Heaven & Hell: Ben Blyth

Ben Blyth of Fisher Theatre Bungay

Ben Blyth of Fisher Theatre Bungay - Credit: Patrick Dodds

Ben is the new creative director at the Fisher Theatre, Bungay. An actor and director by trade, he is putting the finishing touches to his PhD exploring Shakespeare’s early plays at the Curtain Playhouse in Shoreditch. Ben has studied at Cambridge, RADA, and the University of Calgary in Canada, where he has been living with his partner Danielle for the last six years. Although new to East Anglia, Ben’s family have deep roots in both Norfolk and Suffolk. Here he talks to Gina Long...

What's the impact of Covid been on your life, and how are you adapting?

Working in the theatre, this continues to be a period of unprecedented uncertainty and upheaval. When the first lockdown hit I - along with many other creative types - threw myself into creating work on Zoom as a way of keeping connection and building community during isolation. Some projects were more successful than others, of course, but it was truly amazing to see the variety of ways that the creative industries adapted to keep reaching their communities even though we could not gather in person. 

What is your connection to East Anglia?

I’ve only recently moved to Suffolk, but both sides of my family have lots of history here. Mum’s side has something like 200 years of family from Bungay itself, which was a strange coincidence when I saw the job at the Fisher first advertised in the Guardian. Dad’s side (somewhat vaingloriously) used to holiday in Blythburgh and are all from around these parts. Many generations were based across Suffolk and Norfolk running the barges over to Holland. In my experience us Blyths still tend to be river folk at heart.   

What is your East Anglian Heaven?

This has to be sailing down the Deben on my friend’s barge – I’m sure there is no better way to see Suffolk than from the river.

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What is your East Anglian Hell?

Some of East Anglia’s roads need to have a good talking to!

What's the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

Oh this one is easy… it has to be the Fisher Theatre, Bungay’s amazing programme of theatre, music, film, live-streams, variety acts, talks, seasonal events, classes, and much more! I’ve heard that the Fisher’s website makes an excellent homepage too ... try it out at fishertheatre.org  

What is your favourite restaurant?

I’ve not lived here anywhere near long enough to say really, but I do have a soft spot for some brunch at Twyford’s in Beccles. Extra points for their homemade hollandaise and the Dolly Parton playlist that was kicking off on the first morning I popped in.

What is always in your fridge?

Cucumbers… a little odd I know, but I’m on a real cucumber kick right now. Honestly they have everything going for them.

What's your simple philosophy of life?

Epimeleia Heautou. I remember reading Foucault’s Care of the Self for the first time as a graduate student and being struck by his notion of the aesthetics ‘self care’ over the ‘self knowledge’ privileged in some branches of ancient philosophy (and plenty of contemporary neo-liberal thought). I’ve never been one to quantify personal success against others, but to seek for fulfilment on its own terms. Lucretius’ 1st century poem On the Nature of Things offers a fantastic (short) introduction to this kind of thinking – where happiness is derived not from ownership or commodity but from leading a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends.

What's your favourite film?

All the scenes from Shakespeare in Love that have Judi Dench in.

What was your first job?

I used to mow the neighbours’ lawns in the small Lincolnshire village where I grew up… Unfortunately I was so bad at it that all the work mysteriously dried up one year about a week before the folks from the 'Best Kept Village' competition came around. I did not miss it.

What is your most treasured possession?

La propriété, c'est le vol! My partner and I have a cat called Richard. We like to think we are his most treasured possessions.

Who do you admire most?

That’s also an easy one - my partner Danielle. We’ve been through so much together in these last eight years living in Canada and the UK. During lockdown she wrote her first classical play – all in verse – reclaiming some lost stories and teachings of Amazon women. Set in an intersectional matriarchy, the play writes back in a way to Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and Midsummer Night’s Dream. Its working title is The Amazonomachy and when it gets up on stage I just know it’s going to be a smash!

What is your biggest indulgence?

Red wine.

What do you like about yourself most?

Making others laugh

What's your worst character trait?

Starting too many projects at once.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

It’s a dead heat between the Isle of Mull and the Orkneys – in both cases somewhere Scottish and windy.

Best day of your life?

Without a doubt - the day we got married.

What's your favourite breakfast?

Eggs Benedict (I definitely need to pay Twyfords a visit now).

What's your favourite tipple?

Depending on the day… red wine or whisky. Watch out for that Canadian rye though, it's far too drinkable.

What's your hidden talent?

I am a (hotly disputed) cribbage demon.

What's your earliest memory?

Playing on the beach at Dovercourt.

Tell us something people don't know about you?

I can also play the bagpipes very, very badly.

What's the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

I get compared to Russell Crowe a lot these days - and not in his prime Gladiator years.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else?

Right now, it’s for work – but I’m looking forward to experiencing more of East Anglia soon.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

The Fisher Theatre’s autumn season of events is in full swing – and we’re delighted that so many people are coming back. The staff are keeping people safe too maintaining our distancing in the bar, and keeping our auditorium sanitised and ventilated. With the panto around the corner – this year ours is Peter Pan – it’s the perfect time to come back and support your local arts communities! For more information go to fishertheatre.org 

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