BWW Interview: Catherine Lamb Talks BUNNY at Tristan Bates Theatre
Catherine Lamb is an actress and Artistic Director of Fabricate Theatre. She's about to take the stage in her new production of Jack Thorne's Bunny at the Tristan Bates Theatre directed by Lucy Curtis.
What's the first show you remember having an impact on you as a child or when you were younger?
I believe that the first thing I saw that I honestly thought "That's great" was Les Mis. My mum took me to see that, and it's probably everybody's first thing, isn't it?
Panto would have been the first thing I saw, and I do love a good panto, but no, Les Mis was the first time I thought "Oh my God. That's the best thing ever". Then during sixth form I started to see plays, but up to then it was mainly musicals and pantos.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in theatre?
I think, probably, I've always loved drama, but I seriously started to consider it when I was in sixth form. I had a particularly brilliant drama teacher who took us to see really interesting theatre. We saw things at the Royal Court, The Old Vic, Southwark Playhouse, and right now I go there all the time but I hadn't really seen anything other than a couple West End shows and pantomimes by then.
I hadn't really had much exposure to theatre, my family weren't massively into it, we went to see the panto at Christmas but that was it. So, I think that seeing that kind of shows really got me into it. I saw Motortown with Daniel Mays at the Royal Court and I thought "That's the most amazing thing I've ever seen". I think it was shows like that, and then I saw Bunny by Jack Thorne at the Soho Theatre when I was 19. And I just thought "That's awesome, that's me and my mates".
Where did you train?
I did the three-year BA acting degree at Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts under Chris White. It was fantastic! We did everything, movement, voice, scene study, classical, modern, yes, it was fantastic training. Quite intense too, I think the main difference which most people don't realise is that at uni you have your lectures that you go to and then you do it all on your own, at drama school it's all day every day.
What was your first professional job?
It was an adult Christmas show, it was like a farce, quite rude. It was at Hull Truck, and it was great. I ended up missing my graduation, my mother was not happy about that. [Laughs] I was like "This is the only reason I went to drama school, to be employed as an actor!" but she was really cross with me. But it was absolutely wonderful.
Why did you decide to put on Bunny?
I saw it when I was 19 and I never, honestly, forgot it. It's short, just over an hour long, one act. We follow a young girl, Katie, who's 19 and from Luton. She's on her way home from school with her boyfriend and he gets attacked, or he thinks he's getting attacked but it's just a child knocking into him.
From that moment everything spirals out of control and becomes this crazy evening, there's a car chase, it's funny but very poignant. I think that what Jack Thorne has done really cleverly is seeing it through the eyes of this young girl. He explored the way that you can take anywhere, somewhere around Luton for example, you have many communities that are so different and all living alongside each other.
They all exist within their own bubble, and what happens in the play is that all those lines get blurred and it's what happens when you're on the wrong side of your hometown. You're suddenly on a street or in a state that doesn't belong to you, and it's that sense of belonging and why does that happen.
What does it take to take on a solo show?
I didn't realise how daunting it would be at the start [laughs]. As an actor, every job is different, you take it at face value and you just assume you can do it because you're an actor and it's going to be fine. I thought it would be the perfect way to launch my theatre company, Fabricate Theatre, because it was a show I knew inside out and loved. I didn't take into account how different it is when your'e on stage on you own.
One of the main reasons I love theatre is having your comrades with you on stage, so that's one of the challenges with a solo show: there's no one there to help you out if something goes wrong. I think what you have to end up doing is you have to make the audience that person for you. You have to find a way to get them on your side really quickly, and if you don't, it's going to be a really long night.
But actually, with a play like this, written so, so well, with a character as brilliant as Katie, I think the audience can't help but fall in love with her. That's why it really works. She's not perfect at all, she's got lots and lots of flaws and says quite a lot of awful things. And yet we still stick with her.
Are you changing anything from the original text?
The text is staying as it is, but we're chasing slightly in terms of the production because the space is different. The White Bear was on two sides, so there's a lot of dynamic space, there was a need to move so both sides of the audience could receive the story.
This time we're going to strip it back a bit and allow the text to do more because it could stand on its own. And with a frontal audience at the Tristan Bates the need to move so much isn't there. It's still going to be a highly physical show, but there are going to be a lot more of still moments.
Do you think it's important to put on socially engaged shows at the present moment?
I think it's really important, particularly when it's aimed at a younger audience. The younger generations are the ones who are going to deal with this crazy world. Going to the theatre and seeing shows like this will engage them in a way that the news won't.
This show is quite old, but it's exceptionally relevant. It's about all those tensions we feel in our society. The danger that exists in that. The danger that's being created in being afraid of one another. If everyone agreed to stop being scared it would probably be alright.
Is it more risky to produce a show that deals with this type of situations?
Yeah, definitely. There are some quite shocking moments in Bunny, we had a few shocked noises coming from the audience occasionally - which, to be honest, I love. If you get one person to stand up and the end and another one walking out, I think you've done a great job.
What do you think people will take from the show?
I think it will probably dawn on people that they saw all this unfold and they questioned why it's happening, why those people are behaving that way towards each other, why there's all that tension. And by using only three young people (it's a solo show but there are different characters in it) to illustrate society, you get people to go "That's ridiculous!".
And then they walk away and end up inevitably relating it to their own lives and how they perceive people and themselves. Another key thing of the show is the fact that Katie is a young woman. She ends up being a passenger throughout the whole story and not making any decisions of her own until the end.
She's completely compliant in everything but it's not really coming from her. She just ends up there, she doesn't stand up for herself, she doesn't make a decision. I think that says a lot about what young women have to deal with.
Do you have anything lined up after Bunny?
Our theatre company is producing another play later in the year and we're also holding a big scratch night. We've had tons of submissions from playwrights, so we're going to workshop those and working towards choosing and developing one or two.
Any advice for young performers?
I think that if it's something you really want to do, then give it a go. You'd be surprised of the amount of support you get when you really stick your neck on the line and go for something. People can actually really surprise you. I could not have done this without the support of friends and family who rallied behind me. You've got to go for it and cross your fingers that it'll be alright. Be brave!