Leo Charlton, writer and director of new play Amazing Grace, chats to Sophie Joelle about her experiences acting in the production.
LC: You are very active on the Leeds writing scene, and have penned your own Young Adult fiction. How has that wealth of literary experience prepared you for coming onto this project?
SJ: I love the written word and really enjoy seeing new projects develop. Having read the first draft of Amazing Grace and having the privilege to now see it in its final form has been a dream. For me, being able to see how Jess has developed at every stage of the process has helped me to understand her character even better as I feel like I’ve known her for ages!
One other advantage of enjoying writing is that I’m pretty confident I know a good piece of work when I see it – and Amazing Grace certainly is that.
LC: What first made you think ‘this is a project that I want to be a part of’?
SJ: I’ve known Leo for a while and know he has a passion for the theatre. I’ve spoken to him many times about his directing style and knew straight away that he would be a director I could learn from. Similarly, leading-man Will has a wealth of acting experience and watching him perform is a joy! Being surrounded by such talented creatives is an incredible experience and inspires me to want to create my own work and continue performing.
LC: Are there any influences that you see in this play, fans of which would probably be interested in something like this?
SJ: I’m a huge fan of Martin McDonagh and I know Leo admires his work too. Work such as Hangmen is a total inspiration to me, blending very serious issues with dark humour always fascinates me. Amazing Grace is a little like that – Lockwood is hilarious at times, yet the audience gets to see a darker side of him. It’s not a light-hearted laugh-a-minute play, but it’s certainly got its moments and I defy anyone to leave the theatre without having laughed.
LC: What have you learned from this project that you might want to take forward into the next dramatic works that you are a part of?
SJ: I’ve learnt that the background to the character is incredibly important. Getting to know Jess beyond the words on the page isn’t something I would’ve necessarily done, but it’s been one of the most important parts of the process for me. Most people know that, when it comes to writing anything, knowing your characters inside out is a priority but I hadn’t considered this would translate to performing onstage too. I’ll definitely continue this practice in the future.
LC: Jess is a very interesting character. She may not always be present physically, but her influence is always felt. What do you see as her relationship with Lockwood being like, over time?
SJ: I do think Jess loves Lockwood very much, and I see their relationship as having a lot of turbulent times which aren’t necessarily reflected in the text. I think their relationship has been worn down over many years – she’ll always have a place for him in her heart, but is ready to move on from him and explore a new life.
LC: Many will see Jess not as a cold, but merely a victim of circumstance and the endless procession of time. How do you connect with her?
SJ: I think most people who’ve had friendships or relationships that have naturally run their course could connect with Jess. She’s a pleasant, intelligent woman and doesn’t want to hurt Lockwood – she’s trying to explain her point of view and I think the only way she can do that fairly and rationally is by keeping calm. I really do like Jess as a character and can really relate to her! For me, the hardest thing is to restrain myself from showing too much emotion on stage as my own personality is a little bit more dramatic!
LC: What do you believe her feelings towards Lockwood are at the end of the play?
SJ: I mean, obviously she won’t be too pleased by the end result of their relationship! (Obviously no spoilers… come and see the play to find out why!) But, generally, I do think she understands Lockwood and feels a great deal of affection for him. I think she’s just frustrated by the lack of passion and spontaneity in their relationship, and blames him for that.
LC: Do you think her and Lockwood could have ever been happy until the end, or is there a sense that this was pre-ordained, that they were always going to go on separate paths?
SJ: I think Jess and Lockwood were always destined to go on separate paths. I think even her dad, Martin, knew that! I don’t think it’s even to do with their backgrounds or upbringings, I just think they both held each other back from achieving what they each could have been.
LC: How has the experience been for you, and what do you think people who come to see this play will get out of it?
SJ: The experience has been brilliant. I haven’t acted in many years, so to be able to build my confidence around such a supportive, talented bunch has been ace! To work so closely with the writer of the play has been invaluable, too, as we’ve all been able to discuss the characters openly and really get to grips with the script.
People who come and see the play will see the inner-thoughts of a complex anti-hero, and will leave questioning the concept of fate, destiny and life after death. And, even better, they’ll have a great laugh along the way too.
LC: What do you plan to do after Amazing Grace is over?
SJ: I’m continuing to write my YA Fiction novels, but I hope to try a bit more acting in the future too!