In Conversation with Polly Lister
Rehearsals are now underway for Polly Lister's new one woman show - I Was A Wife - which runs here from January 28-February 6.
Polly took some time out to chat to our Press & Marketing Officer about her career as an actor and why she decided to turn a very personal episode in her life into her first play.
Q When did you first become interested in theatre?
A For a 7th birthday treat my mum took me to a show called the Fire Dragon and I fell in love with the smell, feel and magic of the theatre. I enjoyed it so much that I paid for myself to go again. This was in Redditch where I was born and then we moved to Studley in Warwickshire and I think being so near Stratford Upon Avon influenced me too.
Q What was your first role?
A When I was 8, I played Marta in the Sound of Music at The Palace in Redditch and at 15 I did work experience backstage there. We built the set which I loved doing, I operated the lights and sound and became a dresser.
Q What did you do next?
A I was in the Palace youth theatre and did plays at school. My drama teacher asked me to audition for the National Youth Theatre in London. I was 15, which is the youngest age you can audition for the NYT, but I got in. We put on a show and I continued to work with them until I left for a vocational course at Manchester Metropolitan University School of Theatre which I loved.
Q You’ve been a professional actor for 20 years now, what’s been the highlight so far?
A I was desperate to work at Theatre By The Lake in Keswick and so my first Christmas season there in 2004 was a highlight. I love the place and had friends working there so the camaraderie was great and you have the opportunity as a company to do six different shows. I have returned there many times since. I also love touring as it is a similar kind of ethos, you turn up somewhere and put on a show. I’ve toured the Middle East with The Importance of Being Earnest and I also appeared in a film made on location in San Francisco and Berlin.
Q Why did you decide to turn your hand to writing?
A As a child I used to write monologues and poems but because I was working such a lot I didn’t have much time to write as an adult. When I appeared in Hansel & Gretel in Williamson Park, I was coming out of a hole after my marriage ended. I was having a wonderful time with friends and felt able to find my voice again.
Q Why did you decide to use your marriage breakdown as the subject of your first play?
A I felt that everything had been taken away from me and there ought to be something you could get on the NHS to make you feel better. I wanted to do something that I could be proud of and thought of writing a self-help pamphlet. However, Joe suggested that I write a play instead.
Q How does it feel to write and perform something so personal?
A It’s the most horrendous thing. Everything came pouring out. I love detective novels and I was constantly on a quest to unlock the truth of why my husband didn’t want us to be married any more. None of it made sense to me, I just needed to know why. I didn’t want anyone to come out of the play badly. I’m definitely telling my truth but I’ve come to terms with the fact that everyone has got their own truth. The difficult part has been choosing what to use. If you’ve been bereaved or lost anyone who you’ve invested in, you lose a part of yourself as well. I find myself not missing my husband but the me who loved him. I’ve not named or referenced my husband in the play and he’s not up for ridicule or judgement. It’s not a moanfest either. It’s about something that’s gone wrong in my life and what it’s taught me. I’m a romantic. I’ve never given up on anything before or broken a promise.
Q Where did you meet your husband?
A I met him online. I’ve never felt so special and though marriage had never been a big thing for me, I knew I didn’t want to marry anyone else. Everything just fitted together. I’d never believed in anything as much but within a matter of weeks after the wedding, it changed. It’s like taking a drug for 11 months which has never made you feel so good and then it’s taken away from you. When I got married I was really happy to give up my career and focus on having a family, to be something other than an actress.
Q Tell us about your wedding.
A We moved the wedding forward a year because his mum wasn’t well and he wanted her to be there. I would have liked longer to arrange it and the timing wasn’t ideal because I was in the middle of a busy summer season of six plays in Keswick but all the village and everyone who knew us came together and it was a wonderful day.
Q When did it all fall apart?
A On December 11, 2013, he rang to say it was over and then I had to go on stage as Cruella de Vil.
Q How did you carry on performing in front of audiences when you were going through so much emotional turmoil?
A It was the making of me because I had a purpose and it allowed me to function though I probably was crying for five minutes after each scene. But as soon as my marriage broke down I’ve never been so busy. The theatre gods have looked after me and I’ve not had a week off in two years.
Q How did you feel about winning the UK Theatre Award for your performance as Beverly in Abigail’s Party at Theatre by the Lake?
A Beverly was the part that had scared me the most. Ironically, it’s about a marriage that’s on the rocks. Being nominated for that role was the best thing and came as a complete surprise. Winning the award was almost too good to believe. It couldn’t have happened at a better time. It was a really swanky do and it was great to share it with my parents and my best friends.
Q How do you feel about appearing in a show which you’ve written?
A It’s a baptism of fire and nothing has scared me more. It’s the first time I’ve written a play and the first time I’ve done a one woman show. I think it’s will be good for me to channel my emotions into something positive.
Q Who do you think the play will appeal to?
A I’m sure a lot of divorced people will relate to it though not every divorce is the same. But it’s for anyone who feels an injustice has happened to them because they’re not wanted any more whether personally or professionally.
Q Would you ever get married again?
A I would be really scared to get married again. I’d like to be a mum.