Some Cheeky career advice

The cast of this year’s Marlowe Theatre pantomime Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, are busy in rehearsal, getting ready for opening night (Friday 27th November).

We managed to find some time to speak to Craig Garner – who’s playing the role of  Cheeky – and he gave us some pointers on how he’s built a successful career as a short actor – some serious, and some, not so serious. Over to you Craig…


  1. Learn to handle rejection. On the law of averages you are going to be rejected more times than you are accepted for a part. Remember that it’s not all about talent. Although I admit that I’m still devastated after being rejected for the role of Bond!
  2. Respect. There’s a definite hierarchy in films and theatre which is clearly identifiable by the size of someone’s dressing room or Winnebago. Most of the actors that I have worked with have been amazingly respectful, Sir Ben Kingsley and Chris Hemsworth are probably two of the most respectful, generous and supportive people that I have worked with. It’s important though, to recognise that everyone has a part to play and deserves equal respect. Personally I can’t stand divas. I like to keep my rider simple. White roses, white towels, a constant supply of Veuve Clicquot, no eye contact from the crew, the usual stuff.
  3. Study your industry. If you want to be a film actor watch as many films as possible; if you want to be a performer, go to the theatre as much as possible. There is no better way of studying technique. I particularly find the soaps a good source of material and like nothing more than “furthering my art” by studying Ken Barlow’s timing whilst my partner cooks me tea, does the ironing, makes the bed…
  4. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. There will always be natural actors (doesn’t it make you sick!) but generally the better rehearsed you are, the more confident you are and the better you perform on stage. It’s even more important to rehearse for smaller parts and to ensure that you get the most from the few lines that you have been given. You should have seen my performance as Tommy the Cat at Sheffield’s Dick Whittington last year. I had the audience eating out my paw!
  5. For films, less is more. For stage, more is less.  If only I had known that at my Bond audition when I turned up in my sequinned suit with my favourite audition piece of Goldfinger!

But seriously…

  1. Seek out specialist agencies – because of my height I use ‘Oh So Small Productions’ who specialise in short actors.
  2. Pitch for roles that may on the face of it seem totally unsuitable – I’ve played the giant in Jack And The Beanstalk and an ugly sister in Cinderella. Directors are always looking for something different so don’t be afraid of putting yourself forward for a part that you would like to play.
  3. Be confident – at 4’1” tall and only six stone it would be very easy to be ‘overlooked. Use your voice and even your elbows if necessary!
  4. Don’t expect to be given a part because of a disability – we aren’t owed anything and I certainly wouldn’t want to be given a part because a director felt sorry for me. What matters is ensuring that you are properly prepared for an audition or properly rehearsed for a part.
  5. Extend your skills – having more skills increases your chances of landing a part. I love musical theatre and have regular singing lessons and tap classes. I also brushed up on my horse riding skills for Snow White And The Huntsman.

You can see Craig and the rest of our cast in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs  at our theatre between Friday 27th November and Sunday 10th January 2016. Tickets are selling very quickly, to get yours visit (bkg fees apply) or phone 01227 787787 (bkg fees apply).


A Better Woman: The Writer’s Tale

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Simon Mendes da Costa, the writer of A Better Woman, tries not to worry (and fails)

Getting a play produced is harder than writing it in the first place: I’m not sure if that’s totally true but it isn’t far off.

It certainly comes with a completely different set of anxieties which I have embraced wholeheartedly. If there is something that can be worried about then I will, and no doubt I get involved in areas it would be far better for me not to. However, staff at The Marlowe Theatre have been very patient, up to this point at least, and have embraced a writer who likes to be part of the process. They even put me on the poster (it was because I was cheap, I believe).

Having worked at The Marlowe for a couple of years as their Literary Associate I thought knowing the direction they wanted to take the theatre, I would suggest that I wrote a play for them. I was delighted when they not only agreed but became as excited by the prospect as I was. This, after all, fitted straight into their long-term vision. I had various ideas on the go and eventually one came to the fore which The Marlowe liked, and having gone through a number of drafts, it is where it is now, in rehearsal with a cast I am delighted about.

The casting process has to be one of the most crucial but excruciating exercises anyone could wish to go through. The decision making, not something that sits comfortably with me, is not only painful but, by its very nature, there are winners and losers.

It’s not the X Factor with people feeling that this is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity, but it is painful nonetheless. It was lucky that my Director, Tilly Vosburgh, had such great instincts and ultimately it’s her decision anyway.

If you’re not careful the whole process can be filled with worry: worry in the writing process, worry about getting the right director and creative team, worry about getting the right cast, worry you won’t get audiences, worry reviewers won’t come, worry if they do that they won’t like it, worry worry worry. You could end up missing what is fantastic and exciting and a bit of a bare-knuckle ride.

Of course, the worry points to caring and to what is at stake, but it’s managing that and enjoying the journey, a bit like life.

I’m really hopeful that this production does well, not just for the people involved in it but for The Marlowe too – they have put everything behind this and the place is buzzing with anticipation. No pressure! More worry.

It would be lovely to see The Marlowe Theatre on the map as a venue where new plays started and were discovered. With home-grown productions it gives all the people within the theatre a sense of belonging and being part of something. I’ve said this before but it’s the life blood that makes the theatre more than just a venue, a home rather than a house.

I hope this opens up the possibility of future productions with local writers and actors. There is an abundance of talent in this area and I see no reason why The Marlowe cannot become a creative force: Chichester is just a town outside of London and look at their record. We have to start somewhere, it won’t happen overnight but with the right energy anything’s possible.

The history of pantomime

With rehearsals getting underway this week for this year’s pantomime, we take a look at how pantomime traditions evolved.

Panto is a peculiarly British tradition, as anyone who has ever attempted to explain it to a foreign visitor will know all too well. It’s ironic then, that the origins of panto probably lie abroad. The generally favoured theory is that pantomime is, in fact, Italian. Sorry about that.

However, we have given it our own unique spin over the centuries, since it first arrived on these shores in the sixteenth century in the form of commedia del’arte. Commedia performances, which often took place in the street, were based around stock characters – most famously Harlequin- and well-known storylines. (One of these characters, Pulchinella, eventually became another great British tradition, evolving himself into Mr Punch in seaside Punch & Judy shows.) Commedia troupes would involve their audience in the show in a similar way to today’s pantomime performers.

These stories, revolving around two young lovers (Harlequin and Columbine) and their comic servants, have much in common with many of the fairy tales which form the basis of modern pantomimes, but it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the word pantomime was used for the first time. Owing to strict theatre licensing laws at the time, only a limited number of theatres were allowed to present ‘spoken word’ performances (a restriction which remained in place until a change in the law in 1843), so these early performances were entirely mimed, giving rise to the name pantomime (‘panto’ comes from the Greek word for ‘all’).

These early pantomimes gave us another theatrical term – slapstick, referring to physical comedy. They were famous for their quick changes of scenery, which were achieved by having hinged flaps on scenery which would flip over when Harlequin hit them with his magic wand – actually a wooden baton, or – you can probably guess what’s coming next – ‘slap stick’.

Actor-producer John Rich in character as Harlequin, carrying his 'slap stick'.

Actor-producer John Rich in character as Harlequin, carrying his ‘slap stick’.

One of the distinguishing features of pantomime is cross-dressing, with the dame (a man dressed as a woman) playing a prominent part. Pantomimes also traditionally featured ‘principal boys’, women playing male roles, although these started to die out from the 1950’s when pop stars of the day like Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele started playing romantic roles in pantomimes. It has been suggested that these traditions go all the way back to Tudor times, when the Christmas time ‘feast of fools’, presided over by a Lord of Misrule, would have involved people dressing up and swapping roles. However, there’s little evidence of either dames or principal boys between the Restoration in 1660 (when actresses were allowed to perform on public stages for the first time) and the late eighteenth century. Principal boys appeared first, especially in opera, where ‘breeches roles’ were sung by female sopranos, before they were enthusiastically picked up by other more popular forms of entertainment like music hall. It’s likely that much of their popularity lay in the fact that the roles allowed women to show off their legs in revealing male costumes, at a time when woman were expected to wear long skirts at all times.

The tradition of of the dame appears to have evolved slightly later. The clown Joseph Grimaldi played the baron’s wife in 1820, in an early version of Cinderella. Dames became especially popular in  the late nineteenth century, as part of a wider fashion in music hall for cross- dressing acts.

A Better Woman: rehearsals start

The cast of A Better Woman, with writer Simon Mendes da Costa (centre) and director Tilly Vosburgh (third from left).

Rehearsals began this week for A Better Woman, the Marlowe’s home-grown production, which will run in The Marlowe Studio this December.

Here’s a sneaky peak at the first read through of the play:

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Our spies in the rehearsal room tell us that the first read through of the play – a touching comedy about a man in his forties who’s starting to date again after the end of his marriage – went very well, with lots of laughter from those listening in.

A Better Woman will run in The Marlowe Studio 1-19 December. You can book tickets here.

Panto is for life, not just for Christmas

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At least, it is if you work in the theatre, as Kate Evans, our new Marketing Publications Officer, is discovering.

“It’s behind you!” “Oh no it isn’t!” “Oh yes it is!” “Oh no it isn’t.” Oh no, it really isn’t, if the ‘it’ in question is pantomime, and you work in a theatre, as I have discovered since I joined The Marlowe in late May – missing the launch day for this year’s panto by just a few days.

There is never a time when panto is not somewhere on the agenda. Decisions about next year’s extravaganza are made before the current year’s production even opens, so it can be ready to go on sale the moment the first audiences step out of this year’s first show.

The reasons why we spend so much time on panto are partly, of course, practical – a panto run can make or break a theatre’s year. But also, panto is most people’s first experience of live theatre, and for many, their only trip to the theatre all year. So it’s got to be good.

All of our regular panto ‘family’ are  very aware of how special the Marlowe’s annual panto is. Local boy (well, Margate) Lloyd Hollett, has vivid memories of his first panto experiences: :  “I used to come here as a kid, my aunty and uncle used to bring me along, from when I was about 5 years old, every year, it was a big thing, coming to the Marlowe. I always remember the excitement you used to get when the lights went down. So to be here now, is brilliant, it’s a dream come true.”

Our dame, Ben Roddy, says: “We’re always trying to come up with new and exciting stuff for the panto, because we don’t want to ever rest on our laurels.”

It’s a feeling shared by Evolution Productions, our panto partners. Part of the family feeling about the Marlowe’s pantos may come down to the fact that Evolution  is an actual family firm- headed up by husband-and-wife team, Paul Hendy and Emily Wood, who work with several other family members, all of whom eat, sleep and breathe panto, all year round (although they are otherwise quite normal).

As I write this, we’re already working on what will go into the show programme for this years show, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and putting the final touches to our advertising campaign. Rehearsals start in early November- by then a final decision what next year’s panto is going to be will have been made, and artwork for it will be being designed.

So when the dark days of January close in around you, and the sparkle of Christmas seems a long way away – just remember, panto is always with us, somewhere…

A Better Woman: Casting news

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In recent weeks we’ve brought you news of The Marlowe’s second home-grown production, A Better Woman, which will run in The Marlowe Studio in December.  This week, our cast has been finalised, so here they are:

The lead role of Tom, who’s looking for love again in his forties, will be played by Ben Porter.

Ben Porter, who will play the lead role of Tom in A Better Woman

Ben Porter, who will play the lead role of Tom in A Better Woman

Ben trained at RADA. He’s worked mainly in the theatre, including appearing in several Alan Ayckbourn plays, directed by Ayckbourn himself at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Ben has also appeared in the West End in The Woman in Black, and has worked with The National Theatre. He’s already familiar with the work of A Better Woman playwright Simon Mendes da Costa, having appeared in the national tour of Simon’s play Losing Louis.

Alexia Traverse-Healy will take the lead female role of Jessica. She’s worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Other cast members include Paul Panting, who has had an extensive stage and TV career. His voice will be familiar to many parents, as he’s provided the voices for characters in the children’s TV series The Octonauts, Chuggington and Bob The Builder.

Paul Foot’s top three things in Canterbury

Paul Foot_pressAhead of the fabulous comedian Paul Foot’s three-night visit here to The Marlowe next week on his RETROSPECTIVE tour (each show to be followed by a special Q&A!) we asked the surreal star to share with us what he likes about Canterbury, based on previous visits.


I mean The Canterbury Tales really are the kind of medieval advertising that money cannot buy. They scream “COME TO CANTERBURY!” – don’t they? Do they start in Canterbury or end in Canterbury? I can’t remember. I’ve never read The Canterbury Tales. I don’t even follow them on Twitter.

I love how half the characters in the Canterbury Tales have jobs that don’t really exist now. Like – the Knight’s Tale! We all know what a knight is, obviously, because they have them in Lego and on telly and stuff, but they don’t really exist. The Miller’s Tale! Hahaha. The Reeve’s Tale! All down the job centre these days. Parsons, Pardoners, you couldn’t make it up!

If you had a modern day version I suppose it would be like The Social Media Manager’s tale! The Online Casino Part Time Administrator’s Tale! The disc jockey’s tale! Somebody should make a play like that. I can’t make it though, I’m busy. I hope it goes well.


Talking of jobs that don’t really exist.. I love that Canterbury has an Archbishop! Archbishop is one word, as it’s like an important bishop. Arch bishop is more niche. Marvellous. No, I’m being rude. I appreciate that the Archbishop probably has plenty to do and loads of emails to respond to, it is after all a TOP JOB! But ultimately, honestly, I think we all know it’s a MASSIVE JOKE! I wouldn’t mind being an Archbishop’s house husband actually. Writing the shopping list. Must buy more candles! Remember to phone the organ tuner! Take the collection plate down to Coinstar in Morrison’s. Half watch Songs of Praise on iPlayer with Chat Roulette open in the other window, and then GET ON THE SHERRY! What a lovely life! World poverty is obviously a problem, but it can wait til Monday love.


My friend told me that Canterbury is the home of psychedelic rock! I don’t even know what normal rock is, but I was once the front man of an imaginary psychedelic rock band called Napalm Violets. We did a pretty big tour, around a lake, by bike. We never got round to writing any songs though, mainly because the other people in the band weren’t real. So imagine my disgust after we broke up and they went on to top the charts with their racy hyper-saxual single “The Cling Film Cardigans Are Coming Off!” I do think it’s quite a cool string to the laypeople of Canterbury’s bow though, that they invented a popular musical genre. That archbishop’s turning in his graves! Putting up the hymn numbers on a Sunday in silence. WHAT A LOSER!