With just over a week to go until they take to the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton with one of Masque Theatre’s most adventurous productions ever, we’ve grabbed a few minutes with Bex Fey and Julia Langley (Teacher and Elizabeth) to tell us more about Defying Gravity…
What inspired you to audition for Defying Gravity?
Julia Langley: Other than the director being my best mate (and very much up for post rehearsal beers), I was very interested in the character of Elizabeth due to having the opportunity of playing both an adult and a child with quick onstage changes between the two.
Bex Fey: It was perfect timing – I met Megan at the Macbeth auditions and she mentioned Gravity – she spoke with such passion and energy about it. I’d been considering joining Masque at the time, and after that conversation I knew I wanted to be involved in the play one way or another!
Do you remember much about the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster?
Bex: I was actually about the same age as Elizabeth when the disaster happened, although I can’t really recall much from that time… I’ve been learning more and more about the incident in recent weeks, and what hits me hardest is that its a tragedy that could have been avoided. Defying Gravity tells a different side of the story, and reveals truths that should never have been kept secret.
Julia: Well, I wasn’t actually alive when it happened! So it was very important for me to look into what happened and follow Megan’s guidance relating to Christa McAuliffe’s story; although the technical aspects have occasionally gone over my head. I did however live in West Chester, Philadelphia between the ages of 4 and 6, and we went to visit Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. On a later family holiday I was also lucky enough to see a launch; I believe we may even have the t-shirts stashed away in my Mum’s loft!
What are you looking forward to the audience experiencing?
Julia: Jane Anderson is a wonderful writer and it was clear from the outset that the play takes you on a journey of peaks and troughs from scene to scene. I think these contrasts will help to keep the audience’s attention, alongside the real life subject matter. The fact that the script has an element of the fantastical about it will also keep them on their toes! Claude Monet makes more than a few appearances; come along to find out why!
Bex: The cleverness of it all – from the dialogue with its thought provoking hidden meanings to the wonderfully creative and well thought out set design. Gravity covers an array of emotions, but it’s not all sad! There are some beautiful moments full of hope and heart warming scenes that’ll really make you smile.
You play Mother and Daughter, how has it been building that sort of relationship during rehearsals?
Bex: It’s been a real eye opener exploring all the many facets of their relationship. There’s also been a bit of method acting in rehearsal which, although we’ve been doing it in jest, has actually helped! Each rehearsal has brought a new level of understand of their relationship, from the happy memories to the more painful ones.
Julia: This is something that I feel is still progressing, as I think Bex has a tough job to balance Teacher’s role as mother, teacher and astronaut. When Elizabeth is a child in the play she is described at being 5 years old, so she’s only just developing her ‘theory of mind’ (the understanding that other people have minds that are separate to ours, that our actions can affect them, and that the world doesn’t revolve around us!). Elizabeth finds it hard when she is not the sole focus of her mother’s attention, therefore there is some inevitable conflict between the two characters when Elizabeth is little. It’s been interesting to play with the bond between mother and child, as well as exploring this conflict and its relation to Elizabeth’s adult grief at the loss of her mother.
Defying Gravity has a real mix of characters – can you tell us about their connections with the tragedy?
Julia: I don’t want to give the game away with Monet (played by Lou Chawner), but if you see him as a narrator and clue giver you’ll be on the right track. Betty and Ed (April Pardoe and John Myhill) are an example of the stereotypical space tourists (as I was also on my visits to Florida) who make the pilgrimage to see a launch, the Teacher (Bex Fey) is a homage to Christa McAuliffe (who gives some clues away with her lessons about the wider scope of the play), and Donna and C.B. (Lisa Wright and Jof Davies) are examples again, but of the real people involved around the Kennedy Space Center. Elizabeth is a homage to Christa McAuliffe’s daughter Caroline, who lost her mother at aged 6.
Bex: I don’t want to give anything more away – you’ll soon find out when you come to see it!
It promises to be a visual spectacle with an adventurous set – how did you feel when Megan Lucas showed you her plans for the first time?
Bex: I think my jaw actually dropped when Megan first showed us the design!
Julia: Very, very excited. Using projections for set, moving structures, elaborate soundscapes and the creation of an time authentic radio show are just some of the things Megan has up her sleeve. This has very much been a passion project for her and she has made sure to utilise all of her skill set to make this show beautiful. I can’t wait until we get into the Playhouse so we can piece it all together.
Why do you think people should come to see the show?
Julia: There are some little known facts about what happened to Challenger that now I know them, are important and worth listening to. Further to this, the cast and crew are of a very high standard for community theatre, and I think the show is probably the most technical intricate that the Playhouse has seen in recent years. There’s a beautiful mixture of dark and light in this play, but do bring tissues. You have been warned!
The disaster that occurred above the Florida Coast, 73 seconds into the 25th launch of the Space Shuttle, in January 1986, claimed the lives of the seven people aboard, and affected people across the globe. Defying Gravity tells the fictional story of seven of those lives, providing the surrounding atmosphere for this tragic event.
Defying Gravity runs from 16-20 October 2018 at The Playhouse Theatre Northampton. Tickets are £9 (Concessions £8, members £7) and available online or by calling 07783 531542