Frantic Assembly bring their new production The Believers about love and loss to Warwick Arts Centre from Tuesday 11 until Saturday 15 March. In preparation for the arrival of this exciting physical theatre company, I spoke to actress Eileen Walsh about her career, involvement with Frantic Assembly and the journey the production has taken so far.
Eileen answered the phone sounding positive and excited about our discussion. She was sat on the beautiful beach of Cawsands, in Plymouth. Eileen might best be known for her film role in The Magdalene Sisters (2002), but she first worked with Frantic Assembly after having seen their production of Tiny Dynamite at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2001 and falling in love with it. She was then offered the chance by friend and director Vicky Featherstone to be in the production as it toured to Bulgaria. Eileen spoke warmly of her first experience with the company saying, “I got to have some of the best fun I’ve ever had doing the show that I adored.”
She recently met with director of The Believers, Scott Graham, who also co-directed Tiny Dynamite, when he offered her a part in the show. “I think, really, they could have offered me anything and I would of done it,” she said, “It’s a lovely combination of things all working together at the right time, so I am delighted to be doing this because they’re amazing. I love Scott, I think he’s incredibly inventive and not at all frightened of making you do things you didn’t think you could do.” As well as Scott Graham, she also spoke fondly of Eddie Kay, the Associate Movement Director, saying he, “was amazing at pushing us and getting us physically strong to be able to do all this walking on walls and everything.”
I then asked her what the experience was like to work with such an innovative company. She proceeded to tell me about how much more physically demanding The Believers rehearsal process had been than Tiny Dynamite. “They’re amazing, so the last time I worked with them I had to learn moves that were very choreographed whereas this time we spent the first two weeks doing physical workouts every morning to get us strong using circuits and things and then we would spend the latter half of the morning learning how we all moved together.”
We went on to discuss challenges for actors, and the biggest challenges she faced during the rehearsal process. With The Believers being such a physical show it was unsurprising that she found the physical demand and strain the most difficult thing by far. “I wouldn’t have had the strength two months ago that I have now, that core strength, because of the harness work that we do.” However, there were also simpler things, such as basic trust exercises, that she found challenging and felt that she’d really developed as an actor working with Frantic Assembly saying, “They’ve made me braver.”
It seemed the devising process was a collaborative one from the very beginning, particularly between the directors and the performers as Eileen described her relationship with the directing team. “Both Scott and Eddie would listen very much to us and see what we could bring out of it.” She went on to talk about their visions for the piece and how they translated this into a reality using the actors. “Always in their minds they knew how they wanted it to look, but like any good director it’s about the actors believing they got there themselves because then you know all the connections you’ve made in your head to make sense of it being there… It very much feels like a collaborative process because I think they both really adore actors… You could get dancers to do this but you can’t necessarily get dancers to act, so it’s about getting actors, not to dance, but to move beautifully.”
We spoke a little about how Frantic Assembly are known for touring their productions internationally. I asked whether she thought The Believers could or would tour. “It’s a piece that could tour, and I think it’s very exciting… The response back has been very strong and very positive.” She seemed unsure but hopeful as she continued, “It’s a tricky set, but I think they would love for that to be possible, and I think the four us as actors just get on so well it would be a lovely thing.” Eileen is working alongside actors, Christopher Colquhoun, Penny Layden and Richard Mylan.
Judging by the audience reaction the company have experienced so far it seems that an international tour could be likely, as Eileen describes their success, “So far in Plymouth the response has been from lots of 20’s and under even, which is just amazing to get that age group out to the theatre…. Frantic have really grown an audience for themselves.” She goes on to reiterate how younger members of the public are really engaging with this production. “Frantic have really got a great grounding of young people coming to see this stuff. Now by young people I mean like under the age of 40!” She laughs, as she realises she is talking to someone much younger than 40…
Eileen expressed saw how the younger fan base could be down to Frantic Assembly’s outreach programme, Ignition, which is a physical theatre training project, unusually only for young men. Eileen spoke briefly about her support of the programme, with its “amazing projects”. “Their outreach work is so good at bedding in a young audience,” she said.
Probably the most pertinent question I asked, is what we as audience members should expect from the piece. This ended our conversation on a cliff hanger, “I think it’s really hard to know what to expect. I think the most I can say really is that it’s an hour that will have you looking at things very differently and it’s funny and dark and you don’t know who to side with which can only be a good thing, before you know it you’re looking at a scene upside down.”
Eileen has given us a taste of what’s to come. The piece, which tells the story of two families flung together on a night of cataclysmic weather, sounds like it will produce some very exciting moments of physical theatre from “walking on walls” and “harness work” to grappling arguments and battling for the truth. Exeunt have called it ‘a brilliantly dark thriller that leaves you gasping’. The Believers is not one to miss.
For further details and to book tickets see Warwick Arts Centre’s website.