Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Rosalind Blessed: The Delights Of Dogs And The Problems Of People + Lullabies For The Lost

By | Published on Friday 3 January 2020

Over at The Old Red Lion Theatre this week begins an in-rep run of two separate but connected plays created by writer Rosalind Blessed, who also appears in the shows alongside a cast that includes her mother, Hildegard Neil.

I was intrigued to find out some details about the two pieces – ‘The Delights Of Dogs And The Problems Of People’ and ‘Lullabies For The Lost’ – as well as to discover a bit more about the woman behind them. So I arranged to put some questions to Rosalind ahead of her New Year performances.

CM: You’re bringing two plays to Old Red Lion Theatre in January, so it would be interesting to talk about them separately. Can you start by telling us what ‘The Delights Of Dogs And The Problems Of People’ is about? What story does it tell?
RB: ‘The Delights Of Dogs And The Problems Of People’ is the story of a relationship as it fails. It moves back and forth in time to examine moments that lead to the unravelling of the couple. It also features a dog to highlight the pure simple love of a dog for a person and the destructive, possessive love of person for person.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
RB: The play is a study of domestic abuse, what can lead to it and how easy it is to get into an abusive relationship. It is not a story of monster and victim; how easy life would be if this was so. It is far more complicated. Abusers do not come ringing a bell, how can you know them when they do not even know themselves?

CM: What made you want to tackle that subject? Did doing so involve research?
RB: Whilst it is a work of fiction the play largely draws on my own personal experience. I have had more than one relationship of this kind and have experienced both the mental and physical; this play focuses on the mental.

CM: Tell us now about ‘Lullabies For The Lost’. What’s the premise and where does the narrative take us?
RB: ‘Lullabies For The Lost’ is a story of eight souls caught in a limbo of their own making, having to tell their sad stories and secrets over and over to try and find freedom. It is not a sequel or indeed prequel to ‘The Delights Of Dogs And The Problems Of People’, but inhabits a parallel reality.

CM: What themes does it explore?
RB: ‘Lullabies For The Lost’ is a play about mental health. The eight characters tell their struggles that range from depression, anxiety, and panic attacks through miscarriage, childlessness and hoarding to self-harm and eating disorders. All of these are looked at with humour and the brightness of humanity.

CM: What was the inspiration for the piece?
RB: Whilst things are improving, I still feel we have a way to go in opening up about and removing the shame surrounding mental health. By writing with bold honesty and with dark humour I invite the audience to be brave and tell their tales too. There is bound to be something in there for anyone to relate to.

CM: You say the plays inhabit parallel realities, but do the plays connect with each other in any way? In terms of narrative or themes?
RB: The plays complement each other. Both take the audience on an intimate journey through the secrets usually hidden behind the social curtain. They are both bittersweet plays that actually contain a lot of laughter. The character of Robin – the wife in ‘Delights Of Dogs’ and the bulimic in ‘Lullabies’ – is the same in both pieces. I know that my mental health struggles made me more vulnerable to abusive manipulation and that abuse in turn worsened my mental health, and the cycle went on. It is a cycle I have now broken so the plays do contain hope. Very importantly, both the plays have a hero in the form of dog and fly the flag for rescue dogs – for Staffies in particular!

CM: So lots of your own experience informs the plays?
RB: Yes, both plays draw hugely on my own experience. I don’t think I know how else to write! In ‘Lullabies’ my mental health struggles have been fragmented into several characters – I had a lot in my bag o’troubles! – and two of the stories were inspired by friends. The first was about miscarriage – we just don’t talk about it remotely enough. The other was my friend’s experience over three decades being sectioned for anorexia and the appalling experiences of that, it’s truly shocking.

CM: What made you decide to stage them together in rep like this?
RB: It was exciting to talk to The Old Red Lion Theatre about the idea of putting them on together as they are so linked in spirit and theme. An audience can come and experience one or the other or really submerge themselves in both to get that little bit of extra flavour watching a character inhabit two realms.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team working on the plays?
RB: I have been directed by Zoe Ford Burnett a few times, in ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘Romeo And Juliet’ and at the Barbican in ‘Octavia’; she was the perfect mind for the artistic challenge of ‘Lullabies For The Lost’. She is also currently associate director working with Sam Mendes on the ‘Lehman Trilogy’.

I have also been directed by Caroline Devlin for Guildford Shakespeare Company in ‘Othello’, ‘King Lear’ and ‘The Merry Wives Of Windsor’. She and I are of a similar age and have some life under our belts! She has great sympathy and understanding of the subject matter in ‘Delights Of Dogs’ and she has made a potentially difficult process into a joy. Anna Kezia Williams has had the great challenge of designing a set to serve both shows and has brought imagination and flair.

CM: You’re from a theatrical family so presumably beginning a career in performing must have seemed fairly normal – did you ever consider another path? And did you always want to write?
RB: Having two actor parents, it does seem more obvious to go into the theatre. It is great to have their backing, support and inspiration. It wasn’t always a done deal though, in my youth I was quite academic and loved Chemistry, History and English Literature in particular. As I got older though I realised that performing gave me the greatest joy.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
RB: I have been privileged to do so many rewarding things. Very much artistically rewarding, not at all financially, but that isn’t the point, is it?

I loved playing Sylvia Plath, what a huge acting challenge and honour to delve around in that mind. I adored working with Zoe as Tamora in ‘Titus Andronicus’ – what a phenomenon of a production that was!

Working with the incredible Guildford Shakespeare Company is always amazing, getting to be on stage with Dad [Brian Blessed] in King Lear was something – though I think he didn’t like cursing me!

Possibly my favourite was playing Feste this summer in ‘Twelfth Night’ – so deliciously dark and sharp with gorgeous songs to sing just to take it over the top!

CM: What aims or ambitions do you have for the future?
RB: I would love these two plays to go on to a future life, it would be great to have a transfer and be able to reach more people. They really seem to help people to open up and shed shame. That is the point, to let people know that they are not broken, they are not wrong, and they are not alone.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
RB: The next thing on my agenda is writing a one woman show, I have a few… niggles with the state of things shall we say?

I do also have yet another dog story and a play about the homeless to develop too, so busy, busy: but if anyone would like to offer me a straightforward acting job… that would be just swell.

The Delights Of Dogs And The Problems Of People‘ and ‘Lullabies For The Lost‘ play in rep at Old Red Lion Theatre until 1 Feb. See the venue website here for links to both.

LINKS: | |

Photo: Adam Trigg