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New Old Friends interview

Feargus Woods Dunlop talks about Crimes Under The Sun and returning to the University of Leeds.

Crimes Under the Sun at LUU Riley Smith Theatre Leeds University.
Crimes Under the Sun at LUU Riley Smith Theatre Leeds University.

This season, award-winning theatre company New Old Friends comes home to Yorkshire with a new play, Crimes Under The Sun.

We caught up with founding half of the company Feargus Woods Dunlop, ahead of the comedy’s special engagement at Leeds University Union’s Riley Smith Theatre on Tuesday 8th May.

New Old Friends celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Tell us about how it began.

I started the company straight out of Bretton Hall [now part of the University of Leeds] where I trained, because an opportunity came up with my local theatre to fill a week in their schedule.

I wrote and performed a piece called Mate with Josh Golga, who had graduated from Bretton’s Creative Writing course, and luckily it was funny enough to paper over the wafer-thin plot. It sold out in Bath, and then was well received during a run in a London fringe venue.

That led to other opportunities. Josh left to pursue his passion for film, and Heather joined the company and imposed a greater sense of visual identity and physical comedy to sit alongside the wordplay.

What can audiences expect from Crimes Under The Sun?

It is first and foremost a comedy with plenty of laughs. We work hard to try and include a wide variety of comedy within our shows, so there are lots of funny lines but also some big physical set pieces and slightly ‘other’ characters.

This one even has a big song and dance routine in it. But the comedy is sat on top of a solid structure of a classic ‘cosy crime’ thriller, loosely inspired by Agatha Christie and John Buchan, there is enough intrigue to be had trying to work out the culprit that it is engaging in between the laughs.

The final strand is romance, we’ve woven a Noel Coward-esque tale of repressed British courtship throughout which audiences are really responding well to.

Are the characters based on anyone you know?

God no! Well unless you count Poirot. We have taken great inspiration from the meticulous little Belgian but wondered what it would be like had he been female, and the different responses he would have had.

There is a lot of fun in imposing modern-day gender sensibilities onto the rigid social structures of the Thirties. I’m sure there are flashes of people we know in some of the characters, but certainly not enough to be based on anyone. They’re all quite odd in their own ways.

What attracted you to the Agatha Christie genre?

The whole ‘cosy crime’ stuff is just so ripe for comedy. One of our all-time favourite shows is The 39 Steps, which takes the John Buchan novel/Hitchcock film and has a lot of fun with it. We were looking around for other opportunities to work in a similar way.

The difference with our work is that we don’t do adaptations, we don’t use the characters and the plots are very much taken as inspiration and then worked into new stories. It allows us much greater freedom to pursue our own impulses. That inter-war era also just has some wonderful linguistic tics which are fun to play with “it’s simply frightful”, “I was utterly, positively ashamed” etc. and the costumes are great too.

Tell us about James Farrell’s process of directing the play.

Well as I’ve mentioned, The 39 Steps has long been a huge inspiration. I remember Josh and I exit flyering the original touring version in Bath before Mate, having just laughed solidly throughout its runtime. So when the opportunity to work with James, who was associate director of the show in the West End and on tour, it was a dream come true.

Ever since he read the first draft of the script he has been so insightful but respectful to the world we are creating. It was a joyous rehearsal period with so many laughs, which I think really translates into the show we now present. When a company has had a good time making a show, audiences can sense it.

The show stops off at Leeds University Union’s Riley Smith Theatre. Why did you choose that venue?

I contacted the Theatre & Performance Manager, Stephen Brennan, who is an old mate I studied with at Bretton Hall. He was interested and we both had a free date in our schedules, so we took it from there.

It will be lovely to return to Leeds, though I only lived there for one of my three years – I’m not sure if we’ll have time to take the van out to see what is happening to Bretton Hall, but it would be nice if we could manage it.

Are there any other houses you’d have liked to play?

We’ve been so lucky with the venues we have played that we’re very happy. There was talk of playing a week at Theatre Royal Windsor, the home of Bill Kenwright’s Agatha Christie Theatre Company, which would be nice. It might happen next tour so fingers crossed.

What’s been the reaction so far?

Overwhelming. We opened in Bath for a fortnight, and we’ve built up a little bit of a reputation there over the last decade. So, while we were thrilled by the reaction there, we took it with a bit of a pinch of salt.

However, since heading out on the road, we’re absolutely delighted to say the response has continued in the same vein. We’ve been enjoying sell-out houses, applause breaks for certain sections and even a few standing ovations which is just incredible for a piece of original comedy theatre. We couldn’t really ask for more, we are very grateful.

What’s in the pipeline after Crimes Under The Sun?

We have quite a few projects in the pipeline: Another Christmas ‘Crimes’ story – Crimes of the Christmas Pudding – which will be at the Lichfield Garrick this December – January.

Then next spring we are touring Crimes on the Nile up and down the country. We also produce family work and are hoping to tour a new version of Swiss Family Robinson from next Easter/late spring, and then the autumn will see Crimes Under the Sun on the road with a new cast.

There’s also a new adaptation of another Anthony Horowitz Diamond Bros Detective Agency novel (we adapted the first in the series; The Falcon’s Malteser) Public Enemy Number Two.

Feargus Woods Dunlop, thank you.

Thanks – hopefully see you at the show!

 

Crimes Under the Sun is at the Riley Smith Theatre at Leeds University Union for one night only on Tuesday 8th May 2018. Tickets cost £12/10. Book online at Leedstickets.com.

The production will transfer to Artrix (Bromsgrove) on 9th May. For a full list of tour dates visit Newoldfriends.co.uk.

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