MIKHAIL Lim may have a long association with the York stage but he did not envisage being picked to play Seymour, the hapless Skid Row florist shop assistant, in York Stage’s 40th anniversary production of Little Shop Of Horrors.
“Seymour is not typically something I would think of being cast as,” he says, in the foyer of York Theatre Royal, where you will indeed be seeing more of his Seymour from July 14 to 23 in director-producer Nik Briggs’ show.
“A lot of the issues with my confidence comes from being an Asian actor, pitching against established white actors – and everyone thinks of Rick Moranis’s performance in the film, which people are so attracted to.
“But, coming to my take on Seymour, Nik saw something in it, and so did Stephen Hackshaw, the musical director.”
Hence Mikhail will be leading Briggs’s cast of 11 in York Stage’s Theatre Royal debut in Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s B-movie musical spoof about a bloodthirsty plant.
He cut his York theatrical teeth in John Cooper’s Stagecoach Youth Theatre, the Grand Opera House’s Stage Experience summer school and York Stage Musicals before studying drama at York St John, but his love of performing is rooted in his Filipino homeland in South East Asia.
“I went to train in the Repertory Philippines in Manila, where they put on theatre even though there’s no official arts programme in the Philippines,” he says. “Seeing all the things that’s going on with the arts over here now with funding cuts and school curriculum changes, it’s starting to feel like that again. Though I love the Philippines, but there’s a struggle for the arts there, I’m not going to lie.”
Mikhail was born to his mother’s second marriage with a nine-year gap to his sister and two older brothers (whose father had passed away). “My parents worked really hard for me to get here,” he says.
“It started with me going to the OB [Operation Brotherhood] Montesorri School in Manila, and then they put me in a private school, the Ateneo de Manila University grade school, where they were really prioritising my education at one of the Philippines’ best schools over feeding the family.
“You can imagine that going into the theatre might not have been their number one career choice for me! It was an all-boys school, with a sister school that we’d meet up with to do shows.
“So, I did Fiddler On The Roof in a Catholic school with lots of Filipinos who knew nothing about Judaism! The only thing I had going for me was that I had a Russian name! My mother named me after Mikhail Gorbachev, who she thought of as a hero.
“I was born in October 1991 in the year after the Cold War stopped and I had a birthmark on my forehead, just like Gorbachev! As a kid, I knew nothing about him, but later I read about him and thought, ‘OK, I’ll take it’!”
Mikhail’s mother wanted a change, a new opportunity for Mikhail, and so he moved to York with his parents at the age of 14. “My siblings were much older than me; they had their own lives by then and they wanted to stay in the Philippines, so it was just me and my mum and dad who came over,” he says. “Mum was a scientist with the Nestle Product Technology Centre and that’s why we came to York.”
Settling into Haxby was not easy. “Not at all,” he recalls. “English is my first language, but even speaking the same language meant nothing culturally, and you can imagine how it was back then, when York was not as welcoming as it is now. It was very jarring, like people assuming I didn’t know what snow was.
“I lasted a very short time at Joseph Rowntree School, then went to All Saints, and on to York College to do my A-levels. Not my first intended route, but I studied English Literature, Ancient History, Maths and Theatre, so at least Theatre was in there.
“There was always this superiority complex in people who assumed you came from somewhere impoverished by comparison with York, though I was top of the class in Maths, but you just can’t prove anything on paper.”
All the while, his acting and singing talent was nurtured with Stagecoach, Stage Experience and York Stage. “In most places, I definitely feel like theatre is more of a home,” he says. “That said, I’ve always gaslit myself think I was the weird, out-of-place kid, because I was, but then I realised it wasn’t just me who had this problem. Teenagers are vicious.
“But I’ve come to love York and living here. I think you notice it more when you go to other cities and you realise just how beautiful York is and how respectful people are to each other – though I’m aware acting can require you to move around, maybe train in London.”
After completing his York St John theatre studies in 2014, Mikhail trained as a chef, specialising in desserts, latterly working at Oshibi Korean Bistro & BBQ, in Franklin’s Yard, Fossgate, after the unfortunate timing of opening his own specialist café in Franklin’s Yard a month before the first Covid lockdown.
“In a way, lockdown was a blessing, allowing me to think about what I really wanted to do, because I’d been working continually, When Nik [Briggs] messaged me to ask me to do Songs From The Settee online, that opened up things again for me to do theatre again.”
Cue his stage return in Little Shop Of Horrors. “I’m now hoping to save up to do an MA in musical theatre,” he says. “I’ve stopped and started and trained so much already, but getting that piece of paper, an MA, is how to get connections in the theatre world.”
York Stage in Little Shop Of Horrors, York Theatre Royal, 7.30pm, July 14, 16, 18 to 23; 4pm and 8pm, July 15; 2.30pm, July 16 and 23. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
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