A new September slot at the New Park Centre offers the Chichester Players the chance to offer smaller-cast, studio-style theatre.
They are staging a double bill comprising Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Prima Donna followed by Picking Bones by Stephen Keyworth, with performances on Tuesday, September 2 and Wednesday, September 3 at 7.30pm. Tickets on 01243 786650 or from chichestercinema.org
Husband-and-wife team Michaela and Tom Cooke will be central to proceedings. Michaela is directing the Ionesco; and Tom is the solo performer in the Keyworth single-hander.
“It became apparent that we had a couple of extra dates we could do something with,” says Michaela, “and so we are just dipping our toe into it. These are two one-act plays that people have been wanting to put on.”
“It’s not necessarily experimental theatre,” says Tom. “But it’s black-box theatre, just to see if we can do something a little bit away from the standard fare. The last one the Players did was a Dickens; the next one will be an Ayckbourn, all good, solid amdram fare. This is something a little bit different.”
Michaela added: “We were both professional actors for a while until we decided to do more sensible jobs. I am a primary school teacher, and Tom is a barrister. But we both miss acting, and this is a way of keeping up with it. I went to drama school as part of the University of Leeds many years ago, and we did The Bald Prima Donna as an experimental piece. It was the first play Ionesco wrote, and it is taking the mickey out of Englishness. The story is that when he lived in France, one day he was walking through a field and he was looking at the beautiful white-washed houses and at the sunlight, and he had an out-of-body experience. He said that from that moment he saw the world as dreary and repetitive. Everybody was just repeating themselves until they died, and this play is a parody of that, but it is also very much about the English nature of English people, the way they sit stiffly and talk about inane things – or at least, that’s how he saw it in the 1950s!”
As for Picking Bones, Tom describes it as a three-part one-man show; the first character is a 46-year-old woman, the second is her son, and the third is her GP. Tom will play all of them. Dressing neutrally, he will find their characters through voice and physicality.
“Stephen wrote it in the early 90s. He is part of the BBC writers team for EastEnders, Holby City and Doctors, and he used to be one of the writers in residence at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. I met him at university. He had just finished university, and he was working as a stand-up comedian. He cast me in a play called Living Quarters when I was at university. We all got on very well, and we did one of Steve’s plays at the Edinburgh Festival.
“I really love his writing. He gave me a couple of scripts to look at. He’s a very good friend.
“This play is very much about the mother’s struggle with osteoporosis and how that affects her and her family. Her son is 22 and finding it all a bit difficult to cope with, together with his own selfishness. He wants to get out of there. The doctor is talking about the difficulties of treating people and being a professional carer.”