Who is Feargus Woods Dunlop's hostess with the mostest - and who does he think oozes theatricality? The writer and producer shares his five career gurus.
Lee Lyford (Director)
If it wasn’t for Lee Lyford I would not be pursuing a career in theatre. I’m not entirely certain I’ve forgiven him for that. Lee was the director of Theatre Royal Bath’s Young People’s Theatre (now TRB Theatre School) which I joined at the age of 13 as part of my parents’ cunning plan to make me friends (I was not a popular child at school). That decision changed my life – I made friends I still have to this day, but arguably more importantly I saw Lee’s passion for theatre and dedication for putting joy and heart at the centre of the work. Lee has a sense of what an audience wants to see and does not shy away from serving that up to them.
He encouraged me not to move to London post-training, but to stay in the South West and continue creating my own shows. His beautiful work directing New Old Friends’ The Falcon’s Malteser by Anthony Horowitz in 2014 opened up so many doors for the company. His subsequent success (now Artistic Director at Theatr Iolo) is no surprise: he is truly inspirational.
Kate Cross MBE (Director of the Egg Theatre)
Kate Cross once described putting a show on as “like hosting a great big party” to me. If that is the case, she is the hostess with the mostest. Kate has to wear multiple hats in her job, but it is when she is hands-on with a show that she truly shines. She has an unerring knack of asking the right questions at the right times to subtly guide the show to where it will sit best with the audience - never overstepping into the director’s or writer’s territory, just asking gentle, intelligent, provoking questions. It’s a skill I’m trying to cultivate as I move more into ‘pure’ producing.
Tim Ford (Director)
Tim Ford loves theatre deeply. Every pore of him oozes theatricality – he’s a member of the magician’s circle, can juggle, dance and sing, but chooses to use his talents to make others shine. His belief, vision and enthusiasm in a project is infectious and gets results: people work a bit harder and smile slightly larger with Tim at the helm. He applies the same level of care and energy to whatever he is working on: rehearsed readings, youth theatre, large-scale community musicals, commercial pantomimes, small-scale historical dramas or daft multi-role comedies. It is a wonder to behold.
Heather Westwell (Actor)
Full disclosure: Heather is my wife and the other half of our company New Old Friends, but it would be ridiculous for me not to list her as one of my gurus. I genuinely believe her to be touched by genius, and audiences agree with me. I am the lead writer on our shows and will slave over the construction of a joke/routine, but Heather has the enviable skill to take absolutely nothing - dusting a case for example - and make it side-splittingly funny. The infuriating thing is that her performance is so instinctual that she can’t fully explain to me ‘why’ it will be funny ahead of time, I just have to trust her. She is always right.
So many others
It’s been lovely to write this list of the people who inspire me, but now that I’ve started there are so many more who I want to recognise: Becky Vowles has gone from an eager Apprentice at the Egg Theatre to a powerhouse Production Manager, keeping a wildly more experienced creative team in check and on budget, awesome to see. James Farrell is a director I only met fairly recently, but who has become an integral part of our (New Old Friends’) creative language, with his impish delight in mischief coupled to an iron resolve that it must be ‘earned’ with heart and rigour. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing performers - too many to name here - each one teaching me something new about stagecraft, script construction and the limitations and possibilities of physical performance.