I sat down with Stirling University’s Drama Society (SUDS) Ainé Taylor (director), Cameron Watson, Abby Ferguson, Jonathan (Johnny) Anderson to see what they thought about their upcoming play ‘The Unexpected Guest’.
Why was The Unexpected Guest chosen for this year’s production?
Ainé: I chose it because it is kind of versatile melodrama, and that’s my life, haha. I love this kind of play because it’s not like anything SUDS has done before, a different kind of a comedy. We have never done a kind of murder mystery type thing, something very different about it. The cast size is nine people and an extra, a good size to work with. Not too big, not too small. We became more of a team due to the size.
To people who are fans of the original play, is there anything they can expect you’ll do to add your own SUDS twist to it?
Ainé: We didn’t set it in the time period it would have been set in because we wanted to bring it more into modern day. We kind of made it timeless, almost, not trying to state a period. Also, we have added in different humour, like we updated the humour a bit as well!
Abby: Which has come from us, and a lot of physical comedy as well.
Ainé: Yeah, it has come from the cast!
Cameron: Most of it is not in the script with the movements and the way some cast members are saying their lines
A wee twist, added personality of the cast?
Ainé: Yeah definitely and I think updating that will be more entertaining to a modern audience. Also, we have updated some of the language as it is not very PC. So in that sense, it is a bit different from a normal Agatha Christie
Cameron: Yeah the person playing the sergeant especially adds a lot of humour, which wouldn’t be in the original.
Does anyone relate to their characters?
Abby: Johnny does, haha!
Johnny: Yeah, I relate to my character, he thinks he’s a lot better than he actually is.
Ainé: No no, he’s a cocky character, funny and ridiculous, which is why he’s quite like you. I think what is interesting is that most of the characters are completely different from the real people and that makes it more challenging I think but it has been good – everyone has taken them on really well. It’s a hot pot of weird characters!
So everyone is kind of polar opposites (expect Johnny) to their characters?
Ainé: Haha, yeah I would say so!
Abby: Because of the nature of the play and the fact that it is a comedy, the characters are so outlandish. But Johnny is outlandish so…
Is it quite fun for all the cast members to work on this production? What’s different from this production to previous?
Abby: I did the last play, ‘Perfect Days’ which was a small cast and usually rehearsals have one or two cast members at a time, but with this one the nature of the play is for most of the scenes all the cast are in it at the same time. There are only a few scenes where there are a couple so therefore we need everyone in, in every rehearsal. Which means we have been working together the whole time for the past four weeks, every week. Which has been good! It is different to normal!
Cameron: It is also a different vibe. The last few plays I did were ‘August’ and ‘Twelfth Night’. August was a more serious type of production. Even though it was fantastic, it was a lot more serious, but with this one, it is a lot more fun and everyone is messing about with everything to try and find things that will work
Abby: Because we have been working at it for four weeks, we have our little jokes and stuff.
So everyone in the cast is contributing their opinion to make slight changes to figure out what works and what doesn’t?
Ainé: Yeah, with me and Jess (assistant director) we had an idea with the characters but we really wanted you guys to take on the characters themselves. Like the first thing we did was a development worksheet and they had to create a whole back story, nothing to do with the character. For example, with Johnny’s character, there was very little personal information. They came up with this whole story about troubles with his parents and stuff! All of these little quirks came into the characters because of that, which is good. We had the time to do that with this play.
Abby: I think as well with a lot of the stuff with us having creative control. We just go in and add stuff to it, wee adlibs, funny things like reactions. Then Ainé will say if it either works so we keep it in or it doesn’t so we try something different. So that has been a really good, quite collaborative process.
Would you say the casts’ personality has been put into the production?
ALL: Yeah, yeah definitely!
Ainé: I think with this play it’s very much the product of everyone involved, including the crew as well. Everyone has equally put everything in, it’s not just me and Jess leading it. Everyone has been a director in that sense.
Cameron: Liam, part of the backstage crew, is designing the guns and putting a lot into them so they look really nice and realistic
Abby: And what you said about people bringing their personality in, I think that is so relevant to this play because there’s so many different parts you didn’t see the characters doing that way!
Ainé: Yeah, you completely changed my view of your character, and Johnny’s as well too. Everyone to be honest
Abby: We have just done something that is so different from the original but it’s still the same characters.
Ainé: Yeah the characters are very very different from the original, in that sense, but I’m okay with that. I think it works!
Is this the first time this has happened in a SUDS production?
Ainé: No, in every play there is an element of that but with something like Shakespeare, we keep it in a very specific way with the language so it is hard to play about with it. But with this play, as it’s written in modern dialect you can change bits and add humour to bits that wouldn’t have necessarily been in the script so it is much easier to do for that reason.
Does anyone have a favourite scene that they are excited for everyone to see?
Cameron: There is one between me and Abbie that but we cannot really say much about that, haha.
Ainé: Yeah, the whole way through the play there is a lot of threatening behaviour that leads to a death at some point in the play. I think for me though my favourite scene is a scene between two of the characters Angel and Julian. In that scene Angel is blackmailing the dirty politician Julian over the murder, claiming that he saw things. I like that scene because it gets quite heated and sneaky which is cool.
Due to the nature of the play would you say it is definitely suited for an older audience as well as students?
Ainé: Definitely! We have approached community groups, some retirement homes as well and there are a few groups coming. It is definitely a classic Agatha Christie as you cannot change it that much.
Abby: And it is good because it does appeal to different groups, students will enjoy it but also the older generation will too.
Ainé: It was important to us to keep that balance
That’s good you have a diverse target audience, it sounds like it definitely will appeal to students.
Ainé: Yeah! We did a promo for it and made it really dramatic so hopefully people see that. It’s a bit ridiculous which is good
What is the best thing about being in SUDS?
Johnny: The people! I love them!
Ainé: Haha, to be fair I actually do think it is the people because you do become like a family, we work really well together and because of that I think that is reflected in the performance as the cast are having fun
Abby: And even stuff like the day, handing out flyers could have been quite a task but it wasn’t, haha.
Ainé: Definitely, like I only signed some people up to SUDS on the Refreshers shall and they had been in SUDS six days and came to the auditions, got the leads, and now since coming in they are very much a part of it and you wouldn’t know they haven’t known us the whole time. So I think that’s one thing that’s really good about SUDS!
Cameron: Yeah it’s never like a clique or anything, everyone just gets along with everyone.
Ainé: I think that’s the nature of acting though, as you are forced to be on stage together so you’re kind of forced to get along, haha. But we do all get along!
So would a downfall be it is quite tiring?
Cameron: Being in every night does have its effects!
Ainé: It is quite a commitment to do it four weeks solid.
Abby: You have always been really fair with that, like last night when I was exhausted you were like ‘honestly just go get some air’ and very fair in terms of work schedules and stuff.
Ainé: Yeah, I think that you need to revolve around people having lives as well, which is difficult when you only have four weeks but I recognise how important it is that people still have a life! I have a life too! It is a lot of commitment as you do it in such a short space of time but it is part of the fun of it as you don’t lose the momentum with such a short period. Yeah it seems tiring but it is also worth it. I always miss the SUDS show as soon as it is over, like oh my god I have so much free time and nothing to do!
How long is each rehearsal per night?
Ainé: It is 7pm till 10pm every night but tomorrow since it is the first night we will be there from 10am till 10pm! It is a long tech day but the adrenaline always kicks in and show days are always good fun, hopefully, haha.
Is there anything you feel apprehensive about with the show?
Ainé: As we don’t have access to Macrobert yet and have not been in it yet, some of the cast members won’t have even seen the playhouse until tomorrow on show day. So it is more tech stuff in case something goes wrong as that happens sometimes but in terms of the acting I said a week ago that I was ready to go on stage and that was quite good as we had loads of time to practice it. So it terms of acting, no.
Abby: Especially as recently, everyone knows the script so well that if someone has a struggle we can all lean off each other
Ainé: Also if something goes wrong with a light or something, it is not the end of the world, it always happens on the first night! That’s OK, I’m not worried about it!
I think tech trouble on the first night is almost expected but it is not something people focus on. They are here to see the acting and that will be main focus of the night.
Ainé: Exactly, exactly! Hopefully, it should be good. But in terms of the acting, I am very pleased with it as everyone has worked really hard
Okay, great! Good luck for tomorrow and thank you!
ALL: Thank you!