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Friday 28 May 2021

Graduate’s extra special theatre return after cardiac arrest

UCLan’s acting students take to the stage with a special appearance from Gary Tatham

When the University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) live theatre performances return next week, it will be an extra special moment for one standout actor.

For Gary Tatham, it is the chance to finish what he started three years ago after a cardiac arrest put paid to his performance in his final year show.

In February 2018, the actor’s heart suddenly stopped beating while he was backstage at a performance of Clybourne Park. His castmates, director, the UCLan Security Team and three ambulance crews worked to keep him alive for 40 minutes until he was stable enough to transfer to the Royal Preston Hospital.

Hospital tests showed Gary had Wolff-Parkinson White syndrome, a congenital condition which causes electrical problems with the heart. He fully recovered from heart catheter ablation surgery and is now working as a professional actor, based in London and Bedford.

But the UCLan graduate answered the call for help with the upcoming performance of Angels in America, which runs from 2 June to 5 June at Preston Playhouse.

"I feel like the sadness of 2018 is finally starting to fade away three years down the line. I feel like I’ve been yearning for this closure for a very long time"

Acting graduate Gary Tatham

The 25-year-old said: “I was in hospital and then at home recuperating after my cardiac arrest so unfortunately I missed out on the opportunity to finish my third-year show. That was hugely disappointing at the time for me, all the cast and Terence Chapman so when I heard UCLan needed a black male actor for the first show back after the pandemic, I jumped at the chance!

"I was delighted I could return, and I feel like the sadness of 2018 is finally starting to fade away three years down the line. I feel like I’ve been yearning for this closure for a very long time.”

Terence Chapman, BA (Hons) Acting Course Leader, said: “We are marking the re-opening of the theatre with a play called Angels in America. The production features a black male character and in the current third year there are no black male actors, so I contacted Gary and he very kindly agreed to play the role.

“He had such a difficult end to his time as one of our students, nobody could have predicted what happened to him, and thankfully he’s made it through and is here to tell the tale. I felt like it was destiny for Gary to be available and it’s wonderful to know he and the other students will be able to perform to live audiences after the industry was severely affected by the enforced closures.”

"Nobody could have predicted what happened to him, and thankfully he’s made it through and is here to tell the tale. I felt like it was destiny for Gary to be available"

Terence Chapman, BA (Hons) Acting Course Leader

Tony Kushner’s multi award-winning play was once described in the New York Times as “the most thrilling American play in years”. Angels in America presents an astonishing theatrical landscape that is both intimate and epic; darkly comic and brilliantly moving.

Set in 1980s New York against a backdrop of right wing politics and an escalating AIDS pandemic, Angels in America has resonance for all of us exploring timeless dramatic themes of life, death and faith in a story of two very different but equally troubled young couples whose lives become intrinsically linked by a series of unexpected revelations, events and enforced changes.

Angels in America, which is the first of three live theatre events being performed by UCLan students this summer, runs from 2 to 5 June at Preston Playhouse with daily performances at 2.00pm and 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at £12 standard and £6 concessions (students and senior citizens) and can be purchased online.

Gary Tatham01 / 01