By Rosemary, Mar 18 2018 05:00AM

These are two monologues which are funny, poignant and touching. Steve Dimmer’s writing is based on extensive research and he draws us into these two actors’ lives. People may not associate me (Rosemary Hill) as a director of comedy, but actually I do love comedy- whether it be acting, directing or watching. The finest comedies for me though always have some pathos. That is some sadness behind the laughter. It makes it much more real and true to life. Both these performers were well loved comedy actors who made many people laugh, but their lives also had much sadness and a sense of never quite achieving what they wanted to achieve. This week was the first of an extensive three week rehearsal period working from 10am – 4pm. We’ve had a great week and we all feel we have really got to know the characters. I love the rehearsal process. It a creative time where we can try things out and see if they work. It’s a time of real collaboration with a team who all want the show to be a success so everyone pulls together. There is nothing quite like it. Here’s some information about Joan and Sid.

Irene Joan Marion Sims (9 May 1930 – 27 June 2001), best known as Joan Sims, was an English actress remembered for her roles in the Carry On films, including Carry On Nurse (1959), Carry On Cleo (1964) and Carry On Camping (1969). She played Mrs. Wembley, the cook with a liking for sherry in On the Up (1990–92), and Madge Hardcastle in As Time Goes By (1994–98). In her later years, Sims fought a long battle against depression. This was worsened by the deaths of her agent Peter Eade, her best friend Hattie Jacques and her mother, all within a two-year period, after which she fell into alcoholism. Sims suffered from Bell's palsy in 1999 and fractured her hip in 2000, but recovered well. However, her alcoholism was beginning to dominate life in her rented Kensington flat, and she described herself as "the queen of puddings." After assessment by a doctor, she was offered a place in a rehabilitation centre, but declined. Offered the opportunity to write her autobiography, she took a role in the BBC television film The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, alongside her As Time Goes By cast mate Dame Judi Dench and Olympia Dukakis.

Sid James (born Solomon Joel Cohen; 8 May 1913 – 26 April 1976) was a South African-born British character actor and comedy actor. Appearing in British films from 1947, he was cast in numerous small and supporting roles into the 1960s. His profile was raised as Tony Hancock's co-star in Hancock's Half Hour, first in the radio series and later when it was adapted for television and ran from 1956 to 1960. Afterwards, he became known as a regular performer in the Carry On films, appearing in nineteen films of the series, with the top billing role in 17 (in the other two he was cast below Frankie Howerd). Meanwhile, his starring roles in television sitcoms continued for the rest of his life. He starred alongside Diana Coupland in the 1970s sitcom Bless This House until his death in 1976. On 26 April 1976, while touring in The Mating Season, James suffered a heart attack while performing on stage at the Sunderland Empire Theatre; he died in hospital an hour later. Some, including comedian Les Dawson, claim to have seen the ghost of James at the theatre, and subsequently refused to appear at the theatre again.

Do come and see the show. It’s going to be a great evening at the theatre.

By Rosemary, Mar 5 2018 09:00AM

This production was disturbing and challenging and I loved it. Hedda is not a very nice woman. She is clearly fiercely intelligent, but she is manipulative and destructive. She is the psychotherapist’s complex client with many presenting issues. She demonstrates classic self defeating and destructive behaviour. She can never find who she really is. All the men around her construct her. Her husband patronises her. Brack sexually and mentally abuses her. When Hedda tries to gain power it is in a destructive way. She burns Lovberg’s manuscript and then lies about why she did it. She taunts Mrs Elvsted. She shows contempt for her husband. She is deliberately mocking of his aunt. Her plans to gain any power never work out. Lovberg’s manuscript is resurrected though through Mrs Elvsted and her husband working together. We should hate Hedda and feel glad her plan has been thwarted, but I felt deeply sorry for her despite her horrible and spiteful act. She is excluded. Here is a desperately unhappy and vulnerable woman with no way out. The final conclusion is messy, visceral and painful.

Ivo van Hove says this of Hedda -

“So Hedda is not about leaving your husband. For me this play is not about a woman being in prison, because she imprisons herself; she is not a woman caught in social conventions because she gives in to that herself. It’s like an existential condition of a person. So for me, it is like an existential play, not a social drama – it is deeper."

“In theatre we have a tendency to explain everything. But which person in the world can you reduce to one thing? Nobody. That’s what this play gives. It is like life itself.”

Now what could be more relevant than that?

Last night I went to see Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” at Milton Keynes Theatre - a new version by Patrick Marber directed by Ivo van Hove for the National Theatre. Written in 1890, it is seen as Ibsen’s masterpiece. Now everyone knows that I am a big fan of Ibsen. I’ve directed a few Ibsen plays myself and acted in them. I’ve been to Norway to research him. To me he is a man ahead of his time. A man who really understood women and the frustration they felt living in a male dominated world within the constraints of nineteenth century Norway. But is he still relevant today? Women are not treated as children or possessions now or are they? They can vote, own property, have a bank account and take out loans. We’ve come a long way since Ibsen was writing Nora’s predicament would just not happen now or would it? Hedda would be able to find her purpose in life. They would both have more choices available to them. Nora would be able to take out a loan and pay it back without forging her father’s signature. Hedda would not have to marry a second rate academic and then be totally bored. Well perhaps we’d all like to think that is the case, but Ivo van Hove’s production of Hedda with its modern, minimalist set, costume and sound design shows how searingly relevant it still is. How relevant Ibsen still is. How women are still treated like pawns in power games. How many women struggle to find a purpose in life and never feel truly valued.

By Rosemary, Jan 30 2018 09:00AM

We are in between projects at the moment. We have lots of ideas bubbling away and we are keen to get started, but it all depends on funding!

Many people think getting funding is just a case of filling in a form, sending it off and then waiting to see if it is accepted. Well, yes that is a part of it, but there is far more to it than that. Firstly, it is very rare that an organisation will fund the whole cost of a project. Any theatre project is a mixture of funding streams, so this could mean part box office, part grants (from several organisations), part sponsorship, part other sources such as running workshops, selling merchandise etc. All this has to be balanced. Box office is the scariest. We can estimate how tickets will sell, but it is not until the show has finished that we can have a final figure on this. So the producer takes a huge risk. If the show doesn’t sell, the producer still has to pay the bills, the actors and the team. Often theatre just breaks even. Often producers do lose money, so it’s not something many people take on and it is certainly not to be taken lightly.

People often ask about the cost of tickets. Why are they not cheaper? Producers will estimate what they can charge for a ticket based on the type of venue, the local demographic, the complexity of the show etc. So for a small fringe production with a very small cast in a perhaps shabby fringe venue tickets may be quite cheap even in London, but for a show with a much larger cast in a bigger and more comfortable theatre, tickets will be far more expensive. But it is often at fringe venues that you will see new and more cutting-edge work. It is more experimental so it is sometimes harder to get an audience as people are not sure what they will be getting for their money. They are less keen to take a risk. I’ve seen some amazing shows on the fringe that have gone onto become major successes, but even the ones that haven’t they have still been worth seeing. I’m often keen to take students to see them as even if the show doesn’t quite “cut it” it is still useful for students to see it as they can really sharpen their critical skills. It a show is lacking in some way it is a very good exercise to pin down why. What didn’t work? Was it the writing, the actors, the direction, the design, the lighting etc. It’s fun to have those discussions.

Back to funding though and the grant side of things. As previously mentioned it is not just filling in a form. It can take months to make partnerships with other organisations who will be key to the project’s success. That takes many meetings to develop the project and often many of the team are freelance. Whilst no money has been achieved they are effectively working for free. Then of course people will ask them to cut their fees as “money is tight”! There is an assumption by many that people who work in the arts do it for fun and for some reason never have any bills to pay. They are told “We have no money, but this will look good on your CV!”. So paying everyone the going rate (which is often the minimum wage) is difficult, but it can and should be done in professional theatre. That is why many new plays have no more than five characters. The more actors on stage the most expensive it gets.

Of course, in amateur theatre actors aren’t paid and there are some superb amateur companies producing amazing work. However, any amateur company still has to pay for royalties for many plays, for theatre hire, rehearsal space, costumes, set, props, lighting, sound, marketing, programmes, transport, insurance- the list goes on. Theatre is an expensive undertaking. So next time you go to the theatre perhaps spare a thought for how it was funded. If it is a small fringe production or a local amateur production support the company by buying a programme or giving a donation. It doesn’t have to be a large donation. Every little helps and it will help keep theatre alive.

By Elliot Willis, Jan 22 2018 07:00AM

It is well known that doing creative things whatever it may be makes people happy. We are naturally creative beings. We love to create, invent new things, use our imaginations and stimulate our brains. Why then are our children in state schools being subjected to a curriculum which cuts all creative subjects? Yet in private schools the subjects are flourishing? The latest person to comment on this is Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre. Here is the article he wrote for The Stage. It also appeared in The Guardian.

The EBacc has many critics. It concentrates on maths, English and science. Now of course those subjects are important, but so are music, drama, art, dance etc. Surely we want to educate young people to be rounded, happy individuals? Surely the skills learned in these subjects will be of help in any career? Surely young people need a chance to shine in what they are good at? Surely we must nurture the future musicians, composers, actors, playwrights, artists, film makers and dancers of the future?

Other countries understand this. Countries like Finland encourage a fully rounded education which includes the arts. Finland is at the top of all league tables. Not only are its students happy they also do well and produce good results. What are we doing here in the UK? It seems we believe that the more we push a narrow curriculum the more we think standards will improve. We are even pushing the testing three year olds in the belief they need more structure. They don’t! Three year olds need to learn through play. But then so do adults. If you are enjoying learning you will want to keep doing it. You will carry that through life. That’s why the arts are so very important. We are building a time bomb of mental health problems in the future if we continue as we are.

The arts don’t need cutting. They are part of the solution to many issues.

By Rosemary, Jan 10 2018 02:24PM

There’s been much in the news in the past few months about The Globe Theatre. The appointment of Emma Rice was at first seen as exciting until she started to use sound and light in her productions which was not to the liking of the Globe’s Board of Trustees and many others who cited the Globe’s original purpose to perform Shakespeare as closely to how it would have been performed in his time. There was an outcry as Emma Rice was in effect sacked or asked to resign. Rice has since gone on to do exciting things with her new company Wise Children and remains one of this country’s leading theatre directors.

The Globe later announced Michelle Terry as its new Artistic Director. Terry is a superb actress, well respected at The Globe and elsewhere. However, she is not a director so it was asked how could she direct any of The Globe’s productions? Terry then announced she wouldn’t be directing productions. She would be the Artistic Director and make decisions about the programme and who directed what, but she would remain as an actor. She has now announced The Globe’s new season.

Michelle Terry at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre.

Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian.

Terry wants to make theatre more inclusive and democratic. She wants to breakdown the theatre hierarchy. She is talking more about ensemble working and co directing, but is it entirely doable? The question is what is the role of the director? The role is really only just one hundred years old. Before theatres were run by the all powerful Actor/ Manager. Directors emerged as theatre became more sophisticated and the view was there should be a cohesive and coherent artistic vision on all productions. But does that always have to be the case in that is it is one person’s vision? Theatre is a collaborative process and we all know that actors are creative and passionate beings who have plenty of ideas of their own. Can Terry’s vision work? Let’s start a discussion on this.

Ensemble working can indeed be very invigorating and wonderfully creative, but in my experience it takes more time. Theatre in this country seems to have less and less time. Productions have to be mounted quickly. However, in Russia at the Moscow Arts Centre, actors may rehearse for six months or more, really living and breathing the characters. Can that ever happen here? It seems anything may be possible with time and money.

Rosemary Hill

Artistic Director

Janine Haynes,

Blogger for Pepper's Ghost


Passionate about theatre in the community. She is a professional actress having graduated from the Academy of Live & Recorded Arts and also holds a BA Hons Degree in Performance Writing from Dartington College of Arts.


"I aim to provide an insight into all the mechanics of Pepper's Ghost and to provide useful information about the context of our current shows as well as useful tips for the aspiring actor."

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