All the world’s a stage for the Fools Players

Interview with Judith Notley, Director of The Fools Players – the new amateur theatre company based at The Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness on Windermere.

Article from the Westmorland Gazette on Thursday 19 November.

SHAKESPEARE’S glorious comedy As You Like It runs the glorious gamut of pastoral romance and puts the art of love centre stage.  Next year, the Bard’s revered play will transform the Old Laundry into the Forest of Arden.

So, who is behind this clever plot to bring the timeless tale of lovers Rosalind and Orlando to Bowness?

In arguably her most ambitious directing role to date, Judith Notley has set up The Fools Players, chomping at the proverbial bit to put together a theatre group the likes of not seen in Lakeland since the halcyon days of the Brewery Players at Kendal’s Brewery Arts Centre, under Anne Pierson’s tenure.

“So, the Phoenix arises,” says Judith. “We want to put on a large cast play, annually, to draw in people from all over this area to take advantage of this generous offer by the owners of the Old Laundry.”

For many years Judith has worked within the Old Laundry theatre at The World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness, portraying Beatrix herself to groups of children and adults who visit the attraction during the summer season.

“When the Rayrigg Rooms, over the road from the World of Beatrix Potter, became available, it was totally refurbished and converted into a studio space, called The Laundrama. So all our little summer shows have been transferred over there, leaving the theatre space empty and free for hire.

“I saw a gap. So, I spoke to the theatre manager, Fliss Pocock, about forming a group of actors and technicians to perform there. Instead of an expected refusal, she smiled and said – I don’t see why not. I couldn’t believe our luck. What an opportunity to showcase our talents.”

The Fools Players’ first production – As You Like It – is pencilled in for next April.

“Essentially, the company is open to all who have commitment and talent. We are looking for actors, musicians, singers, crew, dancers and any other theatrical skills; juggling and fire eating is not just for the circus.”

The first FP audition will be held at Kendal College’s The Box theatre space, which is tucked in behind the Castle Diary restaurant, on Thursday, December 10, running from 9.15am (for students) through to the evening (for others). The second session will be held at the Old Laundry Theatre, on Monday, December 14, from 7pm-9pm.

Those interested should email [email protected] with a brief outline of skills, experience, acting age, full contact details and their preferred audition date and time.

Judith was born in south Manchester but her formative years were spent in the south. Her first taste of acting was on the back lawn of her parents semi-detached house performing to long-suffering family and friends.

“I sang, danced and recited verses. My parents were both mathematical, not ‘arty’ and never encouraged me in my suspicious leanings. I can’t even add up without my socks off, so I got my own back. At secondary school in the first year I was chosen to play the lead in the annual play. I never glanced back.”

“At university, back in my home town of Manchester, I was more in the theatre (now Contact Theatre) than in the lecture rooms. Once I was in that space I was happy. I directed my first play there in 1971. To pay the rent having graduated I taught drama at a local college and spent my evenings working in the theatre. I did hands on training in the local rep, in addition to courses in various disciplines to develop my craft.”

Soon after, Judith married Mick. Children followed, but she still managed to work in amateur and professional theatre.

“Eventually, it was too hard to leave Mick and the children to go on tour so again I gave up and began teaching at The Lakes School in the 1980s where I stayed for more than 15 years.”

Judith left teaching in 1995, set up a small scale touring company and took to the road: “It was wonderful fun, but I was no spring chicken and it’s a hard job to tour in your fifties. In 2000 I auditioned for the part of The Wife of Kendal, landed it, and slept in my own bed, which was bliss.

“I would rather direct than act because the creative process of pulling it all together, having pulled it all apart to understand it better in the first place, is so rewarding. I’ve directed musicals, thrillers, comedy, tragedy, classics, panto and children’s plays all of which give pleasure, but I have to big it up for my main man, Shakespeare. It’s a bit like Everest – a difficult climb, but miraculous at the top. Few playwrights do it any better now 400 years later. And when you see the likes of Judi Dench, Juliet Stevenson or Maggi Smith take on a role, you understand every word”.