An evening with Holocaust survivor Dorit Oliver Wolff

photo by David West

photo by David West

Meeting Holocaust survivor Dorit Oliver Wolff was a fascinating but shocking experience for everyone at Green Room Productions.  Dorit was a wonderful character and speaker who considered herself to be a survivor of the Holocaust rather than a victim.  Despite her strong European accent, when people ask her where she is from, she says ‘Eastbourne’ and has the attitude that when her phone beeps at night and wakes her up, it is a good thing because it shows her she’s not dead.  Here is her extraordinary tale.

Dorit describes her early life as ‘cushy’ as her mother was a dance teacher for King Peter of Yugoslavia and she herself once danced for the King.  In 1941, everything changed when her house was bombed without any prior warning.  At only six years old, she awoke in fear choking from the dust and smoke before being dragged out into the street in just her nighty with no shoes on.  It was April and still very cold in Belgrade.  People were stampeding everywhere so Dorit had to desperately clutch her mother’s hand so she wouldn’t be swept away by the mass of panicking people.  At one point, she passed beneath the tramlines and found a sticky red substance dripping down on her.  She looked up to see body parts and viscera hanging from the wires while aeroplanes swept down and gunned down fleeing people.  Parents were trying to shield their children with their bodies.

This was the start of an ongoing nightmare of constantly running in fear.  After being separated from her father, who was subsequently worked to death before he turned 30 in a concentration camp, Dorit and her mother hitchhiked to Budapest where they were faced with some vile anti-Jewish propaganda and a fully grown women once spat in Dorit’s face in a park.  Dorit hadn’t even realised she looked Jewish or had any real understanding of what it meant to be Jewish at that time.

Dorit, with hindsight, believes her mother began working with the underground movement and she disguised herself as a Red Cross nurse.  She remembers them constantly needing to move from place to place to avoid being taken into a Jew house and she remembers them having to continually scavenge for food.  As they had no food coupons, they had to live on bread and hot oil with garlic (if they were lucky) and hot water to drink.  Occasionally, they manage to scavenge some potato peels.

photo by David West

photo by David West

Because her mother posed as a nurse, Dorit had to hide in the hospital while her mother worked (learning from watching as she had no formal training whatsoever) and occasionally saw things that no child of six and half should have to see including a child birth at a very graphic angle.  They lived by moving safe house almost daily and Dorit became so thin and frail that people thought she was five rather than seven.

In one incident, Dorit and her mother were at a railway station on Christmas Eve when the Nazis appeared suddenly and set up a cordon around all the people so they could check everyone’s papers.  They even told the young men to show them their penises.  If they were circumcised, they would be taken away or possibly shot on the spot.  Fortunately for Dorit, her mother was very quick thinking and, spotting a woman selling Christmas trees, she bought the smallest one and marched straight up to the nearest Nazi officer.  She asked if she could be checked first as she wanted to have time to light the tree before her night shift at the hospital (she was wearing her uniform).  The officer waved her through without checking her papers which was good as they had no papers and would have been in serious trouble if they had checked.

Dorit was captured by the Nazis on one occasion when their landlady, who was always lovely to her when she saw her, reported her to the Nazis.  She was taken to a sorting house all on her own and was the only child there.  From there, Jews were taken on to the concentration camps.  She saw people being taken away every day, never to return.  After three months, a cleaner took her out and hid her in a coal room.  After that, she smuggled her out in a basket full of heavily soiled bedsheets.  Dorit said the smell was like something she had never experienced in her life and it made her eyes water.  She was reunited with her mother and they fled the city.  It was this escape that convinced her, later on, that her mother was in with the underground.

The two spent the last nine months of the war living in the air raid shelter of a ruined house in Budapest.  People raided ruined shops to stay alive and, by the time they were liberated, Dorit was nine years old, roughly three stone in weight with no hair, pleurisy, pneumonia and scurvy.  She barely ate and, as a final insult, her mother, granny and her had to hide and watch as the Russian ‘liberators’ raped everyone in the shelter including men, women and children.  Luckily, the proper Russian army arrived before they were found by the rapists.

photo by David West

photo by David West

Throughout the entire ordeal, Dorit kept her spirits up by singing.  At age ten and a half, she got a scholarship to a music school before moving to Israel.  Her mother helped children who were victims of Doctor Mengele who were so traumatised, they were like frightened animals.  She met a pair of twins who would never walk straight because of what was done to them and children who were frightened of toilets because they had had their heads bashed against them.  Dorit’s mother had the idea that the doctors and nurses working with the children should wear normal clothes instead of uniforms and this produced a hugely positive effect on the children.  Her mother went on to do work that lead to universities offering extra time in exams to dyslexic students.

Dorit later moved to Turkey and went on to sing in jazz clubs while studying at Munich University.  She became famous and was actually a pin up for German soldiers.  She once sang for German airmen where she sang a Hebrew song and they all clapped along.  It gave her a huge sense of triumph that she had survived and come so far.  She moved to England in 1962 and thinks it’s incredibly important to keep telling her story so future generations can learn from her experiences.

Five years ago, she visited Budapest and saw the sorting house she escaped from.  She also saw the house where she’d hidden in the air raid shelter at the end of the war but she couldn’t bring herself to go into the shelter.  She found herself shaking and feeling faint when she tried.

We listened enraptured to her amazing story and couldn’t believe that such atrocities had happened within living memory.  Dorit is an absolutely inspiring character and a wonderful story teller.  We feel deeply honoured to have heard her story in person. 

In approaching such an important subject as the Holocaust, we hope to do it justice when we present East of Berlin at The Lamb Theatre from 22nd to 25th NovemberTickets are available here.  

 
 

Interview with 'This Wide Night Actress' Sandra Cheesman

In the second of our interviews with the cast of  'This Wide Night', today we interview actress Sandra Cheesman and ask her about her theatrical background, and what it is like playing 'Lorraine'.

Sandra Cheesman

What is your theatrical background?

I have been acting since I was knee-high to a Grasshopper. At the ripe old age of 24, I managed to gain a place at a drama school in London and train professionally.  Deciding quite early on after leaving the school that the professional side was not for me, I took my learned skills and acted and directed my way up to eventually starting my own theatre company in 2009.

Why do you like acting and what do you think you gain from it?

Like Sam it is definitely not about being centre stage for me.  It is about truth, ultimate story-telling and taking our audience on a journey away from their own lives and immersing them into a new world, albeit for a short while.  I find it exciting and exhilarating. I have gained lifelong friends, fulfilment and a passion for something that fires my soul each and every day – who could ask for more than that?

What was your first reaction to reading the play?

I was hooked in after just reading a synopsis of the play.  I went on to download a sample and eventually the whole script.  After getting so stuck into the play that I couldn’t stop reading it until I finished it well past midnight one night, I knew I had to produce it.

What research did you do to prepare for the part and how did it make you feel?

As the producer and co-director of the play, I did extensive research on the issues brought up by the production. The play, however, is based on real interviews with women in prison, so the truth is already there. I read a great deal of material on what happens to inmates after they leave prison and was deeply saddened by what I read.  Statistics show that 60% of people will  re-offend within 12 months of leaving prison and, in many cases, this is due to the fact that they are happier, feel safer and are generally better off in prison. I found a particular story about women leaving HMP Bronzefield in 2015 being handed tents and sleeping bags due to a housing shortage particularly tragic.  All this research completely shaped my view of the both of the characters and how their backgrounds and the system affected them.

How do you feel about your character?

Whatever the background or motivations of the characters I play, I always have to like them to do them justice.  Although my character, Lorraine, has a dark past, I still find her to be a likeable and nice woman.

What is the most difficult thing about playing the part of Lorraine?

It’s always very difficult to say what the hardest thing about playing a part is until the final curtain goes down but, at the start of the rehearsal period, it was the Scottish accent that was proving difficult to master.  I found it easy enough in small bursts but sustaining it without it wandering all over the country for the whole play has been very challenging indeed. If anyone has seen me driving around Eastbourne over the last few months talking to myself, you'll now know why!

What is it like working opposite Sam?

Sam is an absolute joy to work with.  Thankfully, she and I view the rehearsal process in exactly the same way so we understand how each other is thinking.  She is dedicated, hard-working and professional. I love to work with her, both as a director and actor.  We also have a lot of fun along the way, I cannot think of one rehearsal so far that we have not laughed in.   Working as closely as we have in this two-hander the bond we established in ‘Beacons’ has grown and I think our offstage friendship has helped immensely in portraying the closeness of our two characters.  The highest compliment I can pay someone I am acting against is the level of trust I have in them on stage, and I trust Sam 100%.  

What would you like people to take away from seeing the play?

I think playwright Chloe Moss answers this question for me, she said “when you scratch the surface, you realise how many women are in prison and how many of them are in for non-violent crime.  The reasons a lot of women are in prison are to do with poverty, drugs or mental health issues.  Where these women should be getting help and support, they get locked up instead…so if you scratch the surface, it feels very Dickensian and the strength that these women have when they come out and try to rebuild their lives is remarkable”.

I hope our audiences will take away a slice of her words with them.

Interview with 'This Wide Night' actress Samantha Steer

In the first of two interviews with the cast of  'This Wide Night', today we interview actress Samantha Steer and ask her about her theatrical  background, and what it is like playing 'Marie'.

Samantha Steer

What is your theatrical background?

I have been performing since I was around 8 years old where I was always in the school plays and worked with local amateur companies throughout my youth. I studied literature and theatre studies at the University of Kent and after I graduated last summer I spent my year back home working with the lovely people at Green Room.

Why do you like acting and what do you think you gain from it?

To say why I enjoy acting is a pretty tough question. Theatre is one of the great loves of my life and I think that is the simplest way I can answer the question. Being centre stage and having all eyes on me is really not the point for me at all. I really do thrive off theatre being an artistic medium which feels like a conversation. Real people, sharing one space, some story-telling, some observing, but all learning and listening and expanding our humanity through each others’ reactions. I love the way theatre can show you new sides to people’s stories you might not really have considered until you see it performed, seen the pain and joy and fallibility of people right in front of you. I love acting because I love being a part of telling people’s stories when they might not be heard otherwise.

What was your first reaction to reading the play?

On first reading the play, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I found it very static but after reading it again, I found that there was so much more to it than initially met the eye.  As it comes off the page, I have found that it is really all about human beings struggling in a difficult world and that the issues are very relatable such as trust, friendship, mistrust and vulnerability.

What research did you do to prepare for the part and how did it make you feel?

Another way I understood my character more deeply was to watch lots of documentaries about prostitution and prison life.  I found it deeply sad how difficult many women find it to break free from prostitution and equally sad how many ex-convicts actually seemed to have a better life in prison.  It is all very intense and quite upsetting.

How do you feel about your character?

I didn’t understand Marie initially, I found that she was so different from my own personality and it was hard to relate to her after a first reading of the script.  However, after reading it again, thinking about what she had been through and talking to Sandra about it, I found myself respecting Marie and understanding her motivations.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do the character justice and I would be portraying her as a kind of parody but felt, as the weeks went by, that my portrayal became more real as my understanding of her deepened.

What is the most difficult thing about playing the part of Marie?

The hardest thing about playing Marie is that it is such a different part from those I normally play.  I am quite young looking which means I am usually cast as younger girls or sweet innocent young women.  This part has pushed me right out of my comfort zone and really stretched my ability.

What is it like working opposite Sandra?

Working alongside Sandra (who plays Lorraine) is such a fantastic time. It is great to work with someone who shares such a similar love for theatre and invests so much in the same sort of stories that I am so interested in investigating, unpacking and then sharing with those who are also curious enough to come along to the shows. Rehearsals are hilarious, but also so productive and forward moving as I witness both of our characters morph and change each week.  We have had the chance to learn new things about our own character by bouncing off one another. It is a treat to work in this tiny cast of two as I feel the bond we now have between us is able to shine through in our acting bringing a great authenticity to characters which, at first reading, felt very far away from ourselves.

What would you like people to take away from seeing the play?

I would like the audience to feel the power of the fact that these are real life situations and the play is based on truth.  I think the play has many different angles and layers people can view it from and the mood the audience are in when they go in will affect how they view the play.  The main message, I feels, is to know the value of the people around you.

The Rebirth of Pub Theatre

The Lamb  Inn Theatre Eastbourne

Boozy function rooms were once theatre’s radical heart. Rising costs and the changing face of the fringe threatened all that – but pubs around Britain are pulling in audiences with their spirited productions.

For 50 years, pub theatres have been synonymous with the London fringe. Spaces such as the old Bush and the Gate – tiny function rooms, stuffed with seats and painted slapdash black – were theatre’s radical edges, pushing at sensibilities and possibilities alike. They were a launchpad – maybe the only one – for new talent. Artists as distinct as Katie Mitchell and Kathy Burke made their first shows above pubs.

These days, however, you’re as likely to find a dusty rediscovery or a staid curio as you are the next big thing. The Play That Goes Wrong – an Olivier award-winner now on Broadway – started out at the Old Red Lion five years ago, but conventional wisdom has it that pub theatres, like pubs themselves, aren’t what they once were. Easy as it is to romanticise the past, there’s a fair bit of truth in that. London theatre has changed – almost beyond recognition. Pub theatres haven’t. Run on a shoestring, stuck in shabby black boxes, how could they?

As big subsidised theatres have picked up experimental fare, pub theatres have faced an identity crisis. At the same time, the fringe itself has mutated. Found spaces have put down roots, while venues such as Southwark Playhouse and the Arcola have emerged and quickly expanded into new premises, sprouting their own bars and second spaces in the process, arguably outstripping their boozier rivals. Neil McPherson, long-serving artistic director of the Finborough in Earl’s Court, says there’s “a lot more competition now” – both for shows and for audiences.

The Lamb Inn Theatre, Eastbourne

The Lamb Inn Theatre, Eastbourne

Public houses are built on storytelling: these shared spaces sit within communities in a way other venues can only dream of. At the Old Red Lion, football fans rub shoulders with playgoers. The two groups might even – gasp – overlap. Shabbiness might be pub theatres’ secret weapon, says Clive Judd, new artistic director of the Old Red Lion. Their informality extends beyond audiences, to artists – those at odds with institutional theatres. “I’ve never felt uncomfortable here,” he insists.

“Pub theatre is absolutely and uniquely British,” says Lou Stein, the American director who established the Gate above an Irish pub in Notting Hill in 1979. He’d just relocated from New York, where the off-off-Broadway scene had started 20 years earlier in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village. For Stein, now running the inclusive Chickenshed theatre company, it’s a way for theatre to flourish away from and in opposition to the mainstream and its gatekeepers.

McPherson, too, believes the mainstream is skewed by its “obsession with writers who are photogenic and give a really good interview”. Scan the Sunday supplements, full of bright young things, and he might have a point. “It’s fair to say a lot of my writers have personal hygiene problems and probably shouldn’t be let out of the house – but that’s a writer.”

The work should follow suit. Pub theatres don’t do polish, and for Judd, that’s key. “If you’re going to develop writers, they have to recognise what’s not working. You can only do that in front of a live audience.” Rather than putting plays through workshops and endless redrafts, pubs tend to push scripts through to production, warts and all. “You can find an obscure play and have it on in three to six months,” says McPherson. Subsidised theatres, by contrast, think a year ahead, minimum.

The history of pub theatre is patchy. Though a few Victorian taverns were annexed to theatres – Sadler’s Wells at its start, for example – the first pub theatre proper was founded in 1968, when Leonie Scott-Matthews set up in a disused skittle alley beneath the Freemason’s Arms in Hampstead. It would be three years before Pentameters, still run by Scott-Matthews today, found itself a permanent home above the Horseshoe, half a mile away. In that time, Dan Crawford had started the King’s Head on Upper Street, Islington, a venue he ran until his death in 2005.

When Stein arrived at the Gate in 1979, pub theatres were starting to spring up all over town: the Bush to its west, the Finborough to the south, the Old Red Lion north. “Each was its own thing,” Stein remembers. “People weren’t connected to each other, or the bigger picture as they are now.” 

Pub theatres are now popping up around the country. Though never exclusively “a London thing”, venues elsewhere tended to house fringe shows. That’s changing - all on the sort of sweetheart deals of old. Further proof, then, that it’s far from last orders for pub theatre.

Taken from an article in The Guardian, May 2017

Interview with playwright Chloe Moss by Neil Cooper

When Chloe Moss was commissioned by Clean Break theatre company to spend twelve weeks developing a play from working with inmates in a women's prison, she was initially daunted by the terms laid down for her by the company set up in 1979 by two female prisoners to explore the hidden stories of women prisoners through drama. By the end of the process, things had changed somewhat for the Liverpool-born writer.

The change was more than evident in the play that was born from Moss' experience with Clean Break, This Wide Night, which played at Soho Theatre in 2008 prior to a tour of prisons where some of the women Moss worked with were still housed. 

“At first it seemed slightly restrictive.” Moss explains, “Clean Break do one commission a year, and you write something that's for a small, women only cast, and obviously you write something that's based around women who are in the criminal justice system. Once you're involved in it, all of that is actually quite liberating, and by the end of the twelve weeks I could've written fifty or a hundred plays about the experiences of these women.”

Rather than focus on the women's life behind bars, in the play Moss looks at what happens when the women are released. This is done through two women, Marie and Lorraine, who had struck up a friendship while incarcerated. When Marie is released, that appears to be that. Only when Lorraine knocks at Marie's bedsit door are the pair forced to reassess their relationship on the outside world.

“The characters are really an amalgam of all the women I met,” Moss says. “Even before we started, I was really interested in what happened when these women came out of the criminal justice system, and what happened to them. Bonds form between women in prison, but it's hard for them to trust people, so there's a fragility to those bonds, especially when the women get out. Many women lose ties with their children and with their families, and if you're a certain age, it's going to be more difficult to get work when you get out. That's a massive part of your life. I mean, what if you're seventy when you come out, and you've lost all those connections in life that you had? What do you do?”

Women's prison drama has proved an alluring draw over the years, both on stage and on television. Both Within These Walls in the 1970s Prisoner: Cell Block H la few years later, and the more recent Bad Girls captivated huge audiences. If the latter two camped things up somewhat, such an approach was offset by the likes of Rona Munro's stage play, Iron, and the ongoing work done by Clean Break.

While This Wide Night has moved out of the prison walls, Moss' experience of her twelve weeks working with women has made her recognise the importance of dramatising experiences which most people aren't aware of.

“I can only speak from my personal experience,” she says, “but when you scratch the surface, you realise how many women are in prison, and how many of them are in for non-violent crime. The reasons a lot of women are in prison are to do with poverty, drugs or mental health issues. Where these women should be getting health and support, they get locked up instead.. So if you scratch that surface, it feels very Dickensian, and the strength that these women have when they come out and have to try and rebuild their lives is remarkable.”

While Moss stresses that This Wide Night is not a journalistic piece of work, the play's sustaining power has proved something of a benchmark for the writer, whose career began after she was picked up by the Royal Court Young Writer's Group, where she wrote her first professionally produced play, A Day in Dull Armour, in 2002. Commissions for the Royal Court, Manchester's Royal Exchange and Liverpool Everyman followed.

“I'd always wanted to write,” Moss says, “bit I didn't think it was possible to earn a living doing it. My brother's an actor, and he was a big inspiration, really. I went along to the Everyman Youth Theatre a few times, and that made me realise I didn't want to be an actor, and that writing could be another way of telling stories. Then I started going to the theatre more when I did my degree in Manchester, and things took off from there.”

Moss also has extensive TV credits under her belt, with stints on the likes of Hollyoaks, Secret Diary of A Call Girl and more recently on Switch, a fantasy-based comedy drama about four young witches living in contemporary Camden. With further commissions for the Royal Exchange and the Everyman pending, Moss may have moved on as a writer, but it's clear that This Wide Night remains an important piece of work for her.

“I feel incredibly proud of it,” Moss reflects. “It's an emotional thing for me. I have a real affection for it, and it's very close to my heart. Sometimes you look back at some plays and think ' would change that now'. I'm not saying this play is perfect, but it means a lot to me. When we took it round prisons, that was the most important audience for me. Some of the women I'd worked with had been released, but it was obviously still personal to them, and if I hadn't nailed the truth of things, they'd know in ten seconds. You just want to feel that you're respecting them. The most important thing is being truthful. Even though there's a lot of bleakness in the play, I think there's also a lot of hope."

Di and Viv and Rose Rehearsal Process

Di and Viv and Rose is a play full of fun and laughter.  It’s fitting, therefore, that the rehearsal period has been exactly the same.  As Becky, who plays Di, Emma, who plays Viv and Casey, who plays Rose, are all such good friends in real life, it’s really added something to the production but also added to the giggle-factor.  Quick scene changes and a plethora of costumes have provided challenges off the stage while emotional content, strange facial expressions and pronunciation issues have kept, Sandra, the director, and the girls working hard on the stage.

Technical Issues

Rapid scene changes have led to this show having over 80 lighting cues.  The first scene has changes timed to pieces of music.  Believe it or not, this has actually been a boon for the tech team as the music software has a handy count down bar that Leah, the lighting tech, can watch to time when she brings the lights up.  This saves Leah and Martin, the sound tech, from having to do ‘The Tech Box Stare’!  If you’ve ever seen two animals stare at each other before they’re about to try to rip each other’s throats out, then you’ve seen the intensity in which the tech box crew have to stare at each other to perfectly synchronise lighting and sound.

Back Stage

It’s impossible to tell what audiences think goes on backstage.  We found this out during Avenue Q when a large percentage of the audience didn’t realise we had a live band back there along with 30 odd puppets and at least four back stage crew running around with ladders! During Di and Viv and Rose, Zoe, our costume person, has been a hero.  As this play takes part over a long period of time, she had to fit the girls out with an outrageous number of costumes.  The very quick scene changes meant that she had to find ingenious ways to slim down the costume changes and make them as easy as possible.  Tory, the stage manager, has also made a herculean effort to make the scene changes as smooth as possible.  Many shouts of “GIVE US A MINUTE” have come from these two mighty women during the rehearsal period.

The Girls

All three girls have been challenged in undertaking these roles.  Becky, however, has only ever done musicals before so had a particularly hard time.  We didn’t mean to laugh but, she did insist on coming out with some crackers.  Here’s a few:

On Sandra telling her to stand in character – “I don’t know how to stand as a gay woman, or even a non-gay woman if I’m honest”

On Becky thinking it was odd to see the word ‘silence’ in the script and Sandra pointing out that people pause from speaking in real life – “Really?  I always try to fill silences and pauses” – she then needed reminding that everyone pauses, except her!

But Becky wasn’t the only one who made humour gaffs.  Emma had her moments too.  The most memorable being how she pronounced microfiche as “meecrofish”!  She also managed to nearly smash Becky’s phone whilst practising acting drunk.

Throughout the rehearsal period, the girls found peculiar crossovers between being good friends in real life and being good friends in the play.  Becky found it strange to see her real-life friends making faces in character that she’d never seen before.  They also all found it difficult not to laugh at the stern faces their friends were pulling during the serious parts of the play.  Aspects of the play have even bled into their real lives like when Casey moved house recently and they found themselves ‘improvising’ due to lack of glasses to drink out of.

With all the challenges conquered and giggles kept where they belong, the show is ready to go.  Join us at the Lamb Theatre this week.  Click here for more information and to book tickets.

 

Di and Viv and Rose

Amelia Bullmore

Amelia Bullmore

Di and Viv and Rose is a story of enduring friendship.  Playwright Amelia Bullmore decided to write it in 2009 when she realised how much she missed an old friend.  The feeling was so powerful that it inspired her to write a piece about the profundity of female friendships and the importance of these long-standing relationships.  We chose it as part of our programme this year because it really resonated with us and we believe we have what it takes to do it justice.

Performance and Reception

Originally performed downstairs at the Hampstead Theatre in 2011, this play received rave reviews including the Guardian describing it as “impossible not to like”.  It was directed by Anna Mackmin and stared Nicola Walker, Claudia Blakley and Tamzin Outhwaite.  In 2013, it was moved upstairs at the Hampstead Theatre with some cast changes before moving to the Vaudeville Theatre in the West End in 2015, again with a slightly different cast - however Tamzin Outhwaite remained in all three casts.  Sadly, the run was cut short by two months at this venue despite all the glowing reviews and positive audience responses.  The show’s producers said, “the West End can be an unpredictable place and transferring a new play has its risks.”  Fortunately, the rights to perform the play became available to other theatre groups shortly after and it has been performed widely ever since.

Inspiration

Amelia Bullmore was inspired to write this play after seeing a woman who had calves just like her friend’s.  The yearning she felt to see that friend was something she wanted to try to capture in this play along with the delight she felt at seeing another friend pull a stunt that made her roar with laughter.  Apparently, she was meeting her friend at a train station and, while scanning the crowd for her, spotting a couple snogging.  At second glance, she realised it was actually her friend pretending to snog a statue to make her laugh.  She didn’t want it all to be frivolous jokes and fun though, as she wanted it to reflect real life friendships that have ups and downs.  Although she appreciates the friendship of men, she felt there was something special about the friendships of women and the way they share stories of other people’s lives and how they affect their own.  Condensing all of this, including a 30 year friendship, into a two hour play was a challenge but we feel that Bullmore rose to it admirably.

Why we Chose to Perform it?

It isn’t just the success of Bullmore’s writing that drew us to perform this piece.  The profundity of female friendships is something that resonates with us as a predominantly female company and we are always on the lookout for plays with interesting and substantial parts for women (a much harder task than it should be in the 21st century!).  Sandra saw this play and was keen to direct it as it immediately pulled her in to the characters and their lives.  She thought it would suit our actors and our intimate space at the Lamb.

To book tickets for this fun-filled but touching play, book online here.  If you would like more information about the play, the theatre or Green Room Productions, please feel free to contact us here.

A Sneak Preview of the Green Room Productions 2017 Programme

At Green Room Productions, we put on plays that make people think, laugh and cry. Our mission is to bring the best modern plays to Eastbourne and play them with oodles of heart and plenty of polish.  This season promises to be no different.  We have selected three brilliant new plays for your viewing pleasure to move and amuse.  In addition to our theatrical programme, we’re also offering a treat for the ears with a performance by our talented singing group, the Green Room Belles.

March 29th to 1st April - Di and Viv and Rose by Amelia Bullmore

Giving us un insight into the friendship of three female students in a shared house in the 80s, this play is energetic and full of fun.  True to real life, it isn’t all frivolity, however, and delivers enough range of emotional content to move the hardest of hearts.  Sandra, our director, chose to put on this play after it was recommended to her by a friend.  She read the script and was so impressed that she applied for the rights to perform it with the same persistence and dedication as Andy Dufresne pestering for money for books in the Shawshank Redemption.  Like Andy, she got her way in the end and is delighted to be directing it this year.

July 26th to 29th - This Wide Night by Chloe Moss

Sandra sat up until an ungodly hour of the night reading this play because she couldn’t put it down.  She described it as “a powerful, gritty and emotionally poignant drama and is going to be a huge challenge for the two actors.  Everything that a good play should be.”  It explores the issues faced by two women after they leave prison.  The company that first produced the play, Clean Break, put on plays to raise awareness of the complex problems faced by women at the wrong side of the criminal justice system including mental health issues going untreated.  We hope the play captivates the audience the same way it captivated Sandra.

August 11th to 13th - Belles Sing Hollywood

After the success of their Christmas concert, Belles Sing Broadway, the girls were very excited to be performing again at the Lamb.  Like the Christmas show, this time around they will be sharing some unusual arrangement of film soundtrack classics alongside less well known but equally lovely songs.

November 22nd to 25th - East of Berlin by Hannah Moscovitch

We have all heard the Biblical quote that begins “the sins of the father…” and, in this play, we see how a son deals with finding out his father’s sins are terrible indeed.  The main character, Rudi, discovers that his father was not only a Nazi during WWII, he was a Nazi doctor who performed horrific experiments on Jews in concentration camps.  This is another play that Sandra has been keen to perform for some time and even had to write to the playwright herself through Twitter to obtain a copy of the script.  What held her back, was the main part requiring a very specific type of actor.  We have now found just the man to bring this thought provoking play to life.

Watch this space for more detailed information about these plays and an insight into our rehearsal process.  If you would like any information about these plays in the meantime, please feel free to contact us.  Tickets are available for all of these shows online here.  We look forward to seeing you at the Lamb Theatre soon.

Is this a script I see before me?

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I read scripts ALL the time, and am always on the hunt for a good play.  I have a pile of plays I would like to produce one day, but it is always about logistics, timing, venue, budget, available cast etc.  So my script 'to-do' pile gets higher & higher every year, and my bookcase wobbles that little bit more.

Twitter is a wonderful tool for so many reasons.  I have met some wonderful people through Twitter, increased our attending audience, found people to work with, new friends, and I usually learn something new every day - it might be a useless fact, but even so.  Another big advantage of Twitter, is that I get to keep up with all the new theatre being produced throughout the country, and spot potential plays in the making. 

So what makes a good play?  Well that, I believe, is in the eye of the beholder.  When I start reading a script, I can usually tell within the first 20 pages of writing whether I am going to like it, by the first 40 pages whether I can stage it, and by 60 pages I will know whether I am going to produce it - then it all rests on whether I like the ending of the play.  The hairs literally stand up on my neck when I read a good play; I cannot put it down and have to finish the whole script in one sitting.

What makes a bad play I hear you ask (I am sure you did).  A bad play in my opinion consists of:

  • Too many pages - nothing worse than a lonnnnng play.  Theatre has changed so much in this regard.  The last ten years have seen plays reduce drastically in length, and so many playwrights now tend to favour no interval.  Look back to when we had three act plays, and three intervals, you almost needed a camp bed to get through them.  I am definitely a fan of the no-interval-shorter-play.
  • Bad writing (obviously) - characters who are one-dimensional, thin storylines, too complicated storylines, and no storylines! Comedies that are not funny, tragedies that are not tragic, and drama's that have no drama.  Finally my big pet hate are very bad/cop-out endings.
  • Sets so complicated you need a house builder to construct them for you. Personally I think a playwright should think seriously about this if they want their play to make any money for them.  Yes, they might get a commission, so one theatre is happy to stump up the money, but after that the play will be left on a dusty shelf where no small theatre company will ever be able to afford to stage it.

In our 2014 line-up we have two superb plays, both so very different, and both had me gripped by the first 20 pages.  I fell in love with 'Before it Rains' by Katherine Chandler because it is not a play like any I have read before.  It is written in a realistic way, but the playwright found the poem 'The Law of the Jungle' by Rudyard Kipling a real inspiration for not only the world, but the themes in the play too. We’ve all had those lazy, hazy sunny days when everything’s going our way but then along comes the rain.  We have an excellent cast for this play, and I am very excited about starting work on this superb piece of writing in January.

When I was a teen I bought a book at a jumble sale called 'Ladykillers', which was the real life story of five lady murderers, one of whom was Ruth Ellis.  From here my interest in her story captured me.  When I saw the script for 'The Thrill of Love' by Amanda Whittington I had all my fingers crossed it was going to be a good play - I was not disappointed.  Again, it is written in a very unusual way, and the stylised manner in which Amanda tells her story of Ruth Ellis, makes it an exciting and captivating play.

So to end on a little bit of theatre logic for you ...

In is down, down is front
Out is up, up is back
Off is out, on is in
And of course-
Left is right and right is left
A prop doesn't and
A trap will not catch anything
Strike is work (In fact a lot of work)
And a green room, thank god, usually isn't
Now that you're fully versed in Theatrical terms,
Break a leg.
But not really.

Click here to see our 'What's On' page

 

Hi-diddle-dee-dee, an actor's life for me ...

On Monday we held an 'open audition night', the purpose of which was to meet new actors & actresses who had expressed an interest in our company.  What a lovely evening it was.  No ego's arrived through the door, no pretentiousness, just a bunch of great actors wanting to get their hands dirty and produce good theatre.  A refreshing change I can tell you!

We are a funny lot us actors - a breed unto ourselves.  People full of confidence & insecurities.  Outgoing people full of shyness.  People willing to put themselves on the line & yet nervous to do so.  We are a psychiatrist's dream ... although we tend to use acting as our own prescribed treatment.

I have met every type of actor over the years, and believe me there are a whole big mix out there.  From the super talented and don't know it, to the totally incompetent and yet think they are the next Laurence Olivier or Maggie Smith. 

Monday highlighted for me the qualities I look for in an actor, and this is a pretty accurate list:-

  • The ablility to take direction - that may seem like a given, but believe me it is not!
  • The actor who works as part of a team and not for their own 15 minutes of fame.
  • The selfless actor who does not upstage.  Who supports their colleagues both onstage and off.
  • The actor who learns their lines, and has their books down when asked. 
  • The actor without an ego. 
  • The actor who realises, you are only as good as the people you are on stage with, and more importantly, the people who are backstage supporting you. 
  • The actor who will happily get their hands dirty

I am a passionate director I know, and boy the thrill I get when I see talent is so exciting.  The thrill I get when I see actors improve beyond what they thought they were capable of is a joy.   The thrill I get when I see a play come together is what makes all the hard work totally worthwhile. 

So I come to a story about lines ... I was once in a play where one of the cast had not completely learnt his lines by the first night!  It was a complicated play, where characters were coming and going. He came into several scenes he was not it in, appeared through doors he should not, and was in general a complete nightmare.  One night, he appeared in a scene he (for once) should have been in, but started saying his lines from the next act!  There were five of us on stage, we all tried to bring him back into the right scene/act, but the more we ad-libbed to get him back on track, the more confused he got.  In the end (of what seemed like an excruciatingly long time) one of the cast annnounced we should all go for a walk in the garden, at which point every cast member left the stage!  We all had a very quick de-breif as to how to get the play back on track, went back on stage (minus the actor, who when it boiled down to it, didn't even know what play he was in) and managed to get through the scene saying all our lines, and his too.  Suffice to say he never acted again, and I lost 10 years off of my life.

I am looking forward to working with some new actors and creating some more wonderful stories to tell, and on that note ... our next production of 'Everything Between Us' comes around on October 3rd - 5th.  Tickets are on sale now.

Click here for details and booking.

It is a lonely old business ...

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This is my first foray into the world of a one-woman show, and I am not quite sure how I feel about it ...

These last few months I have been rehearsing 'Just Joyce' on my own (with an occasional rehearsal with a pianist) and along side this, directing 'Everything Between Us' (our October production) with a cast.  It has been a useful tool to be doing both at the same time, as I have had a direct comparison.  I think I have come to the conclusion that the best parts of this business we call 'show', are the friends, fun, comradery, and teamwork of working with a cast & crew throughout rehearsals, and I have kind of missed that doing Joyce on my 'Jack Jones'.

Now, on the plus side, I love Joyce Grenfell (or 'Choice Pencil' as SIRI likes to rename her) and have done so from a young age, so it is a joy to be working on such fabulous pieces, and even now they are still making me laugh.   I have also thoroughly enjoyed researching her life, and I now feel I know her intimately.  So all of that has been a huge bonus, and I hope will continue to be so when we finally get in front of our audience in August - although I don't want to think about that just  yet!  We will be taking 'Just Joyce' into some residential homes for the elderly after we have performed at the theatre, and I think this may well be what makes this whole project even more worthwhile.

When the cockney comedienne Nelly Wallace watched Joyce from the wings of the theatre, she was heard to mutter "what does she think she is doing out there, talking to herself".  That is so true of me right now, all my neighbours, people who see me walking my dog, on the tube, trains, in my car and in the street will have seen me 'talking to myself' for the last 3 months - what I am doing, is in fact going over my lines.  I'm surprised I have not been carted away by now! 

2013 has been a year of new experiences for me so far, having written and produced my own play for the first time, and now performing a one-woman show.  I'll let you know in December if I will do either of these things ever again . . . 

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Act I beginners this is your 5 minute call .....

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That sentence is the one that sends the stomach flipping, the adrenalin pumping, the dressing room into hushed tones of nervous silence and the heart racing. This time next week we will have already had our first night, and we will be pacing the 'Green Room' gearing up for show número deux.

'First night nerves' is a funny old expression, it should be 'every night nerves' as far as I am concerned. That feeling of standing in the wings repeating your first line over and over, feeling cold, hot, calm, excited, sick and nervous always raises the question 'why the heck do we do this'? Then the lights go down, you take your opening position and that question fades into oblivion as you settle into the play.

I have an equal passion for acting and directing (actually I think directing is pipping the post of late). Which do I feel more nervous about on opening night? Directing without a shadow of a doubt! Handing the play over to the cast and crew after dress rehearsal is a lonely business. Suddenly you are redundant, and your 'baby' has grown up and flown the nest. As a director I will (more often than not) sit in the auditorium on production nights and nervously watch the audience - yes the audience - to see if our interpretation of the story wins the hearts of our viewers.

Anyone who has acted for me (let's hope none of them read this, or I dread the comments) will attest that I am a notorious 'note giver'. I always have reams of 'actors notes' after each play I have directed. For our current production on next week, I am acting and directing, so my head is torn into two. I have reams of actors notes to myself! My nerves are sliding from actor to director and back again in one fell swoop, and I have a yearning to be Worzel Gummidge and be able to swap heads. I will be intrigued as to which 'head' takes the most nerves next week - I am suspecting my acting one will win the day.

In a production of 'Blood Money', in-between Acts I & II our wonderful props lady was on the set doing a last check that everything was where it should be. Unbeknownst to her, the beginners call had happened, the cast were in place, and the Stage Manager gave the cue to start the second act. Seeing the curtain start to open, she dived behind the sofa (still on stage). The only person who was aware of where she was, was a single cast member on stage who had seen it happen. All the backstage crew were calling her on cans (headphones) wondering where the heck she had disappeared to. There was a knock at the door (onstage), the cast member went to open the door to an actress entering, she hastily whispered "Jill's behind the sofa"! From then on in, everybody had to surreptitiously step over her, or walk around her. All was fine, until a male cast member had to 'die' behind the sofa. Even to this day, the picture of the two of them bundled behind the sofa still makes me laugh!

Let's hope I don't have any theatrical tales of woe to impart after next week!

The Wife, The Mistress, The Chair. April 18th - 20th. The Little Theatre, Eastbourne. Box Office: 01323 479732

wanted 2 x white plastic picnic mugs ...

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Two weeks to go until opening night and the madness kicks in ...

The last fortnight before any production is a manic time for me.  Everything needs to be sorted. Programme designed, practice props replaced by real ones, costumes co-ordinated and worn, liaising on set design/construction, sound FX recorded, lighting designed, cue sheets written up and so on ....  My to-do list just gets longer and longer, and my sleep gets less and less!

It amuses me (in an ironic way) that for so many plays I end up hunting down props that in the past have sat around the garage or loft, and we have thrown them away.  There is only so much theatrical 'stuff' we can house, but I am always wary of throwing things away.  Yesterday I spent AGES looking for just the right plastic picnic mugs online - you know, the one's that were ALWAYS on the top of flasks.  The one's that EVERYONE used to have.  Thank goodness for the internet, and that I don't have to trawl around shops any more!

So following on with some more tales of theatrical woe ... in a school production (some years ago - no comments please), a character I was on stage with, had to spend an entire scene embroidering on a flexi hoop.  As the scene to came to a close, she had a big speech, she stood up to say her piece and she had sewn the entire embroidery (hoop and all) onto her skirt.  She had to spend the rest of the scene with it hanging from her skirt - her final sweeping exit was a hoot!  This was the start of me digging my nails into my hands to stop myself corpsing.

'The Wife, The Mistress, The Chair' has been a props challenge with handcuffs and ropes - not finding, but actually using (and before you ask, no, it is NOTHING like '50 Shades of Grey')!

“What is that unforgettable line?”

So with a month to go until opening night, the pressure is on to 'get books down'.  Act I is pretty much there, but Act II needs some serious line learning on my part. 

The days of having a prompt sitting in the corner as a security blanket have well and truly passed, and we always go on knowing it is down to us to get ourselves out of any sticky situations that may arise.  There is nothing more frightening than seeing the fear in a fellow actors face, as their lines disappear right before your eyes, or the same happening to you.

One of the worst feelings (and it happens to me one performance of every play I have ever been in) is the time your mouth is speaking your lines, but your brain is somewhere else. Usually with me, I have a voice speaking out loud in my head "you must concentrate ... I cannot believe my lines are coming out and I am thinking this ... what is my next line ..... busy house tonight" - and all this goes on while my mouth continues speaking the play!  It does not matter how much I tell myself to focus back on the play, the voices in my head take over. 

The other thing I have to deal with every production, is my repetitve nightmare of standing in the wings waiting to go on into a play I know nothing about.  Desperately trying to learn lines in the few seconds before I am due to enter the scene, not having a costume, or the first clue as to what play I am actually in ...... cart me off in the white jacket now.

One of the funniest prompts I have heard, was in a very bad 'village hall' production some years ago.  Everything that could have gone wrong, had. At one point an actress was vacuuming and the sound effect for the hoover had, for some reason, been abrubtly stopped, so she continued the scene making the hoover noise herself, in-between her lines!  Anyway I digress .... this old actor completely dried, he sidled to the side of the the stage where prompt was obviously sitting, and said very loudly 'PROMPT', to which the prompt gave him his forgotten line "I can't remember what I was going to say".  Priceless.

And on that note, I have well and truly scared myself into pulling out my script and getting those lines learnt!

are we mad?

I have often pondered on why I enjoy acting - never more so, than on an opening night when I am standing in the wings waiting to go on. At these times I actually question my sanity!  Even after all these years, I don't think I have ever found a definitive answer to that question ... except, I just do! 

I do think that there is a large element of enjoying being someone other than yourself.  It is a thrill to get into the mind of another 'human being', and exciting to be able to act things as a character, that you would never do in 'real life'.  So is the answer escapism?  To a certain extent, I think maybe it is.

I am going to remain silent on this subject now, as I am going to post this blog to other actors I know, and see what list we draw up between us .... literally watch this space!