NOTHING LIKE SHOW BUSINESS in conversation with writer & actor Alison Stanley 2/2

“I left school and went to college, then for a steady pay cheque I worked at the Inland Revenue. But once I got out of there I really appreciated the work I’m doing now. You could work 50 years somewhere, retire and write a book – but nobody knows how long retirement is. There is people that have passed away not long after they have retired from work”.

Alison Stanley (pic.2021)

In the second part of the interview with writer and actor Alison Stanley, she talks about new project ideas developed by LOR Productions.

We are a theatre group supporting new writing, stage entertainment and deliver Theatre in Education projects. We are based in Cramlington and it’s the second largest town in Northumberland but it doesn’t have a theatre. The closest is the 350 seater Phoenix in Blyth which is wonderful, or you have to come into the centre of Newcastle.

I would really like to change that with developing a creative hub to put on plays. Something around 100-150 seater, nothing too glamourous, just a small black box theatre for new writing.

I am very creative with the characters in my head that I write about, but they have to be reined in by the other half of the business, Christine Stephenson, who runs production. She asks things like ‘Where you have that scene going on there, can we do that differently ?’

The business side has got to be looked at carefully, how much will it cost ? Your profit margins might be able to keep the new writing going, people like Christine are very important to the smooth running of the company.

WHAT’S THE ISSUE ?

We are putting together a series of hard hitting Theatre in Education projects dealing with issues like drugs, gambling and revenge porn. The shows will be going in schools and pupils will be different ages so we’ve got to use appropriate language for that.

Research has shown kids running up debts on parents credit cards and we need to explore the reasons for that. We will talk to young people in those situations and young men who have felt peer pressure about sharing images and the consequences of that.

SPIRIT OF RADIO

I’ve done a few recorded shows for Radio Northumberland and recently been asked to go back to Radio Koast and present a live show. It’s hard to fully commit with a lot of projects coming together but I have aspirations to work for Newcastle radio.

I tell my PR, John Corbett at JAC media, to let the producers know and he always says ‘I’ve told them ten times’ but I reply ‘Well tell them eleven, John, tell them eleven’ (laughs).

There is more to do and the good thing is that there’s no age limit on acting or writing, yeah I can see myself still doing it until I’m very old. There is no time limit on it.

‘Sex is Hard Work’ is on at Newcastle Cluny, 19 August 2021.

The Cluny, 36 Lime St, Ouseburn. NE1 2PQ (tel: 0191 230 44 74)

Tickets:   https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/sex-is-hard-work-cluny-2-tickets/11214755

Interview by Gary Alikivi   July 2021

COME AGAIN in conversation with writer & actor, Alison Stanley part 1/2

“After the first night Radio Newcastle were talking about the show with music from The Full Monty film in the background. The reporter said it’s so immersive even from when you go in to take your seat the playlist includes raunchy songs. We also have a friend who is a burlesque dancer handing out sanitizer to the audience”.

The new play by Stanley is Sex is Hard Work based on real life sex workers and their stories. The show played over six nights in June at Newcastle Cluny. I asked the writer how she thought the show was received.

The show was everything I could of hoped for and more. We done the tests for covid everyday and were hoping everything would be ok and luckily it was. The venue which is a music venue really, had everything organised and it worked well for the stage, we sold out with standing ovations on two nights.

People were also really glad to get out and see a live performance. They were at the bars and restaurants before the show and sitting around the bars for a drink afterwards. It was really nice to see that.

The actors were great they knew each other’s parts so if anything happened like a positive test, they could easily do a bit of improvisation and keep the show running. We got plenty feedback and good reviews with four out of five stars.

The audiences were varied with a group of older ladies in their 70’s that loved it. One of them asked an actor if he got a physical reaction during the simulated sex scenes (laughs).

PUTTING ON A SHOW

In fact we’ve been asked back to do a for one night only on 19 August which will be great as there will be no social distancing then. That will set us up for a short UK tour next year, we are in talks with certain venues to take the show.

For now we are looking at two nights each in Newcastle, Manchester and London. Then see where else we can get scheduled with venues opening back up.

I will be slightly tweaking some scenes, I think you’ve got to have an end point but they make it better. Up to now it’s been a pilot really and a few additions will happen for the UK tour. If it enhances the performance why not?

Alison Stanley, pic. 2021.

YEAH, WE’VE DONE THAT

The first half of the show is a series of scenes and anecdotes where people can connect straightaway and laugh out loud saying yeah we’ve done that. But in the second half one of the sex workers is in trouble and it gets more serious, a bit of darkness edging in.

In feedback some people said they almost felt guilty for laughing at situations that turned out to be serious, but I like challenging the audience. There is some violence and the prostitutes end up hurt and broken.

When writing I don’t censor myself. For the opening I wrote a hook to grab the audience and set the tone for the whole show, it was a simulated sex scene – some people couldn’t look the actors in the eye (laughs).

The show is advertised with an age limit on it and with the word sex in the title I don’t think the more gentle people will come to see it. I use appropriate language and not gratuitous swearing.

THE SHOW GOES ON

For production of the show we always work on a three quarters full show so pricing of actors, ticket prices, stage set, venue hire, everything comes into that. A massive sold out stamp across the posters is great anybody would want that, but you’ve got to be realistic about it.

You want to make a profit, for another of our shows we sold merchandise at the end. There was cups with lines from the script on, one had ‘I baked a chocolate cake once, but I’m not Mary fuckin’ Berry’.

For Broadway I can see Sex playing there, yeah love to see that, why not ? These characters are too good to not be seen. I would rather fail than not try. I’m not afraid of failing, it’s a step on the way to success. I can’t live with regret, thinking ‘if only’. In life you have to be fearless.

‘Sex is Hard Work’ is on at Newcastle Cluny 19 August 2021.

The Cluny, 36 Lime St, Ouseburn. NE1 2PQ (tel: 0191 230 44 74)

Tickets:   https://www.ticketweb.uk/event/sex-is-hard-work-cluny-2-tickets/11214755

Interview by Gary Alikivi  July 2021

TAKE A BOW – writer, actress & theatre producer, Leah Bell

The last 17 months have been surreal, I don’t want to live my life behind a glass window and frightened – I’m double jabbed and ready to rock n roll said Leah as we sat down in The Centurion bar in Newcastle Central Station.

‘Dirty Dusting’ full cast – Andrew Green, Vicky Entwistle (Coronation Street), Vicki Michelle (Allo, Allo) & Leah Bell.

I got a call from Ed Waugh ‘Would you be interested in putting on Dirty Dusting at Whitley Bay Playhouse for a week ? I saw it around 20 years ago when it opened so was interested in picking it up. He sent me the script and I thought I’m not learning all this for one week.

So I asked Ed and Trevor Wood (Writers) if I could make a few alterations to make it more current. Well Ed had been to review our pantomime at Consett Empire and had seen me do other variety shows so he knew I was comedy based. They said ‘You know what’s working when you’re doing it – go ahead’.

So I pushed it along and here we are with 31 dates on our ninth tour. It’s a sign of a good play when it can last as long as it has. I hope to start touring at the end of September, I love getting up and setting off to the next venue.

WE ARE FAMILY

The meeting of the cast for the photo call and press launch was in my niece’s dance studio in Bedlington where I live, so very handy to pop in to my house, the restaurant and the pub. It’s very important that everybody gets on and gels – they did and we had a great time.

Dirt Dusting starts in Blyth Phoenix and for all the dates the cast go into a theatre family. We have Vicki Michelle (Yvette Carte-Blanche in Allo, Allo) still a very glamorous lady, and Vicky Entwistle (Janice Battersby in Coronation Street) just so funny.

In the past young people have told me they brought their gran to the show because they thought they would like it. But it’s the young people who like it, one girl said to me ‘I never went on my phone once’. What an accolade (laughs).

I just hope people are not frightened to come back to theatre because at some point we have to make a decision how we are going to live the rest of our life. If people want to come into the theatre and keep a mask on fine, it might be mandatory anyway.

Promo pic for Beverley Artists Agency, South Shields.

THE CLUBS

When I was 12 year old I was putting play’s on in the backyard roping in my school friends and hanging my mother’s sheet up as the backcloth. Nobody in our family had any connection to the entertainment industry so I don’t know where it came from, my mother couldn’t understand it. I didn’t go to stage school, I was more academic and looking at being a teacher or a lawyer, but somewhere, somehow, I wanted to be on stage.

I was born in Benwell on the banks of the river Tyne, I didn’t come up through Jesmond when everything is there for you. I came up where you learned to survive and work. My brothers and sisters were the same – cut from the same cloth. From my experience I think North East women are strong.

At 15 I started for Beverly’s Agency in the North East. The working men’s clubs is where I learnt my craft. And I’m eternally grateful. The clubs were different back then they were always a discerning audience. The men didn’t go in the concert room if they didn’t have a suit and tie on.

I think that background stood me in good stead for working in showbusiness. Especially when I moved out of the North East into more of a national market, you realise it’s a tough industry. You can’t be easily knocked down.

DODDY TIME

I was very happy going into places doing what I felt I have to do – entertain. I started off singing but because the audience in clubs are close to you, and some aren’t adverse to talking to you, I learnt how to speak to them on a personal level. I didn’t realise at first but it translated into comedy, and from that I won club and stage awards.

I went on a summer season in Jersey and from there Ken Dodd put me on his UK tour in the early ‘70s. He used to stand in the wings which is very disconcerting. When I came off stage he would say ‘You’re timing that gag wrong, this is how you time it’. So I had for free, one of the best teachers of comedy. If I’m writing a gag or a comedy sketch his words on timing echo in my ear.

Ken Dodd put me on with him at the Victoria Palace, London when I was young and I’m glad because when you’re young you’re brave. I never thought if the London people would understand me. Will my approach be acceptable in the West End ? I just went on and did my act and spoke to people.

Leah with David Jason. Promo pic by Newcastle Chronicle for Cinderella at Newcastle Theatre Royal 1980.

OH YES HE IS

I worked with Bobby Thompson a lot, he was a nice man. His act was of its time, the poverty, the war – very funny. We done a panto in Newcastle Theatre Royal with David Jason (Only Fools and Horses). Being in the North East was like being sent to the Antarctic for him ‘Blaady ‘ell’ he’d say in his Cockney accent (laughs).

David didn’t know Bobby Thompson at all, Bobby never rehearsed with us, there was no interaction. So Bobby done his Cabaret piece at the start of act two, and afterwards backstage would shuffle around saying hello to people. David used to say to me ‘What a shame for that old fella, fancy having to work at his age, I’ve just give him some money for a cup of tea’. I said ‘What ! he gets dropped off in a limousine (laughs)’. 

One night David said ‘He’s never in the finale, it’s nice of the theatre to let him go early he must be tired’. Really Bobby was doubling up and playing the late spot at Newcastle Mayfair. Bobby had great delivery, clear, distinctive and not draggy. It can sound like he’s just talking along but it’s not, it’s very precise. He was a one off.

SHOW MUST GO ON

But there has been low times like when I was doing final rehearsals for a touring show that was just stopped completely because of what happened in New York on 9/11 – the show just didn’t go ahead. But if the theatre permits it I’ve always gone on after terrible events.

When Princess Diana died I was in Jersey, and you could tell the mood of the island and all the holidaymakers, the whole world was watching news 24/7. It was decided that nothing would proceed that actual night, but from the next day it would carry on.

We were doing a fabulous ‘50s and swinging ‘60s show, I would do the opening and make a remark about it and say we need to carry on. The audience applauded that and relaxed into the show. It was like people were waiting for it and wanting us to acknowledge what had happened.

When I used to work on the cruise lines I was on the Canberra and we would be doing the rota, and none of us wanted to go on stage after we had stopped in Jerusalem. When the tourists got back on board they were very sombre and serious because they had been on a religious tour. We felt we would be far too flippant for them after they had spent the day there.

TURN BACK TIME

If I could go back and change anything I would like to have in my thirties the frame of mind I’ve got now. When you go through showbusiness you really have your heart on your sleeve all the time, you are trying to please everybody and doing what you think they want you to do.

I worried about performances when working for people when really I should have just enjoyed it more. I should have made more of the opportunities rather than worry about them. As I say to all the cast before they go out to do any show ‘Remember above all, try not to be shite’ (laughs).

LIGHTS UP

An old lady stopped me on Bedlington Front Street the other day and said ‘Leah are you gaan on at the Blyth, cos we’ve had our tickets cancelled from the Christmas show.

I said ‘yes I’m going on’.  ‘Good’ she said ‘we’re glad to be gaan oot cos we’re sick of stopping in’

I walked off saying ‘If the theatre is shut, I’ll do it in the car park behind ASDA’.

Interview by Gary Alikivi   June 2021

BOB & WEAVE with North East actor Micky Cochrane

‘Carrying David’ is a one-man play reflecting the highs and lows of Glenn McRory’s unrelenting drive and sacrifice to become the first world boxing champion from the North East.  After performances last year, a short run of dates were scheduled for April.

The play was written by Ed Waugh (The Great Joe Wilson, Hadaway Harry) and starring Micky Cochrane. When I caught up with Micky I asked him what impact the Coronavirus pandemic having ? Unfortunately the shows at the Newcastle Theatre Royal and Canal Cafe Theatre in London have been cancelled. I really hope we can reschedule but it’s all so uncertain now. I’d worked hard to get into really good shape so I’ll continue with that. Long term I don’t know what will happen.

What other work have you done with writer, Ed Waugh ? One of the earliest plays of my career was The Revengers written by Ed and Trevor Wood. I also did Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather by the duo. In recent years I’ve worked a lot with Ed who I get on very well with. I played music hall legend Joe Wilson in the ‘Great Joe Wilson’ in 2018 and grew to have great affection for the man.

Have you had a magic moment on stage when it’s all going great ? Absolutely. It’s a great feeling when you know going into a run how strong the show is and then the audience lift it to another level. I remember doing ‘A Nightingale Sang’ by C.P. Taylor. Most of the cast were on stage for my entrance and I couldn’t wait to get out there. The script is so good and the cues so fast it was such a buzz to be part of it.

With ‘Carrying David’ in every performance I felt I recognised a moment where I knew the audience were with me and with the story. That’s a pretty special feeling.

How did you get interested in acting ? I always acted and performed at school. Got my A for Drama but left school thinking it’s not something that someone of my background does. I maintained an interest from afar but didn’t see it as a career. I had all kinds of offers to join youth theatre and Drama clubs.

After years of many jobs and no direction it was my mother who persuaded me to give it a shot. I took a degree, got an agent and became a professional actor.

Is stage work in your family ? Singing and performing definitely. My mother is an amazing singer with a lovely voice. My older sister and younger sister are both good singers. My younger brother Stephen is a singer and fantastic songwriter and we are in a band This Ground Moves. My niece has an amazing voice. We’re the Geordie Osmonds.

Have you worked in TV or radio ? Yes, highlight was doing Man Down with Greg Davies. A great experience and a good laugh. Done quite a few ads in TV and radio.

What role would you like to play ? It’s ambitious, but I’d love to explore the part of Johnny Byron in ‘Jerusalem’. Maybe a ‘Line of Duty’ villain, love playing shady characters. I also have a real interest in playing strong characters or any who have a vulnerability to them.

Have you any work lined up this year ? I was meant to be working at Live Theatre this summer, with November Club in late summer and at Alnwick Playhouse at Christmas, but Live Theatre has been cancelled for now. It’s fingers crossed for the others. Who knows what happens next. It’s a sad and surreal situation we’re in.

Interview  by Gary Alikivi  March 2020.