Describing herself as the class clown, goofing around and making people laugh with silly impressions or sketches since a young age, Lina Tonnessen is at her second serious theatre role under the directions of Daniel Strain-Webber in his next production The Incident Room, written by Olivia Hirst and David Byrne, to be staged this spring.

“I auditioned for this play because I love working with Daniel as a director and the plays he chooses. As someone who is fairly new to the world of acting, I rely on someone who has the experience, patience and ability to believe in me, the cast and the entirety of the play, to lead and bring out the best of my potential,” Lina says. “After being cast for Earthquakes in London last year, I knew I had caught the bug and I was just waiting for the next fix, another opportunity to audition.”

Lina describes her current role as ‘much out of her comfort zone’: “I originally read for a different part during auditions. However, when I was cast to play the role of Sylvia Swanson, I was incredibly excited because of the impact her character has on the play, and her sassy attitude towards the male-dominated Seventies’ workplace.”

“I knew I had caught the bug and I was just waiting for the next fix.”

The Incident Room is a ‘beautifully written play’, according to Lina. It goes behind the scenes of a case which almost broke the British police force. It is set in 1975, when the Millgarth incident room in Leeds became the epicenter of the ‘biggest manhunt in British history, to identify and arrest the notorious serial killer dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper.

The script is fast-paced and hectic, following the progress of the police force working around the clock and ‘resorting to increasingly audacious attempts to end one man’s campaign of terror’, while balancing public opinion’s outrage, media scaremongering, and mounting political pressure.

Authenticity goes all the way for the director, who has invited linguists to rehearsals, to help polish the cast’s accents, and has assigned all actors ‘homework’ in researching the Yorkshire ripper’s case files and to watch documentaries. 

“Sylvia’s personality is completely opposite to mine, and this is where the challenge lies but it also the best part about it,” Lina says. She relishes the chance to become someone else: “To be a different person and explore the human behaviour in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.”

Born in Norway and landed in Gibraltar in 2000 at the age of fifteen, Lina is a ‘late bloomer’ when it comes to treading the boards: “I’ve always had a passion for theatre, especially comedy, but I’ve always been too scared to participate in it actively.” In 2014, she watched her ‘first pantomime ever’, staged by the Trafalgar Theatre Group, and, persuaded by a friend and active member of the Group, she attended the following year’s auditions: “It was an extremely terrifying first-time audition, but I landed a small part in Sleeping Beauty, in early 2015. This was my first part, first time on stage, performing in front of a reasonably big audience, and I still remember the sheer feelings of panic and pure stage fright!”

“I still remember the sheer feelings of panic and pure stage fright!”

Thankfully, her stage fright was short-lived and so Lina’s career was launched: “That’s all it took, and I was hooked. Since then, I’ve participated in almost every yearly pantomime, sticking to the goofy, silly, comedy scenes. I thrived in roles such the idiotic comedy villain sidekick.”

In 2019 Lina decided to drop the typecast and venture in a dramatic role, so she auditioned for the critically acclaimed Earthquakes, where she was able to ‘explore a whole new world of acting’. “That opportunity changed my life and the relationships I formed with my fellow actors. What I learned about myself from that experience, I’ll take with me forever. It would be hard for me to pick my favourite now, as both the comedy and drama each brings a unique experience to my table. Each is able to show and teach you different things. But I guess it’s always been my passion to make people laugh and comedy is where I feel most alive.”

She professes herself to be a massive fan of the ‘old school of acting’: Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Robin William’s, Woody Harrelson, Giovanni Ribisi, Juliette Lewis, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep. “I’m also big on Quentin Tarantino movies, Pedro Almodóvar, Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick.” And to follow their footsteps, she doesn’t rule out the possibility she will one day direct and perhaps write her own play!

Lina, who when isn’t busy acting runs her GFSB award-winning business Shieldmaidens Virtual Assistants, of which she is co-founder, enjoys her home life with four rescue cats, and when possible backpacks across South-East Asia. She says she is both lucky and thankful to be part of such a ‘diverse and colourful community’: “Gibraltar is rich with talent in the arts, music and theatre industries, and I hope that despite this new Covid era/world, we will adapt and work together with government to accommodate the continuation and flourishing of the performing arts.”