17 April 2020

Isolation Interviews: Alan Magor

Next up on the Isolation Interviews series, I have actor Alan Magor. Alan's credits include The Mousetrap on tour and in London, Gothrella, Holding Baby and Racing Demon.

Q - What was the first piece of theatre you remember seeing?
A - My family used to have a traditional Pantomime visit every Christmas - mostly trips to Newcastle and occasionally Sunderland. My education started there, I think. We saw everyone from The Chuckle Brothers to Hunter from 'Gladiators'!

In terms of a professional "straight" theatre piece, I think it was the RSC's production of 'Macbeth' with Greg Doran in the lead. I knew by then I wanted to be an actor, but for a young lad from the North East, just being at the RSC and seeing the calibre of the talent and the productions really gave me goosebumps at the thought.

Q - What inspired you to get into theatre?
A - Honestly, it was as simple as my first Drama class at secondary school. I couldn't (and still can't!) sing to save my life, so I never had opportunities in the nativity or similar at primary school. Going to secondary school and being offered the opportunity to act in classes was something quite wonderful.
The first time I knew I wanted to be an actor was when I started doing summer schools at the Birmingham School of Acting (now the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire - Acting). The opportunity to work on drama every day for 2 weeks made Drama School seem like the most wonderful place in the whole world!

It was there I met Jeni Hatton - a lecturer and practitioner at the school at the time - who gave me the encouragement and self-belief to think I could do it. She, in turn, introduced me to the late David Vann - whose influence is still profound around the school today. I now sit on the Initial Audition Panels at the RBC, and his name is given to the Reference Library in the Staff Room as many of his books grace the shelves. It was Jeni and David who really influenced me. Without either, I wouldn't have had the opportunity, training, or belief to become an actor. David was still influencing me and preparing me for auditions in his hospital bed up until a week before he died. I think about him every time I open a new show.


Q - Who during your career has had the biggest impact on you?
A - There's several people - it would be remiss of me to leave any of them out! Michael Wicherek at Box Clever Theatre gave me my first professional job out of Drama School, and hired me for many of the company's tours thereafter - work which allowed me to earn and learn to hone my craft working on some great scripts with wonderful directors.
Karen Henson and the late Adrian Lloyd-James at Tabs Productions offered me my first work in Number One theatre venues - first on David Mamet's 'A Life in the Theatre' then as a member of the Weekly Rep company for the 2014 Colin McIntyre Classic Thriller Season. Those jobs opened many doors to me, and brought some friends for life with them.
There's my lovely friend - now using her incredible talent as an Associate Producer at the Oldham Coliseum - Antonia Beck. I worked with Antonia on projects when she first started out as a producer, and she has always offered me some exciting and interesting opportunities on her way to where she is today. She's one of the loveliest people you'll ever meet in this industry!
Finally, Artistic Director of 'The Mousetrap' - Denise Silvey. Denise has always been very good to me, and cast me for my West End debut as well as two tours in India, so I owe her a great debt of gratitude for the opportunities she's given me. She's also one of the kindest and most supportive people, so it's always reassuring to know she's got your back.

Q - What are your favourite pieces of theatre:
A - Oh God... This is hard! And I can only pick 5!? In no particular order...

Emilia (Morgan Lloyd Malcolm)
A play which proves that gender blind casting isn't just a gimmick, and certainly doesn't compromise artistic quality. As an ensemble performance, it was simply breath-taking. Any play which celebrates the power of womanhood on such a profound way deserves all the plaudits it's received and many, many more.

Parade (Jason Robert Brown)
The musical which made me fall in love with Musical Theatre. As a kid, I used to think it was all “Tits & Teeth" - but discovering JRB changed all that. It's beautifully formed, emotionally raw and so, so powerful. JRB incorporates such complexity into his music - little moments instigating changes of thought, emotional journey, character energy. The accompaniments themselves are beautifully dramatic. Add the vast array of complex characters you find in 'Parade' and it's a match made in Heaven.

Anna Karenina (Helen Edmundson)
I was lucky enough to play Stiva in a production of this at Drama School. It was originally a production by Shared Experience, so it's a stunning classic tale told with Physical Theatre elements, and there's something profoundly beautiful and theatrical in that. I'm a sucker for a classic novel, and Edmundson's adaptation of the Tolstoy is stunning. It's in-keeping with the original, but suitably dramatic and takes artistic license at times, which adds theatricality to the complex character work which is already there.

Henry IV, Part I (William Shakespeare)
There's a quite classical theme to all my favourites so far...! David Vann nurtured my love for Shakespeare. He made it very accessible and just 'human.' I love the History plays because they mix the richness of Shakespeare Verse and language with the sheer drama and scope of stories we're all at least semi-aware of. As a lad from the North East, the role of Hotspur has always been a dream - but I also love the character arch of Hal from the Henry IV plays going into Henry V. The sense of growth, maturity and constant state of learning is something which takes my breath away every time.

Brief Encounter (Emma Rice)
Emma Rice is arguably the most exciting and innovative theatre maker in Britain today. Her projects are multi-dimensional artistically and emotionally, and the core aspect of storytelling is stunning to see. I've loved the original film of 'Brief Encounter' for a long time, but, as with Anna Karenina, the Kneehigh production heightens the elements which makes the original so beautiful by adding in elements of Physical Theatre, live music, playful storytelling and breath-taking, yet simple, technical aspects and soundscapes. It's quite frankly all that is good about theatre. Emma's work makes me fall in love with theatre afresh every single time.

Q - What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
A - I mentioned David Vann earlier. To bring it all back to basics, he once told me "Acting is Reacting." Which is so simple. But when you break it all down, that's exactly the core element that every part of our performances comes down to. Physically, emotionally, cerebrally. You've always got to listen, react, and respond.

More recently, my dear friend and immensely talented colleague Dru Stephenson gave me some very sage advise. Like many actors, I sometimes have a crisis of confidence, or have that sense of 'Imposter Syndrome' - constantly feeling like you're going to be found out and it'll all disappear in a matter of second. None more so that when I started on the West End alongside far more established talents. She said to me "They obviously want you. They've offered you the role. They like your work, they believe you can do it. You deserve to be here." It's something I profoundly remember and have to remind myself quite often.

Q - If you could tell your younger self something, what would you tell them?
A - It would probably be the words that Dru said above. And also that rejection is okay, and that other equally wonderful opportunities will arise when you least expect them. And to around yourself with good, supportive friends and keep them there, because they're the people who're going to get you through this industry.

Q - If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests, who would you invite and why?
A - Firstly, Mark Shenton. During his work at The Stage he has seen and experienced so much theatre, so we'd never be at a loss for conversation! I also greatly admire Mark for his work regarding Mental Health Awareness in the industry, and for being so candid about his own experiences with that. Conversations like that are critically important in an industry with the challenges and uncertainties we face.

Secondly, Lizzie Berrington or Polly Kemp from the ERA 50:50 campaign; Equal Representation for Actresses. I'll let them decide who gets to come - or introduce a +1 policy! I'm a strong advocate for their campaign, and I so admire the dedication and sheer tirelessness of their work in fighting the gender imbalance in our industry. Again, they'd start some vastly important conversations.

Finally, my good friend - the actor Sarah Whitlock. Just because she's comedy gold! Our weekly Video Calls have kept me sane during lockdown!

Q - You were part of the London cast of The Mousetrap last year; how was it working on such an iconic production?
A - I'd understudied the role on the UK Tour in 2014, so I knew the play well. But the opportunity to play Detective Sergeant Trotter - and to do so on the St. Martin's stage - was incredible. It's just something extraordinary - knowing the history of the production, how long it's run, the names associated with it. It's difficult to fathom that you're the next in a long line of names now associated with this piece of theatre history...

Ian Talbot - our director - was wonderful to work with. He was always very supportive and constructive.

It's a year ago tomorrow - writing this on April 14th - since our opening night. In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago... But I still remember the tingling sensation during curtain call, and the rather sweaty, beaming selfie I took in my dressing room afterwards!

Alan as Detective Sgt Trotter in The Mousetrap.

Q - During my research for this interview I found Gothrella on your CV, and it sounded like a really interesting concept. Can you tell me more about the project?
A - Gothrella was one of the most enriching projects I've worked on. The concept of it - to incorporate British Sign Language and voiced interpretation directly into the action of a play - was something extremely challenging, but very rewarding to develop. Paul Miller - the playwright - is a Deaf man who writes and illustrates books for D/deaf Children which incorporate BSL, and he had the idea to take it to the stage with a gothic retelling of the Cinderella story, with the central character being a young Deaf girl.

Even now I speak only a small amount of conversational BSL. But having 3 weeks in Newcastle and a week in London immersed in the Research & Development for the projects, and working at close quarters with Paul, gave me a real admiration and deeper understanding of the D/deaf community and the challenges it faces. It was eye-opening. And, artistically, possibly the project I'm most proud of being involved in to date.

The premise of it has now been explored on professional stages, but Paul's plays which incorporate it as an intrinsic, vital part of the action are something quite different, and very exciting. The scale of the entire 'Gothrella' script is quite something, but I still hold hope that one day it will be funded for a full professional production.

Q - Away from the theatre, what are your favourite hobbies?
A - I love to cook - and I cook a lot. I especially like to cook for people I care about; it's often how I show my love and care for them.

I enjoy most creative things - music, art, literature. I'm a sucker for history and museums too. Walking, hiking - I've also travelled a lot and love experiencing other cultures. I'm definitely more about experiences and adventures than I am about 'things.' I've never really been a collector of anything other than scripts and novels!

Q - Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I was a teenage parent! That's always a shock to most people. My daughter is 16 now, so when she comes to see me perform, other company members get quite a shock! Her mother and I met when we were 14 & 15 and we were together for 17 years. We still work on sharing a strong family bond, and we've had many adventures together over some quite interesting formative years for all of us. When she was born, we were also living on a canal boat for a time... So there's another detail most people don't know!

I'd like to thank Alan for his time and his great responses to my questions. You can follow Alan on Twitter https://twitter.com/alan_magor

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