At First Sight

15th March 2024 Progressive Players News
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Our March 2024 production, Out of Sight… Out of Murder by Fred Carmichael, marks the Progressive Players acting debuts of three members. Richard Bevan, Arthur Smith and Ben Brown took time out from rehearsals for a quick chat.


Tell us a bit about the characters you play.

RICHARD: I play Peter Knight, a renowned author around whom a series of characters emerge into real life (or do they?). Peter’s fortunes have slumped in recent years, and he is now looking for a comeback book to boost his royalties. He’s taken up residence in an old spooky house in Vermont to try and get some inspiration, as it is the house in which another author died in “mysterious circumstances”. He starts off being completely surprised (understatement!) when all his characters begin to appear as real people, but he gradually accepts them as they try to find out who the murderer is while avoiding being murdered. As the play progresses, he also becomes increasingly besotted with one of the characters that he brought to life… but is this real or all in his head?

ARTHUR: My character, Jordan Dillingham, is not anything like me; he’s rather loud, brash and self-confident and so doesn’t come across as particularly popular amongst the guests, not least his wife. As the lawyer he is responsible for reading the wilI, which is a key moment in the play.

BEN: I play Dick Stanton who is the juvenile character of the play (or is that play-within-a-play?). He loves to describe everything as “great!”. Dick has a bit of a preppy personality, so while he’s friendly, eager and direct he can come also across as overbearing and bullish at times. He is a bit of a playboy who is used to everything going his way and getting the girl… but maybe this time will be different?

Richard, you joined the Progressive Players quite recently. How did you find out about the company?

RICHARD: I’ve known about the Little Theatre for a while and have been to performances in the past. I have been involved with Wylam Amateur Dramatic Society for many years and have performed in a variety of plays. However, WADS has struggled to get back on stage after Covid. I kept hearing about the plays being put on at the Little Theatre Gateshead from PP member Alex Russell, who has also been in involved in WADS, and I thought that I would stick my toe into the acting waters again. I didn’t expect to get any parts early on, so I was surprised when I was offered the role of Peter Knight. I expected that I’d have to serve time my time with walk-on parts and so on!

Arthur and Ben, you’ve both been members for a little longer, and have helped backstage on several productions. How did you feel about taking on your first acting role for the Progressive Players?

ARTHUR: After being with the Progressive Players for just over a year and having had experience in front of house and props, acting, albeit in a small part, was something I became interested in as natural progression in the theatre activities. I was just waiting for the right play to come along, and a murder mystery was just my cup of tea.

BEN: I joined the Progressive Players a year ago and have helped out behind the scenes on all sorts of plays; bar work, vision mixing, set building and even ‘Foley’ sound work on stage during It’s a Wonderful Life, all of which was, well, wonderful! I haven’t been on stage since I was a cub scout in our group’s Gang Show many years ago when I played King Arthur… but because I was about five foot tall then it got plenty of laughs. However, this meant I was quite cautious, perhaps even apprehensive, about what I was getting into, especially because being on stage as an adult is a very different experience to when I was a child. Learning and saying lines is one thing, but it’s another to be working with all of the other actors, responding to your cues and reacting to everything going on around you. I suppose you don’t know until you try, and I’m glad I have. It has been a huge amount of work. People don’t realise how many hours are put into the production, yet it has also been tremendous fun. We’re all good friends having a laugh and doing our utmost to make the production the best we possibly can.

Out of Sight… Out of Murder has a supernatural theme. Have you ever had what you’d describe as a paranormal experience?

RICHARD: No – I’m a scientist in real life! Having said that, as a child I did see my granny in my bedroom after she’d died, and I saw a steam train crash on the disused railway line that ran past our house, so…

ARTHUR: Never had any experience of that type. Even though I’m not sure if ghosts exist I would shy away from spending the night anywhere haunted.

BEN: That’s an interesting question but I can’t say I have. I get spooked by noises at night like anyone and I like to think that’s all they are (if not my cat knocking things over). There have definitely been some surreal experiences and strange coincidences in my life, though!

Do you have any theatre superstitions?

RICHARD: I don’t think so. However, I do have to have my original script, with all my highlights and annotations in it, with me at all times. I keep it with me as a comfort blanket from the start of the first rehearsal to the last run of the play; even if it has been savaged by my dog (those who have seen my script know what I mean!).

ARTHUR: None that I can think of. I’m not really the superstitious type!

BEN: Perhaps I haven’t worked in it enough but I can’t say I do. I will add that I’m coming around to “rituals” like what athletes do before they compete. If there is some process, however strange, that you need to do in order to get your head in the right frame of mind so you can give it your best then I’m all for it.

Has taking part in Out of Sight… Out of Murder presented you with any unusual or unexpected challenges or surprises? If so, what?

RICHARD: Learning the lines! So many lines! It has been lovely rehearsing and everyone is so friendly, and I am in awe of the other actors who are just brilliant. But so many lines! The Little Theatre Gateshead itself is awesome and a bit intimidating at the same time. Moving from the rehearsal room to the stage was a big step-change and has made it all feel a lot more real. I have been so impressed with how incredibly professional the whole process has been, and I can’t get over how much ‘behind the scenes’ work gets put into the whole production. The actors may be the visible ones on stage, but it wouldn’t happen without the stage building crew, lights and sound, props, wardrobe, hairdresser, and the prompter. All the time there has been the steady hand of our director, Theresa, who has kept us all in check. I’m looking forward to see how everything works on the night. But I have to say that the biggest difficulty is simply finding my way around the theatre. The whole place is just one big maze!

ARTHUR: I seem to have slipped into the acting part without any problems, even though it’s new to me to actually have a speaking part rather than doing the occasion non-speaking role as a TV extra. All those involved in the play, both cast and crew, have been very helpful.

BEN: It’s not exactly uncommon but finding an effective method for learning my lines has been the biggest challenge. I work in IT and there is so much information and data floating around the field, as well as modern life in general, that it is tricky to retain it all. Going from our practice studio to actually rehearsing on stage without a script in hand felt peculiar, as if I was back to square one and had to re-learn it all. It’s strange when you know the words to say but sometimes you just suddenly hit a wall. I’ve tried several ways of absorbing my lines: writing them down over and over (as if I’m doing my times tables); finding key words as triggers; quizzing myself; having a friend rehearse my scenes them with me. Persistence has been the key. I definitely now appreciate how it’s a real skill to take that onto a big stage and act out in every aspect – where you stand, what you’re doing, your posture, reacting to other characters and events and so on. I also certainly have a huge respect for the other actors who have well over twice the amount of dialogue as me!

What play or role would you like the chance to tackle in the future, and why?

RICHARD: There are so many! But I would love to be First Voice in Under Milk Wood. I’m Welsh, I love Dylan Thomas, and Under Milk Wood was the first play that I ever appeared in (I played ‘Fifth drowned’ and ‘PC Attila Rees’), and I would love to “begin at the beginning”. Apart from that, anything that I can get into. Genre-wise, I like a bit of everything, as each brings its own different ideas and challenges. Comedies are great as the audience goes away smiling, but I also like plays where members of the audience involuntarily shout out “He can’t do that!” because my character on stage is doing something completely evil!

ARTHUR: Something similar to this current role but perhaps more prominent a character as hopefully I can develop my acting skills.

BEN: I would love to do another murder mystery – they really are so much fun because you’re collectively leading the audience on an adventure where you keep them guessing. Otherwise, I don’t actually know as many plays as my fellow actors – even Shakespeare or Dickens, shockingly – so maybe I should look into that and do some research. Watch this space!

Tell us why people should come to see Out of Sight… Out of Murder.

RICHARD: This is a lovely play with lots of hidden messages and links between the “murder mystery story” that is being written by the characters and the “real life” sections. It gives quite a nice insight into how an author might craft a play. There are laughs and tears, alongside tender moments and cat-fighting scenes – something for everyone! But who did it and why? The clues are there, but can you solve them?

ARTHUR: It’s quite different from the usual kind of murder mystery with a touch of the supernatural and a quirky ending which will appeal to everyone – and there’s plenty of characters in the play as well.

BEN: The cast, director and production team have put an incredible amount of work into it. So many of the jokes, twists and moments, right up until the final line, have endured so well over rehearsals that I really do believe the results will pay off in front of an audience. It’s a very funny and thrilling take on murder mysteries that plays with all of the tropes and conveniences of the genre. There is laughter, suspense, surprises and, of course… murder. Oh, and peppermints – you’ll have to watch to see why. As Dick would say, “gee whiz, it’s going to be GREAT! “.


Out of Sight… Out of Murder by Fred Carmichael
A Progressive Players production, 18 to 23 March 2024 at the Little Theatre Gateshead.