RSC Open Stages: Meet the cast – Leonie

Ahead of our production of The Herbal Bed, we’ve asked our cast and crew to tell everyone a bit about themselves; you can read the first blog here. Next up under the spotlight: Leonie.

The Herbal Bed cast picture

Leonie Thompson as Susanna Hall

Your name: Leonie Thompson

You are playing: Susanna Hall (née Shakespeare)

Sum up your character in a tweet

A strong woman: mother, daughter, wife & lover. She is intelligent & manipulative; passionate & loving; shrewd & determined.

How similar are you to your character?

Very similar in some ways but hugely different in others.

What’s been the biggest challenge about taking on this role?

Learning my lines.

What do you enjoy about acting?

The escapism from everyday life and the challenge of becoming another character. I also really enjoy the teamwork involved in putting on a production, working with some great people and knowing that I am continually learning and, hopefully, improving.

What’s your favourite part that you’ve ever played?

Well, this is only my third part since acting at school (a long time ago!) but I did enjoy playing the part of Angela in Abigail’s Party – that was great fun!

What’s your dream role?

Any part acting opposite George Clooney!

How have you found being part of the Open Stages project?

It has been an amazing experience! The weekend of workshops in September was an incredible learning experience and it was a privilege to be directed by James Farrell from the RSC in a recent rehearsal…particularly as he was so constructive and positive.

Why should people come and see The Herbal Bed?

I think that this production is totally unique. Colette has shared the knowledge she has gained from the Open Stages project in her direction of this play and the cast have all worked exceptionally hard to ensure that we will all give our very best performances. Acting outside and in St Lawrence Church will add other challenges and very interesting dimensions to the play and the involvement of the community contributes to the innovative nature of this production. I think that people will really enjoy the whole experience!

You can see Leonie – and the rest of the cast – in  The Herbal Bed from 21-25 April in the grounds of St Lawrence Church, Abbots Langley (covered seating provided), as well as inside the church.

To book online, go to www.abbotslangleyplayers.ticketsource.co.uk or call the Box Office on 0844 804 5354.

In addition, on Saturday 25 April from 2pm to 4pm, ALP are holding a “community showcase” for local groups and societies to present themselves to our community – please come along and see what our village has to offer. If you’d like to take part in the community showcase, email abbotsplayers@gmail.com.

RSC Open Stages: London, A to (almost) Z

Being part of the Open Stages project has given us the opportunity to meet a variety of amateur groups – and it’s been fascinating to see the wildly varying differences in how am-dram societies operate. However, what’s been clear throughout is that the love and respect that we all have for the theatrical arts is something we all share, regardless of how we put on our plays.

We thought we’d share with you some of the plays we’ve been fortunate enough to get out and see, so you can get a sense of the range of the Open Stages project, as well as the impressive innovation on show throughout.

So here, from A to (almost) Z, are all the Open Stages productions we’ve been lucky enough to experience over the last year and a bit.

  • Alexandra Players, performing We Happy Few

It seems strange to kick this off with a play we didn’t get to see, but Jackie and Keith Hartley from the Alexandra Players have been a couple of our very favourite people that we’ve met through Open Stages, so we’re giving them an honorary mention – especially as we’d meant to go up, but had to cancel last minute. We Happy Few, by Imogen Stubbs, is about a group of women who form a theatre company during the Second World War, and decide to tour Shakespeare’s Henry V around the country. Unlike most of the other groups (especially the ones doing original Shakespearean plays…), Alexandra benefitted from having a live author to talk to – and we learned (with some envy!) that Jackie had been in correspondence with Imogen Stubbs about their production. Out of all of the groups, Alexandra’s trials, tribulations and triumphs of putting on a successful production seemed to chime with our own experiences the most.

  • The Alternatives, performing Lear

This modern take on King Lear, set in the 1930s, saw King Lear, the fool, Kent and Edgar played by and as women, along with the three daughters retaining their female sex. Hence, King Lear becomes just Lear. The timeshift to an era of social change, where the cracks are beginning to show and the chaos and madness of war is waiting in the wings, proved relevant to the context of the play, as well as a modern audience. The Alternatives clearly portrayed the play’s central theme of Lear’s journey from power, to chaos, to redemption. It was fascinating to discover that their director, Julie Weston, lives in Edinburgh, but once every four weeks travels down to London where the cast and crew work intensively over the whole weekend, for four or five months. They gave a very high-standard performance, and we saw some lovely 1930s frocks: what more could you ask for?

  • Dulwich Players, performing The Comedy of Errors

Although we didn’t get to see this first time around, the Dulwich Players took their production up to the Dell in Stratford-upon-Avon and we decided to take a trip up to see them Shakespeare Country – it was a perfect excuse for us to visit Hall’s Croft, the setting for our very own production. Armed with posh fizzy beverages and strawberries and cream, we settled ourselves in for the outdoor production; a stripped-back version of Shakespeare’s tale, which used a sparse set – not to mention the interaction possibilities with the audience – to great effect, and to delightfully comedic ends.

  • Lindley Players, performing Arden of Faversham

Peter Bressington, the director of Lindley Players’ production, described this as “Tarantino on speed” – and who are we to disagree?! This Jacobean tragedy was brought up to date and set in a Guy Ritchie-esque Cockney gangster’s house – and the timeshift worked incredibly well. The new setting made it clear why trophy-wife Alice Arden had married her husband – and, equally, why she wanted rid – without needing to trouble with any expository dialogue. The prologue to the play, shown as a BBC News bulletin about the trial verdicts, was very clever indeed – and the show boasted some great special effects; the stabbing, in particular, was brutally realistic. Some brilliant acting and we treated ourselves to some Whitstable oysters, too: we did like to be beside the seaside.

  • Pirton Players, performing Julius Caesar

For this performance, director Anton Jungreuthmayer transformed Pirton Players’ regular haunt of the local village hall into a dystopian nightmare – think Roman Empire meets 1984 – with Julius Caesar cast as the dictator. Key quotes from each scene of the play were made into posters, beamed over the performers via video screen. The audience were set each side of the action, giving the production a slightly claustrophobic atmosphere – one where you could imagine paranoia and dissent breeding quite easily. Allegiances were easily discernible to those uninitiated to the story thanks to the creative use of coloured sashes, which were hung up on the metal fencing as each character died, giving a constant reminder of the ever-growing body count. This was the first Open Stages production we got to see, and its innovation and quality made us even more proud to be a part of the project – and slightly terrified about the standards our own production needed to meet! And we weren’t the only ones who thought so; at the first regional showcase of performances a few months back, Pirton were chosen to represent London at the national showcase at the RSC in Stratford.

  • Putney Theatre Company, performing Henry V

This was, at first glance, a more traditionally conventional staging of Henry V. However, first impressions can be deceiving, and so it proved for the Putney Theatre Company. Kim Dyas and Barney Hart-Dyke blended the traditional with the modern for this production. The period costume and staging worked well when juxtaposed with the more modern set. The choice to have the chorus as two black-clad narrators was a brilliant move, giving the sense that you were looking through a window in time, with the storytellers as your guide. All the performances were natural and believable – definitely worth the two-and-a-half-hour traffic jam we sat in in order to get to the theatre.

  • Questors, performing Macbeth

For the last year and a half, Questors has been our home away from home when it comes to am-dram, so it was great to get a chance to see the theatre at work as part of the Open Stages project. The brilliant set for this gave the tone for the entire play; a stark, uniform colour with everything at a slight tilt. It was at once recognisable, yet slightly unsettling. This was continued with the Witches, who lent the play an appropriately Gothic-style opening. The portrayal of both Macbeths’ descent into their individual forms of insanity were very well played, and ably supported by a talented cast of players.

  • Theatre in the Square, performing What She Will

This completely original production, written by director Jane Jones for Theatre in the Square, looked at Shakespeare’s life and plays through the prism of the women he knew and loved. Narrated by Ann Hathaway, and interspersed with choice female-centric snippets from Shakespearean works, this play also featured original music. It was wonderful – and unusual – to see a period piece where men were peripheral to women’s stories – as well as an inventive spin on Shakespeare’s muses and motivations. The music provided a beautiful framing for the entire performance and bridged the gap between Jacobean London and 21st-century London effortlessly. And the performances, with each actor playing multiple roles, were all distinct and really well-realised.

  • Wokingham Theatre, performing Summon Up The Blood

When we heard that Nicky Allpress was planning to condense 12-hours’ worth of Shakespeare into one two-hour play for Wokingham Theatre, we marvelled. She took on the almost Herculean endeavour of combining Henry IV, parts I and II, Henry V and Henry VI, parts I, II and II into a cohesive historical narrative that didn’t lose out on any of the entertaining aspects. And, by George (or rather, by Henry), she did it. A fantastically impressive set were more than matched by the terrific acting, and the great concept. Using journalists as narrators, allowing the plot to move along swiftly and efficiently, proved a great asset. And we loved the reframing of the plays as Henry VI looking back over his family’s history, wondering how it had all come to this.

So there we have it, a wealth of talented people making wonderful theatre – and the best thing is that not only is this only a small fraction of the Open Stages projects happening across the UK, it’s also only some of the productions happening in the London area. Proof positive, as if it were needed, that you don’t have to look too far from home to find great, inspirational theatre for a fraction of the price of a West End show.

Want to come and see an Open Stages production? ALP will be staging The Herbal Bed from 21-25 April in the grounds of St Lawrence Church, Abbots Langley (covered seating provided), as well as inside the church.

To book online, go to www.abbotslangleyplayers.ticketsource.co.uk or call the Box Office on 0844 804 5354.

In addition, on Saturday 25 April, from 2pm to 4pm, ALP are holding a “community showcase” for local groups and societies to present themselves to our community – please come along and see what our village has to offer. If you’d like to take part in the community showcase, email abbotsplayers@gmail.com.

RSC Open Stages: A right Royal (Shakespeare Company) visit

Being part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages project has given us some fantastic opportunities. We’ve had access to workshops, training, expertise, as well as a unique chance to network with other groups in the London area and have a look at what they get up to – and how they do it.

One of the most exciting parts of being part of this celebration of amateur theatre has been the chance to work with professional practitioners as part of bringing our production of The Herbal Bed to life. And we have been lucky enough to have a visit from RSC theatre practitioner – and professional director – James Farrell, who came along to rehearsal to see what we were up to.

Royal Shakespeare Company director in Abbots Langley

ALP director Colette Holmes and RSC theatre practitioner James Farrell lead rehearsal

He worked with us on the first half of the play, watching our performances and suggesting new ways for us to think about the scene – whether that was a particular character’s motivation or a way of moving or interacting differently.

James also worked with us on voice projection, leading an exercise designed to show how we could amplify our voices in an outside setting without losing meaning or emotion.

It was all fantastically valuable and, in some cases, even made us completely rethink our approach to scenes.

For our part, we were able to treat James to some village entertainment – albeit by accident – when we arrived at our usual post-rehearsal watering hole to find a karaoke night in full swing.

Colette, our director, said she was “incredibly proud” of what ALP had demonstrated for James on his visit. “We were really excited to be chosen to take part in this prestigious project, and having a professional coming along to work with us and improve what’s already shaping up to be a brilliant production has been great,” she added.

Leonie, who plays the lead role of Susanna Hall in the play, also found James’ visit incredibly helpful: “Despite being exhausted, I couldn’t sleep after rehearsal with all the new ideas and suggestions buzzing round my head. I was a little nervous at the thought of a visitor from RSC but, rather than nerve wracking, I thought it was an incredible learning experience, from which we have all benefitted.”

The Herbal Bed will be staged from 21-25 April in the grounds of St Lawrence Church, Abbots Langley (covered seating provided), as well as inside the church.

To book online, go to www.abbotslangleyplayers.ticketsource.co.uk or call the Box Office on 0844 804 5354.

On Saturday 25 April from 2pm to 4pm, ALP are holding a “community showcase” for local groups and societies to present themselves to our community – please come along and see what is going on. If you’d like to take part in the community showcase, email abbotsplayers@gmail.com.

RSC Open Stages: Meet the community – Abbots Langley Gilbert and Sullivan Society

As part of our Royal Shakespeare Company Open Stages application, we pledged to work with as many local groups as we could; making our production something that the whole village could contribute to. Over the next few months, we hope to highlight some of the societies we’re working with, and here’s the first such blog – kindly contributed by Sue O’Neill of the Abbots Langley Gilbert and Sullivan Society. 

We are pleased to be invited to take part in the Open Stages project and congratulate The Players on achieving the project amongst stiff competition, nationwide!

We are looking forward to working with other local groups in Abbots Langley, hoping to provide support with acting, singing and “backstage” in what sounds to be an exciting concept!

As a society, the Abbots Langley Gilbert and Sullivan Society has performed G&S operas annually since its foundation in September 1950. We have remained firmly based in the village of Abbots Langley, although now some of our members come from a much wider area. Gone are the days when, as quoted after the very first production, “You could meet the whole cast by walking up and down Abbots Langley High Street”.

The society is over 50 years old, and we are seeing second- and third-generation members of the performing families taking their places, and there have been many relationships, marriages and families formed through the society. These close ties have always made our group afun and friendly experience, and new members are always welcome.

As well as our main annual production, we always try to perform each year in our home village with a concert or small production in the Henderson Hall. Our principal venue for the last 40 years has been the Palace Theatre Watford and this month is no exception.Featured image

We will be performing The Pirates of Penzance between 21 and 24 January. With Mike Monk as our Director and Susana Tierney as MD, we are looking forward to “fun and frivolity” in true G&S style. With a great cast of ALGSS regulars and some new faces, it proves to be a fantastic show.

Tickets are on sale now at www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk.

Our Summer production this year will be Seussical the Musical from 10 to 14 June. We are to hold auditions for the cast in February, including a group of children, which is always exciting as many come from the local community.

So this is a busy, yet exciting, year and look forward to these worthy projects as we help to keep theatre alive in our local community.

Play reading: A Letter from the General

On 13 August, we met to read and discuss A Letter from the General by Maurice McLoughlin.

The play is set in the common room of a mission station in an Eastern country in 1950. The country has been taken over by a harsh and cruel communist regime and all aliens are being ejected. News has reached the mission that some nuns and priests are being shot. The mission’s children have been taken away and the remaining nuns have been ordered to leave. However, as they are harbouring a German missionary priest who had escaped capture, leaving isn’t so simple. One of the inhabitants, an elderly nun, has been writing to the general, who is the new governor of the province. He also happens to be her godson, who she looked after as a boy in an orphanage similar to the one they are currently in. The British consul and his wife arrive after shutting the embassy down – they have brought exit visas for the nuns, along with a deadline to leave by. Tension mounts when the military arrive, headed by a particularly nasty English mercenary captain determined to recapture the escaped priest, who he suspects the nuns have hidden among them.

Reactions to the reading were generally favourable and most people present enjoyed the play.

The play was well-weighted, both in terms of the size of parts and the length of scenes, most felt that the characters were all very well-rounded and interesting with diverse personalities; many characters also have their own epiphany in the storyline.

However, not all agreed with this assertion, with one person mentioning that he found the characters to be one-dimensional and stereotypical.

It was said that the tension built very well and felt real, but the play would need very careful handling in terms of characterisation. In particular, the parts of Lee (the English mercenary) and Schiller (the German priest) would have to be tempered with a great deal of skill to avoid comparison with some stereotypical characters found in many of the comedy characters seen in various war comedy television programmes.

Similarly, the interaction between the nuns is very comical at times, which is fine, but it was felt that it would need to be put across to the audience that the situation they are in is never anything but serious and frightening.

It was agreed that the play sits well in the fifties and the playing needs to reflect those times. Played as a more contemporary piece, worries were raised that it could too easily spill into silliness; it might also tempt the audience to giggle if the drama is allowed to lean towards melodrama. Concerns were voiced that the audience might end up becoming annoyed by the play if it did tip towards melodrama. All those present agreed that performing would require constraint to avoid these pitfalls actually happening.

Overall, the play was positively received, with only one person saying that they did not enjoy it.

What do you think? Let us know if you’ve read or seen A Letter from the General and want to agree or disagree with anything written here.

Future play readings:

  • Female Transport  by Steve Gooch – Tuesday 20 August, 8pm
  • A Chorus of Disapproval  by Alan Ayckbourn – Tuesday 27 August, 8pm