From a Burnley stage to West End stardom

Anna Marsland and Mark Conway dreamed of showbiz careers when they performed in plays for Burnley Youth Theatre.

Now the professional thespians are bringing their new production, Ballistic, to the same Burnley stage to inspire a new generation of young actors.

From the seven-year old performing as a fairy in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at the Burnley Mechanics, Anna (31) went on to become a West End director.

“My time at Burnley Youth Theatre completely shaped me, inspired my career and gave me a passion for creating stories,” said the former pupil of St John’s Primary and St Hilda’s RC Girls’ High School.

Mark Conway is the star of Ballistic. (s)

The West End beckoned when Anna landed her dream job as the director of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by the National Theatre.

She’s also worked for Shakespeare’s Globe and Manchester’s Royal Exchange and today runs her own production company, GOLEM!

It was an “amazing but nerve-wracking moment” when their BYT mentors came to the Rochdale leg of Ballistic’s UK tour.

Mark (30) said: “Now that was surreal.

Mark Conway is the star of Ballistic. (s)

“Pip Hindle directed me in shows and he was sat there with a smile on his face.

“It’s going to be special to perform in Burnley.

“I love living in London but Burnley’s my home and if I went down to BYT there’d be a cup of tea on the table.”

Mark’s acting journey began at 16 with a small part in a Christmas show at Burnley Mechanics.

“I was only planning on doing that one show, as I was into sport and didn’t think acting would be for me.

“But our mentors, Jackie and Lisa, encouraged me to audition for a lead in a play about a real-life refugee who fought to remain in the UK.

“When he and his family watched it they were in tears and gave us a standing ovation.

“To see it meant something to them sparked my acting dream.”

It was then Mark began running workshops and directing pieces for adults with disabilities at Brunshaw Action Group.

“A belief in the power of theatre to help people is still with me and I now work with disabled children in London.

“When I auditioned for drama school I was asked why I wanted to be an actor and I said I believe theatre can help change the world.

“We have a responsibility as storytellers to inspire people to think about issues.”

That’s the aim for Ballistic, which asks why a young man would commit mass murder.

“We think gun culture is an American problem but attacks by young men happen here,” Mark said.

“Ballistic is a story of the everyday man and the worldwide problem of men who are struggling to find their place in the world.”

It will be staged at Burnley Youth Theatre on Tuesday at 7-30pm and can be booked at