Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduates and O’Toole Prize Winners Bethan Nash and Millie Corser are in rehearsals for Swallows and Amazons. We chat to them ahead of the opening, to find out what it’s like working on your first professional production out of drama school.
It’s one week until Swallows and Amazons opens, how are you feeling at this point?
Bethan Nash: I’m super excited! Just coming here this morning and seeing the beginnings of the set going up, I can’t wait to get on stage. And I can’t wait for everyone to see it. It’s such a lovely story and really charming. So yes, very excited…and a bit nervous.
Millie Corser: Well, the music is phenomenal. My friend laughed at me when I said my first job out of the Theatre School was going to be musical because I always used to cry whenever anyone tried to make me sing. I’m crying a little inside still but I am enjoying it because the characters are so much fun. (And also the Amazons get the best songs!)
How does rehearsing at Bristol Old Vic compare to rehearsing at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School?
BN: Well the process is quite similar, but the biggest difference is the room. The Clore rehearsal room at Bristol Old Vic is such a creative space, it has certainly felt different creating theatre in there. The experience level of the actors I’m working with is fantastic, for me and Millie it’s such a great experience to watch them and see how they work and approach the text and the music.
MC: At the Theatre School, it’s great because we immediately get to work with Stage Managers, the Costume Department, the Lighting Department etc… all that training has helped immensely. Working alongside professional actors who have been in the industry for a lot longer is amazing. I feel like I’ve learnt so much from them.
Swallows and Amazons is a trip down memory lane for some; there’s a feeling of nostalgia for those who read the book as a child, or perhaps fond memories of family holidays. Do you feel nostalgic working on the musical?
MC: Well I don’t think I’ll ever grow up! When I was a kid I was just a pirate in dungarees all the time – so I’m pretty much made for the part. But it does make you nostalgic. I’m currently moving out of my family home and last weekend I went back for the last time. It was really emotional, but in a good way, because it’s like a new era. The show does reflect on things like that, of childhood memories and growing up. But I’m personally thinking more about the future now, I’ve just left drama school and I’m going to try and be a grownup soon!
BN: When I was younger I used to watch the film of Swallows and Amazons a lot. I watched it recently before we started rehearsing so it brought back memories for me of being seven years old and going on adventures and camping.
Millie and I, for our graduation, went to the Lake District with our class and stayed in some cottages by a lake. We had found out the week before that we had the parts in the show so when we got there we decided it would be the perfect opportunity for character research. We went up massive mountains and went swimming in a lake and by a river…unfortunately no sailing, but a lot of exploring.
How have you found working with people like Movement Director Toby Sedgwick and Director Pieter Lawman?
BN: It’s an absolute honour. We know them so well from productions like War Horse and Frankenstein and we’d heard lots about him before, but to meet him and work with him in person is fantastic. He’s so experienced and knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants, I felt very safe working with him. Having that permission to explore and really thinking about the physicality of being on the boat was great. Half the play we’re on the sea so the work we did with Toby was really looking into how it feels and how we can portray this to an audience. When we went sailing for real that really helped, we didn’t have to pretend. On stage we want to make it look as real as possible so the audience can almost not notice and then really listen to what’s being said and get adsorbed in the story.
MC: Pieter is so nice. Previously, I’ve worked under all sorts of directors but I think he optimises the actor/director. He’s charming, open, warm, funny and silly…very, very silly so I like him a lot!
What’s been the greatest challenge of the rehearsal process?
BN: The thing that stands out is how high the singing parts are for me. Rosalie Craig, who played Susan originally, has a fantastic singing voice and I think the score had been written with her in mind. I am a soprano but one of the notes is a top G# so it is quite high! I have to go into the corner of the rehearsal room before we start to pitch my note, squealing like a kettle going off! So getting the high notes has been a challenge for me. But we have a week to go so it’ll be fine.
Through a lot of the show we ask the audience to use their imagination and right from the start ask them to buy into the story that we’re telling. I think it makes it more magical when you perform theatre like this, there’s a shared understanding between the audience and us as actors and musicians which is really special.
What’s been your favourite part of rehearsals?
BN: I think because the show is so malleable, in terms of the creativity you can have making anything into a prop, everyone’s imaginations are running on overdrive at the moment and that makes for a really fun atmosphere. And because we’re playing children as well you remember what it’s like to be a child and to play which makes it even more entertaining.
MC: I suppose getting the job actually! It’s so nice getting it with Beth who I lived with for two years and trained with for three and also playing a part that is really sweet and very similar to me and then working with these amazing people. But everything is a high point when you’re working professionally!
Christmas is always a magical time at Bristol Old Vic – the audiences are buzzing, the atmosphere is electric, we’ve got Christmas jumper day… what’s your favourite thing about Christmas?
BN: Oh where do I begin!? Well I love Bristol’s Christmas market which I’ve visited already. Seeing family and friends, the food is amazing. I love the presents, who doesn’t? I’d really like a Christmas jumper this year so I’m going to get a full outfit and go for it with tinsel and a Santa hat.
MC: Would it be bad to say mulled wine? I’m going to say friends and family…cough and mulled wine. Maybe drinking mulled wine with friends and family! And I love the Christmas lights.
BN: I don’t know yet, it’s a surprise! I guess that’s part of the actor’s life that I’m just getting used to now. When the show is up and running I’ll be able to audition for other things but until then who knows.
I love Shakespeare so I’d really like to get involved in doing that afterwards. And there are venues and companies that I’d love to work at, like the RSC and The Globe or the National. But then musicals, film, TV…anything! If its good work and there’s good people working on I think I’d try anything.
MC: I went to Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time two years ago with a show called Romeo and Juliet for Children and Beth and I are hoping to try and get some funding to do that again. We think it would be a successful thing to develop it two years later.
I think I’d love to get into comedy though. It’s hard when you’ve made someone laugh you just can’t get enough of it, it’s addictive. That’s what I really enjoy doing. I don’t want to be a big scary woman, I want to have fun!