Rehearsal For Murder: An interview with Robert Daws and Amy Robbins

Amy Robbins and Robert Daws
Amy Robbins and Robert Daws
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Husband and wife Robert Daws and Amy Robbins played a married couple in TV’s The Royal - and are a couple again in Rehearsal For Murder which opens at Peterborough’s Broadway Theatre on Monday. Georgina Littlejohn catches up with them ahead of the opening night.

Hello Robert, Amy, thank you for joining me today and welcome to the tour – tell me how you both got involved with the show.

ROBERT: We got asked to do it, simple as that really! (laughs)

AMY: We’ve both worked for Bill Kenwright in the past, I did Blood Brothers for him in 2011 in the West End.

ROBERT: And I worked with him about 15 years ago and here we are again. They very kindly came to us about this play, offered us the parts and we looked at it and thought, this is an interesting piece. And the fact they offered it to us together made a big difference because we can look after each other a bit.

AMY: And we can take the kids with us!

Were you familiar with the story when you first got involved, have you seen the film with Jeff Goldblum?

ROBERT: No, and we still haven’t seen the film. We bought the film and it’s still in its polythene wrapper on the shelf above the television unwatched. For some reason we haven’t got around to watching it, and as the play is considerably different from the film - the play is set in the West End and not on Broadway as it originally was – we see not real benefit in watching it, although we may watch it when we’ve finished.

AMY: My thing is, I think I am naturally quite a good mimic and I don’t often know I’m doing it. And if I watch something, before I know it I’m doing an impression of them! So for that reason I think, oh no, I can’t watch it because I’ll start talking like Lynn Redgrave!

So, without giving too much away, tell me a bit about the story and your characters?

ROBERT: It’s about a writer called Alex Dennison who has a relationship with Monica Welles who’s a film star who’s decided to give up film stardom in Hollywood and move back to London. Alex has this play, a stylish comedy of manners with a perfect part for Monica Welles.

AMY: So it’s the first night and Monica is found dead. She’s fallen off her balcony. And the play is based a year later when Alex sets about trying to find out, with the help of the original cast, to find out what happened to her, how she died, as he suspects one of them has killed her.

ROBERT: It’s a thriller set in theatreland, it’s as simple as that, and the leading lady seemingly commits suicide but Alex is convinced that’s not the case, he thinks she’s been murdered, so he sets about investigating the possibility she’s been murdered.

You two are actually married in real-life and played a married couple in The Royal - and you’re back playing a couple again!

ROBERT: We met on my first day on set of the Royal.

AMY: Yes, we met on the job, so to speak, and we were married by the end of the first series. And because we were married in real life, they wrote it into the plot of the show.

ROBERT: We pretty much honeymooned on set, didn’t we? Did we get a honeymoon actually? Didn’t we have about four days off between episode seven and eight?

AMY: We did indeed. And we’ve been married 13 years now.

ROBERT: And when Rehearsal for Murder was offered to us, it was a happy bonus of accepting the part.

AMY: It’s nice we can do this together because usually, if one of us is away filming or on tour, it usually means great stretches away from the family so we thought this would be nice. And it’s what we’re used to because of how we met. People often ask us if it’s difficult working together and I say it’s mostly what we know.

ROBERT: For eight years on The Royal our two girls were born and brought up with it so the kids are steeped in the whole process of the industry, their early years were brought up in hotel rooms and unit bases in strange locations.

And this is also the first time you’ve trodden the boards together? How different will it be starring on stage to being in front of a camera?

ROBERT: It’s far more terrifying (laughs). No, theatre really is, there’s no question about it, it’s far more terrifying.

AMY: But, having said that, we are both trained to do this. We both went to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) and when you go to drama school, that’s what you train to do, and I think it’s what you always think you’re going to do and when you end up doing mostly telly, you get distracted for a while. But when you come back to you, you go, ah, this is what I trained to do and it all comes back to you.

ROBERT: There’s a line in the play about theatre being a different animal, and it really is. We don’t do nearly as much theatre as we do TV or radio so when you come back to theatre you’re using different muscles, both mentally and physically, so it takes a little bit of time to get stage fit in that respect, but it’s part of the challenge and it’s an enjoyable process. It’s a nice company and Roy (Marsden) is a terrific director so we feel very comfortable.

Have either of you worked with any of your co-stars before?

ROBERT: Robert Duncan I worked briefly with on Caught in the Net, he came in and took over from Russ Abbott, so we chased each other around the stage for six weeks at the Vaudeville theatre in the West End, which was a pleasure. I’ve worked with Susan Penhaligon on a few occasions doing Casualty and she was a guest on a Radio 4 play I did called Trueman and Riley, she came along and played a guest part in that. And Martin Carroll who I grew up in the same town with! We were contemporaries in Southend on Sea, my neck of the woods.

AMY: I’ve met Susan on several occasions socially but I didn’t know any of the cast but they’re all such great actors, we’ve really got a great cast.

Is there anywhere on the tour you’re looking forward to seeing, anywhere you’ve not played before, do you like being on tour?

ROBERT: I like being on tour, I like the different change every week and I like the audiences you get on tour. Every week is an opening night so it keeps you on your toes. Each theatre is completely different and of course, things change. So you could turn up in one theatre and there are certain things in certain places, and then the next theatre you visit those things aren’t there, which can be a bit nerve-wracking, but it keeps you stimulated. You also have the chance to play the most wonderful theatres, Bath, Cambridge, the Kings in Edinburgh, they are wonderful theatres, so that’s a definite plus.

AMY: If I’m honest, I’m looking forward to getting the chance to have a sleep during the day (laughs) because on the weeks we won’t have the children with us, I can just do what I want. I can read a book, imagine that! Sitting and reading and not loading a dishwasher, just have a bit of me-time because you don’t get much of a chance when you have kids. I also like to discover the new shops in a new town! I just like looking around new towns and there are a lot I’m not familiar with.

ROBERT: I know most of them and the one I don’t know is probably the one you know the best! And that’s New Brighton.

AMY: Yes, that’s where all my family are from, the Wirral, so I’ll probably have about 1,000 people coming in in one sitting, because I have the most enormous family.

What do your children think about their actor parents and how hard will it be for them with you being away on tour?

ROBERT: The kids are looking forward to it. We had to make a decision to say the time is right. They’re of an age now where they’re ok if we’re away from home and it works out that during the school holidays and various other things, they can come with us, so they’re quite excited about it.

AMY: I’ve always been very conscious about not wanting to leave them when they were younger and I never wanted to go on tour, but the children are the right age now, and they’re sort of used to it, apart from the one bit they cannot stand which is what they saw in rehearsal the other day. We had to bring them in with us, and there’s a scene where we kiss and I could actually hear them groaning and one of them screamed, “oh Daaaaaad!” They were appalled! (laughs)

ROBERT: And doubly appalled that we get paid for it! (laughs) But seriously, they’re excited about this because some venues on the tour, Edinburgh and Bath, fit quite nicely into Easter, and Stoke works out well for half term. And they do have to sit through a lot but they’re very good actually. A recent example of this, we did Wendy Craig’s carol concert and they came along and were as good as gold, they’re a great audience really.

AMY: They are. They’ve watched Robert being stabbed with a pair of scissors on The Royal, me being murdered on stage in various plays, people being shot in Blood Brothers, they’re entirely used to it all.

Do any of your children have aspirations to follow you into the industry? Or because they’ve seen Mum and Dad do this for a living, they might want to try something else?

ROBERT: That’s a good point, because I think they’ll come to their own conclusions. Yes, all three of them have an interest in films and drama and acting but whether it comes to that and in a few years it’ll be in their system or they’ve had enough and decide to become a doctor or an accountant or multi-millionaires to keep their parents in the manner to which they are desperate to be accustomed to (laughs), I just don’t know. But we would never get in the way and stop them if they decided to do what we do. If they really wanted to do it, and showed the energy and the gumption and talent to pursue it, then we wouldn’t stop them.

Do you take your work home, like rehearsing together or letting off steam from a day’s filming or rehearsing, or do you leave it all at the door?

AMY: We usually have a good car journey home from wherever we are, and the car journey covers it, I find. We talk about it in the car, and then by the time we get through the door and the children greet us, I am so over it at that point because I’m straight into Mum-mode, washing the uniforms and making sure they’re brushing their teeth. Of course we take the time to learn our lines, but we don’t really talk about work at home, do we? I don’t think there’s time!

ROBERT: No, you’re right and that’s the thing with having a family – they don’t allow you to and that’s probably quite appropriate. We get in the car after work and we have a chat and catch up with the gossip. I’m on stage throughout the entirety of this play, so there’s no chance of a chat during rehearsals, so the journey home is a time to do that, and it’s quite nice. And then we get home and can relax and be with the kids. This’ll make you laugh though – we spend all day at rehearsals on this whodunit, and then we go home and about 9pm we found ourselves sitting around the table playing Cluedo! And we stopped for a second and thought, are we out of our tiny minds? It’s all relative though (laughs).

Robert, you are a published crime writer author so this play must be right up your street!

ROBERT: Oh yes, very much so. I write crime novels and I have an interest in thrillers and mystery anyway, so there’s that slightly dorkish element to these things for me. I get to read a lot in any given year and what struck me with Rehearsal for Murder is that it’s a very clever piece. And it was unusual in its form because it’s a free flowing story, and while it’s set on the stage, there’s something very theatrical and different about it. And it really caught my attention.

AMY: He’s fantastic to watch whodunits with because he can spot the murderer within seconds and I’m always the last one to guess! Because he knows how they’re constructed because he constructs them himself, so it was a genre he was interested in anyway and I just thought I might get a couple of nice frocks out of it (laughs).

Upon reading the script for Rehearsal for Murder, did you guess the conclusion?

ROBERT: No, actually, this one genuinely surprised me. I thought, ooh, that’s a well disguised googly, as they say in cricket. I was very surprised. And this is what I think is great about this play is that it does exist in lots of different dimensions. It plays with time very, very well and there’s a lot going on, so hopefully the audience will feel as though they’ve been on a real journey of discovery punctuated by some very big surprises. It’s a great piece with some very colourful characters and it’s such a great company to be working with.

Inspiration for your next book? Do you take inspiration from wherever you go or indeed things you work on?

ROBERT: Oh yes, I am completely nicking this plot! (laughs) But seriously, whenever you come across a good thriller whether it’s a book, a TV drama or film or even a theatre play, it’s always quite inspiring and it’s such a popular genre, people do love it, they love a murder mystery, they love guessing, they love all of that.

As you both mentioned earlier, you have both worked for Bill Kenwright before. Amy, you played the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers – as someone who is known more for drama, was that a challenging role?

AMY: You can say that again, it was a huge challenge for me because I’d never done a musical before. I’ve done a musical film called Up on the Roof many years ago, but I’d never done a musical on stage. I do sing, I am a singer but I had never done anything on that scale before. And anyone’s whose played that particular part will tell you, you have a very short rehearsal period where you step into the shoes of the person that played the part before. And because it’s such an iconic role, and because I’m a Scouser, it meant a lot to me. And it was not long after my parents had died that I took the part, and I remember the first day I arrived at the theatre to walk through the part, and I burst into tears because I remember thinking I’m in the West End but my mum and dad will never see it. So I hope they were sort of watching from somewhere because they would have loved it.

ROBERT: And you were just stunning, you really were.

AMY: Thank you. Bill’s always cast singers before in the role, and although I do sing, I’m not a singer, I’m an actress, so I think I was the first actress to play the part. And I had a fabulous time, but the emotional cost of playing that part was terrific, you was such hard work, but very rewarding. And I had such fun too, Marti Pellow (who played the Narrator) was a hoot, we had such a laugh.

ROBERT: I starred for Bill in Caught in the Net, the follow-up to Run For Your Wife, with Eric Sykes and Russ Abbot. That was interesting. It was wonderful to work with playwright Ray Cooney, he writes superbly and working with Sykes and Abbot. It’s such an incredibly disciplined farce. I learned an awful lot doing it and the best thing about it was that it was a huge success for Ray Cooney. And I got to watch Sykes every night. What that man could do on stage in five minutes with a Zimmer frame without words was quite extraordinary and will never leave me, it was wonderful.