Following last year’s amazing pop up season in Vauxhall, The Garden Theatre is back this summer with a festival of exciting and eclectic work in a new pop up theatre at St. Gabriel’s Halls in Pimlico. Stephen Vowles has been talking to three of the team involved in The Garden Theatre’s new season: William Spencer, the director and choreographer of the new sexy all male modern ballet based on Delibes’ classic Coppelia; Michael Batten, a cast member of Happy Ending, Ronnie Larsen’s hilarious and naughty play about a gay man, a straight man and a massage table; and Dan Ireland-Reeves, the writer and performer for Bleach, a darkly humorous, soul-jolting one man show about sex, violence and city living.
So gentlemen, what does it feel like to finally be able to return to live theatre and to again get that applause from an audience?
William Spencer: The feeling of returning to the theatre is incredible. It’s like returning home after a long journey. I’m so glad the pandemic has grounded me as a person, but there really is nothing like the sound of an orchestra tuning, or the murmurs of the audience filing in, to share in a piece of live theatre.
Michael Batten: Performing in front of an audience again is like being on fire. It’s like being re-ignited. Nothing can replace that feeling of knowing you’re making people change and react in many different ways; changing to what they are seeing and to what one is creating on stage. It’s electric. Just being in a rehearsal room, being around fellow creatives and sharing experiences through our art has been wonderful during rehearsals.
Dan Ireland-Reeves: I’m beyond excited to be performing again. I think we all took live entertainment for granted before, but now it’s back with more life and energy than before and that’s an amazing thing. Audiences are just so ready to be taken on a journey that doesn’t involve a screen. The atmosphere of a theatre has taken on a totally new life; it’s so electric!
How did you cope with the lockdowns and did the pandemic change the way you look at life, deep I know but Boyz sometimes can get deep?
William: My reaction to the pandemic has inspired me to find the theatre and comedy in everyday life. Setting a dance piece in a supermarket or a sex shop is my way of saying, theatre is everywhere – because it is everywhere. It just took me a year of theatrical starvation to realise it and put it into a show.
Michael: I read (a lot), I drew, I ate, I ran, I focussed on my wellbeing, but most of all, I cut out what didn’t bring me joy in my life, whether that was a job or a person. I came to the realisation that I wanted to see more of the world and that I needed to learn more in life. I was hungry to perform as that is my meditation and it is acting and creating that makes me learn as a human.
Dan: As a creative person, I think I’ve been able to mentally deal with it pretty well. I’ve had loads to be working on whilst stuck inside and it’s definitely given me a good moment to pause and take stock of things. That having been said, I’ve come out the other side just so hungry for interaction and new experiences. I’m ready to put myself back out there and start seizing life with both hands. Like everyone, I’m really ready to get back to normal… but make normal a bit better than it was before.
What drew you to your respective roles?
William: During my training at a conservatoire I suffered from a pretty bad hip injury relating in a few surgeries. I took time out to rehabilitate and had to reassess what my body would be capable of in the future. I soon learned that my mind was far more adept, creative and rewarding for me to put to use. So I began to study choreography and direction. The discovery injury turned into a discovery of my calling.
Michael: I originally auditioned for the other part, but we read a lot on the day and I was lucky to be offered the role I am now playing. I am grateful to have been given the part of Mr Miller, as he has a journey and he definitely has a challenge as do I as an actor playing him. Mr Miller is American, he’s straight and he’s a bit of a homophobe… and me, a gay Brit and obviously not homophobic can’t think what is more challenging than a role like this. The best roles for an actor, I feel, is when we have to physically, mentally and characteristically change ourselves. I LOVE that about acting and about this role.
Dan: I’ve always been totally fascinated by sex work. In many ways I feel like it was a path that I might have taken in another life. So this is my chance to live vicariously through Tyler in this play. Bleach is sexy and dangerous but also has a lot to say about isolation; something that’s even more relevant after the last year. It’s about a guy trying to find his way in life, fucking it up and trying to do his best when everything seems like it’s against him… and I think we can all relate to that.
And if you wanted to tell Boyz readers something about the productions you are appearing in what would that be?
William: The one word we’ve said more than any other in rehearsals for Coppelia and the supermarket suite is ‘fun’. That is very apt. This ballet is funny and not just in a ha ha Shakespeare way, it’s laugh out loud hilarious. I challenge anyone who watches to tell me if they broke into a sex shop with their best friend, they wouldn’t have a dildo sword fight too!
Michael: Firstly, who’d have thought acting out a hand job when most of us have had quite a few can be so difficult (haha)! The play itself though… it’s dramatic, it’s comedic, it’s awkwardly funny and you might get to see some penis… two of them (haha). It also has heart. Though, not giving too much away, it does have a very ‘Happy Ending’.
Dan: It’s going to be a real rollercoaster evening of sex and violence, but Bleach is also full of heart and humour. If you’re looking to come back to the theatre and be really woken up and invigorated by a story, then this is the show for you. You’ll leave the theatre breathless, energised and hopefully feeling just a little bit sexy. I’m ready to bring theatre back with a bang and I’d really love to have you along for the ride!