Actors Company on the edge for Pool (No Water)

Emma Lee A fledgling Norfolk professional theatre company, which is bringing cutting-edge contemporary drama to Norwich, stages its second production this week at Norwich Playhouse.

Emma Lee

When a famous and successful artist invites four old friends to stay in her luxurious new home, swim in her pool and share in her glory, she hopes to heal old wounds.

Instead, she opens new ones, as the group's reunion is cut short when the host suffers a horrific accident. As she lies in a coma, an almost unthinkable plan starts to take shape - could her suffering become their work of art?

The scene is set for the second production by Norwich Theatre Royal's Actors Company.

Pool (No Water) is a hard-hitting and darkly comic look at friendship, self-hatred and professional jealousy by the award-winning and controversial playwright Mark Ravenhill.

The professional company was founded with the aim of performing cutting-edge contemporary drama and nurturing new writing talent to broaden the theatre-going experience in Norfolk and is supported by the Norwich Theatre Royal.

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Back in May its first show, David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, was hailed as a must-see by critics and Pool (No Water), which is being staged at the Norwich Playhouse should cement the Actors Company's reputation.

It was founded by Jo Reil, Asa Cannell and David Lambert, of the Theatre Royal's arts course, and the acclaimed actress Greta Scacchi is the company's patron. Her involvement came about because David was at college with her in Bristol and they renewed their acquaintance when she was in Norwich starring in Deep Blue Sea back in February.

Jo, an actress and theatre course leader, says that the idea of setting up this type of theatre company had been in her head for a while. “I had just had my second child and I'd done my first bit of acting for a while. I wanted to develop more, to be challenged and to work with other people out there in the profession and I didn't want to move away from Norwich to do it. My passion is contemporary drama and not much of that sort of work was done here in Norwich,” she says.

“It's a beautiful city - it's growing and it's an exciting place to be. But to see work that deals with the issues that are out there at the moment you had to hop on a train down to London to the Royal Court Theatre or the Bush Theatre. Through conversations with David Lambert and [Theatre Royal chief executive] Peter Wilson the idea of the Actors Company came about. And we found some great people who were passionate about the idea and it evolved from there. And we had the first production at Easter just gone.”

Jo was one of the cast of Sexual Perversity in Chicago - and she herself is a graduate of the Theatre Royal's arts course.

“I grew up here in Norwich, went to school here and did the arts course - I have very fond memories of being on it. I went away to do a three year acting course and then came back to Norwich to decide what I was going to do and get some money behind me to potentially go to London and launch an acting career. I was offered a job as a tutor on the arts course, which I took and absolutely loved. I started running workshops across the county and the Norfolk schools project they have at the Theatre Royal. I got married and had children which kept me here. I've done bits and pieces of acting work and a couple of years ago sparked something in me to do some more,” she says.

Pool (No Water) is a very contemporary piece of work. The one-act play (it's around 70 minutes long with no interval) was first staged by the physical theatre company Frantic Assembly two years ago.

“We wanted to do something British, something that was very contemporary and Mark Ravenhill seemed an ideal playwright to look at - he has been at the forefront of British theatre for 15 years,” Jo says. “Pool (No Water) is a very unconventional play. It's set out as a stream of consciousness - it's pages of unallocated dialogue that can be performed by any number of actors. It's very much a blank canvas and it's up to the creative team to create the play. It seemed the ideal choice to keep it moving on and pushing the boundaries a bit,” she says.

The play is directed by Holly Maples and stars just four actors, David Alderman, Viss Elliot Safavi, Romy Tennant and Joseph Wicks.

The Actors Company aims to showcase on and off-stage talent from the region and beyond and auditions were held in Norwich and London.

They have just three weeks of rehearsals before opening night, so in Jo's words, they “hit the ground running”.

It's exciting and it's quite intense. Obviously the director has been working on it for a while and had a vision of what she sees, but until you get into rehearsal and work with the actors you're never quite sure what's going to happen. The Playhouse is a great space. It's large enough to fit a nice sized audience in, but it feels quite intimate at the same time,” she says.

The Actors Company is aiming to stage two productions a year - around April/May and in September/ October. And they're already looking ahead to the next show. “We are throwing ideas for the next one about at the moment. There are plays that we have in mind, it's a case of deciding which is the best one and where we go next, really,” says Jo.

t Pool (No Water) is at the Norwich Playhouse from tonight, September 16, to Saturday, September 20. For bookings contact 01603 630000. Further information at www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk. The show is suitable for over 16s only.