Foul Pages ~ The Hope Theatre

Foul Pages stays at The Hope Theatre until 17th March 2018 – book your tickets here: The Hope Theatre Box Office

Guest Reviewed by G.Wood 

Star rating: ****

In Foul Pages there are two moments where male characters, actors who play women, cry as a result of the same single act of brutality; both crying for different reasons, but the effect is the same; they are merely pawns in the political game that is the theatre. No matter how talented or charming or attractive they are, they are always at the mercy of the machinations around them. It strikes a bold note, especially in the current climate where the abuse of power is so in the public eye. When Alex (an impassioned Lewis Chandler) begs to hold on to the part of Rosalind, possibly Shakespeare’s greatest female creation, he stands for all the actors who pass their sell by date and are lost to the whim and fancy of their producers, benefactors, or public (I immediately thought of the hundreds, from Rose McGowan to Robert Lindsay to many other unknown talents, who fell foul of Weinstein.)

With MeToo and TimesUp, there is perhaps now hope that things are finally changing but Foul Pages, Robert Hooper’s play of political, theatrical and sexual intrigue, is a timely reminder of how much the world is driven by the ego of those who hold the power. Lady Pembroke (a nicely layered performance by Clare Bloomer) has brought Shakespeare’s Company to Wilton House to perform “As You Like It” for King James, a brave move to appeal to the King’s forgiveness and stay the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh. Through the multiple plot strands the evening at one moment takes us to laugh out loud comedy, and the next enters the realm of the high stakes thriller. The writing is both erudite and irreverent, cleverly weaving witty farce with tragedy and courtly politics in its short ninety minutes. If I had one criticism it is that Hooper sometimes pushes his scope a little too far and what starts grounded firmly in theatricality, a complete homage to the power of the word, later aspires to be more of a cinematic adventure; the writing starting to feel fuzzy with almost too many themes crowded into the rapid fire proceedings.

So it is a credit to the creative team that they pull off the evening so effectively, and keep us engaged throughout. Rachael Ryan’s designs, specifically her edgy and anachronistic costumes, create a world that feels just shy of steampunk, accentuated by a pulsing techno beat that frames the many short scenes. Matthew Parker, The Hope’s artistic director, draws us convincingly into this world, guiding us across unsteady ground with always a firm grip on the entertainment, each individual section deftly struck.

Parker is aided in this by a really sensational cast. The venue’s reputation guarantees that its in house productions never fail to draw in some quality acting, but here it surpasses even itself. So rare on the fringe to see such a large cast be so note perfect; Ian Hallard is effortless as the exasperated Shakespeare, artful manipulator of all around him (not least the comic interfering of his benefactor) but also reluctant stooge for those who hold the real power (Tom Vanson milking every moment as a King torn between his faith and his lasciviousness). Elsewhere Greg Baxter’s grounded Ed nicely compliments the simple understated hopefulness of Thomas Bird’s magnetic Rob and full credit must be given to the three perfectly judged performances that act as an outsider’s channel into this world of power politics; Olivia Onyehara sublime as the no nonsense maid Peg who both admires and is frustrated by this acting fraternity, Jack Harding nicely brooding as the bodyguard Mears trying desperately to keep some sort of balance as the events unfold, and finally James King as the dog Chop (yes, the dog). Whether it is his joyful physicality or his narrative quips, King lands every beat he is given as he moves effortlessly from the hilarious to the heartfelt.

A thoroughly engaging evening of comedy and insight, capped off with a little post curtain bonus that feels like both a nod and a glorious two fingers up to the historical form. Joyous.

Photo Credits: LHPhotoshots

Moments / Empty Bed ~ Hope Theatre, Islington

Book tickets here (booking until 17th February 2018)The Hope Theatre

Reviewed by G. Wood

Star rating: ****

Pennyworth Productions present two bite size plays at The Hope Theatre this spring, both featuring the writing and acting talent of Julia Cranney, and together they make for an engaging and insightful evening. Interestingly, both titles would work for either play, as themes of isolation, mental health (and cake) echo throughout the performance and, though they differ in form and narrative structure, they make for perfect bedfellows.

The first time we meet Ava and Daniel in Moments they are both asleep, ready to start their day working in dreary jobs within the empty heart of the big city, each narrating for us the life of the other as we meander through their daily routine. Ava appears to be searching for her place in the world (there are hints of aspergers as well as a deep hunger for connection) whereas Daniel, despite his own painful history, seems to know where and who he is, their shared loneliness quite palpable. There are moments when their separate voices become one, evoking a powerful reminder of the pain of being alone in the city, before we carry on our journey through their separate eyes. Strangely, this structural device of each recording the movement of the other is both the play’s strength and weakness; there are a few points where it edges dangerously close to becoming wearisome but the pay off, whenever these two lost souls finally start to make some connection, is actually made more welcome and stronger for what has come before. As Ava, Julia Cranney delivers her written words with aplomb, drawing us gradually into the world of a fragile young woman and Simon Mattacks brings warmth, humour and an endearing awkwardness to his Security Guard Daniel, helping us forgive him his bluntness and a sometimes archaic take on the world.

Post interval is Empty Beds, Anna Reid’s simple but effective design shifting from arena to traverse as we are now staring at a train carriage; here the writer plays the eldest of three sisters, heading off to visit their brother Michael on his birthday. Immediately accessible, the play weaves neatly in real time through the strains of the sibling dynamic, bouncing from joy to anger to pain with the deftness of a truly gifted writer. Although she is sometimes hampered by the need to get characters off stage for dramatic purpose, what Cranney really nails is how no family moment ever happens without being imbued by a sense of history, how an argument is never wholly about the matter in hand, but always stained by what has come before. And director Kate Treadell guides us carefully through it all, drawing strong performances from all three actors to create a convincing picture of siblings and all the baggage that this brings. Completely unrecognisable from the first play, Cranney plays the hard edged but loving Catherine, alongside Carys Wright (beautifully ethereal as Emily) and Debbie Brannan (sensational as Michael’s twin sister Jo). There is a moment where we hear (almost imperceptibly) the train that they are on grind to a halt: perhaps a metaphor for how impossible it is for any family to move forward, especially when there is still pain and reprisal to be dealt with.

Cranney is exceptionally adept at bringing her simple observations of the world to life, be it the mass production of eggs in London or finding those hidden plug sockets on a train, and throughout the evening the truth of these smaller moments help the larger ones resonate more powerfully, helped along by an excellent cast of five (wait, four), effective design all round and Treadell’s assured direction. The Hope continues to programme top rate fringe theatre and these two bijou theatrical nuggets from Pennyworth are no exception.

 

My Gay Best Friend ~ The Hope Theatre

My Gay Best Friend stays at The Hope Theatre until Saturday 27 January, book tickets here: My Gay Best Friend Tickets

Star rating *****

Reviewed by: Francesca Mepham 

Sometimes you have the privilege of seeing a new piece of theatre that makes you laugh, cry and feel. In the case of My Gay Best Friend, at The Hope Theatre, this is certainly the case.

My Gay Best Friend is written and performed by Louise Jameson and Nigel Fairs, as best friends Rachel and Gavin, who on the surface certainly seem polar opposites. Rachel a beauty counter worker from Boots (who still wears shoulder pads) is brash, harsh and with a wicked sense of northern humour. Her ideal man is the innocuous Alan Titchmarsh, perhaps that’s why she gets on so well with the mild mannered and fashion impaired Gavin, who himself admits he’s the worst gay man, with his admission of not knowing the difference between the Minogue sisters! When two worlds collide during a nail varnish ‘accident’ the pair just click and the friendship is delicious.

The chemistry between Jameson and Fairs is a tour de force throughout the play, even when they are performing monologues, the affection seeps through that the two friends have for each other, small interactions that overlap are exquisite and so natural. Director, Veronica Roberts let’s the pair’s instinctive interactions always shine through, but never lets the two actors verge on stereotypes, which could have been so easily done.

Minimal use of props is testament to this production’s focus on heartfelt storytelling, perhaps the sparseness is a metaphor for the emptiness inside of Rachel and Gavin, whose childhoods have had a profound effect on the both of them. This aspect of My Gay Best Friend was heart-wrenching, with Jameson giving the most honest and understated account of Rachel’s trauma in her childhood, that resulted in her issues with men. Fairs showed great depth and tenderness, when there is a sense that no-one quite believed in Gavin with such conviction after his Gran died.

With fringe theatre, you often see plays written and performed by more ’emerging’ artists, which,  don’t get me wrong is wonderful and vital for the future of theatre,  but it’s a real delight and breath of fresh air, to see such a beautifully written and performed new play, from more seasoned actors. My Gay Best Friend is an outstanding piece of theatre that leaves you feeling emotionally attached to its characters, I very much hope Louise Jameson and Nigel Fairs write and perform together again in the future, as it’s absolute magic.

Odd Man Out ~ The Hope Theatre

Odd Man Out runs at The Hope Theatre until Saturday 12 August 2017 – book here: Odd Man Out Tickets

Star rating: *****

A double bill of monologues from writers; Dominic Grace and Lesley Ross, performed respectively by Luke Adamson and Gregory Ashton form the structure of Odd Man Out. Both plays are vastly different yet synchronise and almost meet in the middle, surprisingly well.

Rabbitskin (written by Dominic Grace) is a finely constructed piece narrated by the central character, Joe (Luke Adamson) who is a book-obsessed baby of the family and self-confessed lost soul. He focuses on specific moments in his life and how they make him feel – from washing up to sitting on the sofa with his dad and brother with whom there is a three year age gap. He’s the youngest of five brothers, all of whom he is intimidated and bullied by, his mum having passed away when he was young enough to have been left with the vaguest of memories of the lynchpin of the family. The bookish lad has to man up while his dad skins rabbits for their tea. The rabbit inspires reflections in Joe, (who is unable to switch his thoughts off unless he ‘floats’ outside of his body) putting death and the pointlessness of it to the forefront of his young mind. It seems that many life events in one so young have catalysed panic attacks and general poor mental health.

Luke Adamson is a revelation in the role, holding the audience to rapt attention as he portrays the boy who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, let alone a rabbit, then shocks with the ferocity in which he switches Joe’s emotions. Adamson offers a physical, engaging and intense performance which is not to be missed. The set, although basic, provides just enough of a backdrop to demonstrate emptiness, pointlessness and obsession. The lighting design also complements the piece superbly, enhancing the monologue at every turn.

With an ending which is both predictable and unpredictable in equal measure, too – this is a monologue which knows no bounds and it’s been brought to life innovatively and imaginatively.

(Review by Helen McWilliams)

 

Diary of a Welshcake, written by Lesley Ross and performed by Gregory Ashton, is an interactive, emotive and belly laugh inducing piece of theatre. If you were lucky, you were fed too! I thoroughly enjoyed my welshcake, thanks! Ashton instantly has the audience on side and tuned in to his story as he played the role of Ralph, the Welshman who would rather be called Tom and has an affinity with elephants. The piece offers a snapshot into Ralph’s life, the scene is set superbly as we are moved rapidly to a major life event for the non-welsh speaking Welshman.

A broken relationship inspires a decision to move to Hong Kong and teach English, so we are transported from the valleys to the orient where we are introduced to Fanny, Windy and Hymen (three of Ralph’s pupils). The puns are there for the taking and they pepper the script appropriately. The clever flipside being that homosexual welsh elephant, Ralph’s journey takes him to unexpected and often dark places – despite the vibrant characters who provide hilarity along the way.

The piece is intricately written, Lesley Ross has a gift for painting a picture with words and creating characters who spring to life in your imagination, courtesy of the precise narration. Ashton has a clever way of leading you to believe that Ralph is a soul who bounces back easily – therefore it comes as a surprise when he falls. The set offered everything we needed to see because the script itself showed us the real heart of the story, which shone through. Lighting also provided its own ‘scene changes’, reflecting the myriad of moods and atmospheres.

I’ve never had so much fun with a handful of Skittles (as in the sweets…) and I reiterate that I enjoyed that welshcake, theatre and food should go together more often!

(Review by Jen Franklin (Guest Reviewer))

 

Spotlight on Stars of Odd Man Out ~ Gregory Ashton & Luke Adamson

Odd Man Out runs at The Hope Theatre from 26 July to 12 August 2017, book tickets here: The Hope Theatre Box Office

Odd Man Out is composed of two plays, Rabbitskin written by Dominic Grace and performed by Luke Adamson, and Diary of a Welshcake written by Lesley Ross, performed by Gregory Ashton. Break A Leg caught up with both of the actors to find out what their pieces are all about.

Interview with Gregory Ashton:

Tell me about the piece and your character

Well it’s the story of a man escaping a bad relationship and re-inventing himself in Hong Kong. It’s a love story about cultural identity and finding out who you are, no matter how old you are. I play Ralph, who is a Welshman who sounds more Michael McIntyre than Michael Sheen: he is, I suppose, still trying to discover where he fits in, and he gets in to some pretty ridiculous scrapes along the way.

Was it easy to translate from page to stage?

I think so, but a lot of that has to do with Steve Marmion, the director. He was so careful in his handling of both me and the piece. We had worked together on the award winning Madam Butterfly’s Child so I really wanted to have him back as he puts me in a secure framework to just tell the story truthfully, which ultimately is all you can hope for as an actor

How does the space lend itself to the piece?

Well, I’ve been performing this all over the world for quite a few years now, and the spaces are constantly changing, but there is a unique challenge to performing on three sides… In many ways it is more immersive, which I love, but I also have to be constantly aware of how much I am including all sides, so it is always an adjustment. Then there is the throwing stuff… Will have to think hard about how that will work in the space. What I love about The Hope though, is it is so intimate, which hopefully will help draw the audience into Ralph’s world.

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

Well, firstly Luke Adamson is great, and I have read Rabbitskin so I can’t wait to see what he will bring to the piece.

I think people often shy away from one man shows and I understand that… but these two pieces are storytelling at it’s most engaging, so I’d say “come along, grab a drink and be transported for a couple of hours”. And of course… you may be lucky enough to be fed.

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Interview with Luke Adamson:

Tell me about the piece and your character…

Well Rabbitskin is a beautiful one man show written by Dominic Grace that came out of the new writing programme at The West Yorkshire playhouse a few years ago. It tells the story of Joe who grew up the youngest of five brothers in Leeds. Thanks to his wonderful father he develops a love for stories and literature and he can name his twenty favourite authors off the top of his head! Rabbitskin is Joe telling his story.

What was your initial impression of the script?

I loved it. Absolutely loved it. When I was first asked  to audition for it and read the script I just thought ‘this is so beautiful, I have to get this part’ luckily I did!

Was it easy to translate from page to stage?

The beautiful thing about monologue is that it is storytelling at its purest, it is one actor on a stage talking to an audience. Rabbitskin requires quite a lot of mime alongside the storytelling which is a wonderful challenge for me and really brings the world of the play alive with a beautiful simplicity.

Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to bring to the role?

Mainly I wanted to bring truth and honesty to the role along with an enthusiasm for the stories Joe tells. There’s also a great amount of humour in the script that I was keen to bring out.

How does the space lend itself to the piece?

The intimacy of The Hope is ideal for this piece. Being a single actor in that space talking to the audience, most of whom will be within touching distance, promises to be very special. It will draw the audience right into Joe’s world of magic, dragons, family and rabbits.

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

This is a double bill of beautifully written stories examining how these two characters fit into the world, at some point I’m sure we all wonder this! These wonderfully human stories will connect to something within all of us and ultimately provide an audience with a memorable night at the theatre.

Thanks to Luke and to Gregory, and as an extra special treat, we have the writer of Diary of a Welshcake, Lesley Ross, here’s what Lesley had to say about the piece…

Tell me about the piece and your inspiration for it

Well, there is always an element of the semi-autobiographical to my work, so many of the things that happen to Ralph have happened to me. I have always had an interesting connection to identity and where I fit in, so they are the themes I often come back to and when I first wrote the piece I was living in Hong Kong so culture and cultural identity were foremost in my mind. The weaving of the love story into Ralph’s journey was the hardest part because I wanted it to be truthful, even though it is uniquely odd. Of course nowadays there is much more talk of sexual fluidity so perhaps I was ahead of my time.

Was it easy to put it all down on paper?

Actually, yes, in this case it was. I mean, I spent months thinking about it, structuring it, finding the beats of comedy and pathos, but the actual writing was relatively quick. There was one major change in the show, which happened around the time we brought Steve Marmion on board and that was to reflect an older version of Ralph to accommodate an older actor playing the part. But that made Ralph’s story more interesting because there are many stories of younger people discovering themselves: it’s nice to explore those themes with someone slightly older; someone who may already know themselves in a lot of ways, but is still discovering new depths and opportunities for enlightenment.

Is it translating well from page to stage?

Well I hope so. I think, over the years, different audiences have responded to different things in the piece and that has often been directly connected to where the audience is from. I remember in one country a certain moment was seen as so shocking that there was this huge intake of breath, but that same moment usually gets a big laugh anywhere else. I find all that fascinating. And of course there is the “audience participation” moment, which always goes down well, but we could never have predicted that until we put it in front of an audience. That is why I love live theatre.

What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?

I hope that people go away with a sense of how with just one person and a few props, an entire world can be created! I love the Fringe… it is so important and proves that you can have an amazing night out for a lot less money! There is nothing more exciting than discovering a hidden gem, or a budding actor or director. But more importantly, if one person leaves that theatre and plans to be kinder to the next odd man out that they meet, well I will be satisfied

Finally, any advice for budding writers?

Write what you love to write about… and keep writing! The artist’s life is not a steady line but a mess of peaks and troughs… and I wouldn’t want to change that for a moment… so I just keep writing…

Huge thanks to Lesley – Break A Leg can’t wait to review Odd Man Out at The Hope on Saturday.

 

Spotlight On… Stars of Kicked In The Sh*tter, Helen Budge & James Clay

Kicked In The Sh*tter runs at The Hope Theatre from 21st April – 8th April 2017, book tickets here: The Hope Theatre Box Office

Break A Leg has exclusive interviews with stars, Helen Budge and James Clay…

Spotlight on actress Helen Budge, playing ‘Her’ in Kicked in the Shitter by Leon Fleming.

 Tell me about the piece and your character Her

 The piece is a naturalistic slice of a very meaty pie (haha) – a pretty grim look at modern Britain and how it’s vital that we, as a society, should not only help those who really need it but that it’s also really important to be able to ask for that help. No man is an island. We’re all just doing what we need to in order to be able to survive.

 She (‘Her’) is the one who is fighting every day to be able to keep her head above water and just finds it so difficult to reach out and ask for help but genuinely needs it.

 What was your initial impression of the script?

 I loved it. It struck me as something so simple yet covers the whole spectrum of human emotions. I think that’s what it is – it’s a very human play.

 Was it easy to translate from page to stage?

 Yes I think it was. Scott (Le Crass – our director) had such a clear idea of what he wanted to do with it and from a technical point of view, the set is very simple too. The play doesn’t need any pomp and circumstance so it’s very much a case of less is more, in every respect.

 Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to bring to the role of Her?

 I didn’t have any set-in-stone ideas of exactly how to play Her, just ideas of who she was and what her struggle was – I was excited to explore Her in the rehearsal process and we played around with different approaches. I knew though, that I didn’t want Her to just become a shouty, angry woman – with what she goes through that would be easy to play but she would then have been very two-dimensional and she’s a lot more than that.

 How does the space lend itself to the piece?

 This piece is intimate – you see these people at their absolute lowest and then trying to climb back up out of the abyss. The space reflects this totally – the audience are literally a few feet from us which is perfect for them to see every detail of the characters’ emotional journeys.

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

 If you want to watch something real and moving then come see our play. It’s great (if I say so myself).

 

Spotlight on James Clay, currently playing ‘HIM’ in Kicked In the Shitter at The Hope Theatre.

 

Tell me about the piece and your character Him…

The piece is about a brother and sister and their struggles to deal with life because of the troubled upbringing they had.

‘Him’ is someone that we have all met and may know. He is a bright guy but also extremely vulnerable and is in a cycle that he can’t break unless he seeks help.

What was your initial impression of the script?

Initial impressions of the script were that it reminded me of ‘I, Daniel Blake’. The struggles, the reality, the relationships and also the humour at times.

 Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to bring to the role of Him?

I wanted to bring myself to this role and use my own experiences to help bring him to life.

 How does the space lend itself to the piece?

The space is perfect for the piece. Its intimate and really echoes the idea that there is no where to hide for these characters.

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

I would say come on down before it gets transferred to the west end and tickets prices triple!

Thanks to Helen and to James, wishing you well with the run.

 

 

 

Spotlight On… Director of Kicked In The Sh*tter, Scott Le Crass

Kicked In The Sh*tter is written by Leon Fleming and directed by Scott  Le Crass and is at The Hope Theatre from 21st March – 8th April.

To Purchase Tickets visit The Hope Theatre Box Office

Here, Scott Le Crass who directs the piece talks to Break A Leg in an exclusive interview:

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell me about the piece and your vision for it.

The piece is about a brother and sister who we initially see as a younger age. It is light and playful as we hear their hopes, dreams and fears. We then see then in the present day and how their relationship and situations have changed.

The play changes location and time a lot, so it was important to me to create a production that was fluid, clear and cohesive in its staging.

Did you have initial ideas about casting and what you wanted actors to bring to the piece?

Leon allowed me to set the play in Birmingham which is a very specific type of accent. We also see the characters at younger points in their lives to the ability to play the lightness of young and the weight of the present day was essential. I wanted the actors to bring sincerity as well as find a connection to the text and each other that was believable.

What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?

To not quickly judge those who are struggling and in receipt of benefits. To work towards being more open about mental health issues.

Have rehearsals altered your initial thoughts, at all?

The rehearsals have clarified what I already felt about the play. It’s about sibling love that has through circumstance and time has been worn down. It’s also about how we cope with a lack of support.

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

It’s 70 minutes of warm, poignant and honest theatre that shows real people and real situations.

Finally, any advice for budding directors?

Create and support work that you are passionate about.

Thanks for a very insightful interview, I hope you enjoy a successful run!

 

Spotlight On… Actor and Playwright, Matthew Seager

In Other Words run at The Hope Theatre from 2 to 18 March 2017, follow the link to book your tickets: The Hope Theatre Box Office

Tender New Play IN OTHER WORDS Explores the Powerful Effects

of Music on People with Alzheimer’s

Author: MATTHEW SEAGER

Director: PAUL BROTHERSTON


IN OTHER WORDS At The Hope Theatre, Islington, N1 1RL

28th February – 18th March 2017

PRESS NIGHT: Thursday 2nd March at 7.45pm

Running time: approx. 70 minutes

I’d always fancied myself as a bit of a Sinatra.
 And that song, at a moment like that.
 Well, it just doesn’t get much more perfect, does it?

They call it ‘the incident’ now. What happened, when they first met.
 He always said it was part of his romantic plan, but they both know that’s rubbish. Join Arthur and Jane, at the beginning, as they tell us their story.

Fresh from a residency at the Lyric Hammersmith as part of their Emerging Artists Programme, Off the Middle are excited to present Matthew Seager’s debut play IN OTHER WORDS, directed by Paul Brotherston.

This intimate, humorous, and deeply moving love story, explores the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and the incredible power that music has in helping us to remember the past, connect to the present, and hope for the future. Brought to life by two actors, we are led through fifty years of Arthur and Jane’s relationship, jumping in and out of memories and experiencing, for brief moments, a failing mind as it loses its grip on reality.

Matthew (who wrote the play and stars in the role of Arthur) gave an exclusive interview to Break A Leg, here’s what he has to say about this new piece of writing that is set to take The Hope Theatre by storm!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Matthew. Tell me about In Other Words and your inspiration for it…

Well firstly, I love music! I always have, and consider it so capable of provoking such a wide range of emotions in such a powerful way.

Then, in my last year at University of Leeds, I facilitated ten weeks of sensory stimulation and music based workshops in a dementia care home in Leeds. It was such an incredibly eye opening experience.

We would sing at the end of each session, and experienced residents who were seemingly unable to communicate, or were almost totally unresponsive, stand and sing along to a familiar song from their past. It was an incredible and totally inspirational to see these people come to life in that way.

Was it easy to put it all down on paper?

Yes and no. As a topic, it makes so much sense that it would be told in relation to a love story, and once you realize that, it begins to fall into place. Also, I had personal experience, and there is such a wealth of documentaries out there as well as other research, that it’s not difficult to really saturate yourself with information and emotional material.

Is it translating well from page to stage?

Totally. I’m not even sure it should be read at all! I mean, of course it can be, but this is a love story about music, and disease and it is so reliant on sound and a relationship between the audience and performers. With this in mind, it really is getting it on its feet that completes it.

Also , it’s been through a couple of development periods at The Lyric Hammersmith and The Arches in Glasgow, so we’re aware of what works and what we’re trying to achieve.

How is the space at The Hope Theatre lending itself to the piece?

I think it’s an amazing space. Intimacy is perhaps an overused word in theatre, but the hope has it in such a beautiful way, and to not use it to your advantage would be so damaging. There’s a lot of direct audience address in ‘In Other Words’. Our characters Arthur and Jane are telling you, the audience, their story, and hopefully we’ll feel right in the room and part of this with them.

What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?

Obviously I hope that they leave with some new knowledge, and experience of a new topic. Ultimately though, this is a piece of theatre and we want you to leave feeling something.

Finally, any advice for budding writers?

Umm. Trust your ideas. Try things out, and don’t be scared. I’m not sure… Probably the most reassuring thing I like to be told is remember to enjoy it all. Work with people you like on projects that excite you.

Thanks so much to Matthew for an insightful interview, wishing you all the best with the production.

Spotlight On… Actress & Star of VAULT Festival’s Puppy, Jo Wickham

Jo Wickham first caught my attention in my favourite production of 2016 (that I still work into every day conversation on a daily basis), Steel Magnolias at The Hope Theatre. Jo played Truvy and gave a performance to rival that of Dolly Parton in the film version.

Next, Jo is taking a few roles in a play called Puppy which is written by Naomi Westerman, this is part of VAULT Festival 2017. In an exclusive interview with Break A Leg, Jo tells us about the latest piece she’s starring in and discusses her various credits to date, including her career highlights.

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, I’m going to kick off with Puppy at VAULT Festival. Tell me about the play and your role in it.

Puppy is about two young women who meet whilst doing a little ‘light recreational dogging’ they start a feminist porn company together and eventually take on the patriarchal establishment. It sounds pretty serious and thematically it is, but most importantly it is really, really funny.

There are six of us in the play in total. The two young women that play the roles of Jaz and Maya, the protagonists and the four in the ensemble of which I am a part, that create all of the other roles.

What can the audience expect?

To laugh, a lot! There is nothing sleazy about the play at all except perhaps the way in which the ‘adult entertainers’ are perceived by the the wider world.

The opening dogging scene is what initially attracted me to the project, Naomi Westerman’s writing and the resulting direction by Rafaella Marcus is nothing short of hilarious and has to be seen to be believed. The unfolding of Jaz and Lily’s relationship is so beautiful and real, Naomi has a real gift in capturing the subtleties of everyday conversation and infusing them with meanings that pack a real emotional punch.

There’s a little political history in there too and the audience can also expect to see Nick Clegg in a new light!

What are the vital elements that a script and a role has to have to entice you to do it?

A script has to move me in some way, if it can affect me emotionally when reading it, then I hope that I’ll be able to begin to translate those feelings onto the stage. Also if I can clearly see the characters and the story in my head when reading, then I know that its a work I am going to be able to get on with!

The size of the role in terms of lines that the playwright has written is irrelevant, the size of the role in terms of emotional depth and punch is far more exciting to me as an actress.

Steel Magnolias, my favourite production of last year which still makes me smile, now. What are your highlights of playing Truvy in the show and why do you think it was so popular?

Like most people that are familiar with ‘Steel Magnolias’ I had seen, (many times), the film starring Dolly Parton, Sally Field and Shirley MacLaine etc. and loved it. Even to the point where I was using some of the quotes (“built for comfort, not for speed”!) in my everyday speech. Playing Truvy in such a well regarded piece was an absolute gift but also a little daunting. The role was played so beautifully by Dolly Parton in the film that people will sometimes expect that exact performance in the theatre. As an actress you have to try to not think about that performance (as glorious and memorable as it is), and use the text, your own research and your own experience as a the basis for creating the character and hope that the audience goes with you. I like to think that I did Truvy justice.

As for why it is so popular? I think because it is so beautiful, so sad and so, so funny. People like to be moved when watching a play and with ‘Steel Magnolias’ you get every single emotion laid bare in front of you on the stage. I had no idea when I started the project that the story was real, that these characters were based on real women and that Robert Harling was ‘Shelby’s’ younger brother watching these events unfold as a young boy. I think that this truth is the real key to the stories popularity.

If you could play Truvy again, would you?

In a heartbeat.

jo
Jo as Truvy in Steel Magnolias

If you could play a different role in Steel Magnolias, who would it be and why?

All of the women are so well rounded and beautifully written, each with absolutely cracking moments that, being greedy, I’d like to play them all! I’m a bit (!) too old for Shelby and Annelle now, but I love to be able to see what I could bring to the other parts. With M’Lynn, its her unwavering strength and emotive final scene that are compelling to me. Ouiser’s cutting disdain for others and smart mouth is a real treat for any actress to play. Whilst Clairee’s dignity and wit and zingy one liners are just superb!

What inspired you to become an actress?

I went the long way round! From a young age I’ve always dabbled in acting, my first taste was at about 5 years old playing the witch in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at my school. I can still remember being pulled out of playtime to rehearse my solo with music teacher Mrs Bull! During the holidays I went to ‘Libby and Bills Drama Class’ which I absolutely loved and have fond memories of. I also used to go to summer schools at East 15 and when older I joined WOADS an amateur dramatic society based at the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford. Later in my twenties, I joined another company there called Sideshow with whom I learned so much about working in theatre. I did a drama and theatre studies degree after my A Levels and up until the age of thirty I was a drama teacher and later head of Performing Arts at a further education college. It took until then to realise that acting was what I had to do, so I said goodbye to my final salary pension and went to East 15 to train as an actress!

Are there any particular roles that you would LOVE to play?

This is such a hard question to answer! Yes. No. All of them!

The ones that spring to mind are Madame Thenardier in ‘Les Miserables’, any of Shakespeare’s women that I am right for, I also hear the part of Doctor Who is going(!). A dream come true would to be in a ‘Star Wars’ film, any part, I’m not fussed! The Jason Howland musical ‘Little Women’ is going into the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester in the autumn, it is an absolutely stunning piece and I’d love to be considered for Marmee. I’ve also been involved in a lot of new works recently, so to be able to originate a part in a play, musical or on TV is really exciting to me. I’ve also always fancied myself as a grizzled and hard bitten TV detective!

the-bakres-wife-into-the-woods
Jo as The Baker’s Wife in Into The Woods

What have been your career highlights so far?

Playing Truvy obviously, as soon as the play was announced at the Hope Theatre I wanted the part so badly! I feel incredibly lucky to have got it. Playing the Bakers Wife in ‘Into the Woods’ was another career highlight. I adore Sondheim and I even did my dissertation on ‘Into the Woods’, so to play her years later was a real dream come true. One of the best parts of my job is meeting new people and creating exciting work and sometimes being lucky enough to leave a job having made life long friends.

Finally, what would you say to encourage people to come and see Puppy?

Its hilarious, crackingly written, will teach you something new, starts at 6:30pm and lasts an hour!

Break a leg, Jo! Can’t wait to see this next week. Thanks also for your time and a brilliantly insightful interview. Delighted to be able to have featured you.

Here’s a link to book tickets to see Jo and the rest of the amazing cast in Puppy: http://www.vaultfestival.com/event/puppy/2017-02-23/ – it’s being staged on Thursday 23 February and Thursday 2 March 2017.

 

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