Advocates: Liz Jadav

Liz Jadav is an actor whose first experience of Alan Ayckbourn was working in his acclaimed 40th anniversary revival of Joking Apart and the world premiere of Better Off Dead at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2018. Her previous stage work includes productions at Nottingham Playhouse and with Illyria as well as work on the popular television programmes Emmerdale and Coronation Street.

Interview (2018)

During summer 2018, Liz Jadav was interviewed by Simon Murgatroyd at the Stephen Joseph Theatre about her first season working with Alan Ayckbourn.

My first experience of an Ayckbourn play was quite late on. I’d obviously heard his name in connection with the Stephen Joseph Theatre and I just knew he wrote plays - lots of plays which were funny. The first play that made a massive impression on me was
Communicating Doors. I read that when I was looking for a radio drama audition piece and I loved it, just from reading it. I then saw it at the Menier Chocolate Factory and I think its a fabulous play. I’m really not a sci-fi geek and sci-fi on stage has no attraction for me; yet here’s a play about time travel. So I came to it very sceptically - but I think had preconceptions about Alan’s work. I’d formed an impression they were all about arguing couples and were quite suburban, but I read Communicating Doors and thought, ‘oh ok, I’m wrong about this.’ I then saw How The Other Half Loves here in Scarborough, quite deliberately as I’ve never seen of of Alan’s plays in ‘his’ theatre. I just thought it was marvellous and I was absolutely taken aback. It took my breath away, how clever it was. I’m quite ashamed that my first memory of a is really quite late in life, but I’m compensating for that!

I never want to work with anyone else again! But the same goes for the company. I’d be very happy just to stay with them forever. I understand they’ve all worked with Alan before and I understand from them that he’s very good at putting together people who will enjoy working together and whom he will enjoy being in a rehearsal room with. Which is enormously rare. Directors do say they all look for people they’re going to be able to work with, but I’d say it’s rare for a company to get on so wel.

Alan didn’t wait for me to find Olive in
Joking Apart, he told me who she was and you’d think that would mean I was very much acting by numbers - but it’s not that at all. And I know for myself - and I know from what he has said - my Olive is very distinct from other Olives. So there’s no tyranny in comments like that. There’s just an enormous clarity. Its very empowering.

There’s a tendency sometime when you do a straight play - not a musical - to spend a long time digging into who the character is and that's very interesting in some ways. But just to come in and stand up with a script in your hand and get on into the rehearsal space and discover who you are that way is great. Then to have a director there who says, ‘Olive, she’s a suet pudding. So complacent you want to shake her.’ It doesn’t take hours for me to work that out. For scene two, he told us: ‘Everything is pleasant in the garden and then begins the slow motion stoning of Richard and Anthea orchestrated by Sven.’ It's not what you’d call a precise note, but it absolutely informs what we do. All of these things he says are tiny things - they didn’t take weeks of exploring - but they absolutely inform how you go about regarding the scene. You have such a solid starting point. I love the simplicity of it.

One thing I’ve found really illuminating is Alan talks sometimes about writing and in relation to
Joking Apart, he said that for the stage you need to write in primary colours. You need to write clear characters for the stage because you haven’t got a camera focusing in on someone’s face and showing the complexity of what they're going through. He said of Joking Apart, ‘It’s quite a primary colour play, a naive painting, each character works within a narrow band. Quite well drawn fro the stage’ - by which he meant they were clear.

I’d built into it all kinds of subtext before rehearsals and it all just gets in the way; it just muddies the waters and so all of that went. There was one point - and its still there but very toned down - when Sven talks about attributes being handed out at birth very unfairly, and I feel that very strongly, but the first time I felt it
very strongly and Alan shook his head and said, ‘your subtext was showing!’ Which I think is my favourite note ever.

With Alan, it’s always playing the truth of it. He warned us that when you get in front of an audience and they laugh, you will be tempted to play for the laugh. Don’t do it!

One of my favourite parts of the experience has been the note sessions once we got into the theatre. There’ll be a few specific notes, but very practical one generally; if there’s a line or two which weren’t quite audible or the line that was missed - and he does notice! Once we get into the theatre and are doing the performances or dress runs, we generally meet at 4pm for a note session that can last up to an hour and they’re pep talks and quite often there’s a story. One evening before
Joking Apart, we all sat down eager and expectant and he said ‘I don’t really have anything to say, I just wanted to see you all.’ He seems to have so much affection for his actors and he’s so good at encouraging them - most directors like to encourage their cast, not all, most do and most say something encouraging before the first performance. Alan says all the right things and then he says some very Alan things! He talks a lot about curtain calls, he has talked a lot about how to get a bigger clap from the audience - he will never talk about how to get a bigger laugh, because thats not the point - but how to get a bigger round of applause or a second call or a standing ovation!

I’ve decided I can't bear press nights - there’s so many distractions and here in Scarborough, people go crazy with all these lovely cards and gifts. I found it very distracting for
Joking Apart - and the SJT being what it is, theres’s a very friendly audience for the play. But Alan said on the Monday before press night on Tuesday: ‘On Monday night, the under-reaction will make up for the over-reaction tomorrow night.' It was also interesting because he said, 'press night makes absolutely no difference at all to you lot, but it’s quite usual for this author director to get extraordinarily depressed later in the evening…’. And he did! He refers to press nights as a necessary evil.

I think Alan is a person who shows people what people are like and he does it beautifully. He has a real gift and his use of language is beautiful. His writing is so beautifully human - so beautifully and affectionately observed.

He writes people with all their faults with great affection. That is almost the most valuable thing. Every single person is a flawed human being but you have to love them anyway - that’s what I believe. And Alan writes with love, flawed people.

That’s probably why I enjoyed this job so much!
Interview by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.