Ahead of Once Upon a Crime’s performance from the 23-26th of November at Studio Live, Impact‘s Christy Clark spoke to the production’s cast and writers.
Last week, I sat down with some of the cast and crew of Once Upon a Crime…, a student production showing at Studio Live, Portland, in a week’s time. I was joined by Amy and Ana (the writers), Charlotte (Daddy Bear), Ollie (the Detective), Beth (Pied Piper), and Alessia (Rumpelstiltskin). Despite casting calls only happening earlier this month, there was great rapport and humour amongst the cast – a joy to interview. Read on to hear what the play is about, how it came to be and, most importantly, what the audience have to look forward to – with a word of advice, be wary of booking front row seats.
What is the play about?
Amy: It’s a comedy/murder mystery play about a detective coming to investigate the murder of Goldilocks and the suspects are all fairytale characters.
What inspired you to write the play?
We came up with the pun on the title first and the rest of it came from that
Ana: NNT always put on really fun comedies so I think watching those got us thinking about writing our own.
Amy: I think the genres are fun and they have quite a popular appeal, so merging them together made sense, something a lot of people would enjoy watching. Both of us are quite big fans of things like The Play That Goes Wrong, and Agatha Christie. We came up with the pun on the title first and the rest of it came from that.
What were the main challenges writing the script?
Lots of plot holes come up and you have to try and figure out ways to fix them
Ana: There weren’t many challenges writing it, we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted, and we planned it to death.
Amy: The writing was smooth but working out plot elements was a bit tougher. Lots of plot holes come up and you have to try and figure out ways to fix them, and it was a bit too long when we first mashed it together, so editing it down was tough.
What are you most looking forward to in performing?
everytime we rehearse it I still find it just as funny
Charlotte: It’s genuinely so exciting to be a part of, because I feel like normally when you take part in a lot of drama projects it’s musicals and huge scale productions, whereas doing a smaller, more intimate play is really fun to do as there’s only so many of us on stage. Because we’re on stage all the time, we’ve had to figure out group dynamics and keeping that engaging, keeping the energy of the scene, but also making sure you’re giving people the space they need to perform. It’s just such a cool story and so much fun to be a part of. I’m very excited for show week.
Ollie: I’m really excited to show people that have never seen it before because I go into rehearsals and we rehearse scenes that we’ve already done and it feels like everytime we rehearse it I still find it just as funny. Everyone brings their own individual quirks and jokes and little lines here and there that make it so funny. If it can be funny over and over again for us, I want to see what the reaction of a first time audience would be. The atmosphere from the audience is gonna be incredible, I’m really excited to see it.
Charlotte: You could see it multiple times because there’s so many small details, foreshadowing and everything. When we sat down and did the read through first time none of us knew what the outcome was. We were literally like ‘OMG’, on the edge of our seats. I was like, ‘Oh this makes so much more sense, knowing the ending.’
Alessia: I’m excited to see all the other creative elements come together as well. There’s a lot of cool design and costume design I’m really excited to see and the set is really cool.
Ana: We’ve also spoken a lot this week with our lighting designers so the light should be fun.
Alessia: We are on stage 100% of the play.
Beth: The ad-libs [are so fun] too, doing our own style of characters and putting a line in that wasn’t originally in the script but actually works really well with the character, adding your own twist to the characters.
How big a part was improvisation, did you stick rigidly to the script, or depart from it in some way?
it’s like everyone on stage is a caricature, bigger than life
Ollie: Going back to the challenges, a challenge is trying not to improvise loads, since the script is so funny and well-written. If I go off on a tangent and do my own thing I feel like I’m gonna miss a brilliantly written joke or a crucial part of foreshadowing. Everything’s so well put together that I don’t wanna go crazy over the top with improvisation, but in terms of ad-libs, then you have freedom to put in your own character-specific things because everyone’s reacting all the time.
Amy: There’s moments of reaction where we’ve basically just said ‘Do what you want there’ because it’s funny when you come up with these lines on the spot.
Charlotte: Because each character is so dynamic and there’s such clear goals and motivations, it’s like everyone on stage is a caricature, bigger than life; it gives you so much opportunity, there’s so many stereotypes, so you can push everything to the absolute limit. You have to make sure there’s good flow, good progression, and that you’re maintaining that, even though the temptation is to go crazy
Beth: I liked how all the characters have their own personality. They’re very distinct, no one character is the same, you get to see how they all interact with each other which is so interesting. We did a task around ‘How has your character developed from a newborn?’; e.g. how does Daddy Bear roll on the floor as a baby?
How do the Instagram illustrations reflect the aesthetics of the play, and the characters themselves?
every single person ends up not who they were originally
Amy: For a start, we wanted a piece of red clothing on all of them to tie them together, a general red and green theme; quite modern, quite fun, representing a stereotype of each of these characters. [The drawings] were done by my sister Ella.
Ana: They’re murder mystery stock characters, that’s where we started with them, every murder mystery needs an old couple, and Mummy and Daddy Bear came in. There’s a lock of stock characters when you come to detectives. As we started working on the personalities, we added moments of complexity to them because we didn’t want them to feel flat.
Amy: I think we put a twist on the stock characters as well, to an extent.
Charlotte: Every single one of the characters go on this journey. It’s so interesting playing with the dynamics because you start off having your relationship with everyone on stage, and with each reveal and drop of the hat, it’s like they become a slightly different character and you become a slightly different person. You just carry it through, cause the starting point and the end point are so different. It reminded me of An Inspector Calls, every single person ends up not who they were originally.
Give us an interesting fact about each of your characters.
Beth: Piper owns a set of heels
Charlotte: Daddy Bear’s your stock middle-class, probably tory guy, who’s out golfing every weekend. He’s really trying, bless him, to have a personality, he loves classical music.
Alessa: Rumple’s a babysitter, just so chaotic, never stops being absolutely crazy. He found the most normal household in existence – what a great opportunity.
Ollie: I think Detective is outrageously passionate and so paranoid, he’s so obsessed with his job that, without spoiling too much, he likes to impose himself upon whoever he’s speaking to. He has a very short fuse which makes him very fun to play.
Why are there so many content warnings? Is the purpose of the inclusion of these topics to encourage conversation i.e regarding classism, diet culture etc?
everything’s very light-hearted
Amy: For a start, it sounds a lot worse than it is. We had to be quite rigorous putting them in to make sure it was all covered, but hopefully it’s not as bad as it sounds. I wouldn’t say it has particularly deep messages in it, everything’s very light-hearted.
Alessia: It’s not as morbid as it sounds, it’s more slapstick.
Ana: We didn’t think about it too much while we were writing it, but we looked back and had to fill in the proposal form. The more we went through we thought, ‘Oh God, we’ve got that in’.
Amy: Every time we mention the Pied Piper drowning the rat, that’s violence against animals.
Charlotte: It’s like characters in a universe, none of them bat an eye at any of it. It’s violence against animals, but half the cast are animals.
Ana: Because it is a retelling, a lot of the stories are dark to begin with.
How did you go about the casting process? Why / why not was it difficult?
it was weirdly easy
Ana: As a general process NNT has two days of casting, one call-backs. There was a lot of people coming in in a short amount of time.
Amy: In terms of actually choosing our cast, it was weirdly easy. I feel like, when you know you know, and I felt that with all of you when you came in. We had a strong shared idea of what our characters were going to be like.
Ana: I think with one character they were maybe the fourth person to come in , and I thought, ‘We want them’. We gave vague indications of what we were looking for, but people put their own twists on them, like Ollie’s Detective is slightly different from what we came up with, but we preferred it. We saw him and thought, ‘We can’t go back now’.
Charlotte: I read for all the characters!
Ana: We were determined to give you a role. A lot of our actors are so versatile, we thought, ‘You can do anything’!
How many times have you rehearsed, how did you build up your group relationship?
it didn’t feel like you had to built up confidence, it just came effortlessly from everyone
Ollie: It was interesting when casting was finished, me, Alessia, Beth, and Charlotte were all in the same call-back, and we all ended up getting cast. We all really gelled, it didn’t feel like you had to built up confidence, it just came effortlessly from everyone.
Beth: I hadn’t done any shows before, and I thought this sounded really fun. I went to the try-it sessions, freshers fringe, and thought I’d audition. Everyone was so welcoming, no judgement, [there was] a nice vibe.
Charlotte: Going from you practicing by yourself to having other people to bounce off of, building an energy to explore, and going crazy, it’s been lovely to be a part of.
Alessa: The night we were cast I changed everyone’s names in the group chat.
Have you adapted the traditional conventions of the fairytale genre to cater towards modern audiences? Or does it stay faithful to the original?
there’s modern influences, for instance Daddy Bear works in the office
Ana: I’d say we use elements of the characters’ original stories in different ways. I think some we went for more of a vibe than tied down to the original. There’s modern influences, for instance Daddy Bear works in the office, the Wolf is a businessman, and Pied Piper is a celebrity.
Charlotte: Red is the most modern character by far, she’s like a modern teenager, doesn’t wanna be there.
Give us an insight on what designing the set design was like, and the importance of it to the play.
we’ve gone very creative with it
Ana: Funny story, we don’t have the NNT building so when we planned the set we thought it’d be fairly straightforward, just some flats and a sofa, with a kitchen and a bedroom. But, without the building, we’ve gone very creative with it. There’s four or five people on set building it in a way we’ve never built it before. It’ll be exciting to see how it comes together – it’s a work-in-progress. It will look slightly different from what you’d expect which is fun.
Amy: I think none of us are completely certain what it’s gonna look like.
What do you hope audiences get out of seeing the play?
the audience is definitely going to be taken along on a journey
Everyone: Just to see who it is!
Beth: The interval is at a crucial point where everyone is suspicious, everyone has some sort of motive, so in the interval people can discuss who it is.
Amy: We’re encouraging that, to see who people root for.
Charlotte: It’s not clear, there’s no protagonist, no villain, the audience is definitely going to be taken along on a journey. After the show I’m going to be so obnoxious saying, ‘Did you see it coming!’
Alessia: I was in my room gasping, ooing and aaing.
Ollie: In general, it’s loose and there’s scenes where I can interact with the audience. Since I haven’t had that in rehearsals, I’m really excited for that element as it brings an entirely new dynamic based on how the audience react to certain lines. We’re building a relationship with the audience when we’re on stage.
Any audience advice?
the more energy the audience give, the more energy the cast will get from that
Amy: It’s a silly play, but I would hope the mystery elements could be taken more seriously, there’s a tight level of plotting.
Ana: I’d hope people would be up for the audience interaction, the more energy the audience give, the more energy the cast will get from that.
Alessia: I love rewatching murder mysteries, so I’d encourage people to see it twice and see all the subtle foreshadowings.
Charlotte: There’s the main action, and then everyone else in the background is giving everything, there’s so much happening on stage. Go and see it a million times. We go through every emotion under the sun, that range is just really fun. Everytime we do it we do it differently. It’ll be funnier with an audience, so it’s gonna be so hard not to laugh. The front row of that audience needs to watch out!
Featured image and images 2 and 5 courtesy of Impact’s Thomas Acratopulo. No changes were made to these images.
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