We’re back with Val Aves for some more great memories of her time at Twyford Drama – this time, it’s all about directing!
You started the group on stage, so how did you get into directing?
Well, I was lucky enough to be cast in nearly every production the group was putting on, which is very flattering. And then, when I'd been there a few years, somebody came and said, “Look, you've done so much acting, why don't you direct?” And I said, “Well, I don't know, it's very different, isn't it?” But I was persuaded. And the way it worked was, if you were going to direct, you had to do a one act play with the help of another director to show you the ropes. And that play would be performed in a local church hall as a social evening. So, I chose this play called Seaside Postcard, and it went down a bomb. And then, at some point after that, they wanted to put on a play at Loddon Hall and they decided to do two one-act plays rather than a whole play. And they asked me to direct Seaside Postcard. And I thought it’d be a wonderful idea if we could get two of those old-fashioned postcards of fat old ladies on the beach blown up and put on the side of the stage. And that's what we did. And it looked fantastic. People came in and they saw these pictures, and that put them in the mood for the play.
Did you prefer directing or acting?
On the whole, I really enjoyed directing, but I think I enjoyed acting equally as much, quite honestly. You’ve always got to worry when you’re directing if it’s going to work out alright. But, on the other hand, it's a different feeling to when you're actually taking part in a play. I used to get so nervous, really, really nervous. I can remember standing in the wings on several occasions, and I knew my lines but I’d stand there ready to go on and suddenly my mind would go blank. And I’d panic and go, oh my God, oh my God, what do I say? Fortunately, as soon as you walk on the stage, it all comes flooding back. And so as far as acting was concerned, I found it enjoyable but nerve wracking.
Were there any particular shows that were your favourites to direct?
The one I absolutely loved and the people that were in it loved as well was called Sand Castles. There were three lovely beach huts on the stage, brightly coloured and everything. I was very particular in what I chose to do. I spent hours looking through the Samuel French directory, going no, no, no, no, no. The trouble is, I'm a Virgo. Virgos are perfectionists and they want to get everything right and you’re hard on yourself because you put yourself under so much pressure. Anyway, I would take a long time trying to find a suitable play. And Sand Castles was certainly one of them.
Another favourite was Funny Money, a farce by Ray Cooney. Non-stop mayhem, confusion and mistaken identities throughout. The audience loved it. Loddon Hall was full of laughter. Not easy to direct, but it was a joy to do.
So, what was it you looked for in a play to make you want to direct it?
Normally I wanted quite a lot of people in it, because it’s a group and you want to give everybody a chance. So, I would try and find a play with something like eight or nine people, which is harder to direct because you’ve got more people on stage. I would also try and balance it so that you’ve got, say, five men and four women, or four women and five men – again, giving more people a chance to be in something. I went for comedy more than drama, if I'm honest. I also looked at the stage setting, and how difficult it would be, because it's a small stage. On one occasion, I think it was Two and Two Together, we had two reception rooms on that stage. And that's hard work. I wasn’t so keen to choose anything with accents because again, not everybody can do an accent. So, it was lots of things like that. But also, if it grabbed me. If I read it and I thought, Oh yes, I really want to do that. Or I might start reading it and think, Oh no. No, no, no, that's boring.
Can you tell me about the final play you directed, Trivial Pursuits?
I wanted to go out with a bang and I went out with a whimper. I had so many problems with that production due to unfortunate circumstances and people dropping out and not being able to cast it properly. That is one of my big regrets. But what can you do?
Do you have any funny directing memories you’d like to share?
I had a reputation for changing things at the last minute. Being a Virgo, it's got to be perfect. Well, perfect in my eyes. And you'd rehearse down at group and then you'd go to Loddon Hall and put it on stage. And quite honestly, sometimes it didn't work on stage. I would get up and I'd walk around the hall to look at it from all angles to check people weren’t going to be masked. So then I would see something that wasn’t working so I'd change it, and I got a reputation for changing things last minute. I'm sorry, but that's me. But it was for the better.
Also once, when I was directing a play, it was the opening night and at about 7.30pm John Jeffrey, the stage manager, came into the dressing room and said, “Val, I'm sorry we've got a problem. We can't put on the show. The firemen have come and we aren't adhering to the fire regulations.” And I said: “What? This is terrible. What am I going to do?” He said, “Well, you're going to have to go on stage and tell everybody that the show's cancelled.” Well, you can imagine how I felt. I was absolutely beside myself. Anyway, I had to go around telling the cast, and we were all getting really worked up. And then I was preparing myself as to what I should say to the audience, and he came up to me and said, “Just relax, I'm pulling your leg.” Ooh! That was very naughty of him, because you can imagine what state I was in, and the cast, but he didn't care. As you can tell. Naughty John Jeffrey!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I was very proud of a production called Razzmatazz, which I did with two very dear friends – one, Anne Pitts, who is unfortunately no longer with us, and the other, Diane West, who has now moved away – who wanted to put on a musical show. The opening number was songs from Hello Dolly. Then we did a little sketch or a monologue. We ended act one with songs from South Pacific. And we not only choreographed all the numbers, produced and directed it – we took part in it as well. Then there was an interval. We started act two with songs from Guys and Dolls. And then my husband and Mike Brooks did the sketch Four Candles. And they were superb. So it was things like that, sketches and the like. We also did a thriller number: we got a load of kids on the stage all doing the moonwalk. Oh, and we did the ballet Swan Lake with men in tutus. That was so funny. We ended it with songs from seven different shows: West Side Story, Gypsy, Oliver, The King and I, My Fair Lady, Sweet Charity and Cabaret, which enabled people to have a little solo spot. And that's how it ended. And it went down a storm. The audience absolutely loved it because it was so full of variety and people love musicals. So I am really proud of Razzmatazz. I got a lot of fun out of doing that, and so did the cast. We all had a ball.
I would also just like to add that none of the above would have been possible without the unsung heroes! The backstage crew, the stage manager, programme compiler, poster designer, lighting, sound, prompt, wardrobe, make-up, set builders, set painters and front of house staff, all of whom are essential to putting on a production.
We’d like to send a huge thanks to Val for sitting down with us to reminisce on some great memories. If you’d like to make some incredible am dram memories of your own, just visit our Get Involved page to see how you can join Twyford Drama!