Patrick Walshe McBride may be a name which is unfamiliar to you. However, if you have been to see Present Laughter on its UK tour or you are intending to catch it in its final week in Malvern, you will know this wonderful actor. He’s playing the madcap character of Mr Roland Maule and brings a good deal of laughter to the aptly titled show. I chatted to Patrick prior to the company’s first night in Malvern.
Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, Patrick, so tell me all about your character in Present Laughter.
I play a young man called Roland Maule who has grown up in Uckfield and he has a very interesting bond with one of the main characters.
How familiar were you with the play before you were cast in it?
I have seen several of his plays, but I had not seen Present Laughter. I find them interesting, there are so many motifs that run throughout his plays. They mirror each other and there are similar scenes. It’s been a real joy to run with this one.
Did you have an idea of how you wanted to play the character?
It was developed during rehearsals, really as it’s very much a collaborative process. You have your own response to it as soon as you read it because the writing does so much of it for you. The script demands that you play the character in a certain way. Also at the audition you talk about the role with the director, so you can get an idea of the general flavour of what they’re looking for quite early on in the process.
Do you find that you’re changing any aspect of the character as you progress through the run?
You find that you have to adjust to the theatre that you’re playing. I noticed in one of the smaller theatres we played, that the audience were quite shell shocked after my initial entrance! So I toned it down, and continued to tone it down and the response improved.
What’s next for you after this tour finishes?
At the moment I’m not sure, there are a couple of things that are bubbling away but not confirmed yet. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve come to the end of a job with nothing definite to go to, I’ve been very lucky to be able to go from job to job to job, so it’s nice to think that I have a bit of time.
What made you want to become an actor?
It’s been something I’ve wanted to do since I was really little! I think I got too much attention when I was a little kid because I was the only kid in my family for years and years. I guess with all actors, they enjoy getting the attention and the reaction. Also I was shown a lot of films when I was little and that inspired me, too.
Did you have any particular aspirations when you were at drama school?
I think my main aspiration was to work in a variety of roles and not to play the same type of role for too long. I feel really lucky to have played a variety so far. I wanted and still want to have a go at everything from comedy to drama to contemporary plays.
So, finally, what would you say to encourage people to come to Malvern and buy a ticket to see the show?
The play was written in 1939 and one of the things that strikes me about this play is that there’s a real philosophy behind this, as there is with a lot of Coward’s work. It shows difficult times, and 2016 has been a difficult time, particular this show deals with the character, Garry Essendine (played by Samuel West) learning how to cope with the difficulties that life throws at you. I think what the play encourages you to do is live for the moment. I think that that’s an interesting thing to see, now.
Thank you Patrick for a fabulous interview, break a leg for the remaining performances.
Photo Credits: Richard Stone Partnership and Theatre Royal, Bath
Patrick recently appeared in BBC One’s Shakespeare & Hathaway Private Investigators, get your hands on a copy of the DVD here:
Present Laughter’s tour finishes at Malvern Theatres on Saturday 20th August.
Star Rating *****
Noel Coward’s plays are my self-confessed guilty pleasures, their wit, charm and farcical qualities never fail to bring a smile to my face. The plots are usually predictable, as is most definitely the case with Present Laughter, which arrived in Malvern this week on the final leg of the UK tour it has been embarking upon. Still, this is a five-star production, in my humble opinion and deserves a West End transfer.
Garry Essendine (Samuel West) is a bumptious, self-obsessed performer (Coward is in fact taking the Michael out of himself with this role), he has a bevy of beauties at his beck and call who all claim to have lost their latch key. Whatever happens in the mad-cap world of the glory hunter, he’s not satisfied and perpetually lonely. His secretary, Monica (Phyllis Logan) is used to the comings and goings of young ladies and responds to her boss in a no-nonsense and sarcastic manner, which he undoubtedly deserves. Loyal to the last, though, she is quite taken aback by the arrival of the manic Roland Moule (Patrick Walshe McBride) and takes on an almost Joyce Grenfell style quality when he is let loose in his idol’s office. With young Daphne Stillington (Daisy Boulton) and Joanna Lyppiatt (Zoe Boyle) who is married to Garry’s Producer, Henry (Toby Longworth) both making their intentions abundantly clear, Essendine’s life is already farcical enough. Add his ex-wife, Liz (Rebecca Johnson) to the fray, whom he has never divorced from and who continues to have control over his career, at least, and there’s a recipe for disaster. Did I mention that among his household staff there is a mad Scandinavian Housekeeper, Miss Erikson (Sally Tatum) who doesn’t appear to do much around the place other than ‘bum’ cigarettes!
Not a weak link is present among the cast and there are solid performances throughout. With Samuel West and Phyllis Logan being the instantly recognisable names among the throng, I anticipated a certain standard from them. Phyllis Logan shines on stage as much as she does on-screen. Yes, she is vastly experienced, but let us not forget she has had a lengthy break from treading the boards. She plays comedy and deadpan brilliantly and convinced me that she still has a few tricks up her sleeve where her ability to take on completely different roles, is concerned. Her facial expressions, alone speak volumes, and that is a skill, particularly putting that across in a large auditorium. Samuel West gives a show-stopping performance in the leading role, he is a tour de force. It seems that when you think he’s given the role all he can give it, he takes it up another notch, an inspiration to watch. Taking the star names out of the equation, I felt that the show belonged to Rebecca Johnson, Daisy Boulton and Patrick Walshe McBride. They all connected perfectly with their characters, Johnson was a superb match for West, bringing the right mixture of assertiveness and heart to Liz. Boulton was outstanding as the smitten Daphne, simpering and silly in equal measure. Walshe McBride is a name I will be looking out for in the future, he brings a Frank Spencer meets Basil Fawlty meets Little Britain element to the role of Roland and I felt that he played him as the least predictable of Garry’s ‘fan club’. Sally Tatum’s comic timing as Miss Erikson did not go unnoticed, either, it was spot on and imaginative.
This is a seamless production performed on a spectacular set and not to be missed, definitely one of my must-sees of 2016. Book your tickets here to catch it in Malvern: http://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk.
How do I possibly begin this one? Every so often I have the honour of meeting and interviewing one of my childhood heroes. Phyllis Logan needs no introduction whatsoever, I was first enraptured by her when she played Lady Jane in Lovejoy. I followed her career fairly avidly, thereafter and of course, I loved Downton Abbey. Her return to the stage is a welcome sight, I’ve already seen Present Laughter once (as a punter, not press) and I can tell anyone who intends to go and watch it that they won’t be disappointed. This lady is akin to the actress who inspires her! So, without further ado…
Phyllis, thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg, first of all, tell me what it’s like to be back on stage after a lengthy break.
A very lengthy break, indeed, yes, it’s been good fun, actually. It’s been a long time since I was on stage in a cross-arch theatre, as opposed to in a studio theatre where I was the last time I was on stage. So, it’s a different animal altogether appearing in a 600 seater cross-arch theatre, it is quite nerve-wracking. I do get a bubble of nerves before I go on, but once you’re on and you get your first laugh, hopefully it’s all plain sailing-ish!
What was your reaction to the script and do you feel that your character, Monica has changed much as you’ve rehearsed? Did the rehearsal process change our initial thoughts about Monica?
I had known the play before, anyway, I thought it was a very funny play and I thought that Monica was a fun part. I went through several avenues during rehearsal, but your initial reaction to a character is the right one for you. Although I did challenge myself to see if I thought my initial reaction was right for the part.
Have you based your portrayal of Monica on anyone in particular?
Not anybody in particular. I’ve based her on types, I suppose, she is quite acerbic and she’s got a very, very dry sense of humour. You want to strike a balance where she’s not an out-and-out horror. She’s got wit, she’s got humour and she’s a match for Garry (Essendine, played by Samuel West). She’s loyal to him but she’s got his measure.
Going right back to the beginning, when you first went to Drama School, was there any particular ambition that you held for your career?
Not really, the only thing that mattered was keeping in work and you don’t really think beyond what your next job is. When I first started, theatre jobs cropped up, I didn’t have an agent in those early days, it was just word of mouth. My only ambition was that it would be a job that I could keep doing without having to worry about finding other work or having to find a new career. So, touch wood, I have been doing this job for nearly 40 years!
Is there anybody who inspires you as a performer?
Well, there’s Dame Judi Dench, she’s been an inspiration right from the word go, she’s so fabulous and she’s just got it all, really. She’s got the whole package. Also, John Hurt, I like the old school performers.
Moving on to your television career, what are your favourite memories from filming Lovejoy?
Oh, I loved Lovejoy, what I remember most is that the sun always seemed to be shining, I’m not sure if it really was always sunny, but that’s my memory of it. It was great to work with Dudley Sutton, such a character, and McShane of course. What was great about Lovejoy was we always had such fantastic guest appearances from different actors. It was just such a joy to do.
I absolutely loved Secrets and Lies, what a brilliant film. Do you feel that working differently i.e. using improvisation affected your future performances?
I suppose it did for a bit, I did rather resent having to be given a script to learn and having my character and everyone else’s character laid bare in front of you. I did think, no, improvisation is the way forward, I liked not knowing what everybody else is up to. So, during the Secrets and Lies process it came as a great shock to me when we eventually got around to doing some of the filming. When I was watching the cast and crew screening I thought “oh my god, that’s what happened!”. It was quite liberating not having to adhere to a script because you are the one that’s created this character, along with Mike Leigh. Obviously, he has a huge input into the way your character develops and he influences certain things your character might say. However, you take on the responsibility for creating to a large extent, this character. Afterwards, I did wonder if I was ever going to be able to revert back to the way I’m used to working. Of course you have to, don’t you, because you’re not going to get a Mike Leigh film every day of the week are you? Unless you’re Tim Spall!
Would you work with Mike Leigh again, if the opportunity came up?
I wouldn’t say no, but it’s hard, it really is quite tough, it’s not like being at the coal face of course but it’s quite challenging. It’s good to scare yourself every now and then so maybe I should give myself another scare. Although I’ve scared myself going back to the theatre, so maybe that’s enough for one year!
Of course you went on to work with Brenda Blethyn again in an episode of Vera…
I did and we had great fun doing that, a friend of mine produced it. It was fun to-ing and fro-ing to Newcastle and working with Brenda again.
Was it easy to try to achieve a Geordie accent?
No! In fact I don’t think I even did that, I went for something else. I did do something years ago called And A Nightingale Sang where I had to be Geordie and I had to go to a voice coach for that. It’s not an easy accent to try to do, even though geographically Newcastle is so close to Scotland.
You appeared in Sondheim’s Follies as a one-off, playing the role of Phyllis. Would you be tempted to do musical theatre again?
That was for a charity thing in Glasgow. Talking about scaring yourself, that was for my lovely friend Pat Doyle who’s now an Oscar nominated film composer. I first knew him at Drama School, it was the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, then, it’s now called the Conservatoire. We didn’t cross-pollinate with the music students, particularly, but Pat did get to know all of the actors and he was great. Although he’d been at the music college, when he left he decided that he wanted to act. In the late 70’s we did a hilarious show together as part of the Slab Boys Trilogy by John Byrne and that was fantastic.
So, then a few years back he said to me come up and do this musical and I said “I can’t, Pat, it’s singing”, but he persuaded me and I said I would. So I found myself up in Glasgow with my tiny son who I dumped on my mum and my sister. Then after a minimal number of rehearsals we were in this great concert hall in Glasgow with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra behind us and the hallelujah chorus behind us, it was the scariest thing ever. On top of that it was a Sondheim musical! But, I did it!
So, we really have to get onto Downton, now don’t we? The chemistry and friendship that developed between Mrs Hughes, Mr Carson and Mrs Patmore as a trio, do you think that it was there from the start in the first series or did it evolve naturally as the show moved on?
I’m quite pleased that it seemed to be taken on board that we all got on well, on screen as well as off screen. If you remember, at the beginning, Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore were daggers drawn because Mrs Hughes had the keys to the cupboard. Which is ludicrous, really, but that’s the way it was. I think Mrs Hughes loosened her corsets as the series went on. I’m so glad that the relationship with Mrs Patmore did develop, because it makes sense with them being two women of the same age, from the same background. It didn’t make sense that they would be working together and constantly at loggerheads, although it was funny at the beginning. It established the characters really well, but it was nice during the third series where Mrs Hughes thought she might have had breast cancer and she consulted the only person she could, really, Mrs Patmore. Having gone to Mrs Patmore, who’s such a straight talking person, you wouldn’t want anyone else on your team, so that started off their relationship and by the end of it I’d say they were really close friends.
As far as Mr Carson goes, she was always taking the Mickey out of him for his stuffiness, but she obviously had a great fondness for him and a respect and likewise he felt he same for her. I think everyone we ever met prior to them used to say “when are they getting together?” and it used to shock me that anybody would be interested in these two old fuddy-duddies getting together. I think Julian Fellowes must have taken that on board and said let’s go for it.
Have you got a favourite scene or episode?
I don’t have a favourite episode, as it were, but I did enjoy those end of season scenes where you would have all the cast together, such as when there was a fete in the garden. I liked it when we were all together and then off set we’d be there playing bananagrams and do the crossword together, chew the fat and all that. I loved all the big set pieces where most of the cast were together.
If there is a movie, would we see Mrs Hughes ‘retired’ with Mr Carson? It wasn’t clear whether she would have to leave with him?
Oh, no, I think she’ll carry on until she’s shoved in a box! I don’t think she has to retire with him, I don’t think she’d want to be a housewife, and we’ve all seen what he’s like at home, haven’t we?
So, finally, going back to Present Laughter, what would you say to encourage potential audience members to come and see the show?
Noel Coward is very much a part of British theatre-going, an still is after all thee years which is amazing. If you haven’t seen a Noel Coward play before this is a good one to start with because it’s got an element of farce, it’s very funny, very witty, lots of great characters in it and if we do it properly you’ll have a good laugh.
I would like to extend further thanks to Phyllis for allowing me to take up her time, it was an honour, a privilege and beyond! I will be forever thankful, truly.
Photo Credits: United Agents, Theatre Royal, Bath and ITV
Rebecca Johnson is an actress who’s work I was already familiar with, having seen her last Christmas as Mrs Darling in Wendy and Peter Pan at the RSC in Stratford. I rated her performance, then, and she has continued to impress me now that she is starring as Liz Essendine in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter. I chatted to Rebecca about her role in the play, her experience on tour so far and who inspires her as a performer.
Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, Rebecca, tell me about Present Laughter and the character that you play.
What can I tell you about Present Laughter? It was written in 1939 and couldn’t be performed because of the outbreak of the Second World War. I’ve previously done other Noel Coward plays which include, This Happy Breed, The Vortex, both with Stephen Unwin who is the Director for Present Laughter. I love working with Stephen and I also worked on A Day In The Death of Joe Egg which he directed, that was on at Liverpool Playhouse and Rose Theatre in Kingston.
What I particularly like about Present Laughter is that there are more female parts than male parts, which doesn’t happen very often. It’s a very happy company to work with, too, wherever we’ve toured to there’s usually a company outing planned.
My character, Liz Essendine is Garry’s wife, they’re no longer together, she upped and left him years ago but they’ve never got divorced. There was obviously quite a romantic ruction in the past, probably an affair that caused them to go their separate ways. Although professionally they’re still very, very close, she’s a writer herself and writes stuff that could be a vehicle for his career. She’s a very no-nonsense sort of character and I’ve taken a leaf out of her book, she tells it like it is, she’s quite unemotional about stuff. There’s an edginess to her that I like and she really schemes in the play, she is instrumental in having Joanna locked in the ‘slut cupboard’ as we’ve called it, Stephen (Unwin) christened it the slut cupboard! The way that she arranges for Joanna to be hidden in there and pretends that she’s at her flat is great, Liz is a schemer and a fixer.
Did you find that the way you played her changed as you went through the rehearsal process?
For a while I found it difficult to ‘find’ her and decipher how she might be different from Monica (played by Phyllis Logan). Although it’s funny because sometimes your first instinct is right and then you go around the houses and take various notes and read different things, but ultimately come back to where you started.
When you went to drama school, what were your ambitions?
When I was first at drama school my ambitions were to play all of the female juvenile leads in Shakespeare plays. I’ve played most of them, but not Juliet or Cordelia.
Who inspires you as a performer and who inspired you to go into acting?
Lots of people inspire me, I would have to say Dame Judi Dench. I saw her on stage in Absolute Hell which starred in with David Horovitch who played my dad in Just William. The way that she had the meltdown in that play to ‘absolute hell’ it was breath-taking, her range is remarkable. Also Dame MaggieSmith is an inspiration to me.
I’ve also been inspired by lower brow stuff like the Carry On films and looked up to actresses such as Hattie Jacques and Joan Sims. I also liked Molly Sugden in Are You Being Served.
Are there any characters that you have a particular ambition to play, now?
I’d like to do more new writing, I’ve done a bit, I’d like to be there at the beginning, I did that with Coram Boy at the National Theatre. I was involved in work shops where we improvised and one of my lines was used in the final script.
I’d also really love to focus on comedy, I think Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval must be due a revival by now!
What would you say to encourage potential audience members to come and see the play?
If you want 2 1/2 hours of entertainment, laughter, come along and see it. It’s not without its sardonic humour, but ultimately it’s a very funny comedy and might just beat the post-Brexit blues!
Thanks to Rebecca for a smashing interview, I highly recommend that you watch this amazingly talented lady on stage in Present Laughter, and in anything else for that matter!
Daisy Boulton is currently starring in the tour of Present Laughter by Noel Coward, here’s my exclusive interview with the talented young lady, herself.
Thank you for chatting to Break A Leg, Daisy, tell me about your character in Present Laughter and are you enjoying the tour so far?
I am playing Daphne Stillington, a 24 year old debutante, who has fallen hook, sink and liner for Garry Essendine, a hugely successful and famous theatre actor. I am really enjoying the tour – yes! Such a talented and lovely group of actors and company of creative.
What did you think of the script when you first read it? How familiar are you with Coward’s work?
I loved Daphne and thought it would be such fun to play….if I manage to pull it off. I saw ‘Hay Fever’ in the West End a few years ago and thought Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Freddie Fox were fabulous. It’s a joy to have the opportunity to play such complex and brilliant writing and revel in it’s the hilarity.
Have you a favourite line or scene?
When Liz says ‘I feel a sinking’ in explanation for asking for a cup of coffee. I have found myself finding many a tongue-in-cheek, apt moment to use the line.
What made you decide to become an actress?
Doing The Dreaming as a kid with the NYMT and years later watching Harriet Walter play Cleopatra opposite Patrick Stewart at the Novello Theatre.
Who inspires you as a performer?
Well…..Harriet Walter, Cush Jumbo playing Anthony in Julius Caesar at the Donmar and then taking on a regular lead in The Good Wife, which is the show of my dreams to be in. Julianna Margulies for that matter! Katie Sagal in Sons Of Anarchy. There are many pretty amazing performers, female and male who I am inspired by.
What do you think the most valued lesson is that you’ve learned in your career, so far?
Never stop thanking my family and friends for their relentless love and support!
Any advice for aspiring actors?
If you get a knock, get up, dust yer self off and go again. It’s never straight forward.
Finally, what can the audience expect from Present Laughter and what would you say to encourage people to come and see it?
Sam West is a fabulous Garry. It’s lots of fun. It’s brilliant, brilliant writing. It’s an insight into the world and life of Noel Coward as it is the closest to an auto-biographical play. The hidden depths and subtleties have been important to us as a company creating it, Stephen Unwin, our director said how like Chekhov Coward is and I agree. It’s moving and sad in many ways as a play but through great humanity and therefore laughter. Humans are quite funny really after all.
Huge thanks to Daisy for her time and I’ll be seeing the play to review when it arrives in Malvern, can’t wait!