Eva Grey on the young actors ready for a show aboard a boat ...with the audience on dry land
Lancashire actors Joshua Miles and Jessica Baglow are used to ripples of applause filling theatres.
But stranded on a small boat in the middle of a lake, Lancaster offered them a different kind of greeting when, in the course of their first rehearsal, “the heavens opened up” and ripples of an apocalyptic rain surrounded them, soaking their brand new scripts and drowning out their voices.
This summer, Joshua and Jessica, 25, might find they have surprisingly much in common with their characters in The Duke’s adaptation of the classic Hansel & Gretel tale.
Like Grimm’s two brave siblings, the young actors have been chucked in at the deep end in their first outdoors walkabout performance, left to battle and befriend Williamson Park’s greenery in their portrayal of two abandoned children lost in the woods.
“We need to be fully spontaneous with our surroundings,” says Jessica, known primarily for playing Karla Bentham, a pupil with Asperger syndrome, in BBC1 series Waterloo Road between 2007 and 2010. She has also appeared in Emmerdale and as a youngster in Where The Heart Is.
Before her artistic career bloomed, the Chorley actress attended Rivington and Blackrod High School in Bolton.
“You make use of the natural elements around you. If the sun comes out at a perfect moment of realisation, we will use that,” she says.
Her co-star Joshua, who opened London’s St James Theatre with his impersonation of a troubled young soldier in Bully Boy, agrees that the performance will be physically challenging: “There’s no doubt that the rock and tree climbing will be very demanding.
“Maintaining our voices through the rain might prove challenging – the weather can influence your voice.”
They are miles away from the their former roles.
Since starring in Waterloo Road, Jessica finished drama school, something that she always wanted to do and which gave her the tools to work in a theatre environment, especially vocally, she explains: “Studying drama in a formal way changed me quite a lot.
“There are so many differences between TV and theatre. For one, you can’t stop and do a scene again.
“With TV you can cut and do it again, but in theatre, you have to be completely in the moment, confident and constantly sure of yourself.”
“You are also very reliant on your fellow cast members to make the scene work and be in the moment together.
“In TV, you have a camera to capture, but in the open air you have to be commited to eachother without the benefit of a camera.”
Although Joshua’s roots are in theatre – he has done a little TV work – his personal challenge stems from accessing the psyche of someone 10 years younger than him and seeing the world from his point of view.
In his impersonation of Hansel, he will draw on his relationship with his older brother in order to re-enact the childrens’ bond, as well as the boy’s protective insticts towards his sister.
“Hopefully I will be able to bring out the boyish, youthful, energetic type of hero Hansel is,” Joshua says.
For the role, the 24-year-old, who left Higher Walton, near Preston, to study theatre at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama, might remember his own youthful excitement as a hopeful actor at age 10, when he joined his first drama club in Bamber Bridge and “never looked back”.
“My parents tried every type of hobby with me, dancing, horse riding, karate and football. The only thing I liked about all of them were the costumes.
“My first acting role was in a primary school Nativity. I played Santa and all I can remember is the smell of my musky costume.”
As an open air performance, Hansel & Gretel And More Tales From The Forest clearly shatters the conventional barriers between the public and the actors, pushing them closer, while leaving the actors completely exposed, with only their wit and innovative spirit at their disposal. The loyal audiences, who have been returning to The Duke’s adaptations for 25 years, know what to expect – the actors, less so.
“I think it’s going to be great having the audience so up close and personal.
“As an actor, you have to be completely truthful, completely honest. You can’t hide.
“And because everything is happening in natural daylight, everyone in the audience will constantly see our every move.
“Being my first time in an outdoor production, I’m not sure what to expect, “says Joshua.
The fantasy element in this two-and-a-half month-long performance may make it seem like lighthearted fun – but Joshua and Jessica are not oblivious to the darker themes entertwined into this magic mix of famed and obscure fairytales.
The depth of its narrative and the family dynamic at play are features that captured both their imaginations: “There are moments when the plot is quite deep. It touches on the story of a dysfunctional family.” In this regard, fairytales can be quite dark at times, Joshua thinks.
“It is also a story that is quite domestic in a way. You get the normal brother, sister, mum and dad relationship. So I’m playing this natural family scene and all of a sudden a frog, a swan and a fairy walk in. So how do you go from such a normal setting to that?”
Jessica thinks all you have to do is be true to the moment:”This is a lesson for all types of audiences. If you believe it, they will believe it.”
Performance dates: Friday, July 4-Saturday, August 16, 7.15pm
Tickets: £18.50-£23 adults/£14.50-£19 concessions/£12-£14 children (includes £1 per ticket fee when booking online)
Box Office: 01524 598500 or visit www.dukes-lancaster.org