Feargus Woods Dunlop: ‘He pulled a knife on me, but I stayed in character’
Feargus Woods Dunlop founded touring theatre company New Old Friends in 2008. He tells Giverny Masso about what it’s like to run the company alongside his wife, Heather Westwell…
How did you get into the industry?
I’m a product of youth theatre. I was not a particularly popular kid and my parents thought drama might be good for me. The school I was at didn’t have drama, so I was enrolled in a youth theatre at Theatre Royal Bath, where I worked with some inspirational people. I ended up having this triple life: my school life, where I was not particularly popular, which was rubbish; then I’d go into youth theatre, where I was the funny person rather than ‘funny’ in inverted commas; then I played rugby with another group. After that I went away to Bretton Hall to study acting.
What was your first industry job?
Working as a scare actor at Alton Towers, as a Victorian undertaker. A group of lads came around and one was very scared, so to save face in front of his friends he pulled a knife and tried to stab me. I stayed in character and said: “You could stab me, but it wouldn’t have any effect, I’m already dead.”
How did you end up forming your own company?
I was invited to Theatre Royal Bath’s youth theatre to assistant-direct His Dark Materials. During this job, I was offered a week in the Egg theatre to put on any show I wanted. I wrote a show with New Old Friends co-founder Josh Golga, it was called Mate. It was a very laddish, men-behaving-badly comedy. When Heather joined the company she said, “That’s not theatre, that’s stand-up.” It happened from there. It wasn’t a grand plan to set up a company, audiences seem to like what we do. Whenever we finish a project, another one bubbles up.
What kind of work does New Old Friends do?
We are passionate about mid-scale touring and getting good theatre out around the country. There are two brands to our work: Crimes and the Diamond Brothers. Our current show Crimes Under the Sun is a comedy thriller inspired by Agatha Christie. We’ve also done Crimes on the Christmas Express and Crimes Against Christmas, both at the Lichfield Garrick. In 2014, we adapted Anthony Horowitz’s The Falcon’s Malteser, the first book in his Diamond Brothers series, which Heather took the lead on. Horowitz was so supportive of the project, we couldn’t have been more pleased with his input. We plan to continue with the series.
What is it like working with your wife and co-artistic director Heather?
Heather joined the company as a performer. We were already together before we started working together. I was madly in love with her from the start. We are very lucky, we love what we do. It bleeds into all corners of your life though – when an idea strikes, you have to follow it up. We are both aware of that and of each other’s boundaries. It’s a lovely working dynamic.
CV: Feargus Woods Dunlop
Training: BA in acting at Bretton Hall (2004 to 2007)
First professional role: Actor at Alton Towers (2008)
Crimes Under the Sun is touring to locations including Newport, Nottingham, Inverness, Lancaster, Canterbury and Kirkcaldy, until May 27
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