Michael Alexander speaks to Perth-born actress Sally Reid who stars in John Byrne’s new play Tennis Elbow.
When Perth-born actress Sally Reid is asked to describe Double Davis – the role she portrays in John Byrne’s new play Tennis Elbow – she describes the character as “a cheeky kind of go-getter” and “definitely a bit gallous”.
But when asked whether it was a problem recording the entire play at home ahead of its premiere on Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Royal Lyceum Theatre’s new audio – digital platform Sound Stage, she had every faith that John Byrne’s quality writing would shine through, despite the Covid lockdown challenges.
“John’s writing is so descriptive and poetic and like himself paints beautiful pictures, so it’s almost perfect to present it as a piece of audio theatre that lets your imagination do the work really,” says Sally, who did John’s adapted version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Tron and took it the King’s in Edinburgh.
“So much as it’s comfortable and it feels good to be working, being on Zoom is not the same as being in a room with people.
“But John popped along to some rehearsals. We did a big meet and greet for everyone.
“I’ve worked with John before and it was nice to do something with him again.
“I’m really excited about seeing how it is all presented and how it reaches new audiences as well.”
Theatre: Before and after Covid challenges
Fortunately, it’s run finished just before the start of the first 2020 lockdown.
While theatre and the arts has been dramatically affected by the shut down over the past year, Sally, well known for playing PC Sarah Fletcher in BBC Scotland comedy Scot Squad, says that in some ways actors are used to “not knowing where the next job is coming from”.
At the same time, however, she says the energy theatres have put into creating little bits of work online has been great, and she has certainly managed to keep busy.
“One of the things I set myself up with quite early on in lockdown was recording equipment so I could record from home,” explains Sally.
“I’ve had a few jobs from that so that’s all been good.
“I’d done some work with Pitlochry’s Shades of Tay project at the beginning of lockdown. I wrote a piece for that with a friend of mine. We pitched it for a young audience.
“I’d been doing that then I was asked to do this.
“We did it all on Zoom then the audio engineer was there to fix all the bits.
“So it was like a rehearsal room but you’re in your own environment which, after doing two or three projects like that, you get used to.
“It gives you a real drive to present yourself in the way you would in a rehearsal room. It just so happens you are in your own house!”
Follow up to Writer’s Cramp by John Byrne
Tennis Elbow, which runs from April 30 to May 8, is John Byrne’s first new play in 13 years and the follow up to his acclaimed 1977 play Writer’s Cramp.
Told in a series of flashbacks, Tennis Elbow is a funny, witty, and moving biopic, which in true Byrne fashion relishes wordplay, big ideas and, of course, questions why we are here and why we make art.
But when Sally is acting, she doesn’t have a problem “switching off” her directing abilities.
“What I’ve noticed since I’ve been directing and going back to acting is that I can switch off the other part,” she says.
“I guess it’s always dimly lit somewhere but I do like to focus on the one activity I’m being asked to do whether that’s directing or acting.
“I think I do switch off – but if you ask an actor who I’m directing – they might say something different!” she laughs.
The way theatre has embraced technology to adapt and reach wider audiences is one of the positives to come from the pandemic, says Sally.
For disabled people, for example, who might not feel able to go to the theatre normally, the world has become much more inclusive.
While there might be a “blended” approach to theatre in future that retains technology, Sally is certain that nothing beats a live audience and that’s an experience she hopes returns soon.
For more information about Tennis Elbow go to pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com/sound-stage-2021/