Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Ian Hallard: Adventurous

By | Published on Friday 12 March 2021

When I first heard about ‘Adventurous’ – a new show available online this week via Jermyn Street Theatre and – I thought it sounded like just the kind of theatrical entertainment we need during lockdown spring: a comical piece about two people looking for love, set in lockdown and starring Ian Hallard and Sara Crowe.

Hallard is not just the star of the show, however, he wrote it too. I spoke to him to find out more about the play – which is his first produced piece – as well as life in lockdown and his hopes for the future.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the premise of ‘Adventurous’? Where does the narrative take us?
IH: It’s a kind of comedy of manners, set between April and August of last year. There’s an element of satire, poking fun at the absurdities of that first lockdown and how everybody coped – or didn’t cope! – with the adjustments we all had to make.

But principally it’s about the developing relationship between two slightly damaged, middle-aged people who find each other on an online dating website, and who are looking for love and companionship. The play follows them from their first tentative meeting on Zoom, to a date in an actual restaurant, and beyond…

CM: What themes do you explore through the play?
IH: Without wanting to make it sound very bleak, I suppose it touches on loneliness and isolation, and our need to connect with another human being.

Each protagonist has had to contend with a fairly major presence in their lives – in Richard’s case his wife, and in Ros’s her sister – who is now no longer present for whatever reason. And through their friendship with each other, they have to rebuild their self-esteem and find a kind of resilience for the future. So, all of that – but with jokes.

CM: What made you want to write a piece exploring this subject and themes?
IH: The genesis of the project was actually slightly back to front. I was speaking to Tom Littler – the Artistic Director at Jermyn Street – about writing a two-hander for when the theatre was able to reopen.

And I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather work with than the brilliant Sara Crowe. I created the two characters first, and then built up a narrative around the two of them. So it’s very much a character piece, and something I was hopefully able to mould to our strengths as performers.

CM: This is your first play I think? Has playwriting been something you have intended to get into for a while?
IH: Well, although it’s the first to have a production mounted and the first I’ve been able to talk about, it’s not actually the first one I’ve written.

I’ve had some experience as a script editor, but I’d never really thought seriously about writing my own stuff. I suppose I was a bit intimidated. It seemed to require a colossal amount of arrogance to think: OK, there has not yet been a definitive play written on this particular subject, and I think I am the one uniquely placed to tell this story!

However, eighteen months ago, I had an idea for a play, sat down to write it, and was pretty pleased with how it came out, so that boosted my confidence a lot.

CM: Continued lockdown means the piece is being presented online. Do you feel writing for the streaming format is very different from how you might write a show for a ‘normal’ live performance?
IH: Just speaking personally, I’d have to say no, it wasn’t very different: mainly because I did originally envisage that it would happen on stage.

Now, I think I actually prefer the online version, as it’s given me the opportunity for some additional jokes and funny situations which I wouldn’t have been able to do in the theatre setting.

But ‘online’ productions are now so varied and multi-faceted, there have certainly been some that are hugely liberated by what you’re able to do in this new format.

CM: What was most challenging about creating a show during lockdown?
IH: Well, so much has to be done remotely, of course. Sara and I didn’t get to meet Khadifa Wong, our brilliant director, in person until the very last day of filming. So it is a bit strange when you can only communicate with someone through a screen and only see their head and shoulders!

Sara and I also had to get to grips with Zoom filming, and with effectively becoming our own sound and lighting technicians, so it was quite a steep learning curve for us both.

CM: Was it always your intention to perform in it yourself? What’s it like to be performing your own work, and how does it affect your actor-director dynamic?
IH: It was. Not everything I’ve been writing has been vehicles for me, but as I thought this had the most likelihood of being produced soonest, and having missed performing so much during the past year, I knew I wanted to be in this one.

It makes life easier in one way, because you’re there on hand to change a line if you find it doesn’t work, and you can explain something if there’s any confusion. But the great thing with collaborating with talented people like Khadifa is that it makes the whole production much richer.

Sara and I both explored new areas and depths within the characters that wouldn’t have been possible without her input.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the rest of the team involved with the production?
IH: Well, other than Khadifa, who has had the mammoth job of not only directing us as actors, but then editing the finished product, we have Jessie McKenzie. She’s the designer and she’s coped brilliantly with the challenges that remote working threw at her.

Unlike normal shows, where she would have come up with the set and the costume designs from scratch, instead Sara and I took photos of different rooms in our respective homes and showed Jessie a range of different outfits from our wardrobes, so that she could pick which she liked best!

Then our sound designer Matt Eaton had to exhibit considerable patience as he talked us through how to set up remote microphones and how to record our own dialogue.

CM: As you say, we’ve been seeing a lot of very clever and innovative work being delivered by digital means over the last few months – do you think people and companies will continue to create work for this medium?
IH: It’s hard to know, isn’t it? Necessity has definitely been the mother of invention for the past twelve months. Once we can all get back inside theatres, will we all be only too eager to leave online shows behind us?

One thing it has done is opened up theatre to people who might otherwise not be able to experience it, because of things like cost or simple geography. I’ve had people tweeting me from other countries, delighted that they’ll be able to tune in.

I can definitely see more theatres embracing the streaming of live performances, but that, of course, does necessitate additional expense and infrastructure, all at a time when the live arts remain in a very perilous financial position.

CM: How have you personally felt the effects of lockdown?
IH: I’ve struggled at times, like everyone. Thankfully, writing has helped my mental health enormously – just having that creative outlet has been a godsend. But I wouldn’t want to give the impression it’s been a stroll in the park. There have been huge chunks of lethargy, ennui and anxiety, punctuated by occasional bursts of creativity!

It’s been depressing to feel we have a government that has so little understanding of what the arts contribute both spiritually and financially to the good of the country. I just hope that we are now approaching the beginning of the end. Although I do remain infuriated and depressed on a daily basis by the corruption and ineptitude of Johnson and his pals!

CM: What hopes and plans do you have for the coming months, once we (hopefully!) see an easing of lockdown restrictions?
IH: It feels like green shoots are starting to emerge. Theatres are feeling more confident that they’ll be fully open by the end of the year, and are also planning outdoor productions for the summer. I’m talking to a couple of producers about other writing projects, and at Christmas, I’ll hopefully be appearing in the panto that I was offered last year and which had to be postponed.

CM: What about the future? What long term aims and ambitions do you have?
IH: Last spring, I did find myself lamenting the fact that I had decided to start writing plays just as nobody could make them any more! So now that I’ve discovered a passion and, hopefully, an ability to write, I’m excited about the opportunity to pursue that.

I’m not intending to give up my acting career just yet though, so I’m also looking forward to working in other people’s stuff as well. And long term, I suppose I’d quite like my writing to win a BAFTA, an Olivier and maybe an Oscar. That doesn’t sound too outrageous now, does it?!!

‘Adventurous’ is hosted by Jermyn Street Theatre and streamed via from 16-28 Mar, for info and to view, see this page here.

LINKS: | |