For it is a truth universally acknowledged…

And so another show comes to an end, and we are once again in that awful space of nothingness that follows.

The post-show blues is indeed a truth universally acknowledged (well, in the acting world), and everyone knows that the best way to cope is to get started on the next project as soon as possible. But before I start making preparations for my next venture – directing a three-hander by Michael Frayn called Here – let’s look back on what a wonderful journey this has been through the world of Pride and Prejudice.

Lizzie and Jane

We had a longer rehearsal period than I’m used to, starting with the read-through back in November. Back then, March and show week seemed a long way off, but here I am now, having to pinch myself to realise that it’s all over.

There have been several highlights of the show, including Nick’s hilarious sideburns as Darcy (I’ve forgotten what he looks like without them!), Leigh’s (Jane Bennet) questionable sewing skills, accompanied by exclamations of ‘I’ve got to sort my tapestry out!’ around the 15-minute call before each show, and the hideous centre parting and fringe curls I sported that looked like I’d stuck a bunch of pubes on my head. I can only pray that particular hairstyle never comes back into fashion. After each show I would run upstairs to our two lovely hairdressers in dressing room 12, wailing ‘get rid of them!’, and they would kindly sort me out with a pretty fringe plait so I could leave the theatre without a paper bag over my head.

In the last week of rehearsals I went a bit ‘Method’ and rediscovered how to play the piano, then practised doing this while talking until my neighbours surely thought I was deranged. I’m rather chuffed to say that in the final two performances I didn’t play a single wrong note, or slow the playing down to hurriedly fit in a line between each bit. Not bad considering I hadn’t played in years, and had never played to more than one person!


There were downs as well as ups, as with any show – forgotten lines, a missed entrance, dance tights several sizes too big that required constant yanking up in the wings to avoid the Nora Batty effect. But, as always, the ups far outnumbered the downs – the backstage banter, the camaraderie, the hilarity fuelled by a constant supply of Haribo in DR4 (dressing room 4). And, of course, the chance to perform on that beautiful stage in the Kings Theatre.

The production, however, was struck with a great sadness when we lost one of our own. Fellow cast member Roger Taylor, the original Uncle Gardiner, passed away during the weeks leading up to the show. The loss was felt by us all, and although I had not known him before the read-through, I’d quickly grown fond of his sense of humour, the familiar combats and Doc Martins combo, and his regular attempts to get out of dancing in the show (including milling around in the background and hoping the director wouldn’t notice!). We dedicated the show to Roger, and I hope we did him proud.

Along with making a bunch of new friends, I have learnt a lot about myself and grown a little bit more, as an actor does with every role. I’ve played an instrument in front of hundreds of people, something I never dreamt I could do. I’ve learnt an insane amount of lines and been line-perfect in all but one performance, something I only ever hoped I could do. And I’ve come out of it even more convinced that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.


Pride and Prejudice cross stitch bookmark

We’ve just a week to go before the show opens, and the cast and crew of One Off Productions’ Pride and Prejudice is busy preparing to tread the boards at the Kings Theatre in Southsea.

Pride and Prejudice bookmark

We’ve had a few cast birthdays throughout the run-up to the show, including mine today and Leigh aka Jane Bennet’s two weeks ago. Rather than buy smellies or wine I decided to make her a birthday present, and what could be more fitting than a Pride and Prejudice-themed gift?

Given I’ve recently taken up cross-stitch again, I thought a cross-stitched Jane Bennet would be both achievable and a nice individual touch. Searching online, I couldn’t find a pattern for Jane but did find one for Lizzie, at a website called daisy daze. (They have a selection of costume drama cross stitch patterns, including characters from Our Mutual Friend and North and South.)

I altered it slightly to look more like Jane (blonde hair, no cap) and chose from the limited selection of colours I already had in my sewing box – mainly blues and greens from a complicated butterfly pattern I had not yet dared to attempt. The peachy skin colour and yellow for the hair I got from my work colleague Liz.

Taking a bookmark I already had, I drew faintly around this onto some 14-count aida, then cut out the rectangle and a rectangle of light blue felt of the same size to go on the back of the bookmark.

P & P bookmark blanket stitch

With no graph paper I had to plan the bookmark solely in my head, rather than on paper as I would have preferred. I figured a border would be a good place to start so chose a colour that complemented those I’d picked for cross stitching Jane, and got stitching! I counted in three squares from the edge then stitched a single line of cross stitch all the way around the edge. I then counted in an equal number of squares from the top and bottom and sewed two thin bands with a gap in between (see photo above). To complete the border I sewed six stars/flowers in each of the four bands, sewing each stitch over two holes rather than one.

I then counted the aida squares in to the middle and sewed the Jane Bennet figure in cross stitch before stitching an outline in backstitch. Next came the words – Jane above the figure and Bennet below. I tried to make each letter equal in width but there was one or two that had to be one square narrower than the rest. I’m just rather chuffed I managed to make the words legible!

Finally I attached the felt strip to the back using blanket stitch, which I found out how to do from diagrams displayed on a Google image search! As you can see from the bottom pic, the stitches weren’t the neatest, but it was my first attempt at this stitch. Hopefully practice will make perfect. The biggest mistake I made was not using a larger piece of aida and folding over the edges before stitching it to the felt. Instead I cut a piece the exact size I wanted the bookmark to be, which meant the edges became very messy and frayed. When I got to the blanket stitching I ended up trying to cover up the messy edges with the stitch, which didn’t always work!

The finished bookmark is certainly no work of art, but considering I managed to make it in two and a bit evenings I’m quite happy with it, especially as a first attempt. The lovely Leigh seemed delighted to receive a homemade gift, and hopefully it will come in handy when reading a spot of Jane Austen in between rehearsals.

From page to stage – acting Pride and Prejudice

In rehearsals for Pride and Prejudice we are getting deeper into the subtext of some of the scenes, and the subtleties of emotion that characters such as Jane and Elizabeth Bennet show.

Page to stage - Jane Austen

If you’re playing a character that is larger than life, and some of those in my familiar treading ground of Shakespeare are almost caricatures, it’s quite easy to project your character’s feelings, thoughts and opinions out into an audience of hundreds. If you’re playing a truthful and at times very subtle character such as Lizzie Bennet, that’s where the challenge comes in.

I think the key element of acting is communication – with your audience, and with the other actors (and therefore characters) on stage. If you don’t communicate effectively with your audience, you may as well be all alone in that theatre.

In a play there is a story, and in each scene there is a part of that story that you are trying to tell the audience. Lizzie’s feelings and emotional responses to what’s going on around her are so important to the overall story, it’s vital that I communicate these to the audience. But how do you show all this without it becoming pantomime?

I’m afraid this isn’t actually leading up to an answer to that question, as I don’t yet have one. In the rehearsal room my director has said she’s enjoying watching the subtext play out through my eyes and facial expressions, but will the audience also see this when we’re in the Kings Theatre, and they’re up in the dress circle?

With stolen glances and subtle nods a-plenty, Pride and Prejudice lends itself perfectly to the flexibility and intimacy afforded by film, but how will this play out on the stage? Will they notice the faint flicker in my eye as contempt turns to love, or will it be lost in the vast space of the auditorium? Perhaps just as crucial, will my contact lenses attempt to pop out as they like to every now and then when I’m doing a bit of ‘eye acting’?

You’ll have to come and see the show to find out! You can buy tickets online or call 023 9282 8282. Pride and Prejudice, performed by One Off Productions, runs from Wed 26-Sat 29 March (evenings 7.30pm, Wed and Sat matinee 2.30pm) at the Kings Theatre, Southsea.

A visit to Jane Austen’s House

On Saturday I paid a visit to Jane Austen’s House Museum in the pretty village of Chawton. Although I’ve always wanted to go there, this seemed a particularly fitting time to finally make the short trip, with One Off Productions currently rehearsing Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen's House Museum

Jane Austen’s House Museum

I wanted to get a feel for the writer behind the story – if I can better understand her, surely I can better understand her work and the characters within that. I’m lucky enough to be playing Elizabeth Bennet, and though I’ve seen the film and TV adaptations, and am a great fan of Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzie in the BBC series, the original source material has to be the novel, and indeed the writer herself.

As the novel is set during Jane’s lifetime, seeing the house also helped me get a taste of the clothes, living conditions and day-to-day life of that period, which I can apply to Lizzie’s life.

The baking was done in an outhouse, which would have been lovely and toasty when in use, but on a chilly day in the middle of January was rather less so! Inside the house, we wandered round the kitchen, which is entered separately from the rest of the house, then headed back out and in through another door to the other rooms. Although it’s not a small house, the upper quarters seemed a little cramped, probably due to the number of visitors trying to circumnavigate the furniture and each other.

The Austen kitchen

The Austen kitchen

The kitchen was my favourite room as it had things to play with – quill fountain pens with ink and paper, dresses and bonnets to try on, dried lavender by little circles of fabric and string to make lavender bags with. The writing proved to be particularly difficult, as you could only write a few letters before needing more ink. To think that Jane Austen wrote all her novels by this means fills me with an even greater admiration for her.

Upstairs there were further examples of the type of clothing worn at that time, including some delicate dancing slippers, which I’m guessing would have been worn at the infamous balls. Perhaps Lizzie wears these at the Netherfield Ball when she is dancing with Mr Darcy, ripe with sexual tension.

The museum portrayed a life of eating, writing and taking long walks, with a spot of needlework in the evening. Now if only I could give up work and do a spot of method acting – I reckon I could cope with that!


It was wonderful to see the place where Jane Austen lived, to look down at the desk where she did so much of her writing, to walk in the footsteps of a person who’s beautiful stories have so delighted me – well worth a visit! I felt closer to the writer, closer to the mind behind Pride and Prejudice, and that bit closer to Lizzie. Bit by bit, I’m getting there…

As one show ends, another begins

There is a phenomenon commonly known as the post-show blues that possibly all actors experience. It creeps over you as the final applause lingers in your mind and you face the daunting prospect of empty evening after empty evening and not a rehearsal in sight.

With the final performance of The Comedy of Errors past us, I managed to avoid the blues by cracking straight on with the next show and heading to Fuerteventura with fellow Comedy cast members Leigh and Amy for a girly week in the sun. Leigh and I even took our scripts for the next show to make a start on those lines. We’re both in Pride and Prejudice with One Off Productions at the Kings Theatre next March.

Sun, sea and sangria in Fuerteventura

Sun, sea and sangria in Fuerteventura

Having spent so much time together as a group, spending a week with the girls made it feel like the show wasn’t really over. We could go on pretending, each playing our beloved roles – Leigh as the fiery Adriana, Amy both a whisky-swigging nun and a crazy soothsayer, and me as a sultry courtesan.

Once back in Portsmouth Leigh and I were straight back into rehearsals for Pride and Prejudice. Naturally the step from prostitute to pious was a considerable leap, but the more I delved into Lizzie’s character, using both the script and the novel as my source material, the more I realised the two share several significant qualities.

Like the courtesan, Lizzie is strong-willed, clever, and a force to be reckoned with if she has her mind set on something. Of course, Shakespeare’s text didn’t set all of this out for the courtesan’s character, but the courtesan I created on stage exhibited these characteristics as she took on her own life off the page.

With a new script, a different setting and a cast made up of several familiar faces but mostly new friends, the exciting creative process can start all over again. Though I miss the courtesan and her swishy-hipped confidence, I’m falling head over heels for Lizzie all over again, just like I did the first time I read the novel. I can’t wait to step firmly into her shoes. And if I’m missing the Comedy cast too much, there’s always the pub just down the road for a natter over a rum and coke!

Sunday at The Southsea Show

This weekend saw the return of the Southsea Show, revamped and with a vigorous marketing campaign behind it. Heading down to Southsea Common on Sunday, I had only some idea of the wonders that were in store…

Awesome drummers in the carnival parade

Awesome drummers in the carnival parade

After overcoming the first hurdle of trying to get my wrist band on (which really wasn’t that hard), I managed to walk past the beer tent (a ‘wine tent’ would have been a different story), and make my way to the food stalls. Dan Dan the sausage man was very reasonably priced but the others stretched the purse strings just that bit too far.

We wandered into the various tents, admiring home-made jewellery, discussing the fate of Southsea Pier, and giggling at a dog who ran up to every plant at the Southsea Greenhouse stand, sniffed its flowers then proceeded to cock its leg up to urinate, at which point the horrified owner would yank its lead and pull it away for a second before it found the next unsuspecting plant.

In the corner of one tent I discovered the lovely Steve from Joy to Create, who run textile art workshops in Horndean. Only recently returning to needle craft, I’m on the lookout for some good workshops to help me learn new techniques and different ways of working with fabric. We discussed how to recycle old clothes into a funky new bag and he introduced me to free motion sewing, the skill of, in effect, using a sewing machine to draw. This struck me as particularly impressive, so I can’t wait to sign up for a workshop. I don’t actually have a sewing machine yet, but that’s not a problem as they provide all the materials you need at the workshop, along with a homemade lunch.

Colourful costumes in the carnival parade

Colourful costumes in the carnival parade

Two o’clock marked the start of the carnival parade, so we shuffled our way to a spot with a good view and watched as drumming bands, belly dancers and an assortment of intricate and colourful costumes made their way past. One lady in a beautiful elaborate costume with what looked like huge butterfly wings stood her ground against the wind, by now whipping across the common.

Once the parade had passed we headed over to the outdoor theatre area to see my friend the beautiful and talented Leigh Cunningham and co-star perform a rehearsed reading of a scene from One Off Productions’ Present Laughter, by Noel Coward. Both actors fared admirably against the booming music coming from various other tents around them. With mic in one hand and script in the other, they still managed to transport us into the world of the play, and I watched on in delight.

Me and the Boxmouth Theatre dragon

Me and the Boxmouth dragon

After another wander round the tents, this time admiring the handiwork of Tinder Theatre’s cardboard dragon for their new show Boxmouth, we returned to the theatre area via the donkey enclosure, me deliberating whether it was possible to sneak a donkey out past the security guards and keep it for a pet. Common sense prevailed, along with the thought of what the RSPCA would have to say about my plan, and we left the adorable creatures munching grass while the next group of children were hoisted into the saddles.

The next show was The ‘Ouses in Between, a Cop The Needle Music Hall-style performance about the ‘Father of Southsea’, architect Thomas Ellis Owen. Jamie Aspden, Nathalie Gunn and Patric Howe harmonised perfectly and played the comedic touches with perfection. It was a lovely fun piece, and the three performers looked completely at home entertaining an audience.

Sadly I left before the circus show that closed the weekend’s festivities, but the afternoon I’d spent at The Southsea Show had already proven well worth the £8 ticket price. Ways to improve it next year? A discount if you buy a ticket for both the Saturday and Sunday. Oh, and a free glass of wine on entry. Okay, maybe not the last one. It is a family show, after all!