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.