‘They still have the natural human urges at 60 and why shouldn’t they?’: Andrew Fettes stars in Bren Gosling’s new play Invisible Me“Very enjoyable and uplifting,” that how actor Andrew Fettes would describe both Bren Gosling’s new dramatic comedy Invisible Me (playing at New Wimbledon Theatre’s Studio from 3-11 September 2021) and the experience of rehearsing for his first role in a live theatre production post-lockdown.
Andrew (The Red Lion, The Capitol Horsham; Death and the Maiden, tour; Steptoe and Son, West End) joins Debbie Christie and Philip Gill to tell the story of three sexually adventurous sexagenarians, directed by Su Gilroy.
Opening the door on singledom in your sixties, the production shines a light on the under-represented stories of older singles dating in London. Andrew takes on the role of Alec, a divorcee with an identity crisis who is vainly attempting to hold onto his youth.
Below, Andrew tells My Theatre Mates all about Invisible Me…
It must be great to back in rehearsals for a live theatre production. How was life for you during lockdown and how did you first become involved with Bren Gosling’s Invisible Me?
I can’t tell you how great it feels to be back in a rehearsal room with the prospect of performing in a a couple of weeks time. Life during lockdown was difficult for many reasons, financially it was tricky and some budgeting had to take place which was the same for thousands of people.
I had ten months work written off which is a shock for any actor, not only the loss of earnings but the hard work and preparation that goes in to securing the work; which included a number one national tour, many one night dinner theatre gigs and directing pantomime and playing Dame. I did turn my hand to other forms of work that could be done from home such as voiceovers and creating a podcast, these kept me busy, but one did wonder how the theatre industry would emerge.
Thankfully I have had some film and commercial work but was delighted when my agent drew my attention to Invisible Me. I auditioned via Zoom and then before the recall audition I read the whole play and thoroughly enjoyed it and am delighted to be playing Alec.
How have rehearsals been going in these challenging Covid times?
It is interesting rehearsing within Covid restrictions. Although many have been relaxed we are all aware that should any of us be found to be positive the whole production is thrown and would possibly have to be cancelled. I think because of this we are mindful of our health and respecting each other’s well being. We are even working some of the staging of the play to keep ourselves safe.
What were you first impressions of the play?
I really enjoyed the play when I read it, the characters come off the page well and are easily relatable despite their curious stories. The language and structure draw the audience in and you really want to know what happens to them and begin to care about them. Their stories interweave as slowly three separate people are drawn together. There is a great deal of warmth and comedy. And I think we could all do with cheering up a bit.
“Still life in the old dog yet’, ‘You’re never too old’, ‘Keep the faith’ are a few phrases that spring to mind. Also they still have the natural human urges and sexual needs at 60 and why shouldn’t they?”
Can you tell us more about your character and what attracted you to the role?
I play Alec a cabbie, who drives a black cab. He has just turned 60, in fact it is his birthday when the play starts. Separated from his wife and ignored by his children he is lonely and bored. He has great self belief and was quite the lad when younger and he is determined that 60 will not slow him down. As he still has an eye for the ladies he makes ‘his move’ on a much younger woman. Surprised and delighted when she doesn’t reject him the play follows his relationship with her. I was attracted by his self confidence but also his vulnerability which make him human and likable, and he has a great turn of phrase.
I believe the piece tells the story of three sexually adventurous sexagenarians. Is the subject matter refreshing, considering how often TV series and plays discuss relationships between younger generations, as if older people don’t have similar needs and desires?
The three characters are all lonely and missing their former lives now lost to them, through no fault of their own. Bren Gosling has used the springboard, that they are all 60 and determined to make some changes. ‘Still life in the old dog yet’, ‘You’re never too old’, ‘Keep the faith’ are a few phrases that spring to mind. Also they still have the natural human urges and sexual needs at 60 and why shouldn’t they?
The ways in which the three of them set about satisfying them is a little different but not in any way shocking or unnerving. It is a very uplifting and important point that the play has to make, perhaps we see the looks and appearance, the occupation and bank balance – the clothes, the car, the age – before we see the person. Invisible Me encourages the audience to look a little deeper.Do you feel there is a lack of representation for older characters in theatre and elsewhere in the arts?
I think it is difficult for older actors when it comes to roles, and particularly older female actors, there are definitely less roles for them. Interestingly we have an older population now and I think this is being reflected certainly in TV and films. We also have some amazing older actors who are too good to ignore. The great thing about acting is you don’t have to retire, I certainly have no intentions of slowing down, I think I see that side of me in Alec. So the more of us there are kicking around the more demand there is to see that sector of the population represented in the arts, it is a slow process but it is happening.
Do you think the play could have an additional relevance post-lockdown when people of all ages have struggled with isolation and loneliness?
I think it would be a huge understatement to say that lockdown has had a profound effect on the nation’s mental health and wellbeing. There were many many people that found themselves literally isolated during the lockdown periods and whether young or old this will effect them for a long time. There was a heart-warming and positive response to this with numerous acts of kindness and care, but we cannot let that just evaporate, some people will still be isolated and alone even though Covid restrictions allow them to venture out.
Any play that makes one think about how others are feeling and highlights loneliness, has got to be a good thing. It’s troubling to think that someone could be suffering for the lack of a friendly wave or a knock on their front door.
Does the play ultimately have an optimistic message?
Invisible Me delicately deals with its subject and characters, they all start their journeys in different places, they have their ups and downs, but ultimately there is a positive outcome and feeling. There is an innocence, and, a very knowing quality to the play, very enjoyable and uplifting.
“Any play that makes one think about how others are feeling and highlights loneliness, has got to be a good thing. It’s troubling to think that someone could be suffering for the lack of a friendly wave or a knock on their front door”
What has it been like working with director Su Gilroy?
Su Gilroy the director is an old friend and although we’ve known each other quite a few years this is the first time I’ve been directed by her. She has a great eye for details and knows what she wants from the characters but gives us great freedom to bring them to life, just like a good director should. She also has a great sense of humour and fun, vital for comedy and in a rehearsal room I think.
How great will it be to perform in front of a live audience once again?
Way back in 2020 some time in the spring, I was confused, worried, bored and wondering when I would be on a stage next. I have had a couple of one-nighters doing dinner theatre and have had a couple of days filming, but going on stage in front of a live audience in a run of a play is so exciting. There is no better feeling for me as an actor, than to travel to work, get on stage, perform and then sit on the tube on my way home and think, I’ve just been to work and made an audience happy. So I am going to really relish Invisible Me and when people ask, it will be the play that I did after Lockdown.