More about a mate: meet Break A Leg’s Helen McWilliams

In Interviews, Regional theatre by Helen McWilliamsLeave a Comment

It’s a rarity indeed when I take to my own blog to speak of all things Break A Leg but I felt that after four years of nurturing my labour of love and the new step that I’ve taken – it was time to say a big HELLO to all of my lovely supporters and followers. I’m regularly asked questions about how I got into this crazy world of blogging, reviewing and everything else that goes with it. So, I thought this was as good a place as any to let you in on life in my bubble!

Why? ~ Why did I start Break A Leg is a classic question and my answer is because I felt I was ready to branch out on my own. I was encouraged by one of my all-time favourite actors, Tracey Childs, too. She is now a fantastic Producer at The Mercury Theatre, but she remains one of my firm acting idols. I’d been reviewing theatre productions for other publications, but then I went on that old faithful… Google… and thought it would be a good idea to find out how to set up a blog! I remember thinking “oh gawd you’ve done it now!” when I pressed publish – have I ever looked back? Well, as a dweller on life, yes I have and I’ll admit that I was very lazy during my formative months due to my preoccupation with growing a small person and his insistence that evenings were the time to make me very sick! Morning sickness? What morning sickness? Try after 5:00pm sickness!

I was lucky that he let me return to my life-long love of theatre-going and it was during a performance of Evita at The Wolverhampton Grand Theatre that I first felt my little lad kick! During ‘Peron’s Latest Flame’ in fact…

How? ~ This could be a quick paragraph, networking is the answer! Plus I was fortunate that I had contacts from my previous critic gigs for other publications of course. It helps that I’m once seen never forgotten… although I’m not sure if helps is the right word, haha!

Where? ~ The West Midlands was my initial intention, however together with a little light promotion for the shows that I’m privileged to be invited to goes a spot of interviewing from time to time. I’ve met and interviewed more people than I can mention here and many of them have prompted me to approach theatres outside of the Midlands. So I sometimes rock up in London, I’ve been known to appear in Bristol and popping up in Banbury or Milton Keynes is also not unheard of for me.

Did I mention that I was invited to review 42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane earlier this year? Only one of my best-loved musicals and what a theatre to make my west end critiquing debut in! I also had my favourite actor, Judy Buxton with me. Yep, pinch me, you still have to pinch me!!

Off-West End ~ I hang my head in shame when I say these words – I had never been to an off-west end theatre or production until last year. I’m nothing if not honest! However, they have been one of the best discoveries ever and I make it my personal mission to attend as many off-west end productions as I can squeeze in.

Shall I mention my favourite, just because I’ll implode if I don’t? Steel Magnolias at The Hope Theatre, it’s STILL one of my favourite ever theatrical experiences and will take some beating. Although – I will say that All Our Children at Jermyn Street Theatre has been one of my highlights of 2017. What a space, what a play and what a cast. Off-West End rocks!

Break A Leg Awards ~ One of the reasons that I chose to take the decision to launch the Break A Leg Awards last year (it was on the cards but I had been undecided as to when to go with it, umming, ahhing, faffing, you get the picture) was my new love for Off-West End Theatre. I knew I needed to recognise it and I had a lovely panel of theatre-goers who agreed whole-heartedly. So we did it! Of course, we included television as well as theatre in our categories and it was a mammoth but rewarding task.

What still amazes me to this day is the reactions from the nominees and winners. All so excited and delighted, which has made me all the more pleased that I just went with it. This year we’ve been long-listing since January and will continue to do so until the end of October. A December cyber ceremony is taking place again, but there will be some surprises thrown in for good measure. Plus once short-listing is agreed upon (we could be scratching our heads over that for some time!) every category, bar the special recognition is going out to public vote. Scary… but necessary methinks.

Idols ~ With my passion for theatre, music and telly comes idols, of course. Fan-girl is a term that was made for me and it doesn’t fade with time. I’ve interviewed so many of my favourite performers now that ‘primary school me’ would be well jel! I’m often asked what it’s like to meet famous faces and I will say that the best part of it for me is when their fame is no longer a consideration. Then I’m getting to know the person behind the character I might have become a fan of them for to begin with.

I still feel nervous when I’m meeting people I admire and the adrenalin can take me either way, all sorts of stupid can leave my mouth without so much as a bye your leave. It never gets any better (reassuring isn’t it?!) but I’m a fan of so many different performers for various reasons now. For example, I adore Jeffrey Holland and Judy Buxton, they were my childhood heroes and I think they’re both awesome actors. They’re well known names due to their television careers but watching them tread the boards is amazing and I never lose that feeling of awe when I watch them perform.

Throwing Steel Magnolias back into the mix (in case I’m back on the verge of imploding) I became a huge fan of an actor who starred in that show, Stephanie Beattie. You won’t have heard of her unless you’re an Off-West End theatre-goer, although you might have spotted her as Brian Blessed’s wife in the Abbot Ale commercials on Dave! I watched her in Steel Magnolias and I knew I was in the presence of a natural and special performer, I recently watched her in Brimstone & Treacle back at The Hope Theatre and I still can’t quite articulate what I feel about her performance. I could sit down with her for hours on end praising her for that show.

So yes, idols? I think I’ve met almost all of them, I’ve interviewed the vast majority and I count a few as friends. Madness!

What next? ~ If one thing that #blogginglife has taught me it’s that anything can happen! I hope my amazing site visitors will enjoy the new ticket shop Break A Leg Ticket Shop that is up, running and offering incredible deals on theatre shows, exhibitions and much more… what a walking advert I am, eh? I’m proud of the new step in this mad adventure though and it was the right time.

The site has Patrons too, all of whom I am honoured to have associated with the website and they represent a cross-section of talent. Add to the mix that they’re awesome and I have to pinch myself that they agreed to support me in my little project – need I say more?

This year I wanted to include opera and classical music reviews, because I’m bonkers like that – I can listen to Bon Jovi one minute and a selection from The Mikado the next. I’m delighted that I’m not only able to review a variety of classical pieces this year, but that a favourite of mine who once played Katisha in The Mikado (running theme in this paragraph, The Miakdo – if I mention it again in this post I get… nothing in return except a few excerpts running through my head, on a loop!) is coming to Worcester in 3 Choirs Festival and will be singing at Worcester Cathedral. Remember the fan-girl moments we talked about? It’s gonna happen again that night when I watch Yvonne Howard in action! I can tell you that my review diary is pretty full up until the end of December as well so… happy days.

Before I leave you all to get on with something far more interesting, I want to say a great big heart-felt THANK YOU for sticking with Break A Leg. It means the world to me and it would be nothing without your support. Plus of course I must thank my husband, Garry – I couldn’t do it at all without his backing. I’d have a good try, but it wouldn’t be half so much fun!

Helen McWilliams
Helen McWilliams is a Midlands-based reviewer, but is happy travelling anywhere and everywhere to pursue her love of the theatre. Since 2013, she has been combining her passions for writing and theatre in her Entertainment Views site (formerly Break A Leg). She also enjoys interviewing actors, writers and other professionals from the business.

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Helen McWilliams
Helen McWilliams is a Midlands-based reviewer, but is happy travelling anywhere and everywhere to pursue her love of the theatre. Since 2013, she has been combining her passions for writing and theatre in her Entertainment Views site (formerly Break A Leg). She also enjoys interviewing actors, writers and other professionals from the business.

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