National Theatre Shakespeare gala honour for young St Albans actress

Asha in the National Theatre's Up Next Gala.

Asha in the National Theatre's Up Next Gala. - Credit: Archant

A St Albans child star performed alongside the country’s top Shakespeare actors in a fundraising event at the National Theatre.

Young actress Asha Banks, 13, was given the rare opportunity to play a principle role in the Shakespeare Up Next Gala at the National Theatre earlier this month.

The gala was a star-studded affair with performances from talent including Sir Lenny Henry, Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff, and the audience included the likes of Billie Piper, Lily James and Juliet Stevenson.

The night finished on a high with a total of £1 million raised for the NT Learning programme, which aims to provide every young person in the UK greater access to the arts in order to develop new skills and experience the thrill of theatre.

National Theatre director Rufus Norris hosted the event, and thanking this year’s supporters he said: “It’s our responsibility as one of the leading arts institutions to help fertilise the creativity of this country, giving more children the chance to experience and take part in theatre…[enabling] them to fulfill their potential as human beings and as members of society.”

Asha, who has been signed with St Albans-based Top Talent Agency since she was seven, was selected from hundreds of hopefuls to star in this year’s Gala, along with four other child actors.

She said: “It was incredible to perform Shakespeare on that stage with people like Adrian Lester and Tamsin Greig, who have both won Olivier Awards. They are some of the best Shakespearian actors ever, and I learnt so much from them in the rehearsals and was in awe of their acting ability. It was also amazing to sing at the National Theatre. It’s another experience I will never forget.”

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The National Theatre Gala was not the first stage appearance for Asha, who attends Parmiter’s School in Garston and trains at Michael Xavier’s performing arts academy, MTM. She recently finished a West End role as the champion gum-chewer, Violet Beauregarde, in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and has been in four major West End touring shows in the last five years.