help and lift up the voices that don’t get heard. I’ve learnt to make sure that everyone has the right to be seen, everyone has the right to go for an opportunity, and everyone has the right to be involved in theatre, TV and film.
How would you encourage other companies to follow this example?
It’s like I said earlier, I’d hold them to account, but have those consultations and discuss things. I just think people should listen, and not think just because they’ve traditionally done something that that’s the right way, or they know best because they’ve been doing it this long, they don’t, and I truly believe that if you can’t put on a production that represents the work you are trying to make, if you can’t find the right people, then I do not believe you should put on that production.
I don’t think it’s right that you feel, because you’re in a position that you get the right to do that. It has to be authentic. I’m not saying that straight people can’t play gay roles but it depends on the terms. If that’s the first experience, for example the first ever gay person in a Disney film, it should go to a gay person because it is a historical moment in time.
I think the same in terms of diversity and representation, I think it’s vital that companies listen to the lived experiences and go “even if we only offend 1, 2, 3 people…I don’t want to offend those people” so we need to make this work, have those conversations and ask what can we do, how can we be better, how can we be more progressive, how can we move forward, how can we make sure that everybody is seen. It shouldn’t be about – how can we make this amount of money? – because you’re then not doing it for the right reasons in my opinion.
Liam Tamne is currently starring as Rameses in The Prince of Egypt at The Dominion Theatre. Tickets are on sale here.