Spotlight On… Star of Dead Sheep, Steve Nallon

Dead Sheep is currently touring the UK, for more information and to book tickets, visit this link: http://www.deadsheepontour.co.uk/

Steve Nallon is well known as the voice of Margaret Thatcher from Spitting Image, recently he has re-visited that role and plays the Iron Lady herself in Jonathan Maitland’s play, Dead Sheep. I caught up with Steve to find out how he discovered that he can impersonate the ex Prime Minister and to see why everyone should be going to see the production.

steve-nallon-as-margaret-thatcher-paul-bradley-as-geoffrey-howe
Steve as the lady herself, with Paul Bradley as Geoffrey Howe.

How does it feel to be revisiting the role of Margaret Thatcher having originated ‘character’ in Spitting Image?

I loved working on SPITTING IMAGE but that voice was a caricature. An exaggeration of the real thing and overtly satirical. In DEAD SHEEP the challenge is to keep it real.

When did you first realise that you could impersonate the Iron Lady?

1975. Thatcher had become Tory leader and Mike Yarwood had a go at doing her but he just couldn’t get her. I had a go and found I could. I’ve never really understood why.

Do you feel that your command of her voice and mannerisms has changed?

Yes, her voice changed a lot. In the early days it was at a higher pitch and more posh. In the 80s she brought it down and it became less ‘alto’ and more ‘tenor’. Like all politicians she loosened her RP tone and tried to make it more ‘of the people’. After she left office in the 90s she had problems with her teeth and developed a slight whistle not unlike the one Tony Benn had!

Tell me about Dead Sheep and what your initial reaction was to the script.

I thought there were too many characters and too much written exposition that was supposed to be projected as images onto the set. I suggested to the writer Jonathan Maitland that he create a Chorus of three actors to play all the characters other than Geoffrey, Elspeth and Margaret. I also suggested the written exposition could be incorporated into the dialogue of the Chorus.

What do you think the audience will take away with them from the piece?

Inside knowledge. The play is a ‘backstage’ drama in away. Jonathan researched it thoroughly and you really are a fly on the wall to those events.

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

It’s funny! That’s the biggest reaction we get every night chatting afterwards to audience members. They never expected it to be so humorous.

Finally, what are you memories of the period of time that is covered in the play?

I remember being exceptionally busy but because of the act I did (taking spontaneous questions from the audience with no advance knowledge) I had to keep up with events. Like most people of a certain age I remember Geoffrey’s speech in the House of Commons but I was a political geek and I even recall Geoffrey’s Sunday afternoon interview on WEEKEND WORLD with Brian Walden!

Huge thanks to Steve for his time, I thoroughly enjoyed the production!

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Spotlight On… Star of Dead Sheep, Graham Seed

Dead Sheep is currently touring the UK, the dates and booking information can be found here: http://www.deadsheepontour.co.uk/

Actor, Graham Seed is one of the stars of the play and he kindly answered some of my questions about Dead Sheep.

Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, Graham. Tell me about the characters you play in Dead Sheep…

My main character is Ian Gow but I also have cameos as Nigel Lawson and Dennis Thatcher as well as being Minister 3 – one of the chorus.

Did you have a perception of how you wanted to play the characters did you do much research before rehearsals started?

I was lucky enough to be involved in the play from its outset. Jonathan Maitland is a neighbour and we had initial readings in his kitchen a couple of years ago. I always thought it had huge potential and I have being totally committed to taking it on. Playing Ian Gow is the carrot – and that beautiful scene in Act 2 when he expresses his vulnerability. No spoilers!

How familiar were you with the politics of that decade? Were you an avid follower of the various goings on?

I remember the period vividly. I guess I am the right age! I always do a bit of research. Ian Gow pops up on Youtube giving the first to broadcast speech from The House, I warmed to his wit and obvious charm.

What do you think the strengths of this production are?

I love the way the play deals with the concept of loyalty. To a party, to a friend, and to ones partner. All this done in a historical setting with humour.

Digressing to The Archers for a moment, if I may, as that is one of your many career credits – what have your main highlights been of appearing in the drama?

I have too many memories of The Archers to list. When William Smethurst was the editor Nigel Pargetter was in his pomp! Young, silly and infectiously busy. What a privilege it was to play him.

Finally, what would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

The play is like a Beaujolais Nouvaux – fresh, pert and a tad frisky!

Thanks to Graham for a great interview, all the best with the rest of the run!

Spotlight On… Star of Dead Sheep, Carol Royle

Carol Royle is currently starring as Elspeth Howe in Dead Sheep at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, until Saturday 1 October 2016 and then continuing on a UK tour.

I chatted to Carol and found out all about the show, her character and what it’s like to play opposite a man dressed as Margaret Thatcher.

Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, Carol, first of all tell me about your character, Elspeth and what you thought of the script when you first saw it.

The Director, Ian Talbot, asked me to do this, earlier on in the year and I wanted to work with Ian again, we’d done Midsummer Night’s Dream together at Regent’s Park when he was running the Park and he was also playing Bottom. That was back in 1986 and when he asked me to return to the Park again, for one reason or another I wasn’t able to so when Ian came to me and asked to do this I probably would have done it without reading the script, to be quite frank. Of course, one needed to see the script and to know the character. When I read it and saw that Elspeth was what one might call a character part I jumped at the opportunity and was thrilled. Elspeth Howe is not essentially like me and these are the kind of roles that these days, I am very attracted to, I’ve always been attracted to them actually, but you’re not always given the opportunity to change your appearance or your personality. When you’re younger, for example you’re cast in the way that people perceive you to be. To play a character like Elspeth which is a real life character, I’m finding very interesting to do.

I did a lot of research on Elspeth, there’s a lot of photographs of her but there are no clips to give any indication of what she sounds like. I was lucky enough to speak to someone who knows her, a relative of her’s and he was able to tell me about how lovely she was and how down to earth she was, which gave me a little clue of what she was like, you didn’t have to make her into Boadicea. Obviously there is a certain perception of her because she was a strong woman, but she was a strong woman because of what she’d come up against and not necessarily because that was what she was like, nobody is completely one dimensional. Speaking to her relative gave me a few dimensions to base my character on.

With regards to the way she spoke, I knew that she came from a fairly aristocratic background, although I am a Yorkshire woman and a scot by blood, I was brought up with an RP accent, so that’s not difficult. I also know that she is related to Camilla Parker-Bowles, so I thought that in this case, rightly or wrongly, I’m going to give her a little bit more of an RP, a tiny little bit more RP than I am, to give that flavour of her being of that ilk.

Were you familiar with the political events of that decade?

It was there going on while I was in my thirties, although I was very preoccupied with my new child and work. Although I’ve always been politically minded, I didn’t watch News 24 all the time, so although I was aware of all that stuff I hadn’t studied it so it’s been quite good for me to go back and get into the fabric of what was going on.

It’s quite a current topic, considering that this was decades ago, isn’t it?

It’s quite extraordinary as the content of the play is the opposite to what’s happening now. We had a woman coming out of power and we were going into what was then known as the Common Market. Now we’ve got a woman who’s gone into power and we’re going to come out of what is now known as the EU. So it’s quite bizarre that it’s a parallel universe with this play.

What did you think when you knew that Steve Nallon was playing the role of Margaret Thatcher, were you familiar with his impersonation of her?

I had a lunch with Johnny Maitland, the writer, soon after Ian Talbot has asked me to play the part and he had told me about the decision to cast Steve. Funnily enough I used to watch Spitting Image a lot because I went to drama school with a guy called Enn Reitel, Enn used to be on Spitting Image and was a marvellous mimic and impersonator. He was and still remains a very good friend of mine, he spends most of his time in America now. When I met Steve, we had Enn in common.

Do you, like the audience, find it quite spooky how accurate Steve is when he plays the part and you’re playing opposite him?

I think that because it’s so good, you find that you’re not thinking about it, although the spooky bits occur when he/she is playing the venomous side of Margaret. I don’t think about the fact that it’s a man playing a woman at all, anymore.

What do you think the audience will take away from this piece?

It seems to be getting really good reactions, partly because the people that are coming to see it are interested in it and are therefore aware of the subject and because of their awareness they are getting the most out of it. Then we’ve had people coming to see it who weren’t even born during the period who I met after the show the other night and they really enjoyed it too which was good to hear. It was good to hear that people could enjoy it without necessarily knowing about the politics at the time. What our audiences will take away with them I hope is an evening that has been amusing and perhaps at moments slightly tear jerking. There’s also the knowledge of what it was like to be a human being like Geoffrey, he was clever and had everything that it took to be a high ranking politician without the dazzling element.

Finally, what would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket to see the play?

If you’re interested in the period or even if you’re not and you want to know more about it and you want to have an evening which encompasses laughter and tears, it’s an evening of tragicomedy.

I’d like to thank Carol for her time and wish her all the best with the rest of the tour! 

 

 

 

 

Dead Sheep ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Dead Sheep is at http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/ until Saturday 1 October 2016 and continues to tour the UK afterwards, tour dates and more information can be found here:  http://www.deadsheepontour.co.uk/

Star rating: ****

A political play based around the Conservative party didn’t necessarily sound like my glass of Drambuie. However, with a stellar line-up which included Paul Bradley, Carol Royle, Graham Seed and Steve Nallon in the cast, amongst others was a more inviting prospect. The thought of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher being played by a man sounded somewhat akin to Pantomime Dame, but I didn’t bank on the brilliance of Steve Nallon who is known for providing the voice of the late Baroness Thatcher. Therefore, this production came as a pleasant and indeed powerful surprise to me.

The story focuses on the relationship between Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe (Paul Bradley), Foreign Secretary, the influence of his wife Elspeth (Carol Royle) and the events which ultimately led to Howe’s resignation from the government. Jonathan Maitland who wrote the piece decided on the title Dead Sheep following a statement made by Denis Healey “being attacked by Geoffrey Howe is like being savaged by a dead sheep”. Howe’s charisma, or lack there of is certainly put under scrutiny as he blends in benignly and serves Thatcher obediently until they lock horns on the subject of Europe. His fate is sealed, as a change in the cabinet is instigated by the Prime Minister and Howe is relegated to Deputy Prime Minister. His wife, Elspeth remains at his side, her own principles unwavering as she campaigns for rights for women and the homeless. In fact, the play explores the relationship between Margaret and Elspeth, from their hand shake which the latter would not be ‘moved’ by, to Mrs Thatcher’s enquiries about her welfare, through clenched teeth, during interactions with Geoffrey.

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The cast in action

The cast are a delightful combined force, this is an ensemble piece, regardless of the dominance of The Prime Minister who could not have been played by anyone better than Nallon. His portrayal of her is quite disconcerting in the nicest possible way, from the steely glare to the familiar gait, plus the voice is perfectly mimicked. Paul Bradley is a fantastic choice for the role of Geoffrey, he has the ability to adapt the character depending on the scenario and seemed a natural in the role. Carol Royle was wonderfully dominant and supportive as Elspeth, she and Bradley formed a formidable duo and her interactions with Nallon were a work of art. One of Royle’s strengths is conveying so much without saying a word. Christopher Villiers took on a range of characters, including Bernard Ingham, who he particularly delighted the audience with his portrayal of. Graham Seed played each of his many roles brilliantly, he moved seamlessly between Ian Gow, Nigel Lawson and Minister 3 and at no point did I question which one he was. John Wark was similarly able and his performance as Brian Walden was a real highlight.

Ian Talbot OBE has directed an important piece of theatre, innovatively and creatively. The set design is quite something, too, it envelopes the piece and although it’s a fairly static backdrop, it lends itself to the various scenes.

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Mrs Thatcher (Steve Nallon) looks on as Geoffrey Howe (Paul Bradley) makes his exit speech

There is a good deal of humour injected into the play, all of the cast have comic timing which matches the pace of the script. Despite the casting of a Spitting Image impersonator in an iconic role, the character is not exaggerated, and at no point did I consider that this was a man playing a woman, either. It’s worth noting that although It’s set in the 80’s, the topics raised are as current today as they were back then and that is one of the many strengths that Dead Sheep has to offer.

 

 

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