Wednesday, 2 June 2010

What to Say to Actors.

I've started some serious work on Tender Souls now and spent the day at Richmond Theatre listening to the interviews that our talented team have recorded over the last few weeks. We've many hours of material to begin to filter, but by doing so a shape begins to emerge. In this sense it's more like sculpting rather than writing. It's useful to be at the theatre during a work day and to get a flavour of how the building operates, particularly when on a matinee afternoon. It also gave me a chance to have a couple of informal meetings with the marketing and box office team about how the show is going to be publicised and sold.

One of the most remarkable interviewees has been the theatre's archivist, ninety one year old, Norman Fenner, who only joined the theatre in the eighties after retiring from a distinguished career as a civil servant. Slowly, over time he's put together the complete catalogue of performances and has managed, through meticulous research, to draw a continual line of all the productions from the theatre's opening in1899 with Ben Greet's production of As You Like It, to last week's Headlong production of Salome - 'Not me... not me at all!'. He still travels once a week from the Fulham house in which he was born - 'not very adventurous I know, but every time I was about to move something cropped up.' - to catch a matinee and have a gossip with the theatre staff. Through him we know that both Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin played as part of Fred Karno's circus before packing off to conquer America. That the theatre played twice nightly through the war and that Sally Greene used to spend over £200 a week on flowers for the dressing rooms when she was in charge in the decadent late eighties.

Norman is the most gentle of men and his interview reflects his personal discretion and modesty as much as the incredible body of work he's bequeathed. He hasn't a bad word to say about anybody and finds it impossible to do anything other than enthuse about and admire the weekly process of preparing the theatre to welcome and support a new production. It's the most charming tape.

'What do you say to the actors if you don't like the performance?' asked Zoe, one of our interviewers.

'Oh. I always say 'there, you've done it again!' ' replied Norman. 'It covers a multitude of sins!'

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