George Telfer

Pomegranate Theatre Oral History 

Marilyn Pidcock – Interviewer 

History of George Telfer  – 15 October  2010

Memories of the Pomegranate Theatre for George Telfer, who is a professional actor. 

Interviewer

Right then George, I’ve looked at the programme and seen that you have a long and varied history, would you like to tell me how you first started at the Civic.

George

Well, I trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and I left over 22 years ago and my first job was, from having seen an advert in The Stage, with A61 Theatre Company, which was set up by Roger Bingham and they were looking actors for a production of Listen for the Trains Love by Stan Barstow and Alex Glasgow I think they were called and Julius Caesar.  Actually my first job was a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which I played Bottom in Geordie, in fact.  But anyway A61 were looking for actors for these two productions and they were auditioning in Chesterfield and I’d never been to Chesterfield, ever.  So twenty-something years ago I got on the train from King’s Cross and came up here and the auditions were in the Chesterfield Hotel and the production was going to be on at the Pomegranate, so that was the first time I came to Chesterfield.  Eric Webb and Roger Bingham took the auditions and they were auditioning really for Julius Caesar, they were going cross cast between Caesar and Listen for the Trains Love but the auditions were for Caesar in the first place.  So that’s how it started with the Pomegranate.

Interviewer

The other thing, one of the things that people often will ask is actually, I know its part of your training, but how do you actually learn your lines?

George

Well, it’s just a job.  You know that doesn’t sound a very satisfactory answer I suppose, it’s just a job, but in the first place it is, you know, in any other walk of life, you’ve got to be able to do whatever that job asks for, which I couldn’t do if you were a computer man you have to know how you do that and if you’re an actor, you have to know how to learn lines, but I think the more sensible answer to that really is that the muscle in your brain that retains the lines is like any other muscle in your body, the more you use it the better it gets.  So after years and years of learning lines you get better and better at it and when you read something for the first time I thing self-consciously it’s sort of going in automatically somehow, because that’s what you’ve trained yourself to do.  I think after reading a couple of paragraphs of something just once, actors that have been doing it a long time could probably paraphrase it quite well, you know after having just gone through it once. It’s just what they’ve done for a long time.

Interviewer

Are you able to remember lines from when you’ve done a play and a few years later you do it again?

George

Some actors can’t, some actors, when they finish a production, the lines just go, lines do stay with me, and I do seem to be able to remember lines from productions a long time ago, in fact Roddy and I used to play a game in the dressing room where he’ll look at the programme notes and just say a play and we have to say a line from that play of say five or ten years ago, something like that, and usually I can think of something.

Interviewer

Your other ones that you’ve played here, you must of have got a lot of memories from when Colin McIntyre – he came back to be interviewed and you’ve done quite a lot of plays with Colin McIntyre, who is well known here of course.

George

He’s just a one off really, Colin, he’s the last of a sort of breed really.  I did Listen for the Trains Love and I got in with some people that were doing pantomime in Rotherham and during that little phase I met an actress who was working for Colin and she said Colin was looking for someone else to do a couple of plays here.  The first thing I did for Colin was – Wee Willie Russell wrote it – no Wee Willie Harris, I always get that wrong, and I can’t remember what it was called, but anyway I did that as my first play for Colin.

Interviewer

We can probably find that for you.

George

Yes you probably could.  That was the first play and Colin is just a, he is just one of those, he was very well known and I might be able to do a one-man play about him.  He tells these wonderful stories of landladies, so on and so forth.  You can’t really do these stories without swearing a lot so I won’t do that now.  So I’ve probably done 100 plays for Colin by himself really, a lot of them here, we went to Edinburgh we went to Nottingham and Eastbourne and Glasgow, Hastings and places.  Although I think in some theatre circles that kind of weekly rep is frowned on because you’ve only got a few days to rehearse it, it is a hell of a training ground and I think if you can do that, and if you get into a rehearsal period of two or three weeks, as long as you realise then not to take the same short cuts then you would be okay.

Interviewer

A lot of people have been here in weekly rep and have gone on to say that weekly rep has been a good grounding for them.

George

It is a good grounding, but the down side of weekly rep is that you have to take short cuts you don’t have time to do all the character work that you would normally do and the real down side is you have to really try and learn the lines before you get there which is a disaster really because if you learn lines in isolation it’s very easy to act that way too because it’s all about reaction to what everyone else says.  So if you’ve learned them by yourself, once you’ve said a line just once you’ve said it in a rhythm you can’t help that and it can be very difficult to get out of that rhythm, but as long as you are aware of the pitfalls of having to do things in a hurry then when you do get into a rehearsal period of 2-3 weeks, as long as you don’t take the same short cuts and just enjoy the time and enjoy the fact that you can really, really find out why you are saying things, you can base it all in realism then.

Interviewer

So in weekly rep how long do you have for rehearsing, you are rehearsing the week before?

George

If it’s true weekly rep, you start off on Monday morning and the first play would open the following Monday or the following Tuesday, so with the first play you would get a proper week but then it gets really difficult because once you’ve opened, for instance at Nottingham in the Theatre Royal you rehearse for the first week, then you open the first play on the Monday night, then you start rehearsals on the Tuesday morning, then you’ve got a matinee on Wednesday, so you have Tuesday, Wednesday morning, Thursday, Friday, then you have another matinee on Saturday and then you start the new play on Monday night so suddenly it’s very, very short and you need actors that can cope with the pressure and you need actors that have a certain instinct I think, if you’ve got actors that don’t instinctively go the right way and work well with each other then you are going to get into a mess.

Interviewer

But weekly rep’s sort of gone now hasn’t it?

George

There’s not very much of it left but I think Colin still does a season in Nottingham but I don’t think there is much more than that but I think it is a phase of work that you do for a while and then you really want to move on a bit. More recently I have had the luxury of being able to rehearse a bit longer for things and I do like that and I’m not saying never say never again but I think it’s unlikely that I would go back to weekly rep at this stage, it’s not really what I would want to be doing.

Interviewer

Do you want to tell me about perhaps some of your most exciting or most memorable plays, you must have got some that stand out, or companies you have been with?

George

Well, I suppose, you know, I trained for three years at Glasgow and I suppose that getting a first professional job was really exciting, because you really felt you had begun, you know, and that was Shakespeare, it was very nice to be doing that.

Interviewer

How long did you have to wait from finishing your training to ….

George

Oh well I was lucky actually because I did the profit show production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Edinburgh and that was probably … it might even have been the summer I left, if it wasn’t it was the year after that and then the A61 job was, I think the year after that and then over the years there have been the inevitable gaps, there’s been quite long gaps, some time because there just hasn’t been anything and sometimes because I’ve been, you know actors try to make themselves available for what they think are better things and nine times out of ten you end up with nothing.  So the first job was very exciting and then meeting Colin was very exciting because they were good plays and although they were put on in a bit of a hurry, the experience was fantastic and the people, I mean lifelong friends like Adrian Lloyd-James and Patrick Kearns and people that like that who were just, you know really good friends and will always be so.  And then I suppose within all that there are certain plays like Rat in the Skull, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Winslow Boy, they were just fantastic plays.

Interviewer

Some of those were with Tabs weren’t they?

George

Rat in the Skull was with Tabs, Kiss of the Spider Woman was Talking Scarlet, the Winslow was with Colin, I mean they are play in their own bracket which are fantastic plays, of the thriller genre, I mean thrillers are not the best plays in the world really but people love them, and the Agatha Christie’s are great plots actually, some of the writing is a bit on the dicey side but the plots are fantastic.  Of that sort of play, things like And Then There Were None is fun to do, it’s not a brilliant play but it’s fun to do.  NJ Crisp wrote something called Dangerous Obsession which is good to do and … I’ve just lost the thread a bit there … but we were talking about plays that were particularly good or that I’ve enjoyed.

Well more recently I’ve been lucky enough to get into a company called Derby Live in Derby at the Derby Playhouse and I did Much Ado About Nothing there playing Leonarto, which was about 18 months ago now, directed by a man called Peter Meakin, who, I think Peter is someone who just has such an insight to Shakespeare and his knowledge of Shakespeare is just phenomenal and I think probably over a career, but I’ve been acting for some twenty-something years now, and with all due respect to all the other directors I have worked with, they’ve been fantastic, I think probably, in a career, you probably only meet one director maybe two that have a life-changing effect on you and your work and Pete Meakin for me, up to now, he has just caused me to question the way I’ve been doing it, which is partly a result of having to do a lot of things in a short space of time but is you can be exhausted by insight then he exhausted me.  If you can be exhausted like that because you don’t say a single word with Peter without knowing exactly why you are saying it and where you come from and where you are going with it, which is the way it should be.

Interviewer

If you had a choice of being able to choose the genre of the play, which ones would you choose?

George

I wouldn’t go for thrillers.

Interviewer

You wouldn’t go for thrillers!

George

No, I wouldn’t go for thrillers.  To do a play for a long time, it’s got to be a … the writing’s got to be good and the story  has got to be good enough to allow … it’s got to grow and develop … it’s got to be really good.  If the plots a bit thin and the characters are a bit one dimensional then it can get really hard work doing a play like that for months then because there is nowhere for it to go.

Interviewer

The Mousetrap in London for 50 years.

George

I did the Mousetrap in Europe for a few months, that was a very early job as well, I did that for a few months and these plays can’t, you now, they’re bread and butter jobs really they’re not, from an acting point of view …

Interviewer

To develop you and to stretch you.

George

You are not going to go very far with them.

Interviewer

So you’ve done quite a lot of panto.

George

I did a lot years ago, a long time ago, quite a lot between here and Rotherham, I did one in Chesham and I did one at Grimsby and I did one at somewhere on the London fringes, I can’t remember where now but then the last six years I’ve been lucky enough to do pantomime here at home in Chesterfield and working anywhere where you can live at home, like Derby or Nottingham or Manchester even, is a joy but to be able to do panto at home, where I can even go home between shows, you know,  so this 2010 will be my seventh year running in panto here.  For the first five years it was Patrick Kearns and James Campbell and I and then that changed a bit last year and we did Cinderella and I was Baron Hardup because I’d been the baddy up until now, baddies are fantastic.  I might have a go at being the Dame – sometime I’m going to be the Dame.  I would like to, I wouldn’t do it how Patrick does it. Patrick’s fantastic as the Dame but I think I would be more of a twin set and pearls, yeah may be more of a Joyce Grenfell type. I hadn’t thought about that until now but I suddenly seem to be planning it all out already.  I hadn’t thought about that, so yes I’d like to do that at some time.

Interviewer

Even mention it to Bruce.

George

Well may be.  Paul Morse is coming up to do the Dame, he’s very good too.

Interviewer

The other thing that you’ve developed are you one-man shows, which everybody has raved about.

George

Well, that’s very kind of you. I suppose that started, well I’ve always liked Richard Burton and Adrian Lloyd-James knew I liked Richard Burton and have probably …  may be 2000 something like that, we were in a dressing room together here and he said there is a play about him, a one-man play about him called Playing Burton.  It wasn’t very easy to find at that time but he said if I can find it, do you fancy doing it and I said I’d love to and John Hester, who is acting here in Chesterfield now actually, whose another terrific friend of mine and Susie’s, he found it on line – Playing Burton by Michael Mark Jenkins, who lives in South Wales and we found that it had been done a couple of times up in Edinburgh.  Anyway Adrian contacted Mark and he was very happy for us to do it here in Chesterfield for a week, then we took it up to Edinburgh and it did go very well, really well in fact, and within it there was a few references to Gielgud and I kind of realised after a while that the one line of Gielgud in Playing Burton, which was on the lines of – other actors get so worried, nervous, feel sick, wish they had never come near the place, but Richard Burton was so relaxed on stage, in fact  I think it was the only place he really felt at home.  And that line, well that was paraphrased, but that one line always went rather well and just made me think, wow maybe there’s room for a Gielgud play here too. Having done playing Burton I kind of looked at the form and the style and construction of a … so I just went away and read a lot of books about Gielgud and created a play of my own about him and took it up to Edinburgh which went really well for a fringe to make some money is not very usual but I did make some money and then I thought about, Mark Jenkins play about Burton is brilliant but I kind of felt I wanted to write my own with a bit more to do with the differences of the worlds in which he and Elizabeth Taylor were born.  She was born into extreme wealth and he just the opposite and she was a mega-star long, long before him so I wanted a bit more of the comparisons as they were growing up and a little bit more of the, almost the schizophrenic character in Burton which is why I set it in a dressing room with a mirror so he could talk to himself a little bit and he was so caught up with the demons inside him, all the  drink and the cigarettes and the womanising and all these things that he just couldn’t help you know it’s just the way he was.  So I thought there was room for a bit more of that; and then the Shakespeare backwards, which I could have done the same bit of Shakespeare that Mark Jenkins had in Playing Burton.  Richard Burton used to recite things backwards as a sort of party piece and the only way he could beat Bobby Kennedy in a poetry contest in the White House was to recite Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30 backwards.  So I could have done that in my Burton play because there’s no copyright on Shakespeare obviously but I just wanted to keep right away so I did – once more unto the breach dear friends – backwards, which works well.

End sorrows and restor’d are losses all, friend dear, thee on think I while the if but. Before paid not if as pay new I which, moan bemoaned fore of account sad the.

That’s the first bit of Sonnet 30, backwards and then – Once more unto the breach dear friends, a little bit of that would be.

George Saint and, England, Harry for God cry charge this upon and, spirit your follow.  Afoot game’s the. Start the upon straining slips the in greyhounds like stand you see I.

That’s the first bit of – once more unto the breach.

So yes, I’m happy to talk about anything really and actors love talking about themselves in fact if you had Kearns here, you’d be here for a bloody week.

Interviewer

One of the nice things about the Pomegranate Theatre, here in Chesterfield is that we’ve got so many actors who are resident around this area.

George

That’s interesting.  Well for Susie and I, well Susie and I lived in London for three or four years or so but even 20 years ago buying in London was just not possible, even buying somewhere that wasn’t very nice in an area that wasn’t very nice it was way, way out of our price range.  We’d done a lot of work in and around Chesterfield and Susie comes from Whaley Bridge which is only 28 miles from here and I come from Newcastle-upon-Tyne which is 150 miles north so Chesterfield is slap bang in the middle of the country and it was affordable, just.  

Interviewer

And the children, Lucy and Edward, have they got any leanings towards the theatre?

George

Lucy has.  Lucy and Edward, well Susie Hawthorne is her acting name.  Lucy will be 16 in January and Edward will be 15 in April and they’re fabulous, they are just wonderful and they go to Brookfield School now and Lucy loves theatre and acting.  She is in the operatic society and has done something with Hasland Playgoers and she absolutely loves it.  Now, if she says what she wants to do then for sure that’s where she wants to go.  So we’ll see.  Edward will do his own thing I don’t think he is particularly interested in acting, he’ll do whatever he fancies.

Interviewer

It must be difficult at times with both of you being actors, who gets the work and who stays at home and things like that. Has that been a conflict at all?

George

It’s never been a conflict.  More work has come in for me recently.  Susie has done a lot on the television, I mean really good parts, a few years ago and I think that will come round again. I suppose the difference is, I hate being away from home on tour, I hate it but I have done it because we need the money but Susie won’t do that, she won’t go away from home and she would really, really hate it and up until two or three weeks ago she didn’t drive – but she’s passed her test. So that’s going to make a big difference.  So we can work together here in Chesterfield if we could organise the child care, but then because they are that bit older now that’s a much easier thing to do now.  So we can work together here and did a really lovely thing called Dear Liar, which is a two-hander about the relationship between George Bernard Shaw and Mrs Patrick Campbell and Susie and I did that here just for a week and it went so well and we’d love to do that again sometime.

Interviewer

What do you like about the Pomegranate Theatre? Can you compare it to some other theatres that you’ve visited?

George

I like it because I live here, it’s my local theatre and I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of work here and it’s kind of nice when you have become, sort of quite well known to the theatre going public of Chesterfield, or the theatre going public of any particular town, and particularly in the pantomimes you know because over the years  people have brought their children again and again and those children, well I haven’t been doing it quite that many years, but, yes, no it’s really nice to become associated with your local theatre.

Interviewer

Your name is … and for the town as well.

George

Well for the people who come here on a regular basis, I suppose they do know my name and Susie’s name and people like Patrick and Adrian’s name and it’s nice.

Interviewer

Yes, you look forward to seeing the name.

George

If they do that then that’s lovely and we must be doing something right.

Interviewer

Have you been in a play where you have had a major disaster, or something …

George

I think if you were to say to me have been in a play where there hasn’t been a disaster … no I think with the weekly rep thing with the shortness of time, yeah things can go wrong of course they do.  With all due respect to audiences it’s not so much the mistakes that people notice, it’s the reaction the actors get into after the mistake.  You know if somebody misses an entrance or something and you’re left on stage, if you get into a panic about it, its obvious somethings gone wrong but it’s amazing what you can cover.

Interviewer

As if the audience didn’t know …

George

The audience will accept if the actor or actors on stage don’t get into a flap about it, it’s amazing what they won’t notice.

Interviewer

They are played into in the farces with the door what comes off in your hand, or the … you know and all of those …

George

Those kinds of things can go wrong and audiences do like that.

Interviewer

That’s right and then they decide to put them into the play.

George

Yes, I’m not so keen on that really; it’s what they call cod-corpsing and I think if things go wrong accidentally that’s fine but you get into a situation where people start coming to things for that reason as opposed, I mean the Ray Koonie farces are brilliant and work brilliantly as they are supposed to be, they don’t need other things.

Interviewer

People are put off with too much of those things and you’ve seen it before so you know it’s going to come again.

George

I mean Damian is a really good mate and I would never say anything less than Damian is a genius at it.  He’s the genius of comedy; I’ve done a few plays with him, I did What the Butler Saw with him actually, which is the programme you’ve got there and I did a thriller with him which was a long time ago because I don’t think he will do those sorts of plays now and I did My Fair Lady with him with Bernadette Nolan and Tony ‘Adams and we did it in Yeovil and he was Doolittle and I was Pickering and Tony was Higgins and Bernadette was Eliza, and I’ve completely lost my thread there.  Oh yes, Damian and comedy you know there is no one to top him, you know he really is brilliant.  I think Damian would say this himself is that he’s created a bit of a monster in that people are coming to see him in plays now and are expecting things to go wrong and in fact oddly enough I couldn’t see it because I wasn’t here but he did an Aykbourn, I think it was just a two-hander here, and people grumbled because there wasn’t any messing about.

Interviewer

Yes, I saw that.

George

And poor old Damian, you know, said what the hell I do here, you know. 

Interviewer

There were a lot of words in it he said and …

George

He did a proper play. I’d love to do more plays with him I really would.

Interviewer

At the beginning there were proper plays and then gradually it changed.

George

That’s right.  He’s a good friend and I would like to do more with and hopefully we will.  I think generally speaking actors are fun and children love it because there are always actors at the house and they sort of behave in a way  that perhaps their friends parents don’t behave, they smoke and they swear, I’m not saying that’s a good thing it’s just a different way of being and there are always actors around the house – New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago most of the panto cast were round and Edward come running into the room saying, well I had better not mention their names, let’s say Bill, dad, mum, Bill is pouring whisky down and snogging Jane and then he came in and said, dad, mum Bill’s now snogging Mark, you know. And I thought, fantastic. They are just going to learn about life, never mind about school they can learn it here and it’s just they see an awful lot more of life.

Interviewer

You’ve got to have a more relaxed lifestyle, not a het up one with how things are with income, jobs and things like that, you’ve got to be a bit more laid back.

George

You do because our income is up and down all the time, we are in and out of work all the time, so we’ve got used to not worrying about that and I think that rubs off on the children too and I think some of their friends parents are very obsessed with bringing in as much money as possible and then in turn some of them are a bit obsessed with what their children are going to go on and do; they have to get a secure job for life, but there aren’t many of those about now but you know Lucy and Edward don’t have that pressure or worry and I think it is laid back almost to the point of …

Interviewer

Does it help them by not being this demanding – I want, I want or is there still a bit of …

George

Oh there is still a bit of – Christmas and birthdays there is a lot of peer pressure wanting the latest and best of this that and the other, there is still all that, yes so we have to deal with that but I think generally, actors are lucky in that respect in that they have a much easier going, laid back outlook and you know, Susie is one in a million in fact, she is just the best person and the best homemaker and just the best friend really. Wonderful.

 

 

 

George Telfer