Eileen Walsh speaks to Theatrefullstop about touring with Frantic Assembly's new production, The Believers!
Frantic Assembly are noted for their bold and daring performances as they continually challenge the way in which stories are told. This time, it’s no different, as the theatre company return with a UK tour of their latest show, The Believers. A production that marks a welcome return for performer Eileen Walsh, having previously starred in Frantic Assembly’s Tiny Dynamite, I was able to speak to the actress about reuniting, touring and her role as Marianne.
You’ve been touring with Frantic Assembly in their new production, The Believers, could you describe what the production is about?
The production is about two different couples who are forced together on the one night. They have to stay in each other’s house, and it’s basically about, due to bad weather, what happens and what failings it brings out in each other’s relationship. It’s a very funny and moving piece.
Could you describe a bit more about your character?
My character is called Marianne, she’s married, and they have a little girl. She’s quite cynical, quite sarcastic but she enjoys herself, and takes the lighter side of life very much. Throughout the course of the evening, what we find out about her is very different.
How do you find playing her?
I’ve worked with Frantic once before, so I was very excited about coming back to work with Scott (Graham), and Bryony’s (Lavery) work I had seen numerous times and love her writing, so it’s amazing to be doing this. Playing Marianne is very interesting, it’s physically demanding, so it’s a real buzz! It’s a joy because there’s only 4 of us in it, and the 4 of us get on so well! We’ve just finished 6 weeks on tour, and normally that can feel like a lifetime if you don’t get on, thankfully, we’ve all got on really well. It’s been a bit like a holiday!
The tour has included performances at The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Warwick Arts Centre and the Curve in Leicester; how do you find the process of touring a show? Do you find it easy to adapt to each space?
I think touring brings its own problems in that I’m away from my kids, my husband, so that is difficult. As much as you can see it as a holiday, and enjoying it, I’m away. It’s tricky because you’re re-teching the show in each venue, with a different sized stage, and so all of that is just time consuming. They (Frantic Assembly) have such an amazing programme in place that they have a very dedicated following, so it tends to sell out very fast! It tends to be a very enthusiastic audience and they reach people that a lot of theatre companies don’t reach. Sometimes for those non-theatregoers they know that they’ll get something that’s not condescending or overly educationally challenging. They do work reaching a lot of people; it makes each venue enjoyable because you get an amazing reaction from people!
Is that something that drew you to work with the company again?
Yes definitely. The last time we worked together, I went on tour with Scott (Graham) and Steven (Hoggett) and we had such a good time that I knew it would be great fun! I happened to bump into them both a year or so ago. Scott was saying maybe we should work together again. So I knew it could only be a good thing to get my Frantic Seat back!
What has the audience’s reaction been towards The Believers?
I think people come expecting one thing, and leave getting another. You leave with a lot of questions, not necessarily answers, but it’s a very enjoyable evening. The audience reaction at the end is slightly stunned, and then the applause tends to be huge because it’s just not what they were expecting.
The Believers marks a welcome return to the theatre company as you previously starred in Frantic Assembly’s 2001 production of Tiny Dynamite. How did you find working on that production?
I was in a touring version of Tiny Dynamite and it went to Bulgaria. I had seen the original; I went to the Edinburgh Festival, I was living in Edinburgh and I went to the Traverse and I saw Tiny Dynamite. I had just (talked) to Vicky Featherstone and I met her in the bar afterwards, and I was (like), Oh my God! I loved it! That show is amazing! Why wasn’t I in it? And she said to me, you know, I’m allowed to work with other people Eileen you know! But when it came up for touring, she phoned me and went, do you still want to do it? The boys have always been incredibly committed, incredibly good fun so it’s such a brilliant mixture of being able to enjoy your job, but actually wanting to go at it 100% as well, so they’re a wonderful company really!
Were there any similarities or differences in terms of the rehearsal process from the current show you are doing now to Tiny Dynamite?
Yes quite different. Tiny Dynamite had some dance pieces within it, but it didn’t ask a tremendous amount physically. This piece now is incredibly demanding, so the 4 of us are the fittest we have ever been I would think. It takes an awful lot of core work, so the boys have us doing circuits daily, and sit up routines and a whole work out that takes 45 minutes to do, so we all come together before the first show and do this workout together. We’ve recently extended our circuits, we do 5 circuits a piece and it’s all based on doing plank, arm dips, sit ups, press ups, all that kind of stuff, and you need it because there’s a moment where we walk on the walls, on the harnesses, carrying each other’s weight, so you need to be strong, strong, strong!
In terms of other theatre productions, in terms of process, has this been the most arduous, the most physically demanding?
I think so. I think every job you do, you feel is so different in each way and as you’re in the middle of something, you go this is the toughest job I’ve ever done! Then you move on to your next thing and think Oh my God this is the toughest thing I’ve ever done! I think this physically is tough, but the pay off is amazing and it doesn’t feel like it’s hard work. That’s always a really good sign and that we’re all turning up to do the work, to get that adrenaline buzz off it, we know we’re strong enough to carry each other in the show and it’s very much a team unit.
For any emerging artists or performers out there, what advice would you give them?
I watched an interview that Bryan Cranston did recently, and he said just work, just keep working! I have a friend of a friend who is a successful Fashion Photographer, and his thing will be, you’ve got to turn stuff down. It’s very hard because people in our position are rarely in a financial position of being able to turn stuff down, you need the work, you need the money coming in, you need the bills paid, but Bryan Cranston (says) keep working, keep learning, keep pushing, as long as you’re earning some money, and you’re finding out more about yourself and what you can bring to a character and how we work as a trade, keep working and keep the faith!