Listen to the first in our The Woman Behind podcast series, where Monique Chambers interviews a woman behind a service, product, company or partner.
Polly March, actor, director, producer is our first victim.
Full transcript of this hilarious podcast below:
Monique: Welcome to the woman behind with me Monique Chambers and this week’s guest is Polly Mark. Now you’re here I’ve never been this close to your normally you’re on a stage
March: What everybody says when they meet me in a flash and there’s a lot of this : I was expecting someone taller. I’m taller on stage.
Monique: Really ? Is that because of your presence on stage a lot ? Monique: So how long you’ve been in theater
March: All my working life. So I hate to say it but it’s coming up for 40 years.[Laughs]
Monique: Wow okay I’m adding 27. It did say you have to think about numbers.[Laughs] Monique: It’s a happy thing about number 27, 72
Monique: I see. So in the UK you did tours and things and that’s how you ended up ?
March: I went to drama school and then those were the good old days Monique. That was when you left drama school and you got a job as an ASM that’s an assistant stage manager.
March: And assistant stage manager under study and you literally learned your trade on the job and I suppose I’ve worked in practically every theater in England.
Monique: Okay working around doing productions.
March: Yes. Touring, seasons, lots of plays it doesn’t happen anymore because repertory is dead pretty much. It costs a huge amout to initiate a production now. So you have a lot of co-pros now so the whole world is very different now.
Monique: And there’s a lot more fame seekers now as well, a lot more probably people that just want to act and don’t want to do the trade.
March: You know because I take private drama students as well. And I’m not naming names. But I’ve got boys and girls come to me and say ; I want to be a film star. So I have to send them back to their mommies because it’s a hard graph.
Monique: I can’t imagine actually I’m terrified of actually walking on the stage. So I’m not a wanna-be or anything like that. I can’t imagine anyone thinks it’s easy. All of those learning of lines and the late nights and anti socialness because you sort of go out of your normal world, it’s a theatre world, for a very long time, it must be exhausting.
March: It’s exhausting. But it’s also, I don’t know how to say this without sounding really pretentious. To do the job full time, to earn your living from it. And any snapshot of equity membership shows you that less than 1% of equity members are working at any one time. To know that as a job finishes the phone may never ring again. To know that you carry the burden of a mortgage, utility bills, living and it’s this pyramid and you’re at the bottom of it. It is terrifying. And the only reason you do it that’s what I mean about not wanting to sounds
pretentious is that you’ll say basically it’s the only way. When I wasn’t working I only felt half alive. I don’t know. I don’t know how to put it.
Monique: I can imagine it’s like a calling. It’s not a Job Job sort of thing.
March: Yes. And this is you said that you’re a fame seeker and that’s not remotely interesting. But it’s the quality of the work and you should never apologize for what you do. It’s balancing joy and grief. And if your joy is to do terrible play for terrible money with a director that you revere, don’t apologize. Do it. That’s your joy. If your joy happens to be at that moment in time. A rubbish play, a rubbish Director, a rubbish tour for 10,000 a week, don’t apologize how many chances would you get to do that.
Monique: But does that not damage a career because sometimes you do hear actors talking and the play they were in they’re like I hated that I hated him or her or whatever. And to go through that mean we will have horrible bosses and stuff it’s probably the same scenario for as non acting types but on stage then does it damage you going forward, especially in Malta.
March: Yeah I wasn’t kind of thinking of Malta because that terror doesn’t exist here.
Monique: Because nobody’s that scared here.
March: No, it’s because most people have a proper job. Okay. So that terror, that fear, that sense of worthlessness that you have when you are not working doesn’t exist in the same way here. I know there are maybe half a dozen people here who manage to cope somehow by mostly doing theater, but also be doing teaching or something else to pay the mortgage.
Monique: It’s actually heartbreaking. So it feels worse that way around, and actually not having the work here it’s a shame because there is some amazing talent here.
March: Oh, I tell you here the difference. When I came here, I was certainly not intending to say but I guess I was quite up. I was a professional practitioner and had been for then 35 years, you were a professional, if you are a member of equity, you had a contract, you had an agent and you had a specified fee. None of that happened here. And I was very young. I don’t know how to describe what it is here because in England, every town or city of any size has a theater. We also have really healthy thriving dramatic amateur opera. You can’t say that the performances work I’ve seen here is amateur. Asian reality by my terms back then it was.
Monique: It was because of the structure mode.
March: Yes, yes, yes, yes, I am absolutely astounded at the quality of the work here. And this is when you’ve done eight hours in a bank, at a hospital, in a noise of this in an architect’s office, you can come with your lines, learned the word I just I’m turning more inadequate performances.
Monique: You think that’s because they’re desperate to get out of their day jobs or it’s just their release. And Maltese in general, we have a bit of a pushy mom syndrome here.[Laughs]
Monique: Do you think as part of that you have to absolutely be the best at everything you do ? There’s no mediocre allowed ?
March: I can’t speak to that because I haven’t experienced that. Let’s put it that way. It’s to do with the fact that if you are creative, you have to create and it doesn’t have to be theatre, it doesn’t have to be the arts.
You’re creative in the way you lay a table. That’s creative. You can do it boringly or Paul salt, pepper. So creativity is invested in every area of your life if you open your eyes. But I think here what we have is not the desire to get out of what it is you’re doing. It’s because you have that strong spark of creativity. And again, you won’t fulfill unless you are the very least trying.
Monique: It’s absolute absolute determination. Our friends are going missing for months and months, and then they finish one plane and they think I’m gonna have a chance to know you’re in, you’re in something else. It’s a bit annoying.[Laughs]
Monique: Yes but really it is learning of lines every night. It’s rehearsals, dress rehearsals.
March: Technicals are the deep joy.
Monique: What happens at technicals ?
March: Well, alright, so you go watch a play. And you’ve got lights, and sound and people coming off, and pretty frocks well that doesn’t happen without the technicals. So actors may have three four or five weeks to learn their lines, learn to avoid the furniture, which entrance they’re coming, whatever the play dictates. And the poor old techies, the guys who do the lights and sound get three days generally. Everybody shrieks at them. No I told you that play the sound when he picks up.
Sorry. So those technicians are going to us we can’t do anything without them. And when you find good ones you hold on to them. steal you never let them go.
Monique: Warning warning [Laughs]
Monique: You’re saying all this so when you do so for example now you’re working on the Star Strait Street. The star of Strait Street which has been in Malta, it’s been in Australia and now you’re taking it to the UK.
Monique: How do you do that with your technical rehearsals and
things because then you’re re in a different theater every time ?
March: Start is slightly different we did it at the splendid and Strait Street we premiered in April 2017. If this is 2018 then it was last year whatever it was last April last year, and the technique it’s very strict it’s reserved IP and Christina Retcliff are active in 1948 receiver active in 1970 and it relies very much on the synergy between the two actresses the synergy between us and Jeff on the piano, the music, staying in character really it’s just tiny lighting changes so our technicals for that work to do.
Monique: Because I was just thinking if you change this or every single week or whatever, when you’re doing these.
March: Touring back in the day you don’t really do it here but touring [Laughs]
March: If you’re touring for theater to theater every week and I’ve done four months tours.[Laughs]
March: And I know it’s hard work it’s on a Saturday night when you come to do the last show but actually bring it in before the matinee you have to bring your your cases because your cases go on to the truck with all the set and the furniture and the props and then you might get a day off depending on how far away you are from your home obviously logically.[Laughs]
The next time you see your possessions is Monday when you’re in a totally different town 200 miles away. You go in and the crew are setting up the same set here it is again lovely, and you go and track down your case. And find out which character are you today yeah and you have a big list so you will have planned where you arranged your accommodation.
Monique: Okay so it’s all done for you ? Grief Oh Blimey March: Theater landladies are a breed apart.
March: Timothy West wrote diary read a book about his touring days.I remember one lovely quote and this is before even my time. I’m sorry I was working out the letters. When you’re writing your ad quite often would ask you to sign in because I was having lovely boys and girls from theater. You know everybody knows me Mrs. Baker come to me. And occasionally you would find beside a name the letters LDO and apparently somebody asked to what this meant ? And he said it means landlady’s daughter oblige.[ Laughs ] so you had no comforts away from home.
Monique: I see. I was thinking actually when you’re talking about you know lighting and everything else how it must be really interesting to watch a play from behind the curtain from behind the scenes you know sort of those changes people coming on and off, friends and everything that goes on yeah.
March: Its fascinating, the sheer frenzy I directed Ben Johnsons The Alchemist with Alan Parice. Well, Ben really carried the way to the play. And because I updated it to flatter the plague, I changed it to those bad times.
Hedge funds for negative equity. The plague that Johnson is talking about, for me became greed, consumerism and speaking conspicuous consumption. Well that was deteour to say that because Allen and Ed played the two villains, they are con artists’ Supreme. They changed frocks probably 20 or 30 times as they had to be other characters to welcome the new mark and if you could have been backstage then, seeing Paris and Mercia here are running running all the time and team of dresses standing by ready to help them and Sean Bell.
Monique: So that’s one thing I’d be good actually because I do get changed very quickly when I go shopping I’m in and out of that changing room in a nanosecond and my girlfriends are still trying on the first thing you don’t want my bum looks big and I’m like here this right at the tail, next shop next shop, so that’s one thing I would be good to have the dressing changes.
So with this Star Strait Street How did you get to be able to take it to Australia ?
March: kind of where it all started fit prosper room What is a cult musical became a pup musical called the great big radio show that great big radio show and it started way back and was shorter. It was an hour long and I played little Polly apple tree on radio This is 1930 Ladies and Gents. In a little broadcast studio in New York and the star hasn’t turned up. So you have to kind of fill in the MTA and I played little Polly apple tree on radio in the program is about nine years old and does a tap routine and sings all the jingles so here she is nine
years still talking to Bernie and I am Jerry, but away from that she’s is hard talking fast thinking thing really really sharp New Yorker and that was a joy.
And then Phillip fill it rewrote it made it a much bigger show and Polly apple tree was [mumbles]. But once you’ve created for me was the the part of the Producer’s PA who was basically the same character as I had played before, but what he had now as a teenager property agent, even in the dusk with a light behind me, I got past him and not even that.
Anyway, this show won the best musical award and it was just gorgeous. I come to Malta, and at some point I thought wouldn’t it be lovely to do the great big radio show? But now if I can’t play I can play her. It’s no good Myrtle.
Monique: I love that name Myrtle Myrtle
March: Myrtle. And I also feel if we could do it here and we have permission and if I could get one of the companies to produce it and I directed and we did four years ago, this month four years ago.
Lots of wonderful 19 whether or not 1930 songs Phillip is a genius at recreating a certain sound because he’s so knowledgeable he’s kind of BBC is go to release date or name or lyric from anything from the 20s to the 50s really and it was a great success we did it at the Barnwell. Did you see it ?
Monique: Yeah I remember.
March: It was enchanting and we still sing the songs and anybody tells us that it was the happiest show I’ve ever been to.
Anyway, Philippa Lizzie came over to be with us and they came for I think a week and stayed in Strait Street and Philippa found a little booklet about Strait Street. [xxx] found the story of Christina Ratcliffe and Adrian Warburton and became fascinated, alright obsessed by the story and it grew from there and by the following year we had a draft structure.
Philippa created and the two of us. He talked to someone whose family owned the Morning Star, the corporation and because of that it was just happy, who is the artistic director of struggles, Bonacci and he was just so taken by the fact that he has this play that is about something happening in the morning star and his family the Fatanis had owned it and so we had the joy of opening splendid under the auspices of strategy the team and then from then on we’ve just popped up. We’ve done it about 22 23 times now all over.
And out of the blue it was mooted that we go to Australia and there was some funding to take it to Australia I was totally against it.
Monique: Is that just because of the Maltese connection over there expats over there ?
March: Yes yes and I didn’t want to go there was nothing in the world would make me want to go to Australia they have very large spiders barbecues my site to die.
Monique: And a 24 hour flight I mean little things March: I was so prejudice I thought it was unpleasant Monique: But it had to be you if anyone else so
March: He had to be me so nobody I said all right recast recast or the research and Jeff absolutely not you don’t go we don’t go no pressure. So I went, reluctantly. And I couldn’t have been more wrong I couldn’t be more wrong. Australia was welcoming, the people were polite, helpful, courteous, enthusiastic I don’t just mean those again to see it obviously but somebody in a shop, somebody on the street, anyone, their response was open, positive, friendly and I loved it. And if they ask me back up I’m going, I’m going. [Laughs]
Monique: So to know you guys gonna start finding all the expat communities around the world? Canada? You need to go to Canada .If
you go to Canada I’m coming with you. Okay Alright ? I’m just telling you. dresses. Yeah, I’ll be something.I’ll open the curtain. I’ll pull the cord, just anything. [Laughs]
March: So we had a lovely time in Australia. We played in three different states. We did six shows in three states in nine days.
March: So don’t ask me what Australia was like really. We did
Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
Monique: Internal flights as well as well as the two long ones. But we had such a welcome, we just enjoyed it so much.
Monique: And since then, you’ve been invited to London ?
March: Yes, we have been selected to represent Malta as part of the European Voila. European film festival and that centers around three or four theaters in London. We opted to play at apple cart arts, which is in East 13. It’s it’s kind of acne hooks to know that way. East London really love the idea of being in a theater that is part of the community. It’s a converted chapel.
Monique: Fantastic !
March: And it’s lovely. So we’re doing two shows there on the ninth
and tenth of November,
Monique: That’s just a couple of weeks away
Then on top of that, because we were there we got another couple of dates. So we leave that and then we’re doing the 13th and 14th of November at the old sorting office in Bonds, which is Southwest London, Richmond, and that’s another community theater, which is lovely.
Monique: Fantastic !
March: And then on the 16th we shoehorned in two performances at Winchester just not sure on the 16th, but that’s Philips’ home and he knows it well and my home was quite close yes so it’s going to be a chance with friends all over London and Hampshire to come and see us and i’m absolutely looking forward to that.
Monique: So this is we’re going to push it to the Maltese communities that are over there and some who have a connection to Malta just to have a adult connection to.
March: Absolutely in World War Two when the story of Christina Redcliff, you know her story ?
Monique: I read the synopsis actually every time you played I was elsewhere in Sicily a last couple of years so we missed it every single time
March: We can come and do it in here.[Laughs]
What I find most touching and I still think there’s probably room, you know how something’s a perfect as they exist perfect. You know what I mean? This is an hour long and everybody who sees it pretty much apart from staying afterwards to cry and say, my grandparents survived, you know, I’ve got this memory that memory. Young ones who obviously have no memory of the war were moved to tears by the little segment that we do about the arrival of the Santa Maria carnival.
Monique: Okay. Yeah.
March: Even I get tearful about it and other people say couldn’t we have a bit more of that couldn’t we have a bit more of that cabaret of 1994 but actually once you talk poking it it would record it’s fine as it is .
Monique: And sometimes you need to leave wanting more you have that sort of love affair.
March: That’s a true that’s a good point but what I find most touching is that very simply the story is that Christina was an entertainer who Trisha contract work at the morning star in Malta went away, came back, got trapped by the war, became a plotter at Lascaris operations room known as the war rooms but during the day she got together a little company called the Whizz Bangs and went round and entertain the troops anywhere and everywhere and she met a Wing Commander Adrian Warburton, who was the most decorated pilot the RAF and he must have been insane really. He had six awards for gallantry by the time he was 25.
Monique: Crazy. He was a finisher reconnaissance pilot so him and others they were not they didn’t carry any weapons, they had nothing to protect themselves. They just zoomed around, took photos and zoomed away. They met, they fell in love that is golden couple and then he goes off on a mission and he was often going on missions, she got used to him being away for days, weeks at a time because when he never comes back. There would have been others that were jealous of her saying, well you know what he’s like he’s a womanizer, he’s always been rough to ladies he dumped you pushed off and she would never listen to that she stayed on state on she opened a cafe, Christina’s cafe just off a public street she wrote for magazine she wrote articles, she drank more and more she became more and more impoverished and she died in 1988 still here.
Her body wasn’t found for at least a couple of months. Here is flat of Ariana glass broken in the windows no food. The only thing she they found in the flood was cat food that she used to feed on the street cats. It was a tragic ending while we were researching it I was talking to people who said oh my father was a waiter at the bar she used to go to add neighbors used to go out and find her because she’d fallen down because she was drunk. Ah tragic, tragic ending to this woman who
got the George medal who had done so much who had introduced, who persuaded the RAF to have Maltese girls on her team at NASCAR is because they thought they wouldn’t have the language skills she trained Maltese girl some as young as 16 and they were fat and she taught them to dance. So they have little truth they used to dance on her roof. So this dear lady passes away in 1988 still waiting the last lines of the play but he will come back to me as soon as he can. I know he’ll come back for me I know he will. And she was justified he hadn’t left her because in 2002 they found his body and his plane in a field in Bavaria and he had obviously been shot down in a mission but because it was a secret mission either the British or the Americans knew but he was doing this secret mission, I don’t know what the right phrase is but neither claimed responsibility.
Monique: It sounds like that I haven’t actually see now probably come to Winchester to see it.
March: Lovely Yes Do do because evening performance is sold out it was slightly into the 3 30.
Monique: But do you think there is something and I don’t want to take it away from the stage per say but so more people can see it the kind of thing that would make a fantastic movie
March: No. And a good 10 years ago Randy Chris and Ben Stuart were in documentary called the mystery of the missing flying Asaw. It was called something like that I’m sorry I can’t remember Ben Stewart and rainy if you’re listening and and that till the story and documentary form. It took you to the field in Bavaria.
Monique: Yeah. Okay. So there’s a part of it that you can learn a bit more about it.
March: I think because ours was musical and has got sequences of cabaret that have got everything from all the [song] I did, seeing if I
could do the reverse and busted really people could give me money not to sing.[Laughs]
I think because it’s musical, there’s something that what makes it effective. Because the connection is heart to heart and you’re only really a few feet away what it requires the performers to do is to be absolutely honest. I loathe acting. Acting is a horrid, horrid word. And all our job as actors to do is, we’re storytellers, so it’s to do with telling the truth.
And your job is to tell the truth so well that nobody knows you’re lying, and that you’re somebody else. You’re you being whoever.
But our job is to find out what the author wanted to say. And find the most truthful way of sharing that. I’m sorry, I’m not going well, I get off on that because I get passionate about how I loathe acting because it’s a despicable word it saying I’m pretending. Yeah. I like storytelling.
Monique: Your passion is different. It comes across, it’s been absolutely wonderful talking to you. So Polly Mark, thank you. Thank you.
March: Thank you.
Monique: Thank you for being at woman behind as well. March: I’m so glad there isn’t an apostrophe in there. [Laughs] Monique: We are going out with a bang.