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Love Letters To Theatres

July 22, 2020

Kerry Godliman, Genevieve Barr, James Graham and more share memories of the theatres that changed their lives

‘Me and Dad met there!’

Kerry Godliman
Kerry Godliman

Kerry Godliman: If I had to pick just one theatre then it’s the White Bear in Kennington. For the purely romantic reason it’s where I met my husband. We were doing a play called A Picture of Voices and I played his psychiatric doctor. We used to have illicit snogs backstage. It’s a small, black painted backroom of a pub that seats about 50 people. I did a lot of fringe plays in venues like that between leaving drama school and building up paid work. These small venues are crucial to the development of skills and ideas. I’d love a tube map of all the venues I’ve performed at across London. Every car journey passes one of these places filled with memories. But whenever we go past the White Bear in Kennington Park Road I say to our kids: “Me and Dad met there,” and they roll their eyes and say: ‘We know, you tell us every time we pass it!”

‘The plays set my heart racing’

Hannah Khalil.
Hannah Khalil. Photograph: Richard Saker

Hannah Khalil: I was 14 and my best mate Catherine and I were on the hunt for a Saturday job. She lived in Leatherhead and I stayed with her most weekends, so we approached the Thorndike theatre (now Leatherhead theatre) and begged our way into roles as ushers. Every Saturday we would don white shirts and black skirts and my palms would get sweaty at the prospect of instant mental arithmetic for ice cream and programme sales. The plays, however, set my heart racing in a good way. None of the other ushers was interested, instead playing cards during the show. But one person had to sit in and I always volunteered. I saw Hamlet, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and Peter Bowles in Present Laughter about a dozen times each. It was fascinating to witness how actors settled into their characters and varied their performances – also how the play changed night after night depending on the audience’s reaction. It was my first job and I probably only had it for a year, but it was in that dark auditorium that I fell in love with theatre.

  • Hannah Khalil is under commission to Shakespeare’s Globe and Chichester Festival theatre. Her plays, A Museum in Baghdad and Sleepwalking, were due to open in London this spring. Read more about Leatherhead theatre.
Theatre Royal Plymouth and its Messenger sculpture, wrapped for the #MissingLiveTheatre campaign.

Theatre Royal Plymouth and its Messenger sculpture, wrapped for the #MissingLiveTheatre campaign. Photograph: Steven Haywwod/PR

‘I wept and I slept there’

Genevieve Barr.
Genevieve Barr. Photograph: Valéry Hache/AFP via Getty Images

Genevieve Barr: Disability theatre can struggle to find its place. But Theatre Royal Plymouth welcomed it with open arms. More so – they relished it with confidence, graciousness and warm humour. Jack Thorne and Graeae’s The Solid Life of Sugar Water found its home in Plymouth before it went to the Edinburgh festival and won awards, and before the National Theatre deemed it good enough to grace its vaunted stages. In Plymouth, there was a platform laid bare – with a bed, a pair of pyjamas – and subtitles superimposed on the wall. I wept and I slept in my six weeks there. Theatre is about transcending boundaries but it’s also about giving an audience its heart – which epitomises why I fell in love with Plymouth and with this job.

‘Pie-and-a-pint kind of theatre’

James Graham.
James Graham. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

James Graham: I didn’t realise how lucky I was, studying drama in Hull, to have Hull Truck on my doorstep. This was the old Spring Street venue – a teeny-tiny former church hall in a bombed-out part of town, which felt more like a bingo hall or working men’s club than a playhouse. Populist, punchy, pie-and-a-pint kind of theatre with local crowds pissing themselves on a Friday night at a play by John Godber or Amanda Whittington. For me, it was a lifetime ambition to have something I wrote on here. I got to perform my monologue, The Man, in the studio space of its spankier new home around the corner, which the City of Culture 2017 properly bedded in. I remember it filled to the rafters for the RSC’s collaboration and mini-residency with (Hull-born) Richard Bean’s raucous The Hypocrite. And its unpretentious populist spirit has mutated to exciting younger companies in the city, from Middle Child to The Roaring Girls. I can’t wait to be back, pint in hand.

‘The start of everything’

Laura Pick
Laura Pick

Laura Pick: I have been fortunate to perform in many theatres. But Theatre Royal Wakefield is special, as I wouldn’t be where I am without its youth programme, Wakefield Youth Music Theatre. When I was 12, my mum sent me along with a friend to audition for the programme. It’s run by a professional team who are able to deliver amazing productions in just a week or two. The theatre trains young people in singing, dancing and acting every week. The pantomime is a special highlight and people travel from afar for it, not least due to the comedy musings of Chris Hannon’s Dame. I was so happy to have my second professional role in Wakefield for Jack and the Beanstalk in 2013. Returning to the place which had provided me with a launchpad felt like a homecoming. Theatre Royal Wakefield is the start of something for many young performers. It was the start of everything for me.

‘Intimate and enchanting’

Jeanefer Jean-Charles
Jeanefer Jean-Charles

Jeanefer Jean-Charles: Before I knew that I would be lucky enough to have a career in theatre, I dreamed of performing on a stage. When my teacher told me about a drama group at the Cockpit theatre in London I instantly joined the intriguingly named Donkey Down Drama Group (why did they call it that?). Rehearsing at the intimate and enchanting Cockpit after school was the highlight of every week, even though the teacher said modern plays would be better for me, as I struggled with my role in a Brontë classic. A bit old-fashioned for me I thought, but how I adored those costumes. Since then I have remained a sucker for a good old costume drama. Now, when lockdown finally finishes, I will have the chance to have black dancers moving in unnatural, 19th-century costumes as they bring to life recently discovered photographs of black Victorians.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. mphtheatregirl permalink
    July 22, 2020 2:17 pm

    I may not have the talent to be in a musical, but I defiantly have the love for them.

    A number of theaters hold meaning to me. Gerswhin Theater was where I first saw Wicked- I was only 12 and my mom and I were in NYC alone. The two of us saw Wicked on Broadway. That musical sparked my love for musicals. My musical journey truly began once Wicked entered my life

    • July 22, 2020 2:22 pm

      Wicked was brilliant but I’ve never seen anything less magical than a witch in a wheelchair!

      • mphtheatregirl permalink
        July 22, 2020 2:24 pm

        I only am emotionally to three characters in Wicked: Elphaba, Glinda, and Fiyero. Through Wicked, I started to understand emotional connection and the emotional and complex side to musicals.

        I had no idea a musical in the future could challenge and disprove things I though a musical was. Les Mis entered my life March of 2013 when I gave the film a 2nd chance. That musical sure challenged what I thought I knew

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