JOE CONWAY chats to prominent people on the Peterborough arts scene. This month BECKY OWEN-FISHER and TOM FOX.
On a bitterly cold January evening I entered the Peterborough Cathedral precincts in search of the Knights’ Chamber. I soon found the ancient building, where Mask Theatre was presenting David Greig’s play Dunsinane.
It was a brilliant production and one of the best performances was by Becky Owen-Fisher as Gruach, aka Lady Macbeth. In this macho and bloody play Becky stood out as the recently deposed and subtly seductive queen. With a Scottish accent that rang true and an electrically charged stage presence Becky’s was a performance to relish.
Meanwhile eerie sound effects and haunting Celtic music contributed to a sound design which was a vitally important and integral part of the production. Adding an unmistakably Scottish flavour to the play, it was the work of Tom Fox, director, actor, and founder of Lamphouse Theatre.
Last week I chatted to Becky and Tom about the production. But this time on a sunny May afternoon, enhanced by a few drinks and a fine view of the cathedral.
I turned to Becky first. “Dunsinane meant so much to me,”she said. “The historical Lady Macbeth was the first woman to emerge in Scottish history. The play reflects this by including a star part for an actress, and there aren’t many of those around. Even in Shakespeare!”
Becky continued: “Everything about the production was wonderful.”
She went on to tell me about the next Mask Theatre show. It’s Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors which will be played in several local outdoor venues, culminating in Peterborough’s Central Park in July.
“I play Antipholus,” Becky said, “and our up-dated version takes place on a Mediterranean party island, complete with clubs, dance, music, and lights.”
Turning to Tom, I asked him about the sound design for Dunsinane.
“It was a bit of a mish-mash,” he said modestly. “A kind of montage of evocative sounds and music.”
He then told me about his varied work in the theatre.
“I always wanted to be an actor,” he said, “and I started out by running a youth theatre group.”
This was UROCK an associate company of Eastern Angles.
Among the company’s many productions Tom singled out Remote by Stef Smith, a play about a girl who runs away from home to live in a tree-house. Its special significance was that UROCK performed it at the National Theatre in London.
“An amazing experience for the kids,” said Tom.
Then about five years ago Tom Fox founded Lamphouse, the theatre company which has its home in the Undercroft of Serpentine Green shopping centre.
Tom is justifiably proud of his brain-child which is clearly going from strength to strength. It’s also a company in which Becky Owen-Fisher works full time.
But before they told me about the latest Lamphouse ventures there was something I wanted to ask the young couple.
“Where did you two meet?” I wanted to know.
“It was Mask Theatre again,” Becky said, “about six years ago in a production of Calendar Girls. I was stage managing, and you ...”
Tom took up the tale. “I was on stage playing the photographer.
“Well, I happened to break the tripod I was using. It was an accident but Becky started shouting at me. She was angry, I was embarrassed, but that was how things started between us.”
Fascinating stuff, don’t you think ...? But back to Lamphouse.
Tom explained that its unique shows are devised by the actors themselves and include stories, music, and interaction with the audience.
“Our brand of theatre isn’t about sitting down and watching things happen under a proscenium arch,” said Becky.
“Instead we’re trying to attract new audiences with high energy, physical productions.
“Our mission is telling epic stories in intimate settings,” said Tom. “Or, to put it another way, we think global but act local.”
Recent shows with universal themes have included Beauty and the Beast and Peter Pan, which involved three actors playing 40 parts!
One of the biggest breakthroughs for Lamphouse will come on June16 when its production This is Peterborough will be the first theatre performance ever given as part of the Peterborough Heritage Festival.
“It aims to portray 900 years of history in 60 minutes,” said Becky.
“And you can catch it in the Bishop’s Garden of the cathedral,’” added Tom.
See you there!