Act 3, Scene 2: The last Sneak Peek and Final Farewell!


Original Theatre Company Founder, Director, and Producer Alastair Whatley reveals his inspiration for producing Our Country's Good and his theatrical hopes, dreams and ambitions for the future.... 

So Alastair, what attracted you to the idea of producing OCG?

"Choosing a play to produce is never an exact science. Often it is a heady
combination of commercial foresight, artistic vision and pure luck and
timing that all seem to come together at approximately the right time. For
example there could at any one point be 4 or 5 plays in negotiation with
authors and their agents. Whether one of those come to fruition is never
certain and often down to more luck than judgement.

With Our Country's Good, it is a play that has been on my radar for a long
time. Although I had never seen it, I had read it and have been a great fan
of Timberlake's writing for many years. We had tried to make a production
happen back in 2009 without much success, but after the new coalition
government's cuts began to bite into the arts industry about this time last
year, the play never seemed more timely. The play is many things, but
perhaps above all it is a play that shows the value theatre can have, and
why it is crucial to our communities. I wanted to tour the play and get it
seen by areas that may never had access to it previously. Furthermore I knew
it would appeal strongly to schools and colleges where it is studied as part
of their curriculum.
...and of course it staging it is itself a massive challenge and one that I
rather relished the prospect of!"

Where do you get your inspiration from when directing? Do you usually have a
specific vision or concept for a piece or does it come gradually through
rehearsals and research?

"Often it comes from the play. I don't think that I could ever direct
something I didn't love and could get my teeth into. With Our Country's Good
it began with Timberlake's writing but then extended swiftly out into
mountains of research both of the period but also of the original production
back in 1988. Yet strangely with Our Country's Good I didn't have firm ideas
on the staging of it for some time. In fact I refused to tie down any design
ideas until after the 2nd week of rehearsals, which is very very late
indeed. Whilst this put great stress on the design team, it allowed work
from the rehearsals to inform the design of the show. Rather than imposing a
strong directorial concept, I hope we allowed the collective work of the
actors, the designers and myself to come together into something cohesive
and which served the play as a whole.
There are 22 scenes and nearly 30 characters in this play. Ensuring that the
story and characters were clear was always my priority, from there it was a
case of fleshing in the detail, the shade, and trying to shape and mould the
great work from the acting company into a fluid, exciting and clearly told
piece of theatre."

It's fascinating to hear how Original Theatre Company came about...can you
tell the story for our readers?

"The Original Theatre Company started life as an embryonic idea in the mind
of a certain rather too laid back undergraduate. In 2004 I pitched an idea
to stage a production of Twelfth Night for the University Drama Society, who
rather scoffed (and in retrospect rightly so) at my notion of how I might
stage the production. I was rather unsuccessful in my bid needless to say.
They suggested I might not be the most responsible in whom to trust the
University's precious money. Sensing an injustice I told them that I would
prove them wrong, made them a bet and began plotting revenge in a suitable
Malvolian style. Within three months I had booked a 22 venue national tour
with cast of professional actors playing everywhere from Accrington Stanley
football club to The Edinburgh Festival,  a Welsh castle and The Lyric
Hammersmith- and so the Original Theatre Company was formed. Although that
particular tour remains a story that can only be told either as a book or
when set into the bar for a long was shall we say a learning

What's been the highlight of this production for you?

"Well South Hill Park is one of our close partners and they have had a tough
few years having lost their ACE funding. To arrive this week and play two
nearly sold out houses to rapt attention and the sound of laughter echoing
down the corridors backstage was a real pleasure. Every one of our 13
productions have played at South Hill Park and it was wonderful to bring
this show to them in spite of the myriad of obstacles in our way."

You've been producing  for a number of years now and pulled out all stops to
make this show happen. What's the secret of success and what do you think
the future has in store for touring companies and regional theatre?

"I wish I only knew the secret of success. Sometimes playing a small house on
the other side of England you feel far from successful, but I suppose if
anything you need to learn to have a very strong constitution- and great
sense of purpose- and then it's probably best to be of the optimistic vain
and ideally slightly foolhardy. Put those components together and you have
the bare bones of what is required to produce regional touring theatre.
I do think that regional theatre is suffering at the moment, audiences are
being much more careful with their money and booking much later in the day-
if at all. There has been a noticeable downward shift in recent years with
venues passing on government cuts to the visiting companies making it much
more risky to take out any show - but particularly a show with a large cast
such as this. There are pockets of resistance and some great work that is
produced in the regions, but it is harder and harder to compete alongside
well funded subsidised companies and venues and also the larger commercial
venues. Yet I remain buoyed and assured that audiences do respond to quality
work and we are putting much effort into finding new audiences, as ever
where there remains a will there remains a way."

Do you have a favourite character in OCG, or one you relate to most?

"That question is a bit like asking to choose between your children. After
spending so much time in their company I really do love all of them - and
they all add up to create such a memorable experience on stage. But I might
confess under duress to have been taken in by Wisehammer a little, his
unrequited love for Mary and his self righteous passion for the theatre all
shine through wonderfully- he is surprisingly endearing, he is a character
that has really grown on me as the run has progressed.
In terms of who I relate to - well the obvious answer is Ralph, the young
director trying to control an unruly bunch of thespians! Often in rehearsals
it was hard to distinguish between life on stage and off fact I
think Chris even modelled some parts of Ralph on my own performance in the
rehearsal room!"

If you had to choose just one role would you rather produce, direct or act?

"Well I seem incapable of restricting myself to just one! I think if I had to
choose one, if you tied me down and shackled me and forced it out of me, I
might just about tell you that directing is probably the one I would plump
for. But really I love doing all three rather too equally, but it has been a
joy to keep (for the most part - see last weeks blog for details) my feet off
the stage and give way to the wonderful company of actors who have been
brilliant to watch night after night."

What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs who aspire to
setting up a theatre company?

"I learnt everything by failing and mistakes. You learn never to repeat
those mistakes. Often it hurts and often it isn't pleasant and you must
strive not to make such errors - but the best way to learn
is by doing and learning these things for yourself. Start small, aim high
and work every hour you can spare. Don't let anything or anyone stand in
your way. I assure you where there is a will, there will be a way."

What's next for Original?

"Well in just a few weeks we start rehearsals for a brand new adaptation of
Three Men in A Boat which opens in Guildford in early August and then tours
until the end of the year. After which I can tell you that we will be
launching the first ever national tour of Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong which
has been adapted by Rachel Wagstaff. It is a massive project for us and we
have great ambitions for it - watch this space for more details in the near

If funding and commercial viability was no object, what would be your dream

"Hmmm...well I would love to tackle another Brian Friel play, Freedom of the
City perhaps, or Making History even. I loved working on his Dancing at
Lughnasa last year and would relish a chance to tackle another Friel play.
But to be totally ambitious I would love to stage tour a cycle of
Shakespeare's History plays to non-traditional theatre spaces across the
length and breadth of the United Kingdom - following in the footsteps of what
the English Shakespeare Company did back in the 80's but re-creating them
for new audiences today.
In the mean time I remain truly excited about our already ambitious
programme for the next year and trust that we continue to produce plays that
appeal to audiences across the country."

Rachel helps pack away the show.

Something About Mary: The Final Curtain!

Our 3 months on the road came to a head as we blitzed our way through two sell out shows at the wonderful South Hill Park Theatre in Bracknell before taking our final bows at the Finchley Arts Depot, in London. It's been one hell of a ride. I've scaled the length and breadth of the country, performed in front of excited students, appreciative punters and sleeping grannies. I've immersed myself in a fantastic period of our history.  I've met Timberlake Wertenbaker, discovered some beautiful venues, and helped bring a little piece of theatre to some prisoners in Jersey. I've worked and played with a talented team, offstage and on, and made some fantastic friends. Through playing Mary night after night, week after week, I've learnt something about myself as an actor. My weaknesses, my strengths, and the importance of keeping the work alive. Mary's character, her ambition and her resilience have been inspiring. 
The life of an actor can be turbulent, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I don't know what's in store for me next. But whether I like it or not, for some reason acting in my blood. And I have just one plea for you, my lovely readers. PleaKeep supporting the theatre. We need you! 

Emily x

Act 3, Scene 1: Going Coastal

An Actor's welcome in Wales.
Approaching the final leg of the tour we sail into a feisty incoming tide on the coast of Llandudno hoping to seek refuge in its large arena theatre, Venue Cymru. It was a fleeting visit, just 2 nights. But we decided to make the most of it by getting the majority of the cast (except for those commuting to Manchester) checked into the world's most actor-friendly digs - the Can-y-Bae hotel on the promenade. For those unaware of the strange nightly habits of the lesser spotted Turn, accommodating the needs of a bunch of actors can be be hard for some in the 'hospitality' industry to comprehend. We're not  your typical 'on business' guest or quiet B&B type. We sleep in late, unable to rise for anything much earlier than brunch. We work till late, stumbling back from a show around 11pm, hungry, with a thirst on, and feeling the night is still young. We then sit around gassing till the early hours until the banter finally wears thin and we pine for our beds. Our hosts David and Michael at Can-ye-Bae were the first hotel landlords I've met that seemed to not only understand our needs, but actually relish them. Our angels in the night, and devoted patrons of the theatre, not only stayed up to welcome us back after the show, but they also opened up the cosy hotel bar (plastered with show posters and photos of the many famous faces that have stayed there). They plied us with some delicious home cooked curries, pulled pints of local ale on demand and settled in with us chatting away till the early hours. As we eventually trundled bleary eyed to our beds, they even allowed us a slightly later breakfast call and a promise for a similar night tomorrow, if we so wished. Bliss.
Venue Cymru
A town of extremes.
Who knew Llandudno was so famous? Home to 'the longest toboggan ride in Europe!' and 'the oldest  working cable tramway!!' as well as 'the longest travelling Cable Car in the UK!!! and not forgetting 'the longest Pier in Wales!!!!' Unfortunately for us, also home to 'the smallest audiences on tour, ever!' Venue Cymru is a beautifully equipped theatre and conference arena, set in the foothills of Snowdonia and looking out to the sea.  The theatre is a vast 1500 seat receiving house, often showing big musicals, concerts and plays on the no.1 touring circuit. The staff both front of house and backstage gave us a warm welcome and were sorry that tickets had not been selling better. "The comedians do very well here" we're told with a sympathetic smile. Once again, the irony of doing a play about the social importance of theatre and the need to keep our theatrical heritage alive is glaringly present. Nevertheless, our two performances went without a hitch, an excellent rig meant it was beautifully lit and I enjoyed having a large stage to gad about on.
Aside from the shows,  there was plenty of time to explore. Hoping for some adventure Chris and I headed off to check out the Toboggan slide that winds its way through the mountains, and the Ariel cable car. Both were closed due to weather conditions.  A walk along the pier and a blustery tram ride up The Great Orme sufficed, until "the sharp air from the Welsh Mountains made our noses drop" and it was time to scramble back down again. On Wednesday we woke to torrential winds and rain, and a breathtaking view of a fiercely turbulent sea from the comfort of the hotel window. The cast bade each other and our lovely hosts farewell and 'happy Easter' before I began making my way back down south for a well earned 10 day break in the tour. Next stop: the pearly gates of Eastbourne.

West end Wales to Eastbourne tales...
Affectionately known as god's waiting room, Eastbourne has a lot to offer the weary travelling actor. Stunning coastal views, beautiful walks along the summit of Beachy Head (and somewhere to throw yourself off if it all gets too much) and of course the well-loved Devonshire Park Theatre, complete with some of the friendliest 'Friends of the Theatre' I've come across. The theatre is another beautifully restored Frank Matcham, housed in a grade 2 listed building close to the sea-front. The 900 or so seat auditorium is well equipped and a good example of a traditional Victorian theatre, although I think slightly less ornate than some of the Matchams we've seen.
We arrived at the venue early for a line run of the play. Having not performed the show for nearly 2 weeks it was wise to refresh ourselves and get tuned in for the first show back. The actors brain seems to have an amazing ability to store vast amounts of lines, yet only retains what is essential at the time. I often find that even if I've been doing the same play for months, once the job is over and I know I won't be speaking that script again, the lines will quickly drift away making room for the next part. Retaining lines for TV is a different ball game altogether. Rather than having a luxurious rehearsal process to embed the words, you find yourself picking up newly edited scripts hot off the press, and then it's about learning the words quickly and shooting the scene. Those scripts will be completely forgotten by the next day when you're on to something else.
Back to Eastbourne and...the first night was a joy. After the dwindling numbers in Wales we had a wonderfully full crowd, making all the right appreciative noises and spurring us on for  what felt like a really 'fresh' performance for all of us. Just 10 days off meant that the need to really listen to each other came flooding back and I could rediscover some of Mary's moments anew. After the show we had a welcome drinks reception in the bar held by the friends of the theatre. It was lovely to chat to many of them and to hear about their observations or perceptions of the show. The 'Friends' are such an important to asset to many regional theatres. They are the guardians of our theatres. The support they give in helping to publicise events and organise crucial fund-raising is invaluable at a time when arts cuts are forever looming. We actors owe a lot to these people. I just hope  the next generation will follow suit to keep the cultural beacons of their communities alive.

The Battle of Whatley.
On Wednesday, Alastair, Adam, Chris and I headed off for an afternoon at Battle. We spent an informative hour or so exploring the site of the Battle of Hastings, followed by a brisk walk though Hastings Country Park down to the beautiful sea coves. As we headed back to the car for the journey  to theatre, Alastair's phone bleeped. It was Jess, our Stage Manager. John was stuck in horrendous traffic near Guildford and had been at a complete standstill since 5pm. He was not going to make it in time for the show. So, at last it was time for Alastair to make his understudy debut! He did a wonderful job, bravely facing Governor Phillip and John Wisehammer head on in front of a large and receptive audience. It certainly shook the bottle and I think we all stepped up brilliantly to the challenge of having someone completely new on stage. At the interval John arrived exhausted but ready to take back the reigns for Act Two. Alastair had done well, but being an actor down is a nail-biting time for the rest for the cast, and that kind of 'mucking together' in front of a live and paying audience does raise the stress levels somewhat. A well deserved drink in the pub afterwards and a pat on the back for Alastair ended a somewhat adventurous day for us all.

Next week. 
Can you believe it? It's the final showdown! We're all incredibly excited about performing our last few shows at The South Hill Park theatre in Bracknell, followed by an explosive finish (we hope!) at the Finchley Arts Depot. Watch this space for the final something about mary blog!

PS. My final Sneak Peak of the Week is coming soon...An Interview with Original Theatre Company founder, producer, director and (occasional understudy!) Sir Alastair Whatley himself!

Act 2, Scene 10: A maritime adventure.

On home turf.
The sun setting over Greenwich park
Being back in London in the sunshine has been a restorative tonic. I’m very happy on the road. I’m comfortably nomadic and have enjoyed my train, plane and automobile existence. I’ve never had a problem sleeping in ’strangers’ houses or finding my way around somewhere entirely new. I love that my knowledge of the theatrical landscape of this country is ever-expanding. But there’s something about being at home, in London, that makes me breath a sigh of relief. Having something to show for yourself when family and friends wonder what the hell you’ve been doing with you’re life over the last 3 months.

Naval Gazing. 
The Cutty Sark
Greenwich is a beautiful part of south-east London, famous for it’s maritime history and home of the magnificent ship The Cutty Sark, the Royal Obervatorty and stunning parkland and markets. Greenwich Theatre sadly feels like the theatre that time forgot. The black and white photo’s backstage of famous faces that once trod the boards, Joanna Lumley, Linda Basset (wonderful actress and original Liz Morden) show a venue that was once firmly ‘on the map’. What a shame then that once you step backstage there’s a sense that a place once loved has become neglected, dishevelled, not so much in a charming cluttered old theatre type way, but rather dirty, uncared for and a little unwelcoming. The theatre itself, an old Music Hall dating back to the 1870's was bombed during the second world war and remained derelict and empty until it was saved from demolition and refurbished in 1969 to the building you see today. The modern 400 seater proscenium arch is well designed and easy to play although the spacious auditorium is deceptive in hiding a very cramped backstage/wings area for the performers. The theatre has been saved on numerous occasions from closure, most notably by local individuals and benefactors (more so than the Arts Council) and it’s a prime example of theatre in need quite simply of more funding and a lot more love. It was amazing to see the street signpost in Greenwich pointing the public every which way to all the various historical and cultural delights in the area, but inexplicably Greenwich Theatre was not one of them.

Meantime in Greenwich.
Despite all of this, our first night in Greenwich opened to a good crowd of a few hundred punters and audibly appreciative students. Although numbers fluctuated massively from almost full houses  midweek to a depressing 40 or so on a Friday night, I felt as a company we were all relishing the opportunity to perform in London again. On a long tour, it can be beacon of light to know that family or friends are in and it was great to have some loyal supporters along with casting directors and industry professionals watching pretty much every night of the week.
Having just one mid-week matinee meant plenty of time off too to explore Greenwich’s fab markets selling all kinds of quirky bric-a-bac, enjoy a picnic in the park, checkout the Royal Observatory and Greenwich Meantime clock, and take a gander at the Cutty Sark, the magnificent 19th century clipper ship docked there.
Chris, clocking off.

Something About Mary: 
On our final Saturday at Greenwich the glorious week of weather had turned. It was suddenly grey, cold and like winter again and worse still, 80% of the cast had come down with some awful stomach bug. As I gazed dizzily down the bowl of the toilet, I pondered whether we'd picked up some thing horrible from the copious pigeon poo in our dressing room left behind by a feathered friend who'd managed to break in through a window and set up roost with us. That is until it was caught, Mr Miyagi style, and set free by Chris. Whatever the cause the bug left most of us fighting for the loos and generally feeling completely lack luster for our final show. What a joyous surprise then, as we all began packing up and saying our goodbyes, to see Timberlake Wertenbaker herself poke her head around the dressing room door! I cannot tell you how thrilled we were to see her – she’d heard about our production through a friend and unable to make our week at The Rose in Kingston back in February, she'd decided to pop along, sneak herself in at the back with her husband and see how we were all getting along! 
Timberlake's girls.
I instantly recognised her, that wonderful eccentric hair and gentle voice.  Before we could ask the dreaded 'what did you think?' she launched into praise for our production and despite it being a quiet night audience-wise, she was very complimentary about all of our work, and loved the overall design of the show. We chatted about the tour so far, how much the students have been loving it, about Jersey and our prison workshop there. We also talked a little about Max Stafford-Clark's up and coming revival of Our Country's Good happening later this year, which Timberlake will be involved in. It'll be produced by Out of Joint and Bolton Octagon to tour and eventually land in the West End. As far as I'm aware Max won't be coming to see our production. Timberlake suggested from a producing point of view the launch of our production may have stirred things up a bit as the two productions are touring within in the same year.
I mentioned my blog to Timberlake and she agreed to a quick photo before heading over to the pub next door to catch up with Alastair and a few of the other actors already there tucking into their first pint. What a fantastic end to the week!

NEXT WEEK: We're back to Wales again for a whistle-stop tour at Venue Cymru and the coastal shores of Llandudno...

Emily x

Sneak Peak of the Week:

Our company's Deputy Stage Manager, Jess Davey, gives us the low-down on life behind the curtain and all the hard work that goes into keeping the show ticking along...

So Jess, when did you decide you wanted to work in stage management and what kind of training or work has led you to this point? 
I decided I wanted to work in stage management from about 14 years old when I was supporting the work of my local theatre group up at the Edinburgh festival every year. My passion for stage management grew as I saw so many different types of performances, theatre companies and site specific work whilst up there (for example seeing a show that took place in a castle and one really interesting show taking place in 2 cars around driving Edinburgh!). I had an urge to know how it was all put together and who managed it all: who controlled the lights, how did the cast and set get to the festival, who was in charge of the show once in performance and how did the set go together...
I did 3 years at Rose Bruford college and got a 2:1 BA (Hons) in Stage Management. From there on I've been lucky enough to have worked solidly as a freelance Stage Manager.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to go into stage management?
I would advise them simply getting as much experience as they could. And to meet contacts as a lot of work in the production side of theatre is about who you know, and knowing when new projects are coming up. I would also advice that you work under a variety of managers and people with a knowledge to be patient and open minded to challenges.

How did you first come across Original Theatre Company?
I came across Original Theatre Company when replying to a job advert for an Assistant Stage Manager for a six month tour with two shows. I had never been on tour before, but I had managed three shows performing in rep previously. After looking into the company I applied for the role and began what was then my unknown world of touring.

What's been your highlight of the tour so far?
The highlight so far has been meeting Timberlake Wertenbaker. I had previously directed Our Country's Good for my A Level piece while at school - and was just a tiny bit star struck! Unluckily I was doing the get out for the show at the time, otherwise I would've loved to have talked to her about her show and what she thought of what we had done with her play.

What do you hate most about your job?
There are perks and down points of every job. Luckily my role involves a variety of responsibilities and challenges so I'm always kept on my toes - if there is something I don't enjoy I know I will be doing something different very soon. Saying that, laundry is not a enjoyable part of my role, or motivating a cast that might be tired from a long hard week (but then I find buying muffins and chocolates helps).

Can you give us an idea of what the day to day role of a DSM is?
No day for me is the same. It varies depending on if we are getting into a new venue that day to set up for a performance that night, or if I am coming in for a show call. Typically on a day we are getting into a new performance space I will be fitting the set into the venue (with a few bruises and cuts thrown in from having a set made out of timber), rigging the lights, setting up dressing rooms, laundry, maintenance of costumes, setting props, aiding the re-light of the show, going through the LX plot, teching the show with the cast, setting up sound, rigging the hazer and any other technical aspects of the show, cuing the performance and then taking myself to the pub! On a show day I can be setting up the show, arranging laundry if needed, maintenance, opening the house and cuing the show and pre-setting the show during the interval. Everything to keep you on your toes!

Are you bored of watching the play yet?!
After watching the show over 100 times there are moments that can get repetitive to watch. However, I get to see something different every time I see the show as it's never the same. Lots of moments are re-discovered by the cast, and those are the times it's great to watch your cast playing with what is already a brilliant show.

Do you have any other exciting work coming up after this?
Being a freelancer there are always opportunities that you can discover. There are a few opportunities that I would love to be a part of - but we'll see what happens. For now I'm enjoying looking after my cast and seeing the rest of the tour through til the end of April.

Act 2, Scene 9: Over the hills and far away.

A Buxton Spring.
It was a flying visit to Buxton Opera House but what a treat it was. I arrived the night before in order to get a good night's rest after the long drive North. And I'm glad I did - the free morning meant I could take a rejuvenating stroll around the Pavilion Gardens, take a gander at some feathered friends, and fill a bottle of the good stuff at the Buxton hillside spring.
Duckling was non-plussed at the Buxton family re-union
You can't match a Macham.
The Opera House is a glorious Frank Macham theatre, designed by the famous Edwardian theatrical architect around 1903. Macham and his trainees were responsible for the creation of hundreds of beautifully designed theatres and music halls around the building boom of the late 19th/early 20th century. The breath-taking architecture and wonderful acoustics mean that it's a real pleasure for actors to perform in one, and it's certainly one of the most impressive theatres we've toured to so far. 
After the get-in and top and tail of scenes, I spent a little more time than usual warming up on stage - it was a big space to fill and despite the wonderful acoustics, I wanted to make sure the few family and friends I had watching that night were not going to miss a syllable! The way each actor warms up for a show is as individual as the actor themselves, whether it's an hour of intense yoga, or coffee and fag outside stage door. I personally like to spend around 20mins each night going through a number of physical and vocal exercises. I start by warming up my body and then concentrate on resonance and diction using a number of exercises I picked up at Drama School, or through other practitioners I've worked with along the way. For me it's a time just to focus, to push to the back of mind any other stuff I've been dealing with that day and make sure I'm physically ready to perform.

Buxtons beautiful auditorium
We had a fantastic crowd in that night. I played Buxton Opera House on another tour about 4 years ago and I was reminded what a warm and loyal audience they get at there. The theatre had arranged for us to hold a "Post-Show Discussion" that night. It's quite a common occurrence in many regional venues where the audience grill the actors, and actors the get a free drink. I always enjoy the post-show talks - it's interesting to hear what an audience has picked up on and to get an idea of their immediate response to the play, straight from the horses mouth so to speak. We talked a bit about the rehearsal process and improvisation, about Timberlake's writing and there was some interesting feedback about the cross-gender casting. Sometimes the questions you get in the these talks can be a little tedious - the dreaded "how did you learn your lines" always makes me squirm. Not only because the real answer is dull  (pretty much parrot fashion until it goes in) but also because of all the things one could ask about, it's really the most mechanical and monotonous part of much larger process, a tiny cog in the wheel that powers the production. I suppose most people have little idea of what an actor does 'in rehearsal' so I do understand why that question arises, but it's a little like eating a 3 course meal and then asking the chef how he found the cutlery!

Reminiscing in at Clwyd.
On Tuesday morning I met with Al, Rach, Chris and Sheun at the well loved Cafe on the Green Pavilion and enjoyed one of the best breakfasts I've had in ages. With a full belly and a good dose of caffeine running through our veins we made our way back to the car for a sunny drive through the hills to our next venue - Theatre Clwyd.
Theatre Clwyd holds a special place in my heart as it's where I took my first professional stage job after graduating from drama school. I played Daphne Stillington, the young debutante and wannabe actress in Noel Coward's Present Laughter, directed by Christopher Morahan. It was a wonderful comic role, and working with a fantastic cast of experienced actors I learnt more on that job than I did in almost my entire time training. As I walked backstage into my old dressing room the nerves and excitement of taking that first big step in my career all came flooding back. Theatre Clwyd is pretty much regarded in the industry as the national theatre of Wales and although seemingly tucked away in the North-Waleian market town of Mold, has been producing an extensive body of reputable work under the leadership of Terry Hands for many years.

Our set looking great in the Antony Hopkins Theatre, Clwyd.

Our first night opened to a good sized crowd and it was nice to hear afterwards that an old school friend, now a teacher in Chester, had brought along his A-Level group who really enjoyed the show. Sadly, the audiences for the rest of the week dwindled and petered out. This seemed more than ever to really knock the morale of the company. We're now three months in to the tour and it can be hard to keep the positive energy going when we're getting such wonderful feedback from those who do come along, but for whatever reason the marketing at a particular venue lets us down and we don't have the bums on seats to show for it.
Perks of the job: a view of my digs in the heart of the Welsh valleys.

We Three at Loggerheads.
They said it doesn't grow on trees...
Later in the week to cheer ourselves up, Rach, Chris and I took a little day trip to Loggerheads Country Park. It was a beautiful clear sunny day and the chance to lark about in the woods, climb some hills and and explore a cave or two really blew away the cobwebs. I even stumbled across a money tree - lets hope that's a good omen for the weeks to come.
Rach adds a coin and makes a wish
By happy co-incidence, we also happened to be performing at Clwyd the same week as an old Drama School friend and brilliant actress, Caryl Morgan was playing in A Dolls House in the studio. It was great to catch up with her on marriage, babies and careers so far. Suddenly drama school feels like an age ago (nearly 7 years ago in fact) and so much has changed. I'm just glad to still be doing what I love most.

Next week, it's back south to London for a week at Greenwich Theatre - stay tuned for info about a surprise exclusive meeting! And in this week's Sneak Peak interview I'll be breaking away from the acting side of things for an insight behind the scenes.....

Emily x

Act 2, Scene 8. Scaling it down in Tiny Town.

A Chocolate Box Theatre.
From the grandiose Harrogate stage to the dolls house proportions of Chipping Norton Theatre, this week was mostly about shrinking our epic Australia into much more bite-sized slice colonial life. Chipping Norton Theatre has a fascinating history, originally beginning life as an 1888 Salvation Army Citadel. The building was rediscovered by a couple of RSC actors in 1968 who began the long process of planning and fund-raising to make their theatrical vision become a reality. In 1975 the the grand opening of the theatre took place with "Timelord" Tom Baker, snipping the tape. 

Housing an epic play.
On approaching the theatre from the box office/stage door entrance you could almost be mistaken for arriving at someones house. Once inside, it's clear that the backstage area, little green room, kitchen, small garden, two dressing rooms and tiny offices fit snugly into a building where the staff very much feel 'at home'. Squeezing our set onto the tiny stage was the biggest challenge yet, and the stage-right platform had to be removed entirely in order to get the rest of it in! No surprise then that the re-working of certain scenes was in order, and where in previous weeks we had been able to bound across the stage with freedom, our performances would now need to be distilled to something of much more naturalistic proportions. Performing that night, we certainly all felt the challenge and I was aware that everything we did seemed to be magnified. Rach described it best, almost like performing on a giant TV screen, and suddenly it was all about rediscovering the truth of each moment again as anything too physically big automatically felt false.
The 213 seat auditorium is laid out with the small stalls section quite a way below the lip of the stage, and the upper balcony on 3 sides thrusts back surprisingly deep making those sat there feel pretty far away. Imagine performing on the top of a double-decker bus and you get the idea. That first night left me deflated. I was uncomfortable in the space (it was particularly cramped in scenes where all 10 of us were on) but more than that I didn't feel like we'd make enough of a connection with the audience. Trying to get to grips with re-blocking as well as a few lighting issues had meant we'd stopped really listening to each other on stage. It was only going to be a short stint at this theatre, just 3 nights, so I was feeling the need to overcome these obstacles as swiftly as possible. This play has some lovely intimate moments and I knew that really we should be able to make it work anywhere.

After the show we all headed to the cosy pub next door, The Chequers, to sit around the open fire for a much needed drink and chance to unwind. Rachel reassured me that when she toured to this theatre last year she'd felt similarly dejected, but once the first night was out of the way and the cast were more familiar with the space they'd had a good run. I was feeling a little more hopeful as I left to get into my car and make the 40 minute drive to Cheltenham where I was staying that night. The fog was falling thick and fast and trundling through the pitch-dark country roads in a real pea-souper felt like a fitting end to the day.

Some Cotswold therapy.
After a very good night's sleep I was woken up by bright sunshine and the smell of breakfast wafting up the stairs. I was staying at a gorgeous B&B run by friends of mine in Cheltenham, and spending a morning catching up with copious tea and cuddles with their Westie dogs set me up for a much better day ahead. The show that night was definitely smoother and although I was still not feeling quite as comfortable as I'd have liked, the shouts and cheers of "bravo" and "well done" couldn't help but put smiles on our faces when we left the stage.
Chipping Norton itself is a beautiful old market town in the Cotswolds and after the fog of the previous day had cleared, it was lovely to drive around and explore the area and it's nearby villages. Upon recommendation from Emma and Jen, I decided to follow their suit for my final night and stay in a lovely B&B they'd discovered in the pretty nearby town of Whitney. The final blast of country air and breath-taking countryside was the just the rejuvenation I needed before the late night commute back home to London.

The ladies hang out between shows.

Something About Mary. 
At this point in the tour it's important to keep the creative juices flowing. For a bit of inspiration I've been reading poetry written around the time of the first settlement in New South Wales, as well as later reflections on colonial Australia. I want to leave you this week with something from another Mary: Dame Mary Gilmore. A fascinating women, a prominent Australian socialist poet, radical writer, political activist, and journalist who grew up in New South Wales some 70 years after the first colonial settlers, here's a poem of hers I came across entitled Old Botany Bay.

 Mary Gilmore photographed in 1899
Old Botany Bay

I'm old
Botany Bay;
stiff in the joints,
little to say.

I am he
who paved the way,
that you might walk
at your ease to-day;

I was the conscript
sent to hell
to make in the desert
the living well;

I bore the heat,
I blazed the track-
furrowed and bloody
upon my back.

I split the rock;
I felled the tree:
The nation was-
Because of me!

Old Botany Bay
Taking the sun
from day to day...
shame on the mouth
that would deny
the knotted hands
that set us high! 

A modern day view of Sydney across Botany Bay.

Next week we're off to beautiful Buxton and the Welsh mountains of Clwyd. Stay tuned for my next Sneak Peak of the week too, coming soon!

Emily x