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The Green Room: Who are your unsung heroes in theatre?

The Green Room panellists consider understudies, such as Natasha J Barnes (left) and Ria Jones (right) to be among the unsung heroes working in theatre

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…


Albert Parker is 58 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV


Movement director Mark Able is in his 20s. He runs his own physical theatre company and has worked in numerous drama schools


Adam Gale, 39, is a director and has worked extensively on musicals. He has taken many shows to Edinburgh and runs a youth theatre


Dale McKenna is 25. He trained at Laine Theatre Arts in Surrey, has performed in West End musicals and is currently touring the UK


Peter Quince is a 71-year-old actor working in theatre and television

Eoghan Barry is 30. He has worked as an actor on fringe projects and work for young people, and more recently has been working as a writer


Annie Walker is 25. After graduating from drama school, she has worked predominantly in regional theatres and is also a writer and street performer

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays and toured both nationally and internationally

DaleStage door keepers. And in a musical, swings.

Beryl Stage management.

Peter Wardrobe, without question.

Mark Stage managers, company mangers.

Annie Front-of-house people.

Eoghan Stage managers, without a doubt.

Beryl Cleaners.

Peter The person who has to put the washing in and is always last in the pub.

Annie Understudies.

Adam Company managers and stage managers. They’re responsible for so many things.

Albert I have to say stage management. What on earth would we do without them? They may sometimes get a little bit of a bad press, but they are heroes and absolutely invaluable. And the good thing is they seem to know that.

Beryl Good stage managers are worth their weight in gold.

Adam Assistant and resident directors/dance captains/musical directors – all of whom actually look after the show once it’s up and running but very rarely get mentioned anywhere, and sometimes not even thanked.

Eoghan When you go to a play, people will say “the actors were great, I liked the direction, the writing was good…”, maybe they’ll comment on the design, but it’s rare you’ll hear someone say: “Wow, that was so intricate, what an amazing job the stage manager and team did.”

Annie I often think dressers and designers can get a bit of a bashing from actors.

Dale Basically everyone other than the regular cast and creative team is pretty unsung.

Peter Dressers are a huge moral and practical support. They help to calm you.

Adam Sound department. People will mention when the sound is bad or goes wrong. But you don’t notice it when it’s right.

Adam Chaperones if kids are involved.

Annie I was so overwhelmed with Amadeus at the National Theatre. It was clear that every department had to work so well together to get that show to the level it’s at.

Beryl Good dressers have saved my arse.

Eoghan Seeing a great show-caller on a big show in full flight can be pretty astonishing.

Dale I just love the friendly face at stage door.

Peter I heard of an actor at the Royal Shakespeare Company in a suit of armour who had an upset stomach. He didn’t get out of it in time. His dresser deserved a bonus that day.

Thomas Has anyone here understudied?

Dale Yes.

Annie Yes.

Adam I’ve been in charge of understudies.

Beryl A million years ago.

Annie I understudied four parts in one show as well as my own track.

Thomas How did you all find that experience? Having directed many understudies, I have to say I always found it a real slog and always felt for them – so much work, no time, no respect, and little chance of going on.

Beryl No rehearsal or respect is what I remember.

Albert I found understudying very hard.

Annie I relished the challenge, but found it hard when other company members complained about the extra rehearsals.

Peter I’ve understudied, but only when I’ve also been in the play. I’d hate to be a walking understudy.

Albert I’d never ever do it again – so yes, good understudies are unsung heroes.

Dale Depends if you have your own track on stage, too. If you’re only an understudy or swing, it can be pretty soul-destroying and dent the ego. It’s also terrifying if you feel under-rehearsed but have to go on.

Eoghan The atmosphere at West End understudy runs has always been nice and supportive (obviously because a lot of their mates are in), but it’s great that people recognise the work and effort put in for little reward.

Adam I’ve always found that the understudy structure in musicals works much better than in plays. There’s much more of a system in place and management are usually much keener to get the understudies sorted.

Peter Understudies have a much greater chance of going on in musicals.

Beryl I fell out with an actor once because she was so rude about the understudy going on.

Thomas Looking at our list – yes to FOH. They make such a difference to the experience of an audience. Anyone here done that job?

Albert What about the people who sell the tickets – the ones who actually get us an audience?

Adam That’s often the first impression people have and you don’t want anyone snooty or annoying at the box office window.

Eoghan I’ve done FOH. I guess it’s like any other service environment, it’s really important to be polite and cheerful and helpful in any such role and bear in mind some people haven’t been to a theatre – or this theatre – before.

Thomas A friend of mind took her boyfriend, who had never been to the theatre before to see War Horse. At the end he shook every usher’s hand he met on the way out and thanked them. I felt this honest, unaffected, polite response was one we should all adopt. I mentioned it to an usher who said: “Please don’t – we just want to get out and get home.”

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