Helen Sheals discusses her latest role in Don Cotter’s thrilling new play Freddie, Ted, and the Death of Joe Orton, showing at London Theatre Workshop from 27 November to 16 December 2017.
Helen, congratulations on your critically acclaimed portrayal of iconic CBS Judy (Judy Garland) in Ray Rackham’s stunning West End production Judy! earlier this year (pictured). The reviews were wonderful with the Times describing you as a ‘diminutive dynamo’. It’s lovely to see you return to the London Theatre Workshop (LTW), where Judy! originated, to appear in Freddie, Ted, and the Death of Joe Orton. One of the endearing things about this premiere production is that it reunites you with your Judy! co-stars, Don Cotter (author), Perry Meadowcroft (co-star) and Ray Rackham (director).
What’s it like to work in a completely different role alongside them?
It’s great to be reunited with them all. Judy! was such fun and we got to know each other very well. This is a very different role and my relationship with Perry’s character is diametrically opposed to the Judy/Schlatter friendship. Judy was an amazing part, one of the best I’ve ever had, but it is quite nice to be in a role where I don’t have such a huge responsibility!
Tell us a little about the play and your character, Dilys.
The play is set in Brighton in the sixties around the time that Joe Orton came to prominence. At the end of the piece, he is dead and homosexuality has been partially decriminalised. Dilys is a neighbour and friend of Ted’s although Freddie is not quite so keen on her unsophisticated tastes and persona.
What do you think theatregoers will like most about Freddie, Ted…?
It’s very touching, funny and has an unexpected thriller element to it. It also references topics which are still current and important today – both personally and politically. They hopefully will laugh and cry and leave the theatre with something to think about.
Freddie, Ted, and the Death of Joe Orton is being workshopped in LTW’s Theatre Lab. The workshop process is proving very successful for LTW with smash hit shows like Apartment 40C and Through The Mill (which became Judy!) transferring to the St James Studio (now The Other Palace), Southwark Playhouse and then the West End’s Arts Theatre.
What do you like most about the workshop process and what is key to the success of each production?
The workshopping process gives free rein to creativity and the chance to ‘make mistakes’ in a safe and nurturing environment. I think the key success of any production is when all the elements conjoin together in a perfect storm – script, cast, director, crew and a common desire to make something which impacts on and affects an audience in a memorable way.
If you could play any role from screen or stage, who would you be and what do you like most about the character?
Edith Piaf. She was tiny and had a huge voice and personality. Piaf came, almost literally from the gutter and made a huge success out of her talent. She was a great artist and songwriter and her voice had a peerless (well, apart from Judy maybe!) haunting quality which rips your heart out.
What is your favourite play and why?
I don’t have a favourite – it’s impossible for me to choose. I have favourite performances within certain plays – Joseph Fiennes playing Jesus in Son of Man at the Barbican Pit being one of them.
What was the most inspiring performance you have ever seen? Why?
Alex Jennings in Richard Jones’s production of Too Clever By Half at the Old Vic. The whole show was phenomenal – but his performance was outstanding. It was hilarious but at the same time there was a world-weary melancholy about it and I’ve always been attracted to the melancholy!
If you could work with any actor in the world who would you choose?
Oh good lord! Philip Seymour Hoffman – if he wasn’t dead; Paul Dano; Anne-Marie Duff and Anna Maxwell Martin.
Tell everyone why they must see Freddie, Ted, and the Death of Joe Orton’.
‘Cos it’s dead good! Seriously though, it’s thought-provoking, hilarious and shocking. Not to mention the fab and groovy sixties soundtrack!
Freddie, Ted, and the Death of Joe Orton runs at London Theatre Workshop from 27th November – 16th December, 2017.
Robert Styles, Eoin McAndrew, Helen Sheals and Perry Meadowcroft.
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