Being involved in a theatre production has its trepidations. These are perfectly natural, and quite frankly, as an actor, I find they add to the excitement and theatre’s appeal. I’m quite a cautious cat at heart, so that “flying by the seat of your pants” rush that working in theatre offers, really is quite a treat. Like a roller-coaster, without my feet dangling over doughnut stands and the parent-shaped specks waving below. Poisoner’s has been no different. As my first show with Stuff of Dreams, I’m keen to make a positive impression, and fortunately I’m greeted in return with both the familiar face of my director, Cordelia – whom I had previously worked with as a student at UEA – and those of my lovely new castmates, Kiara and Jo. We quickly get to work, and from Day One of rehearsals, the text is on its feet and the buoyant tones of the Norfolk dialect ring in my ears.
We are all aware of the production unfolding in front of us. For me, it’s a totally new venture, with new characters waiting to be explored, songs and dances to learn… I must find my foothold, and unearth the pathway into this established production. Remembering Jamie (Elizabeth/Hannah Spring 2015) fondly from my first year at university – her being one of the *intimidatingly talented and cool* Third Years, I am only too aware of the size of the boots I am to fill. It has at least been *a little* gratifying to know that I am not alone in navigating this new landscape. With an updated edit of the script, new songs from the company’s house maestro, Tim Lane, and the transition of the staging from end-on to in-the-round (*apologies for those confused by my theatre-speak), my fellow castmates and company members have been presented with their own challenges – just to keep all things bubbling and fresh!
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of being a part of this particular tour is that we have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to perform in the very spot where Kat and Fanny were tried – and Elizabeth testified – all those years ago: the Guildhall in Norwich. As soon as Cordelia and I arrived there for a visit in the first week of rehearsals, I knew I was to be a part of something really special. From the outside, it resembles a castle’s battlements or a church – if you ask me, quite apt for a Hall of Justice… The room itself is, of course, awesome, with its wood-paneling, stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling, I am immediately transported back to 1835. Then, right in front us, there it is. The cage. The defendants’ holding cell and platform where they had protested their innocence, and where they were sentenced to death. It’s a sobering thought, and I am confronted with the dark reminder that these women had once lived. My own pre-show nerves pale in comparison to the fear they must have felt standing in that box.
In our production, we have music hall inspired songs and tongue-in-cheek choreography for our realization of their final days. We may allow ourselves and our audience time for sombre reflection by the play’s close, but it has not been without offering jovial relief through-out. Unable to ever truly know how Kat or Fanny would have felt about our version, I’d like to think that they would have appreciated our reproduction. After all, for all their own anticipation and trepidation, at least their ghosts have a chance to see themselves go out kicking – or box-stepping, if you will.