Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Interview: Lucy Briggs-Owen, starring in Communicating Doors at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Lucy Briggs-Owen is currently starring as Jessica in Lindsay Posner’s London revival of Communicating Doors by Alan Ayckbourn at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

The play sees a dominatrix (played by Rachel Tucker) who, in the process of fleeing for her life, stumbles into a cupboard and – thanks to the wonders of time travel – finds herself twenty years in the past. After realising lives are in danger, she teams up with Ruella (played by Imogen Stubbs) and Jessica to change the course of events. 

Lucy recently created the role of Viola in Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of Shakespeare In Love at the West End’s Noel Coward Theatre to tremendous critical acclaim. 

Her theatre credits also include: Times Olga in Fortune's Fool (Old Vic), Brooke in Noises Off (West End), Mrs Fainall in The Way Of The World (Sheffield Crucible), Vivie Warren in Mrs Warren's Profession (West End/UK tour), Cecily in The Importance Of Being Earnest (Open Air), Blanche in Widowers Houses (Royal Exchange), Sybil in Private Lives (Hampstead) and Cressida in Troilus And Cressida (Barbican/international tour).

Lucy’s work for the RSC includes: Helena in Midsummer Night's Dreaming, Maryna in Boris Godunov, Princess in The Orphan Of Zhao, Luscinda in Cardenio, Anne in The City Madam and Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

I recently spoke to Lucy about why she has been longing to take on her first Ayckbourn play, having a giggle with her co-stars and her fond memories of Shakespeare In Love…

What jumped out for you when you first looked at Communicating Doors? Jessica is such a fun role!
Well I have been, for a number of years, a huge Ayckbourn fan and have been longing to do some. In fact, I can remember auditioning with speeches from his plays – Absent Friends in particular – for drama school. He’s something I hold dearly. So this meeting came up for Communicating Doors, which was very exciting, and I read the play and thought ‘that is absolutely bananas… but completely brilliant!’ Whilst it is farcical and terribly funny, it is also so very human at points and taps into some really big issues and thoughts about what it is to be human. It seems very absurd and funny on one hand, but I think it’s actually got a lot of meat to it.

These three completely different women from different worlds end up coming together – it must be so much fun to play?
It is, and I must say that was one of the reasons I was drawn to the play. I very much thought ‘wow, these are three great roles for women’ which is so typical of Ayckbourn. It’s all about their chemistry and their journey together. They’re all so different except they share a strength of character and heart which makes them a great team.

Lucy in rehearsals for Communicating Doors with David Bamber

And what have Rachel Tucker and Imogen Stubbs been like to work with? The three of you work particularly closely during the balcony scene…
We’ve worked fabulously, we have a real giggle. I don’t want to spoil anything…. but the balcony scene is… oh gosh [laughs]… that takes some work to get through in more than one way! Not just physically – you have to stay focussed and concentrated so you don’t start giggling. There was a terrible moment the other evening where I thought it was going very well but the other two were frantically trying to signal to me that I was leaning entirely on Imogen’s wig and it was about to come off [laughs]! The whole cast are wonderful, I’m thrilled to be working with everyone. When casting was announced it was just thrilling because they’re all brilliant. 

You play Jessica at two very different points in her life…
It’s brilliant to be able to have the opportunity to play the same character twenty years apart – I get to play Jessica in her twenties and in her forties in the space of an hour! It’s really, really exciting and not something you would often get to do.

What was Lindsay Posner (director) like to work with in the rehearsal room?
This is the second time I’ve worked with Lindsay and I love it. He’s very good at staying open to what you want to bring but also being very honest and true to what’s in the text. I think he’s made the production very clear because on the one hand the concept of time travel can be quite overwhelming and by nature it’s fairly farcical, but Lindsay always grounds you to the truth of the text. He asks you to be honest to what’s written on the page, but gives you room to do that. He’s great!

Lucy in Shakespeare in Love
The Chocolate Factory is the perfect venue for this, the audience really feel as if they are peering into the hotel room. How do you find the intimacy?
Actually for me this is the first intimate space that I’ve played and I’m really, really enjoying it. I must say that the character I’m playing isn’t necessarily subtle – [jokingly] maybe a slightly more in-depth actress could have found a more subtle approach, but I haven’t seemed to – so my performance is still quite big, but I think maybe that’s where the humour lies with Jessica. It’s interesting having the audience so close, as you say it feels like they’re in the hotel room with you which lends a real immediacy to it which is helpful at points. You just know how the characters are feeling so much more readily than were you in a big space which is fun! 

It must be so nice to go from playing Viola in Shakespeare in Love to doing this which couldn’t be more different!
The contrast to going from something as big as that to something as intimate as this is really interesting. Ayckbourn requires such skill and it’s a whole different set of tools that I haven’t flexed before. The preview period was a real learning curve – there are laughs that move around at different places and different points. Honing that and working it out has been really interesting. 

Shakespeare in Love was obviously such a big time for you. What is it like to now look back at your journey with the show?
It was just a gift! It was such a wonderful year and it was thrilling to work with everyone involved. It felt very precious and very special and I feel extremely privileged to have been involved in it - it’s meant a lot. I have done long runs before, but my stamina as an actor really got worked on, I really learnt that part and really learnt that show. Shakespeare in Love was just a celebration of theatre and what it is to be an actor so I just feel so lucky to have been involved. 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Communicating Doors runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until Saturday 27th June 2015.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 1-2: Manuel Harlan 
Photo Credit 3: Johan Persson

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