I wish I could say you’ve all done very well, but I can only truly say that the male members of the cast earned this compliment. As a die-hard fan of the original series of Are You Being served, I eagerly anticipated Derren Litten’s revival. Some of the cast announcements, to me, had seemed dubious choices, but I was keen to be proved otherwise.
Roy Barraclough was the epitome of Mr Grainger, together with Jason Watkins as Mr Humphries, he stole the show. With Watkins, it was the facial expressions that won the cause. In fact, by the end of the episode I was extremely grateful for both Watkins and Barraclough’s input, as well as that of Justin Edwards who was simply outstanding as Mr Rumbold. Comic timing is key, of course, and the three aforementioned have it in abundance. Matthew Horne was equally superb as Mr Grace, the gift of the gab and an excellent ‘double act’ with Rumbold. John Challis also put in a solid performance as Captain Peacock.
I don’t know if it’s the case that Molly Sugden and Wendy Richards are irreplaceable as Mrs Slocombe and Miss Brahms, but Sherrie Hewson and Niky Wardley were slightly disappointing. The ‘pussy’ lines were there for the taking, but the only member of the cast who made that classic gaff work for them was Barraclough.
Litten has captured the essence of the classic scripts, all of the elements were there and I didn’t sit in front of the box with a straight face for the half an hour episode. The fact that there was an inconsistency between performances was my main bug-bear. If more episodes were to come, would I watch? Definitely! The possibilities and potential are endless, and with such a classic sit-com to revive, I don’t think everybody was going to be happy.
Photo Credits: BBC
#Casualty30 arrived on screen with a bang, last night, everything I hoped it would be and more, and as Amanda Henderson who plays Robyn, said in her interview with me – an ensemble piece. An ensemble piece de force is the phrase that immediately sprung to mind for me. The continuation from the Connie/Grace (Amanda Mealing/Emily Carey) cliff-hanger that we were left in limbo for three weeks, was exceptional. Both actresses gave performances worthy of awards, and the ensuing disaster that struck once Grace was finally airlifted to hospital, has ensured that viewers were, again, left with a cliff-hanger as the young girl was taken or neuro-surgery. Also putting in an outstanding performance was Charles Venn as Jacob. Jacob was instrumental in locating Connie and Grace, now he’s left with the heart wrenching decision over whether to tell his lover of her daughter’s fate following the second accident.
It was like watching the stuff that movies are made of when the helicopter crashed down into the hospital grounds, easily one of the biggest and best spectacles pulled off to date. My heart was in my mouth and the fall-out made for stunning visuals, the precision was superb.
Poor Charlie (Derek Thompson) had already abandoned his own 30th birthday celebration, where there were so many fantastic blasts from the past in one video sending well wishes. News of Connie and Grace’s accident sent the gathered party back to work. The story of Charlie’s life, trauma and work over-taking any form of celebration for the beleaguered Nurse. He had already dealt with a petulant agency worker, Amira (Poppy Jhakra, she was brilliant!). Then there was Sally Hodges (played by the resplendent Pam St Clement) who was brought in with a fractured neck of femur and finished with a rare diagnosis. Pam’s performance was a delight and so natural, what a pity she was only a guest star!
I particularly enjoyed the camera-work as we watched the department from Charlie’s perspective and saw how genuinely happy he is in his work. That was a beautiful touch and if there was ever an opportunity for Thompson to show what a second skin Charlie has become, this was it.
Visual effects, make-up and great continuation of storylines aside, Duffy (Cath Shipton) and Josh (Ian Bleasdale) returning and standing by Charlie, that’s what remains my over-riding memory of an episode to be proud of. There is still obvious chemistry between Charlie and Duffy, which I hope will be explored, and Josh adds the icing to the celebratory cake. As the 31st series gets off the ground, this could be the strongest cast, yet. Well done, Casualty!
Photo credits: BBC
Maria Austin is playing the title role in Mercy, a movie by actress, Wendy Morgan. I had a chat with Maria about her involvement in this very important film.
Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, Maria, how did you come to be involved in Mercy – The Movie?
I did a rehearsed reading of Romeo and Juliet with Wendy Morgan, we hit it off, stayed in touch and she told me about the idea for the movie, which was originally written as a one-woman show. I thought it was an interesting subject matter, we just kept talking about it and she wondered if maybe we could do it as a two woman show. Once she had written it she very much had Mark Wingett in mind for the role of the Slaughter man, it also seemed to lend itself to being on film. So, instead Wendy said come and play Mercy in the film.
How have you found the experience of filming?
Intense, fairly harrowing, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve done since I finished drama school two years ago. It’s been interesting, particularly the fight choreography, I get beaten up a lot in the film. It’s all been taken from CCTV footage from when Animal Aid put cameras in the abattoir. The fight director and the actors all watched the footage so that the movements and the sequence of movements were the same as what had actually happened. I found that tricky to begin with because I’m playing the role of a pig but as a human and pigs respond differently. For example, if someone punched you in the face, as a human you would say “right then, let’s have a fight” or say “right, I’m out”, but pigs are so innocent that they get hit in the face but two minutes later they’ll come back. What was hard for me was finding a reason in my mind as to why I would keep coming back.
Wendy was always adamant that Mercy wouldn’t be played as a pig, so that people will assume to begin with that she’s human and then start to question it. If I was going around acting as a pig, that could look a bit odd, so I try to hint at it. I’m not vegan, but I’ve looked at the footage from a character point of view and it has had an impact on the way I think. Wendy compared it to this sort of thing happening to a cat or a dog, she said there would be a national outcry, but because we see pigs as food as we group them together, we’re almost de-sensitised. We don’t sympathise as we would with a cat or a dog.
Is there a moment that you find particularly poignant?
There’s a scene where the mother has her babies with her and in the slaughterhouse the mother is really caged in so they can’t roll over, if one of the piglets falls out of the cage, they don’t put it back they just leave it to starve. The piglet is crying within the mother’s ear-shot and she can’t turn over to feed it, When we shot that scene I was crying like a baby.
What did you know about what went on in slaughterhouses before you worked on the film?
I didn’t particularly have an opinion before I became involved in the film. I had no idea about what went on until I started researching, but it’s just awful and this is standard practice! I had always thought that as long as the animal have had a good life before they went to the abattoir, that was alright. It hadn’t occurred to me that there is this grey area where the animals are abused before they die. Free range animals may be raised that way, but they go to slaughterhouses where they are treated the same as any other animal that goes there. I don’t think people are aware of this limbo state between life and death.
What do you hope that people will take away with them from this film?
An understanding and awareness that there is this situation in the abattoir that exists, between the life and death of these animals. This isn’t a preaching film, we’re not trying to say that everyone should become vegan or vegetarian, just be aware that this is what goes on. There is this grey area that isn’t widely known about.
Thank you so much for a fantastic interview, Maria. I can’t wait to see this film!
Photo Credits: Gaz De Vere
Johnny Shingleton is playing a rather nasty character in Mercy, a movie by actress, Wendy Morgan. I had a chat with Johnny about his involvement in this very important film.
Hi Johnny, thanks for chatting to Break A Leg, tell me about your character in Mercy – The Movie.
My Character’s name in the movie Mercy is Johnny Reggae. I am one of the vile ‘Slaughterman’ in the abattoir that the movie is set in.
How did you become involved with the movie?
Initially, my mum told me that my Aunt knows a lady named Wendy who is casting for roles in her latest play that she had written. It was written as a play to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but was eventually, with other plays, turned down. So Wendy had the idea of re-writing it as a film instead. I got in contact with her and she asked me to play the part of Johnny Reggae, which at first I found horrific with the subject matter, but I thought the story had to be told.
Is there a part of the movie that you find particularly poignant?
The poignant part of the movie, to me, is the main element of the story. It’s the scenario between the time the pigs are delivered to the slaughterhouse and the time that their time sadly comes to an end. In other words, the way they are mis-treated in this movie, which I don’t condone what-so-ever. This, I believe, is mainly what Wendy’s message is trying to get across to the audience.
How familiar were you with the subject matter?
To be honest with you, I never realised what really happens ‘behind closed doors’ in some abattoirs. When I saw some footage of what really happens, I couldn’t believe it. I’m not a vegan or vegetarian myself, but I can see how people can easily change to becoming one when they actually have seen what happens.
What do you think and hope that the audience will take away from the film?
I think the audience will be taken aback and think more about how the welfare of these animals could be handled better, and the steps to make this happen. This could maybe, in turn, make them decide to change their diet.
With the strong subject matter, I obviously don’t expect people to watch it if they don’t condone what happens. But, at the same time, it would be good to have the audiences’ different opinions about it. But this story has to be told.
Huge thanks to Johnny for chatting to Break A Leg, looking forward to seeing him in the film.
Photo Credits: Gaz De Vere
Derek Thompson is a man who needs very little in the way of introduction, for he is known to the nation as Casualty’s favourite Nurse, Charlie Fairhead. I am extremely privileged to have been able to interview the man himself about his time on the show and the 30th anniversary episode.
Thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg, Derek, what can you tell me about the 30th anniversary episode?
Well they broadcast it last year, really because we did actually make the anniversary episode of the 30th series last year and they got Paul Unwin in who was one of the originators of the show and one of the original writer along with Jeremy Brock. They asked Paul to write two episodes and direct them, he did a wonderful job on it, how he’s not a dead man, I don’t know, the energy that he put into it and the commitment, he never sat down for something like two months! He turned out two beautiful episodes. This anniversary episode actually means that we get a second bite of the cherry because the publicity department decided that it wasn’t the real anniversary, the actual anniversary is the end of the 30th series and the start of the 31st series for some reason. We’re celebrating having done 30 series, so you can view it either way, but we get to do another special.
The Paul Unwin one was intense but it was really particular, heavily focused right up close to the main characters. This is much more of a cyclorama view of the place with a really heavy disaster in the middle of it which threatens everybody. It has much more of an overview and less of an up close and detailed perspective. It’s a different approach and it’s successful from what we’ve seen of it it’s an excellent job. A great deal of which is due to the director, Steve Hughes, who always manages to turn out something that looks like it costs ten times as much as it actually did cost. It looks like feature film stuff, and the writing is great too, of course.
What’s it like to have Duffy back in the show with you?
I can’t compare it to anything, really, because working with someone that you really like or really admire is one thing, do it repeatedly and it’s a really nice thing to do. To slip into that kind of relationship just works and it’s like a clock going tick tock as opposed to a clock going tick tick tock. It’s a very complimentary relationship. We’ve always kept the speculation alive as to whether there was going to be a romantic relationship between those two, it’s had a rhythm to it where they got very close to each other emotionally through storylines and then it was really easy to slide that into a strong buddy relationship. Almost like a brother and sister relationship.
There was even a nod towards romance at the end of Charlie and Baz’s wedding….
Yes, exactly and it’s been moments like that, that have fuelled the speculation. The scene between them in that episode was a bit of a tease because you knew that they meant it but that neither of the would push it.
How did this journey start for you and what do you think of the character development of Charlie over the last 30 years?
There are two functions to Charlie, one is the personality of Charlie which is very closely based on what I think are the aims and objectives and attitudes of the guy that the character is based on. He’s a lovely fellow called Peter Salt, who is now full time medical advisor on the show. He was one of the first people that Paul Unwin and Jeremy Brock talked to about doing a medical series and they trailed him around while he was on a night shift. Then they thought why not set it in A & E? Then they met Peter and they thought he would be the perfect ‘maypole’ for everyone to dance around because of the way that he managed to run this place and keep everybody motivated and in the best of spirits, but at the same time he made sure that nobody was badly treated or exploited by the system. When they were casting, I had been doing a lot of TV at the time and they saw a few things that I was in and they brought it down to a list of three people, in the end there was one other guy and another fellow who was a really good mate of mine. His name is Sam Dale and I’d actually just done a TV series with him. I was stuck between hoping that I got it and then at the same time I was thinking if I get it my mate doesn’t get it! As I studied Peter Salt I put into place a theatrical function that was like a Master of Ceremonies that you can hang all sorts of issues on and he keeps the audience informed about how this is all developing. He takes you from scene to scene.
Then there’s the element of the real Peter Salt character, the man! You don’t often get to see that, you get little glimpses of it. You do see it now and again in his professional attitude, you get just a little indication of how he feels about people and how he feels about events.
Why do you think the show appeals so much?
I think it appeals to younger viewers because they get to see adults showing their vulnerabilities. I think it appeals to the wider audience because you get what you call key-hole drama in that you’re looking through a door that would normally be locked to you. You see them in the staff room, you see their attitudes, their emotions and the emotional effect that their work has on them.
Finally, have you got a message to the viewers to encourage them to stay tuned?
You will be surprised, they’ll see things from both Charlie and Duffy that you’ve never seen before.
Thanks go to Derek, it was a treat to be able to chat with him and share some memories.
Will plays one of my favourite doctors in Casualty, Dr Dylan Keogh, and I was delighted to talk to the man himself to find out about his time on Casualty to date and of course, the 30th anniversary episode!
Hi Will, thanks for talking to Break A Leg, what can you tell me about the 30th anniversary episode?
Well, comparatively little I suspect in relation to some of the other cast members, I’m involved in it comparatively little. The stuff that we did was very dramatic, the focus is on what is theoretically the biggest accident the show’s ever had. I can’t vouch for that but it looks impressive and there’s something of a blood bath which I think is a bit more realistic because this show is restrained in how gory it can be and is more suggestive most of the time. On this occasion I think you see the real horror of the thing and also the backdraft of the accident which is quite exciting. Then of course you’ve got the story with Charlie as well as the story between Connie and Jacob. It’s going to be quite an interesting experience to see if we’re able to sustain double the amount of drama.
So, going way back to your first day on Casualty, what can you remember of that experience?
My first day was on location and that was in Bristol and I remember feeling a bit buffeted because the show and set up is so well established and everything is so well orchestrated. I remember that I wanted whatever I did to be a bit different. I thought it was important and still think it’s important to not just be seen to be just another character.
What would you like to see happen for your character?
Well, when I first joined the show, the idea was that he did something a little bit new for the show and that he was particularly good at diagnostics. That was a fun part of it to play, interacting with patients is the best stuff because you get to see how a character who isn’t particularly socially aware has difficulty with having to respond to various different people as opposed to the difficulties that are created between the regular characters in the show. I do sometimes get wary of the suspicion that Dylan is having a ‘bromance’ with other characters, it’s not something I’m setting out to achieve. I think in a show where you’ve got people pairing off all over the shop it’s really important dramatically to have an odd number isn’t it, have one left out, otherwise you have your inbuilt happy ending and you don’t want that. So I like to be the odd one out.
Are there any characters who you would like to see make a return to the show in the future?
There are lots of people that I miss, I really miss Chrissy Tremarco who I didn’t have lots of stuff to do with after the first few months, but she was great and such a bubbly character and I know that her character, Linda jarred with some of the audience but that’s not always a bad thing. Obviously Sunetra but she’s gone onto different things and she was ready to see what else there was out there. In a dream world somebody like Zoe and I was also particularly fond of Jordan, there was a slight comical authority about him.
What do you think of the character development so far and the introduction of his father?
I love the stuff with his dad, it’s important to leave that where it is for the time being, but it’s been great to do and Matthew Marsh who plays Brian is someone I’ve known for many years and he’s just brilliant. I couldn’t have hoped for anybody better to play dad. Whilst it was uncomfortable for Dylan it was great for me! There’s lots of good stuff to come, we’re doing a storyline with an intern doctor at the moment and hopefully all of these things will push Dylan.
Finally, have you got a message for the viewers to encourage them to keep watching?
There are exciting structural changes to come to the show, not least that it’s the 30th anniversary and change in the show is ongoing and you can’t fault the show for trying to break new ground. We’ve got a very exciting episode in the pipeline which I won’t spoil the premise of but it really is unique for British television, it’s not a live episode, but it’s something that sounds like it will be remarkable. Stay tuned, you never know what you might see, and nor do I!
Thank you so much to Will for sparing the time for this, it was a pleasure to chat to him and I can vouch that he couldn’t be more different to his character.
Crystal plays the role of Dr Lily Chao in Casualty, I caught up with Lily to find out about the 30th anniversary episode and where things might be headed with Dr Ethan Hardy.
Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, Crystal, what can you tell me about the 30th anniversary episode?
Oh, it’s so exciting, I get to work with a legend and that’s all I can say! To the point where I felt like I should have bowed when I met her and I can’t say anything more than that. Although I will say that she came in for a make-up test and I introduced myself and said I was going to be working with her. I became like this little girl around her and didn’t know what to say, this lady is Queen-like!
That is what is so great about this show, the wonderful guest artists that we have and that have so much experience. I can learn from them and they make me feel like I’m becoming a slightly better actress for working with them and learning from them.
Oh, I want to know who that is going to be! OK, so moving on, what does the future hold for Lily’s love-life? Any developments on the horizon with Ethan?
I think sometimes with Lily and Ethan it is a little bit like a role reversal, Ethan is the emotional one and Lily is the practical one. For example, where the HD storyline is concerned, she’s the one saying “there must be research” and “there must be doctors” “we can sort this out” – she’s the logical one. We’ll see if anything happens or it could be that maybe they’re such good friends that they don’t want to jeopardise their friendship. It’s always difficult with great friends, you don’t want to risk losing the friendship if the relationship doesn’t work out.
How do you feel that Lily reacts to relationships?
With Lily, a relationship has never been at the forefront of her mind, it’s always been about work and about becoming the best doctor she could be. Almost becoming the next Connie because Connie is her idol. I think in many ways Lily sees Connie as a mentor, a father figure and a mother figure (I mentioned this to one of the writers). In terms of her parents, they were never really there for her, intellectually and emotionally. They worked in restaurants, they weren’t doctors and so having Connie there as the clinical leads, I think Lily thinks wouldn’t it have been amazing if my mum was a doctor, we would have shared so much in common. I think Lily connects with Connie because she sees her as more than a mentor.
Lily doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, especially when it comes to Connie, if Connie wants her to do something then she’s going to do it, and really, really well.
Going back to your first day on set, what was it like becoming part of the cast?
It was so nerve-wracking but my first scene was with Tony Marshall (who plays Noel) and I have to say that I love Tony, he put me at ease. It was quite a hectic day as well as Lily arrived on her moped and I don’t ride a moped, but the last scene of the day that we shot was of her arriving on the moped. Not only was I worried about my lines and worried about the day, I was worried about killing someone!
Were you a regular viewer before you were cast?
Yes, I was also in a guest in an episode just under two years before I joined the show when the studio was back in Bristol. So there was a sense of familiarity while still feeling strange because I had played a patient, before. Some of the Supporting Artists have been on the show for years and I remember on my first day I didn’t have a clue what to do with myself, the Supporting Artists were so helpful with showing me the various gestures I could do. Of course we also have medical advisors on set as well but it was sometimes easier to say to my colleague “help, hold my hand!”.
Finally, what would you like to see happen for Lily?
I’m always interested in seeing characters that are flawed, flawed in the sense that the audience will have the ability to empathise with their mistakes and imperfections. I think that’s human beings at the end of the day, but I like strong female characters that are flawed, emotionally vulnerable, which I think Lily is, but professionally very strong. I also think that with a character like that, things must have happened in her life for her to become someone who is so guarded and it would be interesting to almost rediscover that part. We got a really good glimpse at what Lily can be like when her father passed away. However, I’d like to see what happens if she loses control a bit or she’s put in a situation where she’s completely uncomfortable and for the first time she needs to ask for help. We’ve also seen moments of her vulnerability, for example when Jeff died and we were all in that car crash, Lily was panicking because she thought that Ethan had died. She lost control big time and it’s really nice if the character to revisit those emotions.
Huge thanks to Crystal for a lovely interview while she was getting made up ready for a scene! It was a real pleasure!
Robyn Miller is one of Casualty’s favourite Nurses and I was thrilled to be able to chat to Amanda Henderson who plays the bubbly character. We talked about her character’s tumble-down love life and her part in the 30th anniversary episode.
Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, Amanda, so first of all what are you able to tell me about what we can expect from the 30th anniversary episode?
It’s very much an ensemble piece, everyone is involved, but it’s the case that everyone’s safety net in the world around them is falling apart around them. There’s something within everybody’s personal journey that is falling apart so there’s a lot of emotional turmoil.
So, going back to when you first joined the cast what was your first day on set like?
Oh! Where have 4 years gone? This has been my first long running TV job, I’ve had a few bits and bobs here and there but this has been my first major TV role, so on my first day on set I was terrified. I was really fortunate that I was starting with three other people, one of whom, again hadn’t done TV, like me. I was really fortunate that I was working with Suzanne Packer at the time and Alex Walkinshaw and Christine Tremarco. They became my mentors on and off screen and taught me everything I know about acting. Whether they appreciate it or not, they did! Plus, Derek Thompson of course, he’s been brilliant and like a father figure to everyone.
What led you into an acting career, initially?
I’ve always done it since I was little, it’s the only thing I was any good at. I trained in Musical Theatre, eventually, I always did amateur dramatics when I was little. My parents were involved in the shows, too, my dad ended up directing, my mum choreographed them, so my sister and I also went into it. Eventually, my sister grew up and grew out of it a bit and I didn’t! So I carried on and had a blip where I trained as a hairdresser for a while, then trained as a Nursery Nurse. I couldn’t shake off wanting to perform, so when a course came up in Manchester that I wanted to do in Musical Theatre I did that and the rest as they say is history!
Going back to the character of Robyn, how have you enjoyed playing out her recent romantic relationship?
Working with Owain Arthur who plays Glen is great, he’s a really lovely guy. It’s one of those things where you feel that you want Robyn as a character to have a happy ending, but this is Casualty, it is a drama and not everything is plain sailing. Watch this space!
Is there a character who’s left during your 4 years on the show who you would love to have return to the series?
I miss everyone that’s left, it feels weird now that of the people I started with, there’s only three people left. I’m the fourth longest running character now! I miss Christine Tremarco, we only managed about six month together in the programme but she was my mentor and she taught me a lot about life and this job, she was brilliant. Suzanne Packer, of course, I still see her as she lives in Cardiff but I miss he being here, we always giggled a lot. She always used to say that she could tell when I was going to giggle because I’d get a glint in my eye, so she’d end up going just before me and she’d start giggling. Jane Hazelgrove and Sunetra Sarka too, of course, whenever it was someone’s birthday, Sunetra would always organise something and now she’s gone we’re lost. Lee Mead, too, he’s my buddy, I really miss him, I’ll always miss him.
What would you like to see happen for Robyn in the future?
I’d love her to have a happy ending, and settled down, but I’d also like to see her grow as a Nurse. I think she’s growing within her life, but I still think there’s room for her to grow as a Nurse. Maybe she could take a few more responsibilities, she is ready for it, but I think life keeps getting in the way of her doing that. As much as she tries to be professional it’s not always easy and she’s still in her own little bubble, I think she always will be, She’s a person who will help anyone if she can and I like that attribute in her personality. I wish I could be more like that, although I do try!!
Amanda was an absolute pleasure to talk to and I hope things get better for Robyn, she deserves it!