Stagedoor Discussions: Francesca Mepham and Terry Eastham

We sat down with two prominent London theatre bloggers, Francesca Mepham and Terry Eastham, to pick their brains on the theatre industry, favourite venues, actors to look out for, and must-see shows for this season. Here’s what they said:

First off: Francesca Mepham.

[Evi Triantafyllides] Tell us a bit about yourself.
[Francesca Mepham] I’m a Classical singer, a writer, as well as a theatre reviewer for the show What’s Offstage? on Soho Radio.

How did you first get involved with theatre?
I’ve always loved theatre, and I think what really reaffirmed it, was when I went to see Oliver! at the London Palladium at the age of 8. Even before then, I was a member of Youth theatre and I just loved live theatre. In terms of reviewing, I wrote a review for London Theatre Direct after winning tickets to a show, and then it just snowballed from there!

How do you choose when something is “good material” for your blog, worth reviewing / featuring?
Honestly, I have no process of choosing what I write about. Mainly I write theatre news and feature articles on my blog. With features, I just write anything I feel need to be said.

Favourite theatre venue / hidden gem (think fringe)?
WOW, I have many! Currently, I’m really loving Theatre503 and Soho Theatre—they have such inspiring programmes. Also, King’s Head Theatre never disappoints.

Theatre503, London SW11 3BW

Upcoming actor to look out for?
Mary-Ann Cafferkey, who was recently in the play Proof by David Auburn at the Tabard Theatre. She really impressed me.

Recommended show for this season?
I recently saw The State vs John Hayes, by Lucy Roslyn at King’s Head Theatre. Definitely catch that if you can, it’s really something quite special.

“The State vs John Hayes” from 28th Oct—22nd Nov, at King’s Head Theatre.

One thing you look for in a theatre performance?
I want to be thinking about the performance long after I leave the theatre, when I get home and I’m drinking my tea…I want it to be resonate in my mind, challenge me in some way!

Dream person to interview?
Stephen Sondheim. He’s a living legend. The word legend is probably one of the most overused words in the dictionary, but in this case, it’s certainly true!

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, music by Stephen Sondheim, nominated for an OFTA Film Award.

If you could be a character from a play, who would you choose?
It’s a tough one…It’s definitely between Eva Peron from Evita or Christine in Phantom of the Opera… How do I choose?!

What do you love about Stagedoor?
My favourite thing about Stagedoor is its convenience: London theatre at your fingertips. I also like the feature that reminds you when a show is about to close. There are so many shows out there, sometimes it’s easy to miss their end dates.

Where can we find you?
You can follow me on Twitter @FranMephamG and on my blog.

Next up: Terry Eastham.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
[Terry Eastham] I was born in Southend, then moved to Blackburn, Lancashire when I was a teenager. Definitely on the wrong side of 50 now, though growing up is still something I am thinking of doing. I’ve had a long and varied career, including a stint in the RAF. I’ve always been working all over the place — basically, if they pay me, I will work there. I live in a lovely house with two of the best friends a man could wish for. I never found love, but that’s not a problem, as having a partner would get in the way of going to the theatre.

How did you first get involved with theatre?
Aside from school productions — I was once John in Peter Pan — I used to be involved in amateur shows when in the RAF. I saw my first West End show, West Side Story, in 1985 and have been hooked ever since. When I first moved to London, I would go to the theatre every Monday — either with amazingly cheap tickets via the Nuffield Trust, or by buying tickets at the Half Price Ticket Booth. I’ve been regularly going ever since.

I got involved with reviewing through a friend that worked for a ticketing agency and could sometimes get us comps, provided we wrote something about the show. That was when I started adding minor reviews to the Time Out website, and then from there moved to Neil and LondonTheatre1.

How do you choose when something is “good material” for your blog, worth reviewing / featuring?
It’s very easy, really. I accept virtually everything I’m offered. I could be very stereotypical and just go to musicals, but the reality is, there is so much amazing theatre out there, I think I would be a fool to turn anything down. I think I adopted this “method” after the Vaults Arts festival, where I was offered a show that I accepted. On the day, my companion and I read the flyer, and were convinced that the show would be terrible. Turned out, it was absolutely fantastic and one of the best shows of the festival. Unless you go to a show, you can never can tell.

I have to admit that I once begged for tickets to a show — Gods and Monsters at Southwark Playhouse. I wanted to see it purely because of the images that were posted on Twitter. It was probably my shallowest moment ever, but I definitely don’t regret it.

Will Austin plays Clayton Boone in “Gods and Monsters”, at Southwark Playhouse.

Favourite theatre venue / hidden gem (think fringe)?
The Waterloo East Theatre, which was where I did my first ‘professional’ review and is just a really friendly place to visit, with some pretty impressive shows.

Then, there’s also Jack Studio Theatre, which is part of the Brockley Jack Pub in Brockley. The pub is lovely, with a great choice of very, very well priced and tasty food — I always go there early to have a pre-show dinner. The theatre is not massive and seems to have a committed regular following. Over the last 12 months, it has put on some amazing productions. Artistic Director Kate Bannister puts on a vibrant mix of shows — both old and, through the Write Now Festival, new — which cover everything from Shakespeare to Sondheim, and a lot of mileage in between.

The Jack Studio Theatre, London SE4 2DH

Upcoming actor to look out for?
Although he has been around for a couple of years, I would say keep your eyes on Pip Brignall. I saw Pip in Scena Mundi’s wonderful productions of Edward II and Richard II earlier this year. In both, Pip played major roles — the lead in Richard II and Lord Piers Gaveston in Edward II. Both very different characters, which Pip delivered brilliantly. In addition to his acting work, Pip is the Artistic Director for Tangled Thread Theatre and recently put on the highly successful Only Forever.

Recommended show for this season?
If we are thinking West End then it has to be Kinky Boots, which, despite some of the negative comments from professional reviewers, delivered a truly wonderful l night’s entertainment. It’s more difficult to choose one Off West End show, as many runs only last for a short time. I would say my favourite piece this year was F*cking Men at King’s Head Theatre. It’s coming back for another run in December so, unless you are of a nervous disposition, I would come along to see it.

“F*cking Men”, from 5th Dec—9th Jan, at King’s Head Theatre.

One thing you look for in a theatre performance?
Making me forget I am in a theatre. I love to get completely immersed with what I am seeing. Nothing can beat the ability to make pretend I’ve got a heavy cold, as I’m sniffing into my hankie and surreptitiously wiping away a couple of tears. It doesn’t even have to be something tragic; sometimes the feeling of joy for what I have seen will have the same effect.

I also judge the performance by how much I remember the next morning, when I sit down to write the review. If I don’t have to refer to my notes or feel the urge to explore the subject on the Internet whilst writing, I know I’ve seen something good.

Dream person to interview?
If we take out the obvious like Cameron Mackintosh or Idina Menzel, then I would probably say Tom Stocks, a young actor who is responsible for the Actor Awareness campaign, aimed at improving the opportunities for potential actors from working class backgrounds. I would be fascinated to learn what motivates someone like Tom to follow their dream in such a focused manner, despite all the financial problems and lack of security.

If you could be a character from a play, who would you choose?
I would love to be Elphaba in Wicked. I’d get to fly and then fall for the gorgeous Fiyero. If that wasn’t available, then I would really love to live the life of Albin/Zaza in La Cage Aux Folles. Everything about him/her is perfect and I would love the opportunity to wear those beautiful gowns and get things my own way by throwing a tantrum. Sheer bliss.

What do you love about Stagedoor?
Really easy to use and with an absolutely amazing wealth of detail on the various shows — including links to enable a bit of stalking, if you’re into that! Very impressed with the personalisation features and the way it link with your calendars. Such a great app and an absolute necessity for any dedicated theatre goer.

Where can we find you?
Most of the time I write for LondonTheatre1, though I am occasionally a guest reviewer for Carn’s Theatre Passion and copies of all my reviews go on my own blog. I’m also on Twitter @Terry_Ea, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.

What’s coming next…

Next week, we have two new discussions lined up with Emma Kay, theatre blogger and member of Barbican’s Young Visual Arts Group and Sarah McPartlan, theatre blogger on the committee of Bromley Players productions.

If you have questions for the bloggers or want to share your thoughts, reach out on Twitter @StagedoorLDN and let’s discuss theatre!

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