John Culshaw and Erin Armstrong bring star Lena Zavaroni's story to stage

Duo playing Lena Zavaroni and TV host Hughie Green. who gave the child star her big break, discuss why her story deserves to be told.

It’s 1974 and ten-year-old singing sensation Lena Zavaroni propels to stardom on ‘Opportunity Knocks’, ITV’s top talent show.

Her performance led to a real ‘Susan Boyle’ moment, where viewers just couldn’t believe the talent of this wee girl from Rothesay.  

And now, Lena’s story has been transformed into a play with songs conceived by BAFTA and OLIVIER award-winner Tim Whitnall.

The play from Feather Productions is a powerful one. Through humour, show-stopping tunes, and an impressive five-strong cast, LENA documents her short life, exploring the highs and lows of fame and being in the spotlight from such a young age.  

This is Erin Armstrong’s first major theatre role and first time performing at the Fringe, playing the title role.  

She said: “I’m just so excited to play Lena. It’s a tragic story, all about the press and the pressures Lena was under as a child star.

“The show celebrates her incredible talent but also shows the truly tragic nature of what happened to her.” 

Jon Culshaw plays TV’s original Mr Starmaker, Hughie Green.

Culshaw is famous for his celebrity impressions, but this is a different role for him, and the characterisation is perfect. He gives all credit to Erin, though.  

“It’s all about the wonderful Lena Zavaroni played brilliantly by Erin,” he said. “It’s a fascinating show for so many reasons. Lena was one of the first big, big talent show winners.” 

Lena Zavaroni, aged 11Getty Images

At just ten years old, with her album ‘Ma!’, Lena Zavaroni became the youngest person in history to have an album in the UK Top Ten and went on to sing with Frank Sinatra, and even performed at the White House for US President Gerald Ford.  

In LENA, we are met with a very different girl, 25 years later, one for whom the glory days are long gone. Director Paul Hendy carefully explores what happened to the young girl.  

She was plagued with anorexia nervosa from the age of 13, with her weight at one point dropping to just four stone.

As an adult, her career went downhill. After her marriage broke up, she died of pneumonia in 1999, following an operation aimed at trying to alleviate depression.  

This compelling play, about the girl from the remote Scottish island and daughter of the local chip shop owner, is a real lesson about what fame can do to people.

LENA holds a powerful association with our world today, exploring our culture’s obsession with celebrity culture, and the link between self-esteem and self-image.  

Lena stars Erin Armstrong in the title role, with co-stars Alan McHugh, Julie Coombe, Helen Logan and Jon Culshaw and plays throughout the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at 12.35pm at Assembly George Square.  

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