Theatre Interview: Witness for the Prosecution at the National Justice Museum

Words: Ian C Douglas
Wednesday 24 January 2024
reading time: min, words

A courtroom drama performed in a real courtroom. Another great idea from local theatre company Your Chance Productions. Darren Paul Taylor and Connor Thomas, two of the show's stars, take LeftLion behind the curtain...

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Ian C: So, what can you tell me about Your Chance Productions?

Darren: It’s a theatre company created by Jess McLean. She created it out of frustration with the Nottingham theatre scene. She found a lot of theatre companies were using the same actors all the time. And she wanted to create something that gave people a chance to perform that don't often get it. Hence, it's called Your Chance Productions.

Ian C: And now it’s putting on Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution at the National Justice Museum? What can you tell me about that as a venue?

Connor: It’s going to be a massive aspect of the audience experience. In one of the courtrooms, they're going to be at the very forefront of the action. They're going to be right there, next to myself and Charles, two barristers battling against each other across the audience, trying to defend or prosecute Leonard (played by Darren).

Darren: Yeah, it's going to be super immersive. We went there to do a photo shoot a few weeks ago. And it's when you go in there, because it's a real Victorian courtroom, it's unbelievable. When you're just sat there in the dark, looking around where the audience is going to sit and you're right in it.

Ian C: Does this venue change how you act?

Connor: It’s one thing to rehearse in a room somewhere with this brilliant cast. But it's another thing to be in a real courtroom, in costume. It just makes you feel the part. I play Sir Wilfred, this powerful barrister who knows what he's doing. And when I'm in that room, and I've got that costume on, I absolutely do feel I know what I'm doing. I’m going to get Leonard off!

Ian C: So, you're playing the Charles Laughton role from the 1950s film. Tell me about your character.

Connor: He's very strong willed. He's very good at what he does and he knows that. And so that's the antagonism between him and the prosecution, because they're both adept at their jobs. But Wilfred likes to think he's the better barrister. He's going to get this defendant off.

Ian C: Darren, you're playing the accused. How do you go about playing him?

Darren: Well, he's very naive. Actually, he doesn't realise the danger he’s in. If found guilty, he's going to be hanged. Wilfred is saying we need to take this seriously, you're in a lot of trouble here. But he's a bit jokey about it really. So yeah, very naive.

I'd just never felt anything like the feeling you get from performing. It's a real thrill, you can't get anywhere else.

Ian C: So how did you get into acting?

Darren: Um, I first got into acting when I was a kid. I was on holiday in Spain and I went to the kids’ club and they were putting on Grease. I'd never acted before or anything like that. And the people running it said, ‘right, we need someone to play Danny.’ And nobody put their hands up. So, I sheepishly put my hand up. And when we were on the stage, I'd just never felt anything like the feeling you get from performing. It's a real thrill, you can't get anywhere else. So, I went to drama classes, and did GCSE drama. But when I left school, I went into a few different jobs and different careers. I was a lifeguard. I joined the Army and then came back out. I just couldn't find something that I really wanted to do. I thought what's wrong with me? And then just two years ago, I saw the Nottingham Actors Workshop. I joined up and sort of learned slowly and surely. You know, how the acting business works, how to keep your profile updated and headshots and show reels.

Connor: Yeah, I loved acting when I was a kid and I had parts in school productions and local theatre, pantomimes and I did GCSE drama. But then after that, I actually became a science teacher, and did that for a number of years. But it wasn't ticking the boxes for me, it wasn't making me feel fulfilled. I took a step back and thought: what else do I like to do? I like drama. I like acting, I'm going to give that a crack. About a year and a half ago, I left teaching to go into acting. I joined the Actors’ Workshop, a year ago now. And I've been training with them and just doing what I can to act more and more and more.

Ian C: Awesome! So, anything ever gone disastrously wrong while you are on stage?

Darren: Oh, there's a very complicated scene in my last play, with two tables in a restaurant. And two couples who only speak when the waiter comes over to them. And it depends on what food the waiter brings in on which dialogue. But the actor playing waiter wasn't very well and made a mistake by bringing the wrong foods. So, we sort of skipped ahead and we were in a bit of a mess. We had to improvise our way out. But fortunately, because the audience didn't know what you're supposed to be saying, it was okay. That was pretty disastrous!

Ian C: And what’s proudest achievement as an actor so far?

Darren: I think it was my first professional credit. So, I got to join the workshop. And I was looking on the casting websites to get paid professional credits. And there was a short film. I had to go through all these rounds of auditions to get it. And I got it! My first paid role! It was just really, really satisfying. I think that so far is my proudest moment.

Connor: Um, I'd say it's probably when it was the first anniversary of me deciding to go into acting. When I look at what I did over that past year. And I'm still in the early stages of my career. I've still got lots to go in future. But some of it was amusing in the first months, I was just trying to do everything myself and learn what I could by myself. Yeah, at that one-year mark, I looked back and thought that was hilarious. And so now everything is just progressing more and more


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Ian C: What advice would you give anyone wanting to get into acting?

Darren: Yeah, I'd say join a workshop, like we did. If you're in Nottingham, obviously, I can recommend the Actor’s Workshop. And I think the main thing is to realise it's a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes you think, I want to go straight away, I want to learn as quick as I can. But you see, with a lot of actors, their careers don't take off for a long time. They've still got a day job, they're auditioning, they're doing theatre productions, like we are now. Take time to learn as much as you can. Obviously, you've got the internet as well, with all the resources there. So, take your time, and learn as much as you can before you jump into it.

Connor: And if you've got formal training, if you went to university for it, great! And if you've not got any formal training, great! Get yourself some training one way or another, and develop the skills you need. But make sure you keep the passion there, as well. As with anything in life, you find it more enjoyable, and you do better at it, if you're able to keep that passion there. So that's what people need. Passion. And they need the self-belief.

Ian C: Anything else about Witness for the Prosecution?

Darren: Um, just that it's a fantastic play. If you love a courtroom drama, you can't really beat it being in a real courtroom. And it's so cleverly written. Christie’s dropped breadcrumbs all the way through. Throwaway lines that you don’t connect until later on. You realise, oh, she said that and it's because of this and it's just really clever. It's a really clever play.

Connor: Um I think it's worth people having a look on social media definitely, because Jesse is releasing more and more details. For example, this character played by this person, stuff like that. But also, there's competitions on there for people to win tickets. Definitely have a look at Your Chance Productions on Facebook.

Your Chance Productions performs Witness for the Prosecution at the National Justice Museum from Thursday 7th March 2024 until Saturday 9th March 2024.

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