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December Double Jeopardy

Jim, Clem, Zap and Dudley, from Improbable Fiction

December turned out to be one of the busiest, as well as one of the best months of 2010.

Four days before Improbable Fiction was due to start its run at The Lantern Theatre in December 2010, one of the existing cast dropped out due to unforeseeable circumstances, causing a crisis for the production.

At the time, I had been rehearsing to perform an open-air medieval mystery play of the Nativity as the Angel Gabriel, which I would be performing that Saturday. The play was directed by Steve Rogers of Open Minds Theatre Company, who would soon recognise the humour in my situation. I began working with them after stepping in overnight to fill three roles in their touring production of A Clockwork Orange, after a member of the cast sustained a torn hamstring in a fight scene on opening night.

When I received the phone call from The Lantern’s artistic director Martin Derbyshire on the Thursday evening, I immediately agreed to step in. I discovered the show would be opening on the Tuesday, giving me four days to learn the part.

When I arrived at 9am the following morning, I was astonished by the script I was confronted with. Putting all other work to one side, I realised that the role was far more sizable and diverse than I could have anticipated. Alan Ayckbourn had created a wondrously constructed flight of the imagination, and I was thrown headlong into its whirlwind.

The existing excellent cast were a huge source of support during our frantic preparations, and director Cein Edwards was in the theatre around the clock. The only break from our work was to allow me to perform in the open-air nativity, which was a surprising success after harsh weather had initially postponed the performance. As I returned immediately to begin a dress rehearsal on the first night of my joining the company, we were all possessed by the radical notion that “the show must go on.”

That it did, and by opening night I had managed to get to grips with four very different characters: Clem, a nerdy writer of impenetrable science fiction; Dudley Carstairs, villainous Victorian; DCI Jim Rash, womanising detective; and Zap, paranormal research assistant.

The show was a complete sell-out and a triumph for all involved. Audience feedback was at an all-time high. On a personal note, it was by far the most fun I have ever had on stage. The sense of safety I felt with the actors, backstage and technical team allowed me to cope with the demands of these four roles in such a short time, and provided the perfect Christmas present to cap off the year. Over and above that however, it is ultimately a testament to the quality and commitment of productions at The Lantern Theatre. I feel privileged to have been a part of it.

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