10-year-old Ayana makes 'phenomenal' stage debut in The Lion King

Ayana Fonso, 10, from Hitchin, made her West End debut playing young Nala in The Lion King

Ayana Fonso, 10, from Hitchin, made her West End debut playing young Nala in The Lion King - Credit: Syreeta Fonso

A 10-year-old girl from Hitchin has made her West End debut in The Lion King following a rigorous audition process.

Ayana Fonso, a pupil at Purwell Primary School, earned the part of young Nala after taking part in Disney's 10-week 'Cub Academy', which finds children to play the roles of the young lion cubs.

Her mum Syreeta told the Comet: "There are national auditions to get into Cub Academy for children who go on to play Nala or Simba.

"They accept about 20 to 25 children from across the country."

Once Ayana won a place in the academy, she was trained by industry professionals in acting, singing, dancing, puppetry and vocal work.

Ayana, who has also been trained by AkomaAsa Performing Arts Academy in Stockwell, had to attend two three-hour sessions a week for 10 weeks in Shaftesbury Avenue, at the heart of London's theatre district.

Syreeta said: "The academy really put them through their paces in a professional setting.

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"At the end those children are put through an audition process. It's just a phenomenal experience."

Although Ayana had done some singing and dance training before, this was her first time doing musical theatre since the age of three.

"She's an incredibly musical child and she picks things up very quickly," Syreeta said. 

"She really responded well to the training. They're looking for children who at the end of the 10 weeks have the potential to be ready for the West End stage in six weeks."

Purwell Primary School pupil Ayana went through a rigorous audition process before landing the role in The Lion King

Purwell Primary School pupil Ayana went through a rigorous audition process before landing the role in The Lion King - Credit: Syreeta Fonso

After Cub Academy, Ayana went through two five-hour auditions in front of a panel of judges, before being picked for the role. 

Syreeta said: "I'm still pinching myself. She's not even 10-and-a-half yet."

Ayana then went through rehearsals with the adult cast for 30 hours a week, doing reduced school hours during that time, before joining the UK and Ireland tour of The Lion King and making her stage debut on January 2 in Dublin.

"The growth in her has been phenomenal," Syreeta said. "She's had to be confident enough to communicate with adults she doesn't know.

"She just shone on the stage. I could not believe her confidence and command of the space on the big stage.

"It was quite an emotional experience and she loved every minute of it. Her face was just a picture of joy."

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