Interview/Q+A with Heather Westwell and Feargus Woods Dunlop, the husband and wife team behind theatre company New Old Friends, bringing Crimes Against Christmas to Lichfield and Bath this festive season.
How are preparations for Crimes Against Christmas going?
Fearg: Really well thanks. The set is designed, built and ready for get in. The script has been written and re-written after a week of R&D rehearsals. The score is coming along very nicely and tickets are selling very well.
Heather: Casting was really difficult but only because we had so many great actors apply. We’re thrilled with the cast we have and can’t wait to start rehearsals on the 21st November. Not long now.
What’s the show about?
Heather: The show is about an art investigator who is sent to a remote island.
Fearg: He is sent there to prevent an art theft but quickly the case changes into something else.
Heather: The rest of the story is a comedy thriller, murder mystery all themed around Twelve Days Christmas.
How do you come up with the ideas for your shows and then how do you create them?
Fearg: It varies to be honest.
Heather: Our last show was an adaptation of a book that we both fell in love with after Fearg ran a workshop based upon it.
Fearg: For Crimes Against Christmas we struck a relationship with Tim Ford (Artistic Director of the Garrick) at Edinburgh and he invited us to pitch an idea for his studio space at Christmas.
Heather: We produced an alternative Christmas show in 2010 for Bath’s Rondo Theatre which was a big success and pitched Tim a similar concept; a pantomime story told in the real world.
Fearg: Tim liked the idea of an alternative Christmas show, but the panto angle wasn’t quite right. So we went back to the drawing board.
Heather: We spent an afternoon in our garden with loads of sheets of paper and post-its and came up with the story that became Crimes Against Christmas.
The show is described as “Made in Lichfield”, what does that mean?
Fearg: We are passionate about regional theatre. The vast majority of the country doesn’t have easy regular access to the West End so the majority of their theatre exposure comes in Regional playhouses.
Heather: Because of this we are thrilled that we are co-producing with The Garrick and doing all of our rehearsals there. We held the auditions in Lichfield and are delighted to have cast an actor still based in the Midlands.
Fearg: The show really has been a true co-production and the Garrick have been incredible partners to have.
Heather: We are looking forward to getting to know Lichfield well. Any local suggestions that are not to be missed, hit us up on Twitter (@newoldfriends)
Who would you say your greatest influences are?
Fearg: From a theatre point of view, I fell in love with The 39 Steps and have seen it countless times, and recently the work of Mischief Theatre is massively inspirational.
Heather: Victoria Wood, Julie Walters and Kim Cattrell are big heroes of mine. Billy Crystal is always funny in his movies. I loved Groundhog Day at The Old Vic this year, it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
Fearg: Morecombe & Wise, Ronnie Barker and Sorry I Haven’t a Clue were my first comedy inspirations. Followed by Billy Connolly, Bottom and Jim Carey. Now I’m in awe of the work of Tim Minchin and Eddie Izzard.
Heather: We’re both also always inspired and influenced by the work of our friends and shows that we see at our local theatres as well as the big well known companies like Kneehigh, RSC, Propeller and Shared Experience.
How did your company, New Old Friends, come about?
Fearg: It wasn’t part of some grand plan to be honest. I graduated from Bretton Hall in 2008 and I knew I wanted to make theatre eventually, but was just looking for a job. I got a role as Assistant Director on the Theatre Royal Bath’s Young People’s Theatre’s production of His Dark Materials which meant I was in and around the theatre all the time. Through various happenings I ended up being offered a full week of the incredible young person’s studio there called the egg. The only catch was I had to come up with a company name, show title, image and synopsis within about 5 days. So New Old Friends was born. The first show was a very ‘laddy’ comedy called Mate with me, Josh Golga (who I graduated with) and an actor called Andy Dawson. It was fun, but very rough.
Heather: I actually worked front of house on that show.
Fearg: Yeah it was around this time that Heather & I were getting to know each other and New Old Friends didn’t really find its groove until Heather joined and brought with her the importance of visual style and polished performance to go along with all my word gags.
How do you find working together as a husband and wife team? Does talking about theatre ever end?
Heather: We met through the theatre so we’ve always had that in common from the start.
Fearg: People often ask us that, and seem shocked that we get on really well when working together. We have a good sense of when we’re about to have a disagreement and can generally avoid it early.
Heather: We work hard to not let conversations about the latest show or tour bleed too much into our personal time. But at the same time, we love what we do so do end up talking about it a lot.
What’s next for New Old Friends?
Heather: Perhaps another Christmas show next year, if this one continues to be successful.
Fearg: Maybe even two! Or more likely this one again on tour and a new one.
Heather: We’re also having talks about maybe creating some more family shows (our last show was for a family audience)
Fearg: And then we’ll just see what else comes up. We’ve been really lucky with the people we’ve met and the opportunities we’ve had so far, so hopefully that can continue.
Three reasons to see Crimes Against Christmas…
1 – It’s a brand new piece of theatre. You’ve got a cast of four taking on multiple characters, a set doing all sorts, an original score and a story that will (maybe) have you guessing right up to the end.
2 – It’s properly funny. There are loads of jokes in it, great characters, and visual humour too. Even our work-in-progress previews brought out big laughs. Hopefully it’ll be as funny as watching a good stand-up without the fear of being picked on.
3 – It’s a night just for adults. It’s not hugely rude or sweary, but it is a comedy for adults to be enjoyed with other adults. And maybe a festive glass or two. Book a babysitter and round up your friends for a very different Christmas show.
New Old Friends present Crimes Against Christmas A cracking Christmas comedy crime caper inspired by Christie. The Lichfield Garrick, 9 – 31 December 2016 Theatre Royal Bath Ustinov, 3 – 7 January 2017
Crimes Against Christmas is a comedy thriller for an adult audience. The plot is loosely based around Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None with an apparently random group of people mysteriously invited to a Christmas party on a remote island. Once on the island, the guests start to die in suspiciously Christmassy ways: Pipers whilst piping, Lords whilst leaping, Maids whilst milking – and guest of honour Peter Artridge doesn’t like the look of the rope in the pear tree one bit.
An alternative Christmas show to conventional panto, it features a host of characters brought to life by just four actors, sweeping the audience along with a fast based narrative and enough hints (and red herrings) to have them wondering just who the villain is to the very end. Basically it’s Agatha Christie meets 12 Days of Christmas meets 39 Steps.
@newoldfriends | #CrimesAgainstChristmas | www.newoldfriends.co.uk
Running Time: 90mins plus interval | Suitable for ages 14+
Directed by Craig Sanders Designed by Carl Davies Lighting Designed by Liz Porrett Musical direction by Paul Dodgson
Perfomers: Heather Westwell, Feargus Woods Dunlop, Dan Winter and Jonathan Maclean.
9 – 31 Dec 2016 Lichfield Garrick Theatre (not 12-14, 19 or 25) Castle Dyke, Lichfield WS13 6HR
8pm (4pm matinees – please see website for details)
All tickets £20
www.lichfieldgarrick.com | 01543 412121
3 – 7 Jan 2017 Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Bath, Sawclose, Bath BA1 1ET 8pm (Sat mat 5pm) Tickets £14/£10 www.theatreroyal.org.uk | 01225 448844