This week, we’re talking to Actor, writer and comedian, Lou Chawner
Tell us a bit about what you do in theatre
As an actor, my first few shows were with a local group, the Duston Players and I did my first three plays with them. More recently I have done four productions with Masque Theatre, and I am currently working on a show with Royal & Derngate Actors Company. So far I have mainly been acting (with a little bit of mandolin playing and singing thrown in), but I have also just finished writing my first play and I am really looking forward to putting it on somewhere once this is all over. I actually finished it just a few weeks before lockdown started which was obviously perfect timing, but at some stage things will open up again and I’ll get it on somewhere.
What first inspired you to get involved in theatre?
I’m not sure if I could pinpoint one exact moment, I just know that it is always something I have wanted to do and was probably a combination of things. My first experience of performing in front of a live audience was as a stand up. It was at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar in Edinburgh. As it was my first gig I only got to do five minutes, but five minutes in front of about 200 people laughing at something I had written, and then said out loud, was long enough for me to completely fall in love with performing.
After that first performance I have been fortunate enough to perform probably a couple of thousand stand up gigs all over the UK, in all sorts of venues ranging from upstairs in a pub to proper theatres, and also a few times at the Download Festival in front of 1000 people. It was only in the last few years though that I finally made my acting debut.
I remember being quite nervous about contacting the local group. I had all of the thoughts that I imagine everyone has. What if they don’t want outsiders? What if I’m not welcomed? What if I go along and I’m completely crap at it? I’m so glad that I put those worries aside and contacted them, because it was the start of an amazing and exciting adventure, and one that I hope to continue for a very long time.
What shows have you worked on?
Baldrick (Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, Duston Players), Charles Bovary / Lheureux (Madame Bovary, Masque Theatre), Claude Monet (Defying Gravity, Masque Theatre), Costard (Love’s Labour’s Lost, Masque Theatre), Benn Gunn (Treasure Island, Masque Theatre).
Which productions have you most enjoyed being part of?
I would have to go with Madame Bovary. I loved everything about that show. The script was amazing (we did the version written by Rosanna Lowe), plus it was a very small team and we became a really closely bonded, incredibly focused group. I also learned a lot during this show, and it was a real challenge. It was in parts very funny, and in parts extremely dark, and switching between those different emotions really quickly, whilst also switching between different characters meant that you couldn’t lose concentration even for a second. Plus, the show ended with me dying, with floods of tears running down my face, and the spotlight directly on me. And, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want that!?
If you could direct any play, what would it be?
Just before lockdown I had an idea that I would like to adapt and direct a version of a very old and I think not that well known fairy story. It would be quite different to most things I have been interested in doing in the past, but it is a really good story and it would have a lot of opportunities for some really interesting imagery. Its also a proper heart breaker, and I love a good heart breaker.
Do you have a memorable story about theatre you can share with us?
Well, memorable for the wrong reason was the time I broke my ankle about four weeks before a production, and had to do the whole thing on crutches. There was also the time I had a slight wardrobe malfunction during Blackadder. I had a really quick change from a leather S&M outfit into Victorian clothes and I realised I had forgotten to take my studded choker off. I think I actually got away with it and no-one knew about it. Until now…
What’s the best thing you’ve seen on stage?
I think the best thing that I have seen in the last few years was The Flying Lovers Of Vitebsk, by Kneehigh Theatre at The Royal in Northampton. It’s a really beautiful story, accompanied by great music and it looked amazing.
What do you love about Northampton’s creative scene?
There’s just so much of it, and so many creative people getting up to all sorts. There are several very good theatre companies in the area, there’s a goods stand up scene and also the live music scene is pretty good too.
What have you been doing theatrically during lockdown?
I’ve actually been quite busy creatively during lockdown. I was involved in a rehearsed reading of Romeo and Juliet with Masque Theatre which was quite a lot of fun. We performed it live on the web and had over 70 people in the audience. Which is a decent size crowd for a Thursday 🙂
I continued with the show for Actors Company for a couple of months via Zoom, and we have now parked that until September time. I’m also involved in a radio play which we have had several rehearsals for and are due to record it and put it out soon.
I have also continued to put together and rehearse a sketch show, which has been an absolute blast so far. We are hoping that we will be able to get it on immediately after lockdown is over so we are getting it ready to the point that once we know the date we can perform it, we will be almost ready to go.
Plus I have watched quite a few of the NT at Home shows, which has been great. I usually watch them on Saturdays, so Saturday evenings have become a night of beer, fire and Shakespeare in the garden.
In these dark times for theatre, who would you like to encourage people to support with a donation if they’re able?
Royal & Derngate’s Back Together fundraising campaign