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On the 15th of September, The Dukes’ production company had an informal session where viewers were able to find out a little bit about the behind the scenes work and creative process that is taking place for their latest show, The Ockerbys on Ice. Written by one of Britain’s top screenwriters, Debbie Oates, the idea for the play has been brewing for a very long time; it was first a 10-minute sci-fi session in a radio play which was then worked out into being a theatre production.
Compared to other shows of Debbie’s, such as Brookside and Coronation Street, The Ockerbys on Ice is a rather thought-provoking show. Dennis and Viv, a couple who have been married for 30 years and whom the former is facing a fatal illness, win a free pass for cryogenics, where the body of the individual is cremated and the head is frozen to keep the person alive in Arizona. The theme of the show revolves around love and letting go, and it also embodies the conflicts that are faced by people on a day to day basis on dealing and accepting the death of a loved one.
When asked about why she decided to produce a theatre production by one of the audience, Debbie explained that it has been something that she has been working on and putting it away, but always see herself coming back to – she has been doing so for almost 10 years now. Aware of the reality of cryogenics in certain parts of the world, she wants to explore the idea in a play, believing it is an intimate experience for people to understand. Her scripts are made to be said aloud, and presenting her ideas through visible characters is different from a book, and could leave more to the imagination.
From an actor’s perspective, we wondered if the personal experiences of the actor had any effect on the play and it is rather interesting to hear that David Crellin, playing Dennis, faces a substantial amount of fear in terms of taking up the role. He identifies himself with the character and contemplates his life as his father passed away at the age of 56; being 55 now, David feels almost like he is acting his father’s character. In the play, his son is away abroad, and in real life this is still the case.
On the other hand, Karen Henthorn, who plays Viv, sees herself almost always choosing the roles that suit her personality and doesn’t feel like it is acting at all. She feels that there is a lot of trust being put into casting the right roles and thinks that the work of the actor is to not have emotions of their own, also agreed upon by Lynsey Beauchamp who plays Dr. Taylor. Rather, the actor’s role is to showcase the writer’s emotion when acting. Lynsey also describes actors as detectives who find reasons to justify the actions of their characters and to understand it through the script. The director, Joe Sumsion, points out that – although it may not always seem like it – acting is a lot more than just memorising lines, and is the use of technique that gets the audience in the first place, which a lot of actors aren’t aware of. Joe also feels that allowing actors to work in a space that they are comfortable in will help them bring out the best in them.
Jack Hartley, who plays Dennis and Viv’s son Michael, views his role in a different perspective as it is his first time acting in a theatre production and finds that it helps him understand what the writer wants, as he is able to speak to the writer face to face. His role looks at Michael reflecting on himself, both in terms of who he is now and who he was a few years ago. Hartley sees a striking resemblance with his present self, and sees being in a theatre a privilege which enables him to engage with the writers – unlike acting on television.
The discussion was very revealing about the behind the scenes process of a theatre show and also the hopes that Debbie has for the show. The Ockerbys on Ice is a home-grown production and will start previewing on the 30th of September. We’ve had inside scoops with previews starting from £8 and it is a highly anticipated play that we are very much looking forward to; get your hands on some cheap tickets to support your local arts movement!