By Rosemary, Apr 5 2018 04:27PM

Well, working for Next Page Productions has been a huge delight. Great fun. We have worked very hard whilst laughing along the way. One more week of rehearsals with this great cast and team and we have our first night in Oldham on April 6th. Then it’s onto Bedford, Bedworth, Leicester, Bromsgrove, St Albans, Northampton and Henley-On-Thames. More bookings are coming in for July too. Caroline Nash who runs Next Page Productions has done a wonderful job as producer as well as playing Joan in “ Simply Joan”. Steve Dimmer has worked hard on the scripts, honing them in rehearsals as we have worked through them. He is playing Sid. Both are amazing and I’ve loved working with them. It’s been a glorious process. Alongside the actors there’s been a wonderful Stage Manager too - Tabitha Sylvester-Kilroy who has Just graduated from The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire with a BA (1st class) in Stage Management. Wow!

Touring a show to different venues with their different shaped stages and technical resources requires keeping things simple. The company will often only have a couple of hours to “get in” with any set and furniture and then there’s the lighting rig. It’s full on and then it’s performance time. Often it’s only for one night so straight away the show has to be de-rigged and packed away ready to move to the next venue. Hard work by anyone’s standards. Then there’s the marketing and trying to sell tickets in places we don’t know so well. More hard work which is getting even harder it seems. It’s all worth it when we see a packed audience though. Nothing quite like that excitement of entertaining a keen audience and hearing them laugh and also pulling at their heart strings. You’ll get both in this show. The plays are enormously funny and poignant. You will laugh uproariously and you may well shed a tear, but that’s what the best theatre does. It tugs at our emotions.

So don’t miss these two fabulous plays under the banner of Funny Faces – “Simply Joan” and “Wot Sid Did”.

You can book tickets here

By Rosemary, Mar 26 2018 04:00AM

We read and see a lot about hopefuls who may have some skill in performing being on the many talents shows on TV. If they win they are discovered and launched into a performance career. Of course there have been many success stories, but does all this make up for some real training? Why do people choose to invest time and money into years of training if just anybody can do it? It’s the same with acting. And now we have the whole social media situation where anyone who has a large following on Instagram and Twitter can call themselves an actor and be cast in a lead role, like Tanya Burr. Here’s an interesting article.

So what does training give an actor/performer? Is it really you have the gift or you don’t and no amount of training can give you that raw talent? Well my view is that yes there are people who are naturally gifted, but as with anything training and practising can help the person develop that talent. Also the person may not be good at everything. They may move well or have a good voice or both, but some voice projection lessons may well improve and preserve the voice. As an actor does it hurt to learn to speak verse well or to learn about stage fight so that you can do it safely as well as convincingly? My view is that with hard work and dedication most people can turn in a competent performance, but the really talented do have a natural instinct for characterisation and convincing dialogue. What I can’t believe in is that people can just do it without any hard work. It does demand turning up to rehearsal ready to work and then going away and researching and doing the home work. I know of people who like Tanya are cast purely because they are successful elsewhere and some make it, but they are usually very surprised at just how hard it is. People like Dame Judi Dench ( I was watching a programme about her last night) make it look easy and effortless and therein lies their incredible skill. Let’s please let’s go easy on the stunt casting and appreciate those who have invested in their training. It doesn’t have to be three years at a drama school. We know not everybody can afford that, but invest in some training. There are many evening, weekend and short courses. I know when I cast actors that those who have spent some time training have a more varied tool box at their disposal and they can make more choices. They learn quickly and generally are much more amenable to direction. They are also keen on working as a team and offering up suggestions simply because they have a greater understanding of what I am looking and asking for.

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.

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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