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!
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.
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.
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.
Having opened at The Ambassadors Theatre, London in 1952 – The Mouse Trap is celebrating its Diamond Anniversary by touring the UK, providing the opportunity for patrons to watch it for the very first time, as well as return visits for those lucky enough to have seen it before. The show boasts numerous Guinness World Records including ‘the longest continuous run of any show in the world’. With this in mind we had high expectations for our maiden visit when Agatha Christie’s ‘phenomenon’ arrived in Wolverhampton.
The set itself had the ‘wow’ factor, with excellent effects outside the window giving the impression of a blizzard. The set was static throughout, yet it was imaginatively created to give the impression that the other rooms truly existed and in our minds, we could picture the ‘Oak Room’, the Cellar and the Drawing Room. We believe that when on television, Agatha Christie ‘crimes’ are given the most beautiful of settings, and it was no differently presented on stage although there are limitations, obviously.
The house that plays host to this story of intrigue, we discover is Monkswell Manor which is a newly opened Guest House run by ‘rookies’ Giles and Mollie Ralston, Bruno Langley plays Giles and he has shaken off his ‘teenage’ image from his days in ‘Coronation Street’ to give a sophisticated performance. Jemma Walker who has played roles in ‘Eastenders’ and ‘Family Affairs’ was outstanding as Mollie, she conveyed a range of emotions wonderfully and was extremely well cast in the role. Mr and Mrs Ralston’s guests have all applied in advance for a room in the Guest House and their arrivals are awaited while the snow causes havoc outside.
We eventually meet outlandish Architect Christopher Wren who skips about with impish joy and manages to persuade Mrs Ralston to let him take the room with the four poster bed in it! Then comes Mrs Boyle, cantankerous and extremely displeased with everything (played brilliantly by Elizabeth Power), she used to be a Magistrate. Mrs Boyle is quickly followed by Major Metcalf, a jolly fellow indeed played by Graham Seed and Miss Casewell played by Claire Wilkie. Both Seed and Wilkie are marvellous to watch and suited to this genre. Add to the mix an unexpected guest in the form of Mr Paravicini who is a man of mystery and played delightfully by Karl Howman. Then, as with any Agatha Christie story, there’s the policeman who turns up (on skis!) trying to solve a murder that took place the day before and that he believes is linked to the Longridge Farm case from years ago. Bob Saul plays Detective Sergeant Trotter who seems almost new to the job, he’s so ‘jumpy’. Despite there being few credits to Saul’s name in the programme, he gave a first-class performance.
The scene is set for the outing of secrets, stories that don’t add up and of course, more murders – all to the tune of ‘Three Blind Mice’ which reflects the title of the play. We had never considered ‘Three Blind Mice’ as being particularly sinister before watching ‘The Mousetrap’! The play also contains many humorous moments, especially when it appears that almost everybody fits the vague description of the murder suspect. As far as ‘whodunnit’ goes, we are sworn to secrecy and we wouldn’t want to reveal the ending, anyway – otherwise nobody would go and see it… and we highly recommend that you do go and catch it while it’s on tour. If we had one criticism it would be that the pace is slightly slow at times, but this does not detract from the fact that this is Agatha Christie at her very best, as always.