Meet the dancers

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Next week, Northern Ballet will be paying us their annual much-anticipated visit. This year, they will be performing a stunning version of Prokofiev’s Romeo And Juliet. We caught up with two of the dancer who perform those title roles, to find out more about the production.


Giuliano Contadini (Romeo)

Romeo And Juliet
premièred in 2015 – what does it feel like returning to Romeo after a year away?
It feels really good, I really enjoyed it the first time and it’s really exciting to come back to it. Last year I felt like I was still finding Romeo, but this time he’s already there, so now it’s just about building on that to make the role even more my own. As an Italian, it’s always been a dream of mine to play Romeo. When you discover the world of ballet and all of the old classics, Romeo And Juliet is a very famous and important ballet – especially for us Italians. So this is definitely a dream come true.

This is a very stylish, minimalist production. Does this affect how you can tell the story?
Because the set and design is very minimalist, there’s more room to express the feelings and emotions in the choreography. I’m a very expressive person and very emotionally driven in my performances, and I always try to make sure the audience can really feel it, which is what this particular production is all about. For me it’s been very easy to adapt, because the emotions are very natural and real, and there’s lots of space to just dance.

Why do you think that the story of Romeo And Juliet has remained so popular for so long?I think everybody loves a tragedy. Happy endings are nice, but sometimes you just want to see a tragedy that really pulls on your heart strings so that you leave the theatre feeling really moved. Romeo And Juliet is just so powerful in that sense. For me as a ballet dancer that’s the most important thing. I want the audience to feel something, but I also need to feel something when I’m performing, otherwise the job’s not worth it. It’s not all about technique and executing the steps – it’s about living and feeling on stage, and that’s what I try to do every time.

Could you describe a typical day on tour?
We always start with a ballet class to get ready for rehearsals in the afternoon. Rehearsals can be up to three hours, and we could be rehearsing the same ballet we’re performing that day or a completely different ballet – it’s never too easy! You have to compartmentalise in your brain to be able to switch to a certain character and time period, and then in the evening be fully back in Verona as Romeo. We do so many productions a year that I’m used to it now – especially after being with Northern Ballet for 10 years.
Dreda Blow (Juliet)

Romeo And Juliet is such a classic – it’s one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, has been adapted for the screen and stage, and is a well-established ballet. How does this version differ to other versions?
In this version of Romeo And Juliet, the story is completely told through the movement and the music. The set is very stark, very simple, quite contemporary looking, and there are not a lot of props which leaves more room for the dance to tell the story.

Juliet isn’t the young, naïve, sweet and gentle girl as we often imagine her character to be. She is more like a rebellious teenager – she’s feisty, she’s got guts, and she’s not a weak character at all. That was the challenge for me when we first performed Romeo And Juliet (in 2015) – to take all of the things I thought I knew about Juliet out of my head. She is still lovely and of course she really loves Romeo, all the romance is there, but it’s cheekier, it’s more playful, and she challenges him – she’s more of an equal. It’s not just him sweeping her off her feet!

What are you most looking forward to about returning to the role of Juliet?
I feel like now I understand the physicality of the role better, and I have more confidence in playing her. So I can play a little bit more with the rebelliousness and the feisty side of her character.

How does Prokofiev’s traditional score sit with the modern feel of the production?Prokofiev’s music is just the most incredible score, and it tells the entire story in itself. There’s just so much depth to that music that I think whether you’re dancing in a really classical way or a more contemporary way it doesn’t matter: it’s still Romeo And Juliet!

What would you say to people who have never seen ballet before but who might be interested in Romeo And Juliet?
I think whether you’ve seen lots of dance before or none at all, because it’s such a famous story and most people know the plot, you can just sit back and enjoy the characterisation, the musicality and the beautiful movement that Jean-Christophe has created – and hopefully enjoy the way that we perform Romeo And Juliet too.

Romeo And Juliet: Tuesday 20 to Saturday 24 September. Book here.

 

Relative humour

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Robert Powell in Relatively Speaking ©Nobby Clark

 Robert Powell is playing Phillip in a new production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking, with us in few weeks.


How would you sum up your character in Relatively Speaking?
He’s married to Sheila [Liza Goddard] but spends most of his week in London and goes home for long weekends. He’s a businessman who travels a lot and he’s having an affair – or he was. The play is all about the complications that ensue when things get found out. It’s the usual story of farce – it’s about people misunderstanding who other people are. The inter-relationship between all four characters in the play is chaotic.

What do you most relish about playing him?
It’s funny. It’s as simple as that really. It’s always nice to have a part that’s funny. The last thing I did there weren’t many jokes in it so it’s quite nice to get back to straight comedy.

Can you relate to the character in any way?
No, not really. Acting doesn’t work like that. Everything relates to you because it’s you. Everything you play is you turned through a few degrees so it’s always going to be you and you use bits of yourself all the time. That’s how acting works, so he would find things relating to me rather than the other way around. The very fact he’s me means I relate to him because he’s my version of the character, who has been played many times before by other actors.

You and Liza Goddard have worked together many times. What do you most enjoy about that collaboration?
We’ve known each other a long time and we get on very well. That always helps. And we have similar interests so if you’re going to tour with somebody it’s always nice to do so with somebody you can go to museums with – someone who enjoys doing that, going to museums and art galleries. Otherwise touring can be a very lonely way to earn a living.

The play was Alan Ayckbourn’s first national hit in 1967. Can you recall when you first encountered it?
I saw it with Michael Hordern and that first cast but I can’t remember if I saw it in the theatre – which is quite possible because Alan was a pretty close friend and has been for a long time – or when it was televised. I’d like to think I saw the stage version and I think I probably did.

Why do you think it has endured for so long?
Because it’s about truth. All Alan’s plays are about relationships and he doesn’t cheat, so everybody recognises the characters in them because we all know one of them or we are one of them. They’re totally recognisable as being real people but this is hardly surprising because certainly in the early days Alan used to put all his friends in his plays. He didn’t call them by their names but he used the experiences of his close mates, quit mercilessly as many writers do. His friends were his source material.

What do you feel sets him apart as a playwright?
I think there are two elements. He writes terribly well for women, which is extraordinary. There are not many male playwrights who are as adept as he is at writing roles for women. At the risk of getting contradicted I think he writes better for women than he does for men. And the second thing is that his plays are very truthful. They don’t cheat. They’re based in truth and it’s a five-letter word that, particularly because of his background in theatre in the round and mine too because that’s where I started, is underlined and in bold and italics. It’s the absolute essence of all theatre, particularly if you’re working in such close proximity when you’re doing theatre in the round. If it isn’t truthful it doesn’t work, it’s as simple as that – and it’s amazing how many playwrights, famous and not so famous, are very clever and you can admire their work but they’re not honest, they’re not truthful. I think that’s what separates Alan from many others. His work is always truthful.

How tricky is it to get farce right on stage?
It’s very difficult to learn farces, that’s for sure. They’re complex and there’s an awful lot of dialogue where people only use one or two words so there’s a lot of “I see”, “Yes”, “Is it?”. It’s about trying to remember all that and where it comes. With Ayckbourn it’s not about learning lines, it’s about learning your cues.

Do you have any pre- or post- show routines?
Pre-show it’s dietary more than anything else, making sure that without any actual volume in the food there’s plenty of protein there for energy. And post-show? That’s dead simple: it’s a beer.

Relatively Speaking: Tuesday 27 September to Saturday 1 October. Book here.

Meet Lee Mead

'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' Tour

This week we’ve had the pleasure of having Lee Mead in our theatre, taking on the role of Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a role he’s clearly loving. We caught up with him to talk flying cars and fatherhood.


Caractcus is a role that Lee has been waiting to play for a long time: “I actually auditioned for the original production at the Palladium, when I was 19, when Michael Ball was playing the role. I auditioned to be his second cover, but one of the things about being a cover for a lead role is usually they need  the cover to be in the dance ensemble, and I’m not really a dancer. I wasn’t the strongest dancer then – and I’m still not now – so I didn’t get the job. So, for me to be able to play the part in my own right, fifteen years on, it’s a huge thing for me.”

“The call came in from my agent with the offer last September, and it didn’t take me long to say yes. It’s a great family show, a really iconic show. It’s got great music and great songs and great characters to it and it’s got real heart to it, a real soul. Obviously the wow factor is the flying car, that’s such an important part of the show, but for me the main feature of the show is this guy with two kids and that story, and the relationship he has with them, and I can really relate to that, being a dad myself now.”

Fatherhood is clearly a massive part of Lee’s life. He describes five- year- old Betsy as his ‘top priority’ in life, and she crops up a lot in his conversation. Betsy  lives in Kent with her mother, Lee’s ex-wife, TV presenter Denise Van Outen. Betsy saw the film of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the first time last year, replicating a bit of a Mead family tradition, as Lee remembers watching it “every year” as a child.

The part of Caractacus, the inventor (and single dad) who builds the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car, was one Lee couldn’t resist, despite having made other plans: “Sometimes roles come up at a point in your life where I believe they’re meant to happen, and this was one of them. I’ve been filming Casualty in Cardiff for a few years now, and before the offer for Chitty came up, I’d decided to take a year off, and go home and do the school runs and although I’ve got my album coming out [Some Enchanted Evening, his fourth album, released in February], and concerts for that, I’d planned to have a quieter year this year. But then this offer came in, and it just felt right. And it’s not too long a tour, so I’m not away from my daughter for too long.”

Lee came to performing relatively late: growing up in Southend, Essex (where he’s just bought a new home) he “wanted to be a footballer, but I was terrible!” He did his first show aged 17, having joined a local amateur group, “mainly to meet girls.”

When he did decide on a career as a performer, Lee had to work his way up: “I got my first job on a P&O car ferry, as a singer, on about £150 a week. I had a tiny cabin, and I used to clean my own costumes after the show. I wanted to go to RADA, but if you’re a working-class lad from Southend, ten grand a year just for the fees isn’t possible. My dad just laughed when I told him how much it would cost. Most people come away from that with sixty grands worth of debt. So I started at the bottom and did it the hard way.”

Lee had worked his way into minor roles in the West End when in 2007 a TV show called Any Dream Will Do catapulted him to public notice.  The show was a contest to find a star for a new West End production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Joseph – a contest that Lee won: “I still have fond memories of it. Everyday I feel lucky that I had that break, that opportunity. I was working for over five years, in choruses and so on, and then fortunately I got my break. And it really helped my career and put me on a platform, and gave me that profile, to show what I can do. I’ve been really lucky that since that show I’ve got to do lots of things that I perhaps wouldn’t have had the chance to do without that kind of exposure. My talent didn’t change, but being on telly and having that profile has brought me opportunities.”

 

A day in the life of… Joe Janman, Box Office Supervisor

 

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How long have you been working at The Marlowe Theatre?
Coming up to two and a half years.

What does a typical day for you look like?
It varies, according to what’s going on. Between us as a supervisory team we divide our time between The Marlowe Lab, answering the phones, and the front desk in the main building. If there’s a show on, it’s often very busy with customers trying to come and get last minute tickets, collect their tickets and other things, on a day without a show, it’s generally quite quiet on the desk, but there’s always stuff going on, and phones to pick up, as well as all the admin that we do – all the banking, cashing up and just monitoring sales and responding to emails.

Did you choose to work in theatre or was it just co-incidence?
My degree is in English Literature, and I studied an awful lot of plays and drama as part of that, but where I’ve worked previously has all been in customer service and then this came up, and was a fantastic opportunity to put both backgrounds and experience together.

What are your first memories of theatre?
It was at the old Marlowe. I think it either The Hobbit or The Lord Of The Rings, something like that, I don’t remember an awful lot of it, I was very young, I just remember being in a theatre. Aside from that, pantomime.

What is the best part of your job?
I enjoy talking to customers, and sharing an interest with them. You’ll get people who just want to book their tickets, and you’ll have a five minute conversation with them, but you get customers who have really interesting insight into things, and it’s fun to chat to them and work out what they like, and get them excited about what’s coming up. One of the other things is that a lot of our customers do come in with specific needs, and I get a lot of job satisfaction out of being able to provide them with that service. Especially when that’s children’s performances and you’ve got children with disabilities, or learning difficulties, and getting them into something and meeting their needs, so they can enjoy it, I think that’s probably the best part.

And what frustrates you about the job?
I think with any customer service role, it’s difficult when things go wrong. We do try our best, and we do what we can within the parameters we have, there are times when that’s never going to be enough, and you can never please everybody all the time.

What would you say has been your proudest moment since working at The Marlowe?
Inevitably, things are going to happen, stuff’s going to go wrong, shows are going to have to be cancelled, or technology is going to fail you, because it does at times, and the proudest moments for me are when you deal with that.

Favourite productions you’ve seen at The Marlowe?
The shows that I would see over and over again, despite the fact that I know what’s going to happen would be The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong. They are the first pieces of theatre that I’ve seen that really made me go “Wow!”. When you leave somewhere and your sides actually hurt from laughing. How you can make something looks like it’s going so wrong, but be in complete and utter control, and know exactly what’s happening, is art, it’s such a talent.

Outside of work I…
I’m a musician, and my faith plays a lot into that, so I normally lead worship at my church. I would say I pick up my guitar at least once a day, and do something, whether that’s just playing, or writing something new. I love watching sport, and taking part in sport.

Back with a bang

'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' Tour

The Chitty car as it appears in the show

 

When Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flies into The Marlowe this summer, she’ll be winging her way home. We take a look at the Canterbury connections of the famous car.


If you’ve ever walked down St Radigund’s Street in central Canterbury, you may have noticed a blue plaque on the disused building next to The Dolphin pub. It says: “Count Louis Zborowski constructed two Chitty Chitty Bang Bang racing cars here in the former Bligh Brothers Coachworks 1921-1922″.

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Count Zborowski was the son of a Polish count and a wealthy American mother, Margaret Astor Carey. He inherited his fortune – and Higham Park, a large country house just outside Canterbury – from her aged just 16, his father having already died in a motor racing accident. Despite this, Louis followed in his footsteps.

He and his engineer designed a series of cars, known as Chitty Bang Bang 1-4 (The extra ‘Chitty’ was added by Ian Fleming when he wrote the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang novel), constructed around aeroplane engines. The ‘Chitty Bang Bang’ name is said to have come from the noise made by these engines (although an alternative theory suggests it comes from a rude saying amongst soldiers during the First World War). The noise of these massive engines was so loud that Canterbury City Council reportedly considered passing a by-law to ban then from being driven within the city.

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Zborowski died aged just 29, in a car crash while racing at Monza in Italy – driving a Mercedes, not one of his own cars. But the story of Chitty didn’t end there, thanks to Ian Fleming.

It’s thought a young Fleming may actually have seen Zborowski racing the first of the Chitty cars at the Brooklands circuit in Surrey. Certainly, he knew Zborowski’s estate at Higham Park, which eventually passed into the hands of Walter Whigham, the business partner of Fleming’s grandfather Robert.

The novel Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was written in 1961, when Fleming was recovering from a heart attack. The dedication read: “To the memory of the original Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, built in 1920 by Count Zborowksi on his estate near Canterbury.”

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Wednesday 24 August to Saturday 3 September. Book here.

 

Present Laughter: Phyllis Logan

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Phyllis Logan as Monica Reed with Samuel West as Garry Essendine in Present Laughter. Photo by Nobby Clark.

Noël Coward’s sparkling semi-autobiographical comedy Present Laughter will be joining us later this month. We speak to one of its stars, Phyllis Logan, who’s probably best known for her role as Mrs Hughes in Downton Abbey. Here, she’s playing Monica, the long-suffering secretary to actor Garry Essendine (Samuel West).


How would you sum up the character of Monica Reed in Present Laughter?
She’s a long-standing and long-suffering secretary to Garry Essendine, who is being played by Samuel West. She’s got a fairly ready wit and is quite acerbic so she’s a good foil for him with his shenanigans and his egomania.

Have you performed in the play before?
No, I haven’t. I have done a Noël Coward before but that was about 100 years ago in rep when I was far too young to be in Fallen Angels but, even though I was still only in my 20s and ought to have been older, we made a fairly decent fist of it I would say.

And have you worked with Samuel West before?
No I haven’t so it’s really lovely getting to work with him. The only person in the cast I’ve worked with before is Zoe Boyle [Joanna], who played Lavinia on Downton Abbey.

What are the joys for you as an actress when it comes to Noël Coward’s sublime writing?
He’s just a master of his art and it’s great to churn out those fantastic words and swan about in beautiful costumes. It’s a bit scary, mind you, getting back to the theatre. It’s been a long time since I’ve done it.

Why do you think Coward’s work in general, and this play which was written in 1939 and premiered in 1942 in particular, has endured?
I suppose good writing always perseveres, doesn’t it? It’s a very witty play and people love going back in time. My husband [Kevin McNally] has being doing a lot of remakes of Tony Hancock scripts for the radio and he’s just done one for TV. They were written in the 50s and they’re still as fresh and as funny and as relevant today. I think the same applies to Noël Coward. He’s very fresh and very witty and he’s got all these great characters and it’s lovely to reintroduce them to the modern-day public.

What is it about the era in which the play is set that appeals to people?
Well, even though it was written in 1939, there was no mention made of the world-shattering events of that time. They were completely ignored but of course the play isn’t a social comment on the world. It’s a bit like P.G. Wodehouse. Coward has created his own world peopled with all these eccentric characters and people seem to crave simpler times. It wasn’t that simple then, certainly not in 1939, but prior to that in the 30s I suppose to some degree it was more straightforward and simpler. People like to hark back to that.

Are there any big challenges for you in doing this play?
Just being back in the theatre is a challenge in itself, as is touring. I don’t know when I last did that. [Laughs] I’m getting too old for this malarkey. It’s been decades since I did a touring production.

How is it returning to the stage after doing six series as Mrs Hughes on Downton Abbey?It’s so nice to do something that’s really quite different and I’m pleased about that, not that I resent Mrs Hughes at all. She served me very well, but it’s nice to move on to something else.

Monica is a secretary. Have you ever done the job for real or do you think you could?
Funnily enough I did shorthand and typing at school for one of my O-levels. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do with it, but once upon a time I could have played a proper secretary doing Pitman shorthand but of course I’ve forgotten all that now.

What’s the one thing you have to have on tour with you? Decent teabags maybe?
I haven’t thought about that yet as it’s been so long since I did it. It’s a bit like Desert Island Discs and I don’t know what my luxury is going to be. Finding good teabags generally applies when you’re in America but I think I’ll manage to source a decent teabag in Bath. But I definitely need my mobile phone and my little laptop so I can Skype with my husband.

Do you have any pre- and post-show rituals?
I don’t know about rituals but I like to get in in plenty of time in case the make-up goes pear-shaped and they have to start all over again. And after a show? Oh, it’s just a huge sigh of relief and a large glass of Gavi di Gavi.

What sort of reaction do you get from fans when they bump into you?
A lot of people still think of me as Lady Jane in Lovejoy and they say “We just loved you in Lovejoy” but of course I’m recognised for Downton Abbey too. I get letters from all over the world – from China, Australia, all over the States – from all the Downton fans.

You’ve had such a long and varied career. What have been the highlights?
I must say doing Lovejoy was great. We laughed like drains for the whole however many years it was. It’s the same with Downton Abbey. It sounds like an old cliché but we did become a bit of a family with the crew as well as the cast and it was a joy to go to work every day. It’s six years of your life and that’s quite a substantial percentage of one’s working life. Then there are things like Secrets & Lies with Mike Leigh. That was phenomenal because I’d never done a Mike Leigh film before and it was such an extraordinary working process that it was certainly a highlight. And also back in the early days when you didn’t know where your career was headed, just to be doing theatre and little tours and maybe picking up a telly job here and there – those were more innocent days. Those were the days before mobile phones when you actually wrote letters to one another, some of which I came across recently. We used to write endless letters. [Laughs] I don’t know where we found the time but we used to write screeds of letters to each other. I’ve got many a fond memory and I feel very fortunate to have so many good memories and positive feelings about the whole business. 

And are there any jobs you’d rather forget?
[Laughs] There probably are but I’m not going to tell you that!

Stacked!: The Writers’ Tales

 

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To whet your appetite for this year’s community production, Stacked! we’re talking to some of those involved in the production. In the spirit of The Canterbury Tales, the production is made up of several stories, told – appropriately – by a group of people stuck in The Canterbury Tales pub (for the uninitiated, that’s the one just across the road from our theatre). The tales were written by members of our writers workshops. Here, a few of them discuss the inspiration behind their tale.


Barbara Woodhams: The Nun’s Tale.

“In the original Canterbury Tales, Chaucer wrote about a Prioress called Eglantine who was the head nun of a convent. She spoke French and ran a boarding school.

I chose this story because when my mum was at school she was chosen to read the part of Eglantine, and also because I enjoy writing parts for children.

It’s about two nuns from a convent school in Paris who are smuggling a group of immigrant children from the Calais camp. By pretending they were a school group, they had managed to get the last ferry out of Calais and are making their way to their sister convent in Thanet. They arrive at the Canterbury Tales after following a boy from their group who has run off.

The nuns ask to stay overnight and the landlord reluctantly agrees. Some of the customers are hostile at first, but change their minds after the children tell their stories.

I support a charity in London which is run by nuns. As well as being kind and compassionate they are down-to-earth and humorous. I hope my story will do them justice!”

Sally Allen: The Alien’s Tale

“When our writing class were invited to contribute towards the community production, Stacked!, it felt like a great opportunity but also a big responsibility.

I thought about who could represent the ultimate immigrant and eventually came up with the idea of an alien.

The first draft I submitted was far more adult led and Andy later asked if it could be tailored more towards the younger actors and to include more children. That proved to be great news for me as writing for children is fantastic – there’s nothing they won’t say, no need for subtlety and tact, it was game on.

My favourite character is John, ‘the wild one’ who ironically has a non speaking part. He came about naturally but I later realised it could provide the perfect part for a shy beginner.

Overall, it was great fun creating these characters and I hope the little aliens come across as ordinary kids, with extraordinary lives.”

Ribs Norman: The Widow’s Tale

“My contribution to Stacked! is based on The Wife Of Bath’s Tale. I chose to put a modern twist on The Wife Of Bath, the most interesting of Chaucer’s female characters. Knowing that she had multiple husbands, I thought it would be fun to change her into a murderous femme-fatale. I first tried a parody of Seven Ways To Leave Your Lover before settling on a cabaret number along the lines of He Had It Coming from Chicago. The end result was the lyrics to a five-verse song and pretty vague stage directions for a composer and choreographer to work their magic on. I’m really looking forward to seeing the end result and how it fits into the narrative framework that Andrew Dawson has created.”

Stacked!: Wednesday 13 & Thursday 14 July. Book here.