Interview with actor, Jo Mousley by Nigel Powlson
Playing seven roles in one production is a challenge that Jo Mousley believes will have her firing on all cylinders.
Jo will join Sean McKenzie in Derby Theatre’s production of the Jim Cartwright two-hander TWO, and she can’t wait to get started.
She said: “There is so much work to do. It will be like running a marathon, as opposed to doing a 10K. My acting muscle will be so well exercised after this, I will feel able to take anything on.
“As an actor I’m not sure there can be a bigger challenge. But I would rather be on stage working really hard than back in the dressing room after doing just one scene.”
TWO is set in a northern pub with Jo and Sean playing the publicans and multiple other characters. This darkly funny play will be directed by Derby Theatre’s Artistic Director Sarah Brigham who was also at the helm when Jo made her last appearance at the venue in Brassed Off.
Jo says: “Sarah is so easy to work with as a director, she knows how to get the best out of her actors, is supportive, wise, generous and always passionate about the project in hand. She guides you through working collaboratively to create the characters. She’s said that we will go people watching for TWO as it’s such a study of the characters that come into the pub. She’s brilliant at giving you time to develop things like that, to discuss ideas and look at the physical side.
“I am playing seven characters and they are different ages, different types of physicality. Sarah gives you the tools to make these really swift changes between very diverse characters by lots of detailed exercises in rehearsal, objectives and actioning and physical traits. It is a really creative rehearsal room.
Jo is used to playing multiple roles, as she showed by playing a wide variety of colourful characters in Horrible Histories Horrible Christmas at Derby Theatre in 2013.
TWO will be very different to that popular family show and Jo admits that it will be more challenging.
“With Horrible Histories you can really go for it and can be quite pantomimic whereas there has to be a reality to the characters in TWO. I’ve worked at lots of pubs in between acting jobs and I think we need to show the real truth at the heart of these colourful characters. The scenes are often very funny, with a melancholia running beneath them.
“I did Coronation Street on stage to celebrate its 50th anniversary and six of us played everybody from the first episode until the tram crash. I played eight characters including Ena Sharples, Deirdre and Hilda Ogden. We watched so many DVDS to get the voices right, so it was about mimicking but still finding the truth that those actors found. With TWO, we are getting to create those characters ourselves which is going to be so much fun as it will come from us and Sarah.”
Jo is also excited about the way the play will be set up in the auditorium.
She said: “Sarah sent us the model box and this play will work so well at Derby. The theatre space is so open and intimate. The set will go into the audience and it will start with some round tables.
This play will work really well in the Derby Theatre auditorium, as a space it is so open, yet intimate. Sarah sent us images of the model box, designed by the brilliant Ali Allen. The set is a pub and the stage will be built out into the audience, with some audience members sat on round pub tables on the stage. When we are on stage on our own with a monologue we are letting the rest of the people in the pub into our thoughts, so to have the audience so close is very important. It will draw them into this world, and I the plan is to make it a working bar; so the audience will REALLY be at the pub and theatre at the same time! How exciting!
Jo hasn’t done a Jim Cartwright play before but has long been familiar with his work.
“Road was one of the first plays I read as a young actor and understood it wasn’t all about Shakespeare. He was writing about people I recognised. Then, I saw TWO at Bolton Octagon, it made me laugh and cry with its working class grit and wit.
“The main story arc we follow in TWO is the landlord and landlady and working behind a bar they are putting on a performance for the customers. We see them relating to other customers, then bickering with each other and then there’s a moment which I don’t want to reveal but when I first read the play I found it quite shocking. It will be really emotional as well as funny – things which are always very closely linked.”
There have been a string of well received shows at Derby Theatre in recent times but very high up on any list of audience favourites would be the production of Brassed Off in which we last saw Jo in the city.
She said: “It is one of the very favourite things I have done. It felt really special as every element was right. Sarah did it at the perfect time politically. We all got on fantastically. There was a warmth from everyone involved in it and we are all so proud of it.
“There was a big mining community in Derbyshire and all that detailed work that was done such as getting miners’ wives to come in and talk to us, paid off and the show was really truthful and honest. There were tears shed at lots of performances, it was a really special show.”
Now Jo is happy to be back at Derby Theatre for TWO.
“I think it’s my favourite theatre to perform in, especially as everyone is so lovely in the whole building, so dedicated and passionate about the stories to be told. I love the auditorium and simply being on that stage. The Derby audience reactions are always so honest, I hope they like TWO. I am so delighted to be back.”