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Witness For The Prosecution

Jonathan Firth, Sir Wilfrid, Witness for the Prosecution, London County Hall

How did you get into acting? 

I just did lots and lots of school plays and just quite liked it and thought I fancy doing this for a living so I applied to drama school and moved to London and have just been an actor ever since. 

What’s the best thing about your job? 

Probably the variety. Every job is very, very different and you’re working with completely different people every time. And if you’re doing a job like this theatre gig, every night’s different, so I think the fact that you never really get a chance to get bored and it doesn’t get stale, that’s probably the most exciting thing about it. 

What was the journey from theatres closing to theatres opening again? 

The biggest thing was that we were cast just before lockdown happened, so we all got the job in March thinking we were going to start rehearsing in six weeks or something like that, and were ready to go. Then obviously lockdown happened, but none of us knew how long that was going to be. 

To begin with, there was a sense of ‘oh maybe we’ll go in the Autumn’, then it was January, then it was the Spring and then it was June and then it was September…  so, there was this constant kind of uncertainty, and the goalposts kept on moving. It was an absolute combination of relief and disbelief to actually sit in a room on the first day of rehearsal with everyone and think ‘this is actually happening’. 

What was the experience of being actually able to put this show on?  

It was just a combination of excitement and relief really, and a little bit tricky getting back into gear. With a layoff as long as that, for the most part I’d been fairly idle – certainly as far as work was concerned, I hadn’t been working for the whole period. So when I hit the rehearsal room, I had a huge amount of energy, but I did find that actually my energy was getting depleted quicker than I would have expected, so that was a challenge. It has taken a few weeks but I think we’re coming through that now! 

What’s it the number one thing you missed about live performance? 

I just think the sheer fun and pleasure of performing. The sheer fun of just turning up every night, getting ready, going on, doing the show. Mixing with the guys and just being there, just doing it. It’s just the simple act of doing it, that’s what I missed. 

Eleanor Lloyd, Producer and President of the Society of London Theatre

Why did you want to pursue your career?

Because I love the experience of being in the theatre. I fell in love with theatre as a teenager, being taken on school trips and commercial theatre producing which is what i do combines the love of the live and the art with running a business. I run a big business with big teams and it’s all about trying to create art and sell tickets for that and that combination of art and commerce I find absolutely fascinating amazing.

What was it like being shot by Rankin?

He just basically chatted to me and then took very few pictures all of which were fantastic! Very good at putting you at ease and really passionate about theatre and art which is very nice.

What has the journey been like to get back to reopening theatres?

It’s been pretty hard. I feel like maybe we’re kind of waking up from a really bad dream. It’s odd, some of it I’ve already blacked out, I can’t remember some stuff of the last couple of years because it’s been so odd to be, you know, our working lives usually involve obviously being in our offices being in our theatres – seeing hundreds and hundreds of people every day to going to being in your bedroom on your own for months and months on end. But the coming back feels, well like I just said, you all feel a bit giddy, I mean that is how we feel.

We can’t quite believe that we’re here and it feels kind of okay and I think we all feel a little precarious, you know none of us saw it coming so you wonder what might else be around the corner. But producers generally have to be optimists because otherwise you’d never get anything on because everything’s too risky so I think ultimately we’re all just kind of like, okay let’s do it let’s get it back, let’s get audiences back, let’s get our teams back, let’s give some people some work and try and learn some lessons I think. None of us are probably going to be the same person we were before and but hopefully come back in a better way

What have you missed about live performance?

Oh for me I’ve just missed standing at the back of the stalls and seeing the audience. Hearing the audience come in, hearing them chatting before the show, hearing that sense of expectation, that’s the moment where the chatter stops, the lights go down and there’s this kind of pause moment of silence. I and I know lots of producers do this – we love standing and listening to what the audience is saying in the interval, at the end and finally, like hearing what they honestly thought, people weeping in toilets when it’s been something that’s been incredibly moving, hearing people say oh my god that was the best thing ever I’m going to tell people – you know that that feeling, that interaction with you – that’s what I really missed.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The best thing at my job is that it’s incredibly varied, so every day is different, every week is different. There’s always something that’s new and challenging and difficult but there is a sense of theatre family, there is a sense of a kind of community of people that are all trying to pull together. It’s really hard to do, it’s a really hard thing to make these shows. So much can go wrong and so much cannot work, it’s kind of alchemy so you need everyone to pulling in the same direction and that’s great.

Maria Marinova, Theatre Manager, Witness for the Prosecution, London Country Hall

What was the journey like for you from theatres closing to theatres opening again in lockdown?

It was quite a surreal situation of shutting down a very successful play for supposedly a few weeks to then realise it’s actually for a lot longer. Every month the reopening dates would move further away, which of course brought on a lot of worries about paying our bills in a future that had no place for us. It was the longest state of limbo and finally being able to restart our play has been a huge relief.

How does it feel to be back in theatres?

Operationally – we are all playing constant catch up to get to where we were pre-pandemic and there are completely new challenges thrown our way but we are all doing our best to manage. We all had moments of “how do we do this thing again?” with various parts of the job.

What did you miss about working in live theatre?

Being in a creative space with like-minded people and seeing many colleagues again after so long. It’s great to have the audience return to the theatre again and see their excitement at the end of the night!

Emer McDaid, Romaine, Witness for the Persecution, London County Hall

How did you get into acting?

I started acting at five years old in amateur drama theatre in Ireland and then out of university I was doing a show in Off West End and late Alan Rickman came and he just said you need to keep acting and that was me.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The ability to affect the lives of people who need to escape, so creating real in-the-moment feelings for people who may be having a hard time so you can create those moments of joy of laughter, the opportunity to cry, that’s what I love.

What was the journey like for you from theatres closing to theatres reopening?

It was a really weird one. I was actually quite sick during lockdown, I nearly died. We don’t know whether or not Covid triggered it but I was undiagnosed type 1 diabetic, so I had organ failure in hospital. It wasn’t caught and so I was kind of in ICU for two weeks just as things closed down and I thought I wouldn’t get back to acting again. I was basically told I may not even walk again, so the start of the pandemic for me was the start of what I thought would be life-changing circumstances, but I felt the world around me have this collective breath, a holding of their breath, it was like everyone just went *gasp* and I was doing the same and then as the pandemic kind of coursed out through the pandemic I got better, then the opportunity to go back on stage presented itself again and it like we’re breathing suddenly and it’s brilliant, it’s emotional, it’s really, emotional to be back I think we’re all really grateful.

How does it feel to be back in theatres?

At the first read-through we had for witness, it was magic. People all had tears in their eyes because I don’t think any of us thought we’d be back so soon if not all because of how theatres were treated and you know, the hospitality industry was put on the back burner, and so we were we felt like we were a secondary thought, as it should be. The NHS were pushed to their max and but being back on stage now we cannot stop smiling in the curtain call. t’s not the actor smiling saying thanks for coming, it is thank you for supporting us and so it’s just fantastic. I don’t know what else to say other than the pandemic taught us not to take this job for granted ever.

What is the number one thing you missed about live performance?

Live performance unlike filming or anything like that is pure in the moment joy and anything can happen in live performance. The beauty about live performance is that an audience get a different performance every single night, you are guaranteed a new experience and I think that’s what’s really magic about it and that’s what we constantly strive to bring to audiences.