School plays notwithstanding, I began my amateur stage career at the age of 16 with open air Shakespeare at Gawsworth Hall in Cheshire, on behalf of the Wilmslow Green Room. I played a servant by the name of Rugby in The Merry Wives of Windsor. An inauspicious start, but it led to many more productions in many locations, depending on where I happened to be at the time.
As a serious hobby, I started acting again in 2003, having finished MBA studies, courtesy of the Hoddesdon Players. The Players perform at Broxbourne Civic Hall, a stage famously bigger than the Palladium, and put on excellent productions twice a year. These days will be best remembered for farces such as Out of Order and Moon Over Buffalo, and thrillers – particularly Agatha Christies such as The Unexpected Guest and Murder on the Nile, not to mention a string of revues.
The latter (such as Nuts in May) were always a scream to take part in, demonstrating the swan theory: from the audience perspective all looked smooth and well-organised, while backstage chaos reigned as actors struggled with quick changes before bounding back on for their next song or comedy sketch. The songs alone were memorable, and proved that I could sing after all, thanks to the musical director, the excellent Terry Hawes, who made me sing an octave lower and therefore more in my comfort zone! Some of Terry’s songs were well-known tunes, often Gilbert & Sullivan melodies and pieces by the likes of Bizet and Verdi with rewritten words, though he also wrote some of his own. They were often hell on wheels to learn, since you often had to fit 10 syllables into a space barely big enough for half that number. The words were challenging to learn (notably a classic called The Family Curse), but it was about the best fun I ever had!! 🙂
For the Players I did many crazy things, not least have ladders dropped on me, fall over backwards, get attacked by swords, get bound by ropes, threaten people with guns (on several occasions), have a sash window drop on my head, stab an actor to death (being careful not to hurt his back in the process), and most famously of all, appear briefly naked on stage before audiences of 300 (the audience got a back view, but backstage crew got a full frontal!!)
I also made guest appearances for other companies, most happily playing Gerald Croft in An Inspector Calls, a role in which I wore a black wig that had my kids in stitches – they thought it looked like a large rodent!! Lots of emoting to do, hampered only by the fact that the production was staged in a church with appalling acoustics. Projection was not enough – you had to bawl to be heard at the back :).
Also there I made my directorial debut with an evening of one-act plays: Harold Pinter’s A Kind Of Alaska, and a rom-com called Scuba Lessons. This was great fun but hard work, and the cast of AKOA included the stage debut of Jean in the very difficult role of Deborah, having woken up from 27 years in a coma. I had to sack one member of the SL cast since he did not turn up to rehearsals, but in the end stepped into the breach and acted the romantic hero. A funny and entertaining play too!
Upon leaving Broxbourne and reaching Chelmsford, I joined the Phoenix group. There I was plunged straight into the excellent role of Phil in Caught on the Hop (see 2009 blogs), followed by cracking parts in Stopprd’s 15 minute Hamlet and Chekhov’s The Celebration. I then directed Harvey, which was a joy and a pleasure, such that my house is still filled with Harvey memorabilia! Since then I have appeared in Murder By The Book, playing the odious and verbose Selwyn Piper.
During 2010-11 I took a break from the Phoenix by performing with the Writtle Cards. Having recently appeared in Ayckbourn’s Comic Potential in four cameo roles (android doctor, android farmer, rich & bored man in boutique, and lastly pimp!), I appeared in the Victorian potboiler East Lynne, in which I played the dull-but-worthy lawyer & husband, whose wife leaves him for the cad, with tragic consequences!
Now enjoying a break from all acting to recharge my batteries, with the possibility of further productions in 2012, not least a joint production between the two companies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Watch this space!