An Interview with Steve Cooper
A delicately touching musical comedy on dementia is heading to Edinburgh. The Mumble caught a chat with its creator…
Hello Steve, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m based in Ramsbottom, ten miles north of Manchester.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
I knew right from infant school when I played one of the King of Siam’s sons in the senior school’s production of The King and I. I kept having to remind the King to pick me up when he forgot. I knew then that I was comfortable on stage. Nothing else I wanted to be but an actor.
Can you tell us about your training?
My training’s been mostly on the job. I started acting 35 years ago when I was 18. Since then I’ve been a jobbing actor and I’ve had some wonderful and some dreadful jobs. All part of the life of an actor. I taught drama for a while and took a late degree in Performing Arts at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle.
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
For me it’s the shared experience of the audience that makes theatre special. I love the ‘now’ of theatre; the fact that any given audience will have their own, never to be repeated experience unlike any other is thrilling and nerve-jangling.
You’ve had quite the career on TV, what have been your highlights?
Having a great role in BAFTA winning ‘In The Flesh’ has to be my highlight. To be in a show with heart and soul and have lots of exciting things to do on screen is every actor’s dream. I got to work with some of my screen heroes. I’ve been involved with lots of great TV but nothing beats this for me.
You have written in, & are acting in, a new play which you are bringing to the Fringe, can you tell us about it?
Paradise Lodge is a musical comedy with two actors playing many characters.
A dysfunctional 1940’s duo, ‘The Doodlebugs’ are doing a gig in a care home called Paradise Lodge. We meet some of the care-home residents and hear their stories. As the duo disintegrate, we see how the onset of dementia has affected the lives of those living with it and their carers.
During the writing of ‘Paradise Lodge’, what materials did you use during your research?
This play is based on my experience helping to care for my mother-in-law when she was living with dementia. Writing it has helped me come to terms with what was a very trying few years. It helped me make some sense of it and organise my thoughts. I was apprehensive for my wife’s sake. I knew the whole process would be upsetting for her. It was her mother, Dorothy, who we cared for. After mum died I started putting my notes together and a year later, I had enough of the play to start workshopping. The scenes are all from life. Sometimes word-for-word. Even some costumes and props were Dorothy’s. We both cried plenty through the plays development but we are telling Dorothy’s story and others seem to take some comfort in that.
Can you tell us a little about the rest of the cast?
This is a two-hander with myself and Sophie Osborne. We met doing workshops with Jim Cartwright. Sophie trained at Italia Conti Drama School. Since graduating she’s had many roles, including in 2 episodes of Dalziel & Pascoe, Emmerdale, a 6 month, large scale UK tour of The Turn of the Screw and voiceover work on feature film The Nun. She’s also played Little Voice in Jim Carwright’s Cartwright Cabaret, directed by Jim himself. She set up her own theatre company, Mini Me Productions, in 2015, and has successfully toured her self-penned one woman show, Kissing Frogs, extensively since then. You can currently see her on TV prancing around with retro favourites, Dip Dabs, for Barratts Sweets.
How is director Richard Oliver handling your baby?
I had a very clear idea of what I wanted this show to be before we started rehearsals and Richard has been very sensitive to the fact that I have written and am performing in the play. His outside eye has been invaluable in shaping the final performance and considering the audience’s experience. I feel very lucky to have him on board.
What emotive responses do you expect from the audience?
It’s been reassuring that people seem to get it. I’ve been told time and again that the play is truthful and authentic. That’s important to me. Everyone finds their own connection with the characters. When people are coming back the next night and bringing others with them it shows that they feel ownership of the play. For me that’s the highest praise. From our experience of preview shows I expect the audience to laugh a lot, cry a bit, and occasionally laugh and cry at the same time. And to sing along!
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say?
If you want to be tickled, uplifted and have your thoughts provoked come see Paradise Lodge. You’ll laugh, cry and sing your heart out.