Convinced that acting was the only way to work in theatre at 18 I auditioned for the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and in spite of being told I was too young, and not ready for it yet, I took the place offered to me on the acting course. I was too young and not ready for it yet and spent the first two years in awe of everybody else who was much older and more sophisticated, more talented, much more beautiful, fundamentally better and at least six inches taller than me. I could do funny voices and pretending to have buck teeth but that wasn’t going to get me noticed at the National. By year three I’d managed to master hesitant conversation with others, had some head shots done of an attractive person who looked nothing like me and did a characterful line in elderly ladies. By some stroke of luck I got to play Elizabeth in a final year production of The Crucible and Goody Proctored my way onto an agents’ books.
For a few years I did terrible acting in dreadful productions, replicated overdose induced nausea while clinging to the bottom of toilets in Casualty auditions, was a naked schizophrenic in a short film and a palaeontologist in the great hall in the Natural History Museum. At 23 I played the nurse, naturally, in a production of Romeo and Juliet at The Latchmere (Now Theatre 503) and was so impoverished I lived on a lunchtime mars bar and walked from West Hampstead to Battersea every show day praying someone in the cast would give me a lift back up to North London at the end of the evening. I got my equity card at Farnham Rep playing first an 11 year old evacuee and then a 14 year old Victorian stereotype in a bad wig. I fitted and started my way through a few years of being a professional actor.
It was with some relief that post breaking my foot playing a ‘troubled’ adolescent, I did another line in those, in a production of Stephen Poliakoffs Shout Across The River, I wrote my first play. I bumped into Stephen Poliakoff again a while later, while auditioning for him on a west end stage, he said the theatre was in greater need of playwrights than actors and I really thank him for that advice, he was absolutely right even though it did smart a bit at the time.
That first play, TAKE IT TO THE GREEN LIGHT BARRY was about a middle aged couple in relationship crisis who made it to the final of a TV game show. It was set in the dressing room and the female half of this couple got the question wrong. It did well at the Man In The Moon in Chelsea and was picked up by Sir Alan Ayckbourn at the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough, and played in the studio there with Downton’s Lesley Nicol playing the much abused wife Sandra. A long and really happy association began with the amazing Alan and the Stephen Joseph Theatre, great faith was put in me by the offer of commissions for the main house, and suddenly, out of nowhere, and without any planning at all, I’d become a playwright. At the same time I fell into TV comedy scriptwriting and Geoff Posner commissioned copious amounts of my ramblings, a courier bike used to come round to my digs in St.John’s Wood to pick up ten minutes of material a day. I worked with Malcolm Hebden, then Associate Director at the Stephen Joseph on my plays PENNY BLUE and LET’S PRETEND and he taught more me about comedy and the directing process than anyone else I’ve ever met. LOVE ME SLENDER came next- a comedy about a slimming club which at that time was an original conceit and post the premiere in Scarborough, it enjoyed success at the Orange Tree in London and did a major number one tour to thousand seater theatres across the UK.
Other commissions, companies and plays followed including POOR MRS PEPYS, QUEENS ENGLISH, SWAN SONG, ALL SEA and ON THE COUCH WITH CHRISSIE and I began to work as a director, after watching excellent people direct my work and developing the courage to do it myself, and a playwright in theatres all over the country including, the RSC Swan, Greenwich, Watford Palace, The Lowry, Dukes Lancaster, Cockpit London and have had my work produced internationally. I have a brilliant publisher of many of my plays in Michael Callahan at Josef Weinberger and Samuel French have also done me the honour of a book.
I’ve been lucky to work in rehearsal rooms and theatres, my favourite places to be, with some incredibly talented people, actors and designers and composers and technicians and a fair few great producers, administrators and managers too.
I’ve done lots of other things too and my love affair with theatre has had its ups and downs. Especially when it hasn’t been pulling it’s weight or bringing in enough to pay the rent, which let’s face it, it has a tendency to do. I’ve travelled, Australia and spots in the Far East, trained as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, and taught many long-suffering Korean, Italian, Qatari and Swiss people in language teaching establishments of varying pedigree and legality. I’ve taught and directed new talented actors in drama schools, working with Stanislavskian and Strasbergian method, dissecting text, exploring Laban and approaching Shakespeare and the classics. I’ve produced and edited short films, and I’ve written all kinds of things both journalistically and creatively for various publications, people and causes.
I had an incredible working experience as Artistic Director of Dark Horse, an Arts Council funded theatre company based at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, touring nationally with new work and developing vocational training for actors with learning disabilities following the drama school model. I devised a rehearsal room method, the silent approach, which liberates all actors and offers a new way for learning disabled and non learning disabled actors to work together with parity. Plays I wrote, directed and toured nationally while there include HEAVEN LIVES IN HOLMFIRTH, COLONY, HARVEST, SNAKEBITE, HYPOTHERMIA and SING SOMETHING SIMPLE (2 versions, 2 tours) and I’m particularly proud of an episode of SHAMELESS, produced by Lawrence Till and written by Ian Kershaw, which featured 9 Dark Horse actors in uncompromising roles in front of an audience of 4 million people.
As an independent producer I’ve enjoyed collaborating with RADA, venues and theatre company partners and I hope the Separate Doors project has been a helpful part of bigger conversations around diversity and the representation of learning disabled actors and characters in narrative work which reaches large audiences. I also work across the UK mentoring and associate producing for various theatre companies and individuals.
As a director I regularly deliver master classes in the silent approach, most recently at the Young Vic and National Theatre Studio.
Right now I’m writing a book about my practice, the silent approach and building a future strategy for Separate Doors which is now a community interest company.