Character Cocktail - Actor's Interview - TWO DT Memory Box

Revisit this interview for our Spring 2018 production of TWO, as part of our Memory Box feature.

Actors Sean McKenzie and Jo Mousley discuss the challenge of playing so many characters in one production and their experience of being back at Derby Theatre.

As a long-time fan of playwright Jim Cartwright, Derbyshire actor Sean McKenzie is delighted to be enjoying a double helping of his work.

Sean recently played Ray Say in Cartwright’s most celebrated play, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough – the seaside resort where the movie version with Michael Caine in the same role was filmed. And now he takes on multiple roles in TWO, another telling slice of life from Cartwright that brings the actor back to his home county and his beloved Derby Theatre.

Sean says: “I know Little Voice is Jim’s most famous piece but TWO is a really brilliant play, and I’m always surprised it’s not done more often.  It’s the rhythm of his writing, there’s a poetry, a musicality to it and it’s a very northern voice. For me being a working class northern boy, Jim’s work is ingrained in me.”

Sean takes on six different roles, a challenge that he believes suits his talents.

“I think one of the reasons I have been able to have a good career is that I can adapt physically and vocally with only a slight bit of a costume change, such as a hat or a scarf. I’m wary of making these huge changes that you see sometimes. I don’t want to get too bogged down in costumes and voices and things like that – subtle shifts of character are more important for a play like this.”

“I’m a great believer in what the playwright’s written. So much of the work has already been done and if you are honest and truthful to the playwright’s intentions, then you find those characters without changing your voice or body that much. You want the audience’s imaginations to do some work as well and that’s what’s brilliant about this play – you might have one line as one character and with barely a beat or pause you are into another one, so there isn’t always time for grand costume changes and it has to be about the truth of what you are saying.”

In any two-hander, the chemistry with your co-performer is all important.

Sean says: “It’s about mutual trust, enjoying each other’s work and looking after each other as the job’s hard enough without not being able to get on and do it properly.”

The other big attraction for Sean is that this production brings him back home to a venue he knows well and gives him a chance to work at Derby Theatre once again.

“My relationship with the Theatre goes back over two decades (back to the Playhouse days). I have known Sarah, Artistic Director and Chief Executive, for a number of years now and know how hard she works and how much she has done to lead the venue towards its recognition and many successes..”

“It’s been 22 years since I did Alan Ayckbourn’s Time of My Life, directed by Robin Herford and every show I have done in Derby since, I have absolutely loved. I’m so excited to back, and also a little bit nervous, as I don’t want to let anyone down. I’m very passionate about getting this right and to give everyone a great night out.”

“I would rather be on stage working really hard than back in the dressing room after doing just one scene.” – Jo Mousley

Playing seven roles in one production is a challenge that Jo Mousley believes has her firing on all cylinders.

She said: “There is so much work to do. It’s like running a marathon, as opposed to doing a 10K. My acting muscle will be so well exercised after this, I will feel able to take anything on. As an actor I’m not sure there can be a bigger challenge, but I would rather be on stage working really hard than back in the dressing room after doing just one scene.”

“I am playing seven characters and they are different ages, different physicalities. During rehearsals we focussed on detailed character work so as to really understand them. Playing with different energies and objectives to create what is truthful for each one enables us to swiftly transition between all these characters, which is the joy of this play, it is pure theatre.”

Jo is used to playing multiple roles, as she showed by playing a wide variety of colourful characters in Horrible Histories Horrible Christmas at Derby Theatre in 2013. TWO is very different to that popular family show and Jo admits that it’s much more challenging.

“With Horrible Histories you can really go for it and can be quite pantomimic whereas there has to be a reality to the characters in TWO. I’ve worked at lots of pubs in between acting jobs and I think we need to show the real truth at the heart of these colourful characters. The scenes are often very funny, with a melancholia running beneath them.”

Jo is also excited about the way the play is set up in the auditorium and its combination of drama and humour.

“This play works really well in the Derby Theatre auditorium, as a space it is so open, yet intimate. The way the set is built out into the audience, with some audience members sat round pub tables on the stage, is really innovative. When we are on our own delivering a monologue we are letting the rest of the people in the pub into our thoughts, so to have the audience so close is very important. It will hopefully draw them into this world, and, with the working bar, make them really be at the pub and theatre at the same time!”

“The main story arc we follow in TWO is the landlord and landlady and working behind a bar they are putting on a performance for the customers. We see them relating to other customers, then bickering with each other and then there’s a moment which I don’t want to reveal but when I first read the play I found it quite shocking. It’s really emotional as well as funny – things which are always very closely linked.”

And as for whether she is happy to be back working at Derby Theatre, the answer is a resounding yes…

“I think it’s my favourite theatre to perform in, especially as everyone is so lovely in the whole building, so dedicated and passionate about the stories to be told – a dedicated team led by the brilliant Sarah Brigham. I love the auditorium and simply being on that stage. The Derby audience reactions are always so honest, I hope they like TWO. I am so delighted to be back.”