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The Green Room: What did you do in your school play?

Many actors’ first experience of treading the boards was in their school nativity play. Photo: Shutterstock

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 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

John Pepper is 31 and has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National Theatre and in radio, television and film.

Adam Lovett is a 45-year-old actor who has appeared in Oscar-winning films and in theatre at the RSC, National Theatre and in the West End

Eoghan Barry, is 30. He has worked professionally as an actor on fringe projects, with young people and as a writer

Jenny Talbot, 39, has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional forays into TV, film and plays

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

Ros Clifford, 30, is a deputy stage manager. She has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years

 

JonI suppose we should start with the inevitable ‘nativity moment’, if you did one, then get older…

Albert I played the best part.

Jenny This is a very touchy subject.

John I played one of the wise men. I had to wear pink. I was furious.

Adam My theory (which I am no doubt about to see be thoroughly disproved) is that no one who got a lead in the nativity play ever became an actor.

Jenny I was desperate to be the Angel but because I was a good speaker I was the Narrator. I’m still scarred.

Annie I have a vague recollection of being forced into an angel tinsel hairband that itched my eyes and made me sneeze during the nativity. I didn’t enjoy it.

JonSecond Wise Man. Second.

Adam I was the doctor.

Jenny Doctor?

Adam You may ask, “What does the doctor do in the nativity play?” And you would be right to ask that.

John I remember I had to audition to play Jesus in an Easter production. Obviously I knocked it out of the park.

JonMy sister played Mary in her school nativity and got told off for not smiling. She said: “But she’s tired.”

Jenny Good character work.

John Method.

Jenny In the zone.

JonMy post-nativity CV was stellar. Puck, Tom Wrench in Trelawny of the Wells, Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice, Tom in The Accrington Pals, Benedick. I was a name, dammit.

Eoghan My very first school play was a story set on the Yellow Submarine of Beatles fame. The sub was leaking and the captain was deputising various crew members, or seamen if you will, to put body parts into the rapidly expanding hole – yes, it all sounds very saucy now.

JonIt really does. Are you sure this was a school play and not a fever dream?

Eoghan I took the part so seriously that I hid a dollop of blue paint in my hand, which I applied to my nose while blocking the hole, so when I turned round it looked like I had a cold nose. Even then, I was thinking deeply about my art.

Ros I played flute in the school band for most of them, then acted in one, which nearly killed me because I was so shy and lacking in confidence. Then my drama teacher told me that you could work backstage and a lifetime passion for stage management was born.

Adam I was very lucky in that I went to school that did a lot of drama and had a nice theatre, but I still came to it fairly late.

John I played Adrian Mole when I was actually aged 13¾. People laughed – it became addictive and my downfall.

Adam The Prince in Romeo and Juliet was my first part, and I still think of it as some of my best work. Possibly the finest post-war Prince Escalus – criminally under-appreciated.

Albert One year there was a drama teacher we all fancied. We boycotted the main school play and took part in his avant-garde version of a medieval mummers play instead. It was a pile of shite.

Jenny My school was not great for drama. We did a shoddy Oliver! when I was 13, but I was too young for anything meaty (and too female). I basically forced my drama teacher to do A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was 17 and made sure she cast my two crushes as Demetrius and Lysander. I was a very happy Helena.

Adam I persuaded my school to let me direct and star in An Inspector Calls the summer after I left. I was a monster.

JonThat is top hustling, Jenny and Adam.

Adam Recently, I did an episode of a TV show with someone who was in that production. He knows where the bodies are buried.

Jenny I did much more with the local youth theatre than I did at school. I played Mary Warren in The Crucible, Grandma in Adrian Mole, the Governor’s Wife in The Caucasian Chalk Circle and the Balladeer in Assassins.

JonI’d love to play the Balladeer. Great, now I’m jealous of a teenage girl from the past.

Adam I’ve always wanted to play the Balladeer, and the Emcee from Cabaret. Only Jon will realise how hilariously inappropriate both those bits of casting would be.

John Youth theatre was brilliant. We did a production of Chess. It was absolutely terrible.

JonWere you Elaine Paige or Barbara Dickson?

I still want to know what the doctor does in the nativity, Adam

Jenny And I think most actresses my age or younger will have been in Daisy Pulls It Off.

JonIt’s like Journey’s End for women. Joking aside, the sheer range of plays we were all in – what great opportunities we had.

Albert In a school that judged people’s credibility by sporting prowess, the school play was the only chance I had to shine. I can’t remember much of what I was taught at school, but I remember the skills I learned from working alongside people in school plays.

Jenny I still want to know what the doctor does in the nativity, Adam.

John I’ve worked it out: someone has to deliver the baby Jesus. Case closed.

Adam The Doctor had a silent moment where he put his toy stethoscope to Mary’s belly and nodded. Grown men wept.

Jenny Tell me you wore scrubs.

John It sounds very moving.

Adam Come to think of it, if I had been my father, watching that moment would make me bawl with tears. I wore a white coat and a terribly serious expression which I still use. I call it the ‘moneymaker’.

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