Break A Leg Review Interview: Felicity Dean

Interviewed by Helen McWilliams

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We were bowled over by the production of ‘Harvey’ which has just moved from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre to Malvern Theatres. Helen was even more thrilled to have the opportunity of interviewing one of the stars of the play, Felicity Dean. Here’s what she had to say:

So, Felicity – tell me about ‘Harvey’ and your character ‘Betty Chumley’.

Yes, Hello Helen – ‘Harvey’ is a prize-winning play written by an American playwright called Mary Chase, who wrote it originally to cheer up a friend. It’s a charming and comedic play about a very nice, congenial man whose best friend is an invisible rabbit. Everybody thinks he’s quite mad, but it turns out that really in the end, he’s the sanest of the lot. It’s a charming slow burner of a play of a genre which is old fashioned. However, it has its place for audiences today because it’s a really good night out.

I play Betty Chumley, she is ditzy which is how I play her, she’s slightly intimidated by her husband, he’s a Psychiatrist. When she meets Mr Dowd I like to think she’s transformed and finds her voice because she’s met someone who treats her nicely. It runs no deeper than that and I think the audience react to her with warmth.

I think that’s very true given the audience reactions we heard during the interval. I think people hoped (as we did) that the character would make another appearance. From our point of view, although yourself, Amanda Boxer and Linal Haft are only in the play for a limited time, you each make a big impact.

Well, that’s nice to hear, all of the parts are iconic and you feel you’re part of an ensemble. I’m very lucky with the actors I’m working with.

Have you worked with any of them before?

I’ve only worked with Amanda Boxer (who plays Mrs Chauvenet) before in ‘Trial and Retribution’ on television. I haven’t worked with any of the others before, but we’ve all got mutual friends in common.

You mentioned ‘Trial and Retribution’, you’ve done a few detective-style dramas on television, have you a favourite?

I have to say ‘Midsomer Murders’, I think they still do it don’t they? Such a lovely company to work with, they look after you so well and I was fortunate enough to do it twice when John Nettles was still in it.

I love ‘Midsomer Murders’!

Yes, it’s the sort of thing you can sit down and watch with a cup of tea and a digestive!

Definitely! With regards to ‘Harvey’, were you familiar with the 1950s film?

Yes, I watched it…

Did you find it useful in relation to your part?

I did find it useful for research, although I think if I had been playing Veta I probably wouldn’t have watched it until near the end. I think there’s a balance as to how useful it is, it could permeate and cause you to imitate the person you’re watching.

So, are there any roles that you would really like to play?

I’m really drawn to Tennessee Williams, for example I’d like to play Amanda in ‘The Glass Menagerie’. Tragic but comedic characters interest me, I like characters that have a depth, Chekhov is another playwright who has written characters with the sort of depth that interests me.

Which medium do you prefer between film, television and theatre?

I love theatre, I always have, there’s something about as the lure, even as they say ‘the smell of the grease paint’. I’ve always seen it as one of my life skills, you really have to learn it, and there’s always more to learn. Having said that I’ve just been filming an episode of ‘Casualty’ in Cardiff and I really enjoyed that, they’re so accurate with their detail, all the machines that I was ‘hooked’ up to worked! I was even offered an MOT while I was there!

What advice have you got for anybody that wants to go into acting?

I find it quite alarming, because everybody seems to want to do it, but I would say to people don’t do it unless you burn to do it. If there’s nothing else that you are passionately committed to, There’s a phrase spoken by the great dramatist and acting teacher Stanislavsk “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art” I think that is a brilliant piece of advice, and I’d like to pass onto anyone starting out. You don’t want to discourage people, though and at my son’s school’s careers night I had the longest queue! I said to most of those people to get a degree, get an education and then work it in parallel with something else.

Finally, for anybody that’s to toying with the idea of coming to see ‘Harvey’, what would you say to encourage them to come along?

Come and have a really heart-warming, funny and enjoyable evening, it covers all age groups, so you could bring your mum, your gran – bring the whole family!

We’d like to thank Felicity for giving up her time to be interviewed, Helen had a lovely time meeting her and we highly recommend that you go and see ‘Harvey’.

A link to our review is here: https://breakalegreviewblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/harvey-birmingham-repertory-theatre/

You can book tickets to see ‘Harvey’ at Malvern Theatres up until Saturday 28th February 2015, tickets are available from the box office on 01684 892277 or via http://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk.

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MCM Midlands Comic Con ~ Telford International Centre

Reviewed by Helen and Garry McWilliams

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Our first visit to Midlands Comic Con in Telford was a fantastic experience, so much packed in despite the fact that the event is on a smaller scale than we’re used to seeing at the NEC in Birmingham. 

Cosplayers were out in full force, with some amazing efforts, please look out for interviews with some of the cosplayers we have been fortunate enough to meet so far. We thought that the amount of cosplay was immense back in November 2014 in Birmingham, and Telford’s attendees certainly maintained the standard. We can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with for the Birmingham event next month. 

There was a modest MCM Theatre Schedule which included a ‘Red Dwarf’ panel with Robert Llewelyn and Chris Barrie, they drew a predictably large crowd of enthusiastic fans who were delighted to see the ‘Rimmer ‘salute’in its entirety. The two stars also commanded a queue of autograph seekers in the ‘signing zone’ and were definitely a ‘hit’. The appeal of ‘Red Dwarf’ never wanes and we look forward to seeing more panels featuring the cast at future cons. 

Prior to the ‘Red Dwarf’ panel we attended ‘Commander Shepard Uncovered with Mark Meer’ which was extremely insightful and there were some good probing questions from the audience and Meer was an engaging interviewee. We are keen gamers ourselves and we were particularly interested to listen in on this. We hope to see this item repeated at future events and it is evident Meer is such a coveted voice actor. 

UK Garrison and Rebel Legion UK were present for Star Wars fans to have photographs taken with, their costumes never fail to amaze us and it wouldn’t be MCM without them. This time we were excited to see Chewbacca, no mean feat remaining in that size of costume for such a length of time. We had an interesting discussion with one of the members of ‘UK Garrison’ with regards to putting together our own costumes, and we recommend any Star Wars enthusiast who would like to ‘cosplay’ as accurately as they do to get in touch with them and join the forum. Equally you can speak with ‘Rebel Legion’ if you would rather be a Jedi or similar. Links are here http://www.ukgarrison.co.uk/ http://www.rebellegion.com/ 

We look forward to reporting from future MCM events throughout 2015, suffice to say that Telford has kick-started the year with a bang!

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Break A Leg Review Interview: Basil Brush

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One of the many delights that having a little one brings (in our case, we have a one year old son) is that we can justify attending events for the younger viewer – although we are both big kids, ourselves 🙂

We are looking forward to seeing Basil Brush in his new show at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on 3rd April, and even more excited to have caught up with the fox himself!

Hi Basil, thank you for talking to us at Break A Leg Review:
Are you looking forward to your UK tour and which theatre in particular are you excited to play?
Break a leg, Mr Stephen say that to each other everyday before we go on stage, I always worry about him that one day he might actually break something while we are being chased by ghosts, heading off into space or doing his silly dancing in the show …. I am thrilled to be heading off on another momentus tour of the UK, it means I get to take laughter to the four corners of the UK, and when you see where we are heading, I really do mean the four corners! … We are flying flying around the country , up , done , up down , up down … And that’s not in an aeroplane… We have so much laughter in the show that some of it is in the right places and seeing mums with their fingers in their ears because of the screaming at the baddie fills me with glee…. It is what keeps me going everyday, the noise, the screaming … And that just as I walk down the high street… I love the fact that one minute kids can be watching me on their parents smart phone on youtube and minutes later there I am in the flesh… Or fur !
I just love live theatre, and look forward to each venue, and I don’t have any particular favourite but always look forward to those close near the sea side so I can paint my brush pink and disguise myself as a candy floss… Incognito I call it …BOOMBOOM
Where did your catchphrase ‘Boom Boom’ come from?
Talking of boom boom, that originated years ago in the days of music hall when the drummer would always hit a boom boom at the end of a joke, very similar to Panto today… What do you call a dear with no eyes?….er no idea … Ha ha …BOOM BOOM… It sort of makes a rhythm and just works, I have had it for my self ever since… I think I shall stick with it …
What can we expect from you in this new show? Are you going to be on your best behaviour?
I am never on my best behaviour in shows, I like to trip up mr Stephen by adding some extra lines, he is very clever and can get out of it… Also I love the fact that we have a giant video screen centre stage which can take us on adventures with film , and then back to reality, we have lots of audience participation, shouting at the baddy, the boys and girls get to play games on the stage and at the end of the show can meet us ion the foyer for photographs with myself and Mr Stephen tip tweet or Facebook … I call it a tweet and greet as opposed to meet and greet!
Is there a Mrs Brush who keeps the home fires burning while you’re on the road?
Since I am not yet married, I couldn’t tie myself to one girl, I can’t do knots, there is not a Mrs Brush, I have had many offers, and I think it is the brush that attracts them, so I am footloose and fancy free till the right fox comes along … But I do like dates… Especially for breakfast, very healthy!
Is Mr Stephen a good travelling companion?
He’s great, but is a slow driver, I have a rolls ‘can’ardly, it rolls down the hill, can hardly go up the other side!! Boom boom….
Finally, have you got a message for your legions of fans who may not have bought their tickets, yet?
My message for my fans is, get yourself down to your local theatre for the show of a lifetime, a show for kids, a show for grown ups, a show for grannies and granddads, a show for the whole family, I get thanked by mums every day for giving a children’s show, that is also for the adults, mums and dads work hard and if they can sit and enjoy the show too …we have a winner!!! And we do … BOOM BOOM BOOK NOW….. Or you will miss out ….
We’d like to thank Basil for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat to us, you can find all of the tour dates (NOT the breakfast item…) here: http://www.basilbrush.com/

Harvey ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

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Many among you will know actor, James Drefus for creating memorable roles Tom Farrell in ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ and PC Goody in ‘The Thin Blue Line’, however his latest role as Elwood P Dowd in the moving and imaginative stage play ‘Harvey’ has certainly shaken off those ‘type casts’.

Written by Mary Chase and directed by Lindsay Posner, this play has a canny way of toying with the audience’s emotions as it takes you on a journey of wonder. ‘Harvey’, we learn, is a white rabbit of over six foot tall who exists in Mr Dowd’s imagination – or does he? On the face of it, the story could be considered a charming tale of a middle-aged man and his imaginary friend. Delving deeper into the complexity of the central characters, causes one to consider, is ‘Harvey’ in fact some sort of divine intervention. This path could lead to the conclusion that the rabbit is indeed, a ‘pooka’, which is certainly what Mr Dowd claims. Of course, there’s also the added intrigue that ‘Harvey’ does not seem to appear to one person, alone. The play is pulled back from the brink of working on the level of a children’s story by dealing with the reality of mental health, which was handled in a much more barbaric fashion in the 1950s. However, the setting of the sanatorium does not detract from the humour, indeed comedy is present in abundance.

The set is adaptable and notably stunning in places, with an eye for detail at every turn. It seamlessly creates the relevant back-drops for the family home where Dowd resides with his sister and niece, the sanatorium and Charlie’s bar, Dowd and Harvey’s favourite haunt.

With a touch of magic coupled with superb technical ability from Drefus, we are led to believe that we can ‘see’ this creature. Joining him in the strong cast are David Bamber (Mr Collins from the BBC’s adaptation of ‘Pride & Prejudice, among many other credits) who excelled as the pompous and controlling Psychiatrist, Dr Chumley, with Felicity Dean putting in a tremendous performance as his wife Betty. Clearly intimidated by her husband, the character of Betty is somewhat under-utilised, but we were delighted to have the opportunity to see Dean on stage, as we already know her from many television programmes including ‘Midsomer Murders’ and ‘Rosemary & Thyme’. There are some entertaining moments between Dowd’s niece, Myrtle Mae (Ingrid Oliver) and assistant from the sanatorium, Duane Wilson (Youssef Kerkour). There is also a flourishing love story between Dr Sanderson (Jack Hawkins) and Nurse Kelly (Sally Scott) which provides a distraction from the over-riding ‘madness’ and is played beautifully by both actors concerned.

What can we say about Maureen Lipman (playing Dowd’s sister, Veta Simmons) that hasn’t been said before? It’s fair to say that she usually guarantees a sterling performance and she didn’t disappoint. Lipman’s chemistry with Drefus is exceptional and she cuts a fine comedy duo, with Bamber in their scenes, too. With Dreyfus as the over-excitable brother who is easily influenced by his invisible companion and Lipman as the flappable sister who also ‘sees’ the pooka, this casting is a force to be reckoned with, indeed.

‘Harvey’ is a must-see (pardon the pun!) and continues at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 21st February, before its west end transfer the play will also take in Malvern and Richmond – so there are plenty of opportunities to catch it.

 Please go to www.birmingham-rep.co.uk to book tickets for the remaining Birmingham dates, or alternatively visit www.harveyonstage.co.uk for full details.

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