19 May 2020

Mental Health

**Please note this blog post may contain references to suicidal thoughts, self-harm and may be triggering so please don't read if you feel it will set off any of your own thoughts - please visit https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/how-to-access-mental-health-services/ for services that may be able to help**

This week in the UK it's Mental Health Awareness Week hosted by the Mental Health Foundation (please visit their website to read more about the campaign) so I thought now would be a good time to open up and talk about my own mental health and some of my struggles. I know us men are a little less talkative when it comes to our problems and struggles so I hope posting this may inspire others to even just open up a little more.

I guess a little introduction about me if you don't know me is a good place to start. I'm 28, I live in Leicester where I've lived all my life. I had a pretty standard upbringing - went through college, completed my GCSE's, and then left school. I went to Leicester College and studied Computing which I got a BTEC National Diploma from. After that, I started working, I've had a few jobs in my time, Warehouse Operative, Receptionist at a Doctors Surgery and Cast Member at Disney Store.

I think my first encounter with bad mental health came when my friend Lucy and I were assaulted as we walked back to her house. This happened back in 2009 and I guess before then I felt a bit indestructible and then this major event changed everything. Naturally, it was a traumatic thing. It was around 11pm at night as we walked back from my house to hers when we were approached by 3 men who asked for the time and next thing you know we're flat on our backs from being punched. I was dazed and had a broken nose and was bleeding rather heavily.

The whole assault drained my confidence for a time and I'm still very wary about being out at night when it's dark and for a while, I struggled in crowds - especially at football matches (I've had a Leicester City Season Ticket for on and off 22 years). I don't know what happened but just one day I clicked out of the darker place I was in and buried it a bit and kept going on.

Fast forward a few years and when my worst mental health struggles began. It was whilst working at the Doctors that I spiralled. I encountered a couple of aggressive patients - both over the telephone and in-person and I lost my confidence and then I hit rock bottom. This was in late 2016 and well fast forward to now and I'm still fighting things mentally.

I had my lowest times where I self-harmed, something I don't recommend obviously, I scratched at myself with a pair of scissors - thankfully I didn't do any damage but that evening when my now ex-partner came home I was marched to the local walk-in centre where I was assessed. Whilst I've struggled mentally that was the only time I've self-harmed physically.

My darkest moments were when I was suicidal. I haven't really talked about these times - except with healthcare professionals or my therapists but on more than one occasion I planned ways that I could do it. Even from just going out for a walk and walking into the road make it look like an accident or my biggest one was to throw myself the stairs. A few times I stood there at the top of the stairs staring into the void ready for it to end but I couldn't manage to do it. Again it's been a couple of years since these thoughts but at the time I always said it was the fear that held me back. Turns out I was even too weak to do it.

I've always been quite shy and people will know when I was younger I struggled to talk and would no doubt be quite quiet around them but then send them long messages after. I didn't realise until my therapist mentioned social anxiety that it was a problem. That sometimes I struggle to make small talk and get quite anxious about social occasions especially if it's with people I don't know very well. On the other side once I'm confident around you then you'll probably not shut me up which probably doesn't add up but yeah socially I can struggle and I think that's made me quite inwards and pushed friends away. I guess it's hard to maintain friendships when I'm quite reserved and I wish I was better with people. There are people I care so much about but I'm just almost too scared to message for fear of their reaction which I know is stupid.

I've had quite a bit of treatment for my mental health. Like I've mentioned I've had a full course of CBT and a lot of support from my doctor. The one thing I struggled with was medication. I have been on various things that tried to help. Some made me completely zonked out and sleeping all the time, some just did nothing (although in hindsight I think my GP changed them too soon), and one made me a whole lot worse and put me into a constant mode of heightened anxiety and feeling like I just didn't want to live. Since those last ones I've not had any more and the GP and I decided I'm better without the meds.

The one constant through all my struggles with battling against anxiety and depression has been theatre. Theatre has been my escape and my happy place for all my life. I've been going to the theatre since I was young and more so in the last few years. Last years I decided after doing a previous review website to make it more official and then I launched Beyond the Curtain. The last year has been so enjoyable covering shows at Curve, Haymarket Theatre, De Montfort Hall, Royal and Derngate and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Theatre just gives me a place to escape the real world but it doesn't always shut out all those darker thoughts but it certainly gives me hope for a couple of hours. During my darkest period, it was Half A Sixpence that quite literally helped me get back on the right track. I remember seeing it for the first time and just feeling the biggest joy in my soul. I was utterly transfixed by the whole production and went back a further 4 times. Charlie Stemp's Arthur Kipps was just a marvel. The way he glided effortlessly. The whole company including the likes of Devon-Elise Johnson, Emma Williams and Ian Bartholomew were stunning. I even wrote the cast letters thanking them for helping me mentally with their great work.

Another show that transformed things for me was, some of you won't be surprised to hear this, Amelie. The show felt like almost going through therapy. The power of the journey of these characters which were brought to life by the most talented company of actor-musicians. The show gave me a feeling like no other show has ever given me. I'm so grateful to the friends I made through the show too and the experiences I got to have with them. I'm so excited for the UK cast recording to come next month - although I'm guessing it might be quite triggering as I do miss the show daily.

Having this time during this lockdown has challenged my mental health quite badly. My 2020 had started fairly positively after a sad end to 2019 where my Granny passed away on Christmas Eve but yeah 2020 was going quite well and I'd just typically started a new job which is now on hold (although I'm hoping it's still there for me to go back to once everything returns to normal). Now this lockdown has left put me a step backwards with things. I have a mix of good days where I feel great and then I can just wake up feeling deflated and unmotivated. Last week I started a course of online therapy (as I naturally can't see my therapist at the minute in person) and hopefully that'll help me going forwards during this uncertain time and beyond.

On the positives during this time I've maybe been a little more connected with people, making phone calls (although less so recently - and I'm still waiting for someone to ring me rather than the other way around!), I've done Bingo and quizzes with my wonderful pal Emmie (you should check out her site Carpie Diem Emmie because she's magnificent) and even hosted three weeks of quizzing myself on a Monday evening.

I've struggled a little to keep on top of the theatre content that's been pumped out there. I've watched a few of the online productions (One Man, Two Guvnors, Treasure Island, Wise Children, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet to name a few) and I've really enjoyed those and I'm going to try to keep up a little more where I can. Naturally, without live theatre, there's a bit of a void for my blog too but I hopefully filled that a little with my Isolation Interview series of which there's currently 33 on the site. I hope people have enjoyed reading those - I may have some more coming soon.

But yeah, I hope that's given you a little insight into my mind and my struggles and battles. I hope it maybe can inspire others to open up too. It's important to talk. My door is always open, you can always message me on either my Beyond the Curtain accounts or my own personal ones. There are also brilliant services available that can help, from the Samaritans to charities like Mind (Please see the link at the top of the page).

Please look after yourselves and each other. Sending you all my best wishes and thank you for reading.

15 May 2020

Isolation Interviews: Charlotte Arrowsmith

Coming up next on my Isolation Interview series I have brilliant actress Charlotte Arrowsmith. Charlotte was recently past of the 2019 Royal Shakespeare Company productions of As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew which played in Stratford-Upon-Avon, in London and on tour. Her previous credits include Troilus and Cressida (Royal Shakespeare Company), Moonbird (Handprint Theatre), Midsummer Night's Dream and Love's Labour's Lost (Shakespeare Globe/Deafinitely Theatre) and Great Odds (Mac Arcadian). Charlotte is also an emerging theatre director who is keen to make theatre accessible to all. Personally having seen Charlotte in roles at the RSC, I must say she's a tremendous actress and an inspiration.

Q - What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - Ooh! I can't remember the FIRST but I remember the first time I saw street performances in Covent garden when I was about 5/6 years old (as I was in a show at the unicorn theatre for a children's festival) and idolised what I was observing around me. It was a world of performing heaven for little me!

Q -  What inspired you to get into theatre?
A - It was when I was on stage/watching others at the Unicorn theatre when I first got the taste for it, and the performing bug stayed with me forever long. Also watching Deaf presenters performing sign songs on the telly, encouraged me to do the same and more!

- Who during your career has had the biggest impact on you?
A - I have to say more recently Ricky Gervais has taught me a lot about performances when I observe his craft and his writing – it has encouraged me to look inside myself and see how I can make my craft more genuine, more real to the world outside of the industry. Watching and observing people around me, and how it's about the little things, the characteristics, the beauty of individuality that I can bring to a character. Also the one and only Brian Duffy, an actor who has spectacular VV/BSL/Sign skills and the ability to bring a character right to the core for us all to see inside out. He really is a movie star in the making, and I am frustrated as he is yet to star in a Hollywood movie. Everyone needs to see his work and see the beauty he brings to his craft. He inspires me always and I just love his work, his humbleness and kindness are glorious.

- What are your favourite plays/musicals (you can pick up to 5)
A - Lion King, STOMP, Gyspy, 4.48 Psychosis (Deafinitely Theatre’s version), Frankenstein (with Benedict Cumberbatch as Monster).

- What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
A - Stay true to yourself and always be nice/helpful/kind to others on your way up, for you may need them on your way down.

- If you could tell your younger self something, what would you tell them?
A - ‘Never give up. You’re a hard worker, you will thrive, you will achieve. Believe and prosper – it will happen because hard work pays off. Believe me, look at me, I am you.’

- If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - Shakespeare – to show him how BSL/VV is the visual side of poetry and how similar his mind works in this language.
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm – To discuss ‘Emilia’ and get into a conversation with Shakespeare himself and how we could make more plays to combine equality, the languages of BSL and the spoken word of the hearing people.
Brian Duffy – to help me combine their ideas, thoughts, discussions into making NEW modern-day writing for the future of theatre and translate it into the art of BSL and vision of Deaf culture. All over a nice 3-course meal, and drinks galore!

- You were part of the recent Royal Shakespeare Company 2019-20 season, in Stratford-Upon-Avon and on Tour, having roles in As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew. How was the experience of working on those productions?
A - It was epic! Working with the RSC has been an eye-opener, a highlight of my career by far and long may it continue. Working on Troilus and Cressida with Greg Doran was a learning curve as I learnt so much during line read-throughs, rehearsals and his directions. It was like an educational journey into the world of Shakespeare. Being selected for the 19/20 season was another highlight as it proved to me how I had learnt, how I had evolved and became a stronger actor for the journey was about breaking barriers in bringing 2 cultures and languages together. Plentiful of challenges and many difficulties in finding a middle ground when often the 2 cultures clash. It showed me that I had elements of being a strong communicator of both, as I am deaf (from a hearing family), I can speak and use BSL but I live in the world where I try to adhere to the way the hearing society are and face daily barriers for the majority show their ignorance. However working with the RSC, they have been open to my ideas, my suggestions, and taken my advice in how to combine the cultures into the plays, into the characters and their relationships as we best we could. Its a continued learning curve and may there be more collaborated work in future!

- During the run of Shrew, you became the first deaf actor to understudy for a speaking part when you played the role of Vincentia. How much of a challenge was that for you and the company at short notice?
A - It was exciting albeit scary too! As you know, we don’t often have much time to rehearse understudy roles, and definitely not with the main cast either. So it had its own set of challenges because the rest of them needed the time to adjust and understand what I would bring to the role as a signer and for them to communicate back to me in the way the character would understand but more importantly for me the actor to understand lines/visual cues and so forth so that I’m just as confident as the others on stage. I think, if I remember correctly, we had half a day to go over the scenes with the main characters and made sure everyone felt safe enough to perform it as best we could. We pulled it off, and the cast were superb in making it all work with me. Such a team! Goes to show, anything is possible – more of the same methinks! We did it again several times in Nottingham, and I loved it!

Charlotte as Vincentia in the RSC's The Taming of the Shrew. Photo by Ikin Yum Photography

- How important do you think it is for theatres to continue to strengthen what they offer in terms of accessibility?
A - I think its extremely paramount that theatres must provide all kinds of accessibility. The unfortunate truth is, it is not a law to make this happen which is why it slips through the net so readily. It is pushed aside as ‘non-important’ because of such ignorance or lack of awareness. It's not only just the ‘abled’ in this world, there are others that are just as passionate, if not more, about theatre and so its about inclusion for all. It's about human right and we all deserve this. This goes for the industry too, there’s plenty of actors that differ from the norm and it's about accepting more real-life characters into the fantasy of so called ‘perfection’ that perhaps one may imagine in order to escape. It should be about believability and diversity and realism of all to make true theatre.

- Away from the theatre what are your favourite hobbies?
A - Walking in the countryside and the beach with my dog Oscar! Watching the sunset, being calm. Listening to music, reading and watching films to relax and kickback. Travelling and going on holidays, exploring cultures and way of life in different countries. Meeting friends for coffee and cake in cafe hot spots! Going to see my family in Yorkshire…. All of this and more, but during this lockdown sadly it's all on hold. (Apart from walkies with Oscar, phew!)

- Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I was a re-bounder in Basketball for the Deaf Great Britain team and we went to the Deaflympics in Rome back in 2000. I still enjoy basketball, I’m just not as good as I used to be! I enjoy watching it and playing it for fun! The new Netflix series ‘The Last Dance’ is what I’m watching these days! Bulls rock!

I'd like to thank Charlotte for her time and for taking part in this interview. Please follow Charlotte over on Twitter https://twitter.com/Charlottetigger and support her future ventures. She's an extremely talented and inspiring person.

8 May 2020

Isolation Interviews: Louise (LouReviews)

In this edition of the Isolation Interviews, I spoke to Louise from LouReviews (https://loureviews.blog).

Q - What was the first show that you remember seeing?
A - It was the Grange Arts Centre in Oldham (my home town) and a musical about maths. I can remember a song which went 'its binary, oh yes its called binary, can't you see, the answer is binary". I went with primary school so this would have been 1979-1980. A more conventional show was at the Oldham Coliseum and it was Our Gracie, a drama about Gracie Fields, a local star, starring Polly Hemingway. First large touring show was Charlie Girl in 1987, with Dora Bryan, Mark Wynter and Nicholas Parsons. Cyd Charisse did the London run but by Manchester when I saw it her role was played by Kathryn Evans.

Q - What inspired you to get into blogging about theatre?
A - I used to write poems and one or two in the early 90s were about shows. By then I was spending a week each year watching shows at the RSC in Stratford and doing a couple of London trips each year, always West End. I started my theatre blogging in 2011 on LiveJournal but moved to Wordpress in 2012. Eventually, I joined in with the London Theatre Bloggers but time was limited to get involved as much as I would like. In 2018 I gave up my 25-year career and decided to put all my energies into the blog proper which was relaunched with a new domain name as loureviews.blog. I had gained a few PR contacts and was able to build on that, which enabled me to see a few more shows than would be financially possible on my own. Of course, the 2-year plan I had in mind for the blog's development and identity has now been scuppered somewhat with the current closures but I keep going - check out my Lockdown series of reviews of digital content and interviews with theatre professionals!  It's.important for my mental wellbeing to blog on something that I enjoy and I value the connections I have made, especially in fringe theatre which was something of a mystery to me, but l which I recognised was something I needed to support. I still plan to support festivals across London when things get back up and running. I also wanted to do some videos and podcasts for my YouTube channel but that's been pushed back a bit. Currently, as well as the blog I am most active on Twitter (@loureviewsblog), Instagram (/loureviews.blog) and Facebook (loureviews). I also review films but that's mainly on a third-party platform called Letterboxd.

Q - Whose performances/productions have had the biggest impact on you?
A - I tend to remember small aspects of productions. Richard Armitage in The Crucible at the Old Vic was astounding, although the play always is. Sian Phillips singing Where Have All The Flowers Gone as Marlene Dietrich in Marlene at the Oldham Coliseum made me cry. Kathryn Hunter as Mother Courage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse was an incredible performance. Faith Brown as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard: an emotional powerhouse of a performance. David Troughton in Henry IV:2 in Stratford; usually the attention is on Prince Hal but here when the old King died in the Jerusalem Chamber it was such an engrossing and devastating piece of acting. Antony Sher and Wendell Pierce in different productions of Death of a Salesman. Helen McCrory at the NT in Medea, wailing at the self-induced loss of her children. In dance, Michael Clark (so beautiful and graceful) in O at the RNCM and Jonathan Ollivier with Northern Ballet Theatre as a sexy and terrifying Heathcliff. Ian McKellen as Iago in the RSC's Othello in the late 80s. Roy Barraclough in a dual role as brother and sister in A Different Way Home.

Q - What is your favourite musical movie?
A - West Side Story (1961). I know the principals are dubbed, but it is a textbook example of how to open out stage to screen, the score is sublime and the dance sequences are superb. Plus it is hands down the best musical of a Shakespeare play, it's early Sondheim and he has already found his lyrical feet, and it has a tearjerking ending which gets me every time. My mum introduced it to me, and I introduced it to my husband, and we all have the same reaction. My favourite routines in it are America and Cool. 

Q - What are your favourite show tunes? (You can up to 5 songs)
A - This is really hard! People Will Say We're in Love from Oklahoma. Endgame from Chess. Every Day a Little Death from A Little Night Music. Bui-Doi from Miss Saigon. The Greatest Star of All from Sunset Boulevard.

Q - What have been your favourite productions across the years?
A - Musicals - Les Mis, for a long time, although I haven't seen it on stage for years. I like how JCS changes and develops with each version; the Open Air Theatre version at the Barbican last year was superb. Hair is another show which grows with each revival. And Aspects of Love, which often gets lost in the ALW shuffle, but it has a sublime score and a clever plot. Plays - Shopping and Fucking made an impact on me way back.  Three versions of The Crucible (WYP, Old Vic (Richard Armitage), The Yard (Caoilfhionn Dunne)) which were all superb. And as a piece of pure spectacle, Carnival Messiah, with its steel drum Hallelujah Chorus.

Q - What are your favourite theatres to visit?
A - Another hard question! I love them all but my favourites to go to are the National, Soho, Above the Stag, King's Head, Omnibus, Young Vic, Union, Arcola and my locals - Questors, Chiswick Chiswick Playhouse, Lyric Hammersmith, Riverside Studios, and Waterman's. Out of London, I love the West Yorkshire Playhouse (now Leeds Playhouse), the Grand in Leeds, the Crucible in Sheffield, the Coliseum in Oldham (where I saw my first Sondheims) and the Octagon in Bolton.

Q - Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - Film and archive TV - I write on both (you can find chapters of mine in the books Playboys, Spies and Private Eyes and 'Tis Magic: Our Memories of Catweazle. I love squirrels and birds, and right now have been doing a lot of watching of both. Also, I'm into my politics as a socialist activist but that becomes ever more frustrating.

Q - Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I collect stuffed animals (the toy kind, not taxidermy). Currently, share the house with 340 of them. They're great company for me and the other half while we're in lockdown.

I'd like to thank Louise for her time for taking part in this interview. You can visit her website https://loureviews.blog/ and follow her on Twitter www.twitter.com/loureviewsblog

6 May 2020

Isolation Interviews: Matthew Churcher

Next up on my Isolation Interviews series is actor and musician Matthew Churcher. Matthew's stage credits include Wolves in the Walls (Little Angel), Pippi Longstocking (Royal and Derngate), Peter Pan (National Theatre), White Teeth (Kiln Theatre) and War Horse (National Theatre). He is also part of the band Citadel. Visit https://www.matthewchurcher.com/ to learn more about Matthew.

Q - What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - I can’t accurately recall the first, but the first that I remember feeling blown away by was Jesus Christ Superstar at the De Montfort Hall. I hadn’t heard people sing like that before and it remains one of my favourite musicals. Also, Blood Brothers (maybe in Birmingham?) that knocked my little socks off too.

Q - What inspired you to get into theatre?
A - I’d always loved Theatre & Music growing up and life was taking me down the avenue of music as my full time occupation. It wasn’t until A-Level Theatre Studies and discovering companies like Complicite, Frantic Assembly and DV8 that made me seriously consider theatre as a possibility. I was incredibly excited by the prospect of creating work, so changed tack and move away from music.

Q - Who during your career has had the biggest impact on you?
A - All of my Tutors at Drama School have had a profound impact on my life. I’ve also learnt so much from everyone I’ve come across since leaving, every member in a company has something they can teach you either directly or indirectly. So it’s hard to narrow down. The entire cast of White Teeth at the Kiln theatre were incredible (as well as the team at the theatre) and they had a big impact on my life, especially surrounding a difficult personal time. They all hold a special place in my heart.

Q - What is your favourite musical movie?
A - LaLa Land is up there. I’m a Jazz musician as well as an actor, so it ticked all of my boxes. I think the Mia and Sebastian main theme is a simple & beautiful motif.
Also, Ray with Jamie Foxx. Stunning film and acting masterclass.

Q - What are your favourite show tunes? (You can pick up to 5 songs)
A - Breathe, from In the Heights. I’m a sucker for Latin music, give me a cowbell and a trumpet in a song and I’m yours! You really go on that journey with Nina and feel her turmoil as she wrestles with expectation and reality.
Also, Heaven on their Minds - Jesus Christ Superstar, Seeing You - Groundhog Day and all of West Side Story come up frequently on my playlists.

Q - If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them?
A - Get out of your own way. So to that end, start meditating earlier. And if meditation isn’t your bag, then learn to accept yourself and dissolve your judgement via other means. This time, while we’re all in isolation is a great test of that - most of us aren’t accustomed to sitting with ourselves, our thoughts and learning to accept them, let them pass. It's a huge challenge and one worth wrestling with.

Q - If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - Simon McBurney from Complicite would be there, he’d ask some provoking questions.
Robert LePage, he a McBurney could spar with one another and I would politely watch in awe, not adding much to the conversation.
And obviously Phoebe Waller-Bridge, we’d make and drink all the cocktails and make silly jokes.

Q - If you were to write an autobiography of your life so far what would you call it?
A - Am I doing it right? I think this is right? Oh god, its not right is it?

Q - If you could play any of your previous roles again, who would you choose to play?
A - Tough. Every role has provided its own set of unique challenges and joys, but if I had to choose I’d say George Wilson in the Immersive ‘Great Gatsby’ in Mold, Wales. As an actor you were constantly in a scene, there was never a moment to stop and think and the landscape was constantly changing. That level of intensity taught me a lot.

Q - You were part of Royal and Derngate's production of Pippi Longstocking over Christmas time last year. How much of a fun show was that to be part of? (It looked great from the audience!)
A - Pippi was SO much fun. The Cast, Creatives and Crew were all so wonderful to be around. Genuinely, I have never been part of such an easy process - I felt very calm and relaxed from start to finish and I think that ultimately falls down to the care, planning and attention of our two directors Helena Middleton & Jesse Jones.
I also enjoyed wearing the snazzy shorts everyday, that Katie Sykes had designed so brilliantly.

Matthew with Emily-Mae Walker and Philippa Hogg in
Pippi Longstocking. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Q - 
Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - Drumming and more drumming, love it. Buying overpriced coffee and not feeling bad about it because it brings me joy. Drinking Rum. Swimming in the sea. Or a lake. Or a big puddle. I like outdoor swims.

Q - Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - No. It’s a secret.

I'd like to thank Matthew for his time and for taking part. If you'd like to learn more about Matthew's career please visit his website https://www.matthewchurcher.com/. You can also follow Matthew on Twitter https://twitter.com/M_Churcher

1 May 2020

Isolation Interviews: Rachel Dawson

Next up on my Isolation Interviews series, I have Rachel Dawson. Rachel is an actress and musician. She recently appeared in Amelie on it's UK tour and run at The Other Palace in London. Her previous credits include Once (Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch/New Wolsey Theatre), A Little Night Music (Watermill Theatre), A Christmas Carol (Northern Stage) and The Snow Queen (New Vic Theatre).

Q - What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - I remember seeing 'The Hunting of the Snark' in the West End - I must have been about four or five. My mum is a violinist and was playing in the pit. It was such an exciting spectacle and I was totally transported into the world. Unfortunately, the show was a bit of a flop and didn't run for long, but for a five-year-old, it was a memorable experience!

Q - What inspired you to get into theatre?
A - My family are all very musical, so I grew up surrounded by the arts. My Dad is a singer and spent his early career touring the works of Benjamin Britten with English Music Theatre Company. He set up a children's choir when I was young and put on annual musicals in the Easter holidays. That was my introduction into the world of theatre, and I loved it. I then kept it up at school, and as much as the cello was a big focus for me, I never felt like I could choose one over the other. Thankfully I discovered the world of actor-musicians!

Q - Who during your career has had the biggest impact on you?
A - Obviously, my parents have had a massive impact on me. Aside from them, one person that springs to mind is Sarah Travis. Sarah is so phenomenally talented as an MD/Orchestrator and an all-round legend in the actor muso world. My first time properly working with her was on A Little Night Music at the Watermill, one of my all-time favourite jobs. It is so wonderful to sit down with a new cast and start looking through the music, and for the arrangements to be so rich and clever. She has such a knack for using the actor-musician to their fullest potential and staying faithful to the original score. You have to work on your feet when rehearsing an actor-musician show, especially with a score that is as intricate as Sondheim. There are so many hurdles; the dancing, the moving of props, instrument porterage; the many complex logistics of having a cast of people doing it ALL. Sarah is never fazed by these things, and watching how she re-orchestrates on the hoof is extraordinarily impressive.

Q - What is your favourite musical movie?
A - West Side Story has to be up there, from the score to the choreography and all-round ingenuity. My guilty pleasure has to be Moulin Rouge.

Q - What are your favourite show tunes?
A - 'Somewhere'- West Side Story. The recent concert version by The John Wilson Orchestra at the proms in 2018 was incredibly special.
'My Lord and Master'- The King and I.
'Not a day goes by'- Merrily We Roll Along. Hard to choose just one Sondheim!
'As long as he needs me'- Oliver! Such happy memories from this production at The Watermill in 2015.
'Shadowland' - The Lion King. My week's work experience on this show when I was fifteen confirmed my desire to work in theatre.

The list could go on!

Q - If you could revive any show from the past what would you choose to revive?
A - I think it would have to be the John Doyle's 'Sweeney Todd' that originated at The Watermill and went on to have a life on both the West End and Broadway. I'm gutted I never saw it, and would love to play Mrs Lovett.

London Road is one of my favourite theatrical experiences, so I would love it to have another life.

Q -  If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them?
A - I'm not sure I would to be honest. When I was a teenager I vividly remember someone telling me that I could be whatever I wanted to be; that was incredibly freeing at that age. I think you have to look back at your choices with confidence and know that they all lead you to the here and now.

Q - If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why?
A - Bette Midler, Angela Lansbury and Judi Dench. I mean- can you even imagine how incredible that night would be? And the wealth of stories you'd hear!

Q - If you could play any of your previous roles again, who would you choose to play?
A - When I was training I played Gussie in Merrily We Roll Along. It is one of my favourite memories of those years. I'd love the chance to be in that show professionally; to revisit it with the added life experience.

Q - You recently completed the UK Tour/Other Palace run of the wonderful production of Amelie. How was the experience?
A - It was emotional! In the beginning, it felt very challenging as we had a short rehearsal process. Then once the show was up and running at The Watermill, we reworked it entirely for the tour. It pushed us all, but I have very happy memories from The Watermill, bonding over what seemed like an almost impossible task at times. However, it was rewarded by incredible reactions from audiences; at The Watermill, on tour and finally at The Other Palace, which was a real gift at the end of all the hard work. The way the story touched people, and made connections, was always very humbling. I love theatre and storytelling as it unites people; it makes the world feel less vast and less lonely, giving comfort and strength. Amelie is a brilliant example of these things, and was so important to so many people, myself included.

Rachel (second from the right) and the cast of Amelie. Photo by Pamela Raith.

Q -  Is it a harder experience working on an actor-muso or is that a challenge you thrive on as you get to combine two skills you're great at?
A - I love actor muso work. It of course involves lots of memorising, multitasking and can at times feel overwhelming. However, when all the elements come together and you manage to waltz, whilst playing the cello and singing a totally different harmony, it feels incredibly satisfying. This to me is why the ensemble feeling amongst an actor muso company is like no other.

Q -  Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies?
A - I love yoga, swimming, getting lost in a really good book, and cooking/eating lovely food!

Q - Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you?
A - I live by the seaside which is absolutely my favourite thing.

I'd like to thank Rachel for her time and for taking part in this interview. If you'd like to follow her you can via her Twitter https://twitter.com/rachelfdawson

Isolation Interviews: Damian Patton

Next up on my Isolation Interviews series, I have the superb Damian Patton. Damian is the son of Brian, who performed alongside his brother Jimmy in the double act the Patton Brothers. Damian is a comedian and entertainer.

Q - What was the first piece of theatre that you remember seeing?
A - I remember travelling to see my Dad (Brian Patton) in Pantomime. It wasn’t Christmas in my family without travelling to see a pantomime. The set, the lights the sound- as a young child it was a truly magical experience from the moment I walked into the theatre to going backstage after the show. I believe the show was Aladdin at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley with Gloria Hunniford, Carmen Silvera, The Patton Brothers and Christopher Biggins.
Q - What inspired you to get into theatre? – A - Watching my Dad from a young age inspired me to get into theatre, you can make a living by making people laugh and having a great time in the process?!? What more could you ask for! As soon as I left sixth form, I went into my first pantomime at the ‘Bolton Albert Halls’ and have not looked back since. I grew up wanting to be on the stage and it was a dream for me throughout school (apart from one term where I thought I wanted to be a chef… but the less said about that the better!) I got to fulfil my dream by appearing alongside my Dad and Uncle in my first professional show back in 2007. Watching ‘The Patton Brothers’ work is one of my earliest memories and getting to work alongside them was Fantastic.

Damian Patton

Q - Who during your career has had the biggest impact on you? – A - I know I keep talking about my dad but it’s because he really is my inspiration. So much so he was even the best man at my wedding! If he didn’t do what he did and do it so well god knows what I would have become. Even if I had still become a performer I don’t think I would have been very good, as I learnt a lot of my craft from him.
Q - What are your favourite pieces of theatre? – A - My favourite pieces of theatre are visual pieces and those that revolve around comedy/slapstick. One of my favourites has to be ‘The Play that goes wrong’ and other works by ‘Mischief Theatre’. They are so cleverly written and the execution of visual comedy is second to none.
Q - If you could revive any show from the past what would you choose to revive? – A - The original ‘Sunday night at the Palladium’. It was a groundbreaking show with variety at its heart. I find the variety shows nowadays are mostly singers, bands and stand-ups. Whereas variety truly was the star on Sunday night- Tap, slapstick, an eclectic variety of musicians, comedy routines - it had it all! Q - If you could tell your younger self something what would you tell them? – A - Hi, I have a time machine and here are the lottery numbers for this week! Q - If you could have dinner with 3 theatre-related guests (doesn't have to just be performers). Who would you invite and why? – A - Hugh Jackman- I find all his films great to watch and think he’s an incredible, versatile actor. Plus, he seems to be one of the nicest guys in the business. Lee Evans- I am not into stand-up comedy much but Lee mixes his act amazingly with physicality. You might not initially laugh at the joke itself, but you can’t help but laugh by the way he moves and the expressions he pulls. Michael BublĂ©- Another genuinely nice guy in interviews, great songs and brilliant personality. To sit and chat to these three would be great fun …But what would we eat? Q - If you were to write an autobiography of your life so far what would you call it? – A - ‘It’s not over yet’
Q - Why do you think pantomime remains popular? – A - Pantomime is entertainment for all ages; comedy, slapstick, songs and dances as well as the fairytale element. If someone in the family doesn’t like one part, they are sure to like another. It truly is the best form of entertainment as there is something for everyone.

Q - What is your favourite pantomime role? – A - My favourite role is that of a comic, be it, comedy henchman, Oddjob, Muddles or Wishy-Washy. I don’t think I can pick just one character but any comedy sidekick where I receive a laugh for falling over or getting covered in shaving foam is good for me!

Q - How are you finding this lockdown? A - Being an entertainer, we are used to having weeks off at a time in ‘quiet months’ so it is not a big change. The strangest thing was not working over Easter and half term! It’s been nice to be at home with no travelling/staying away. I think you have to find the positives. There is nothing we can do about the situation so I find there is no point in worrying about it; we just have to take it day by day.

Q - What are you doing to keep busy? – A - I make daily videos to keep myself busy and fulfil the need to entertain. I put them on my social media platforms and hopefully bring a smile to some people’s faces. There are now over 40 videos all revolving around the idea of an ‘Entertainer working from home during lockdown.’ Make sure you take a look if you want a chuckle during these long days! Q - Away from the theatre what are your other favourite hobbies? – A - I enjoy watching films; animation, action, comedies. In particular, I’m a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and like to collect the odd piece connected to it. I recently received a Marvel Cinematic Universe Monopoly set! When I finish watching a film I also always delve into the extra features to see how the adventure began for the team in front and behind the camera. Away from films I also play badminton once or twice a week, although not at the moment as the leisure entre is of course closed. Oh, and I’m a pretty good bread maker! Q - Can you tell us something we wouldn't know about you? A - Something you may not know about me is that my stage name (Patton) is not my real name. My surname is in fact ‘Elliott’, just like ‘The Patton Brothers’ and ‘The Chuckle Brothers’ all stage names with the real surname ‘Elliott’. I am in fact the 3rd Generation of ‘Patton’ - My grandad ‘Gene Patton’ was a whistler, my Dad and other uncle Jimmy Patton were ‘The Patton Brothers’ and now myself ‘Damian Patton’.
Q - Growing up with your Dad, Brian Patton, and around the Chuckle Brothers. Did that have an impact on your career? A - They have all definitely shaped my career. Growing up I watched and learnt from them exactly how to do certain routines and jokes, their presence in my life initiated my love for the art of slapstick, be that taking a custard pie to the face or falling over on cue. I find a lot of people don’t like to get messy nowadays due to cleaning up afterwards or because they have a mic on that they may have to be careful of, but it never bothers me. When it comes to slosh gags I’m very much ‘the more the merrier!’ Q - What is it about entertaining children and families that you love the most? A - Hearing the joy you’ve imparted within someone when they are belly laughing whilst watching you, this is why entertainers travel three hours for a one-off gig and back again. There is no better feeling.
If you would like to see any of my crazy antics or daily Lockdown videos head over to my social media. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… or just down the street! @DamianPatton57 or for Facebook

I'd like to thank Damian for his time in taking part in this great interview. Please visit and follow him from the links above.
© Beyond the Curtain. Design by soleilflare.