Interview - Belinda Lang (Duet For One)

When asked for a brief overview of her career, Belinda Lang admits, 'I've been doing this for over 40 years, I suppose I must have been in dozens and dozens and dozens of plays, and a lot of telly as well, so I really don't think I can summarise it'. An enviable answer, and totally founded. Lang has been working as an actor since 1980, and made a name for herself in the 90s, in sitcoms Seconds Thoughts and 2point4 Children. Since then her CV has filled up with a massive variety of roles across several different mediums. In fact, you may have seen her earlier this year as Aunt Eller, in the BBC's Oklahoma Proms, reprising the role she played on tour a few years ago. And now she's returning to the stage yet again, to play Stephanie Abrahams in the UK tour of Tom Kempinski's award-winning play Duet For One

Based loosely on the real life musician Jacqueline du Pré, Duet For One is the sparkling and moving story of concert a violinist who is forced to consult a psychiatrist after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a life changing disease which forces her to reevaluate her life. Being a two hander, focusing on such an affecting subject, it's interesting to hear Lang describe the play as 'actually quite funny', before adding, 'you wouldn't think it would be.' In fact, despite playing a character whose life has been shaken by such a significant health issue, Lang maintains that Duet For One is not an upsetting play to watch or be a part of.  'Of course it's moving in that it's about a person who is struggling, but she's a very feisty woman and it's the not MS that going to get her. She's not dying. She's dealing with her life, and she goes about it in a very spirited fashion'. It seems as if Lang has a lot of admiration for the character she plays, which is understandable. Especially as she adds 'it's not a play about somebody in decline, it's a play about someone learning to live with themselves as they are, rather than as they thought they were going to be.'

Due to the two hander nature of the play, Duet For One has its own specific set of challenges, not least because sharing the stage with just one other actor is hugely exposing. Even when the actor opposite you is wildly successful writer and actor Oliver Cotton. Lang explains that 'every play brings different challenges', before elaborating that 'the main challenge in this [play] is learning it, because there are only two of us so there's a lot to take in, but it's very well written so once you know it it kind of sweeps you along.' That being said, she does joke that 'it's hard remembering it all in the right order!' It's surprising and heartening to hear such a seasoned actor talk so candidly and humbly about the challenges which such a play presents, with Lang admitting that 'you can't not concentrate for a single second, and of course, when you're in a play you should be concentrating, but it's frightening to know that if you drop your concentration then the whole thing could hit the deck.'

Belinda Lang in Duet For One
Understandably, the two-hander nature of the play affects the dynamic of the relationships between actors on stage, but interesting Lang explains that it also alters the connection between the actors and audience too. 'It's very personal. The fact that there's only two of us, and the fact that it's a conversation, sucks the audience into it. They get drawn in like a vortex, and when the bits come that are quite quiet you can feel the concentration. They concentrate with you, and they go through the process with you, which they might not so much if it was dissipated by other scenes and other characters. They do seem to come on a journey with us.' 

And it's that journey which Lang describes as Duet For One's main selling point Particularly in regards to her character's exploration of her feelings, and attitudes towards her new life. Lang describes how' 'a lot of people either have been through therapy, or haven't and wonder what it's like, and this does give you a sort of bird's eye view of what can happen. Therapy is a space to explore your feelings, some of which are aggressive, and it's a safe place to let off steam. I think people who've been there would recognise it, and for other people it's quite interesting. A revelation.' 

Interview - Orlando Seale (Manhattan Parisienne)

Actor Orlando Seale is currently appearing in a work in progress production of Alain Boublil's Manhattan Parisienne at The Other Palace. Following on from its world premier in 59E59 theatres, New York, in December 2015, this piece, featuring songs from the classic French and American songbooks, tells the story of a French actress and an American musician, both of whom have a connection to Paris. 

The importance of music within the piece is paramount, and with that in mind, cast member Orlando Seale, who is currently playing Gerard in the play, took a little bit of time out of his schedule of rehearsals and performances, to talk about his own relationship to music, the experience of working on a work-in-progress, and his affinity for Paris. 

'I think the audience reactions have been really positive' Seale says of the work-in-progress nature of the piece. 'It’s not supposed to be a performance, in a sense, it more just showing 5 or 6 days' worth of rehearsals.' Fascinatingly, because of the ever changing nature of the piece, it's very likely that what audiences who come later in the run see will be very different to what audiences saw at the beginning of it. Seale explains that he does what he can to explore the piece, and revels in the evolution of the show, explaining that 'they’re taking things out, putting new things in, trying different things out, and Bruce [Guthrie] the director has been really clear with the audience about that, so the audience has been very supportive. They’ve been coming in with a spirit of understanding that this is very much a work-in-progress, and it might change radically.'

That approach very much reflects Seale's attitude towards his own musical creations, which he described as 'post punk DIY stuff'. It's refreshing to hear the actor's views on how creating music should be accessible to everyone, with him expressing that 'I like the idea of everyone making music. You don’t have to qualified in some special way to do it. Of course it helps, but it’s nice the idea that everyone can get up and sing a song.'

And Seale's musical beginnings are a result of just that, as he describes how he didn't study a musical instrument in school, but was lucky enough to be invited to join the school band nevertheless. However, his obsessions with creating music didn't start until much later, when he was living in Los Angeles, and his then-girlfriend introduced him to a whole host of amazing music. He recalls driving around L.A in his car, his own personal soundbooth, 'I’d always written poetry and things, and I started wanting to see if I could sing songs. It partly came out of feeling like I wanted to make things of my own, that weren't just dependent on being cast. I became completely obsessed and I couldn’t stop'.

Seale recalls enjoying working on music projects, and finding himself searching for a way to combine his love of music and of theatre, having never done a musical before. Whilst teaching at the Associate Studios performing arts academy he was impressed with the hard work and talent of the musical theatre students, and says that curiosity led to him seeking out more opportunities to perform in music heavy pieces. 

'When this opportunity came up I thought it’d be really fascinating to go and spend a few weeks with people who were unbelievably talented, who were at the top of their game, and see how they did things.' As a show which relies so heavily on the use of music, Manhattan Parisienne, sd you would expect, has assembled a great team for its performances at The Other Palace. Seale is quick to praise the musical talent of everyone involved, stating that he is 'really impressed by the level of musicianship of all of the players and singers who play multiple instruments, and sing, and dance', whilst also marvelling at the skills of the director, choreographer, and band.

Given the name of the piece, asking about Orlando Seale's personal relationship with the titular boroughs, and of course his answers are extremely interesting. 'I’ve not only been to Paris, I lived in Paris, and I loved it so much. I’m a massive Francophile, and I have a lot of French friends, and I was actually at drama school in Paris at The Conservatoire National Supérieur D’Art Dramatique, so I go back as often as I can. The first time I went to New York was with the RSC years ago when we were on tour, and I absolutely love it. I haven’t spent as much time there, but I’d jump on any opportunity to go back!'

Unfortunately Seale doesn't know what the future holds for Manhattan Parisienne, but suggests that the creative team are taking audience comments on board and are eager to know what works and what doesn't. He is also full of praise for the play in its current iteration, stating 'I think it’s got a lot of charm, and it’s an opportunity to enjoy the American and the French song books, in a really charming way that brings the two together. I love the subtitle that Alain [Boublil] gave it; the songs he wished he’d written. I think that’s really beautiful, and for someone who’s been involved with such enormous hits, that's a really charming and humble thing to say.'