The Space Interviews:

Louise Gold & Laurence Rickard

At The Late Music Bar, Brighton, Wednesday 7 February 2024

 

Review by Emma Shane February 2024

 

 

The evening was divided into two halves. Wayne Imms introduced the evening, and then showed some video clips, that his colleague Jonathan had organised, of Louise Gold’s work.  This started with a clip from The Muppet Show and then went on to Spitting Image – The chosen clip the represent Spitting Image was from Season 1 Episode 5. – It was good that something from that episode was chosen, since Louise basically carried that episode as a performer. But most of the audience, and Wayne, didn’t think much of the particular clip chosen, involving The Queen Elizabeth II puppet telling Prince Andrew off for wanting to be kissed (he was going off to find a female to kiss him). The Queen puppet had a lot of scenes in that episode, surely Jonathan could have fund something a bit better. Or maybe he found the scene ironically funny. (It being one of those moments where Spitting Image got ironically closer to the mark than it could ever have imagined it was). There was also a lengthy clip from the film of The Pirates Of Penzance, another not entirely suitable choice, since, as Louise loudly pointed out to all of us, that it isn’t her singing on it. Personally I felt he could have chosen better for the Sesame Street clip as well, but that is a personal preference, he’d got a bit of Sally Messey Yuckyael, which was fine, its just that she did so much great singing on Sesame Street it’s a shame he didn’t use one of her more unique pieces (like Ethel Mermaid for example).  However the other clips were pretty good. Annie Sue Pig on The Muppet Show singing ‘Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow Wow’, a chunk of the banqueting scene from The Dark Crystal (again Louise loudly points out she didn’t voice her character for that), Funella Furchester meeting Mr Director in The Furchester Hotel, and a scene between Private Elsa and Herr Flick in Allo Allo. – The Allo Allo scene was exactly the sort of thing that would appeal to the audience at The Space. I’m only surprised he didn’t include the clip from BlackAdder (when she asked “What ‘s this about the plague” – as that would have been funny too). The clips finish with a couple of moments from the August 2019 Kaleidoscope event, first a shot of Louise puppeteering with Warrick Brownlow-Pike in the main event and finally a clip of Louise performing Little Lou in a feature about the event. That particular puppet seems very much an element of the “I want to work” part of Louise’s personality (in fact the puppet, with a new costume, had a role in GLOP).  Wayne then invites Louise up to the stage. I note that Louise Is neatly but casually dressed. Dark trousers, with knee high boots (were they grey or pale brown?) and a simple short sleeved t-shirt that was a dark grey pattern on a white background. Her long red hair is full out and  delightfully tousled, in a manner so distinctively her (just like it was when she did Panama Hattie back in 1996). Louise says she thought that she and Laurence were going to be interviewed together (and that Wayne hadn’t told her over dinner that they would be interviewed separately), she adds that now she’s shy. Is that true or is she joking? one can’t tell. Wayne decides to start by asking Louise about her stage school education, where he manages to get his facts wrong, by saying it was in Chiswick, and Louise has to firmly and forcefully correct him. Pointing out that she was at Arts Ed long before its Chiswick days, and that when she first went it was in a former Royal Place in Piccadilly and then at Golden Lane near the Barbican.- Louise is quite right about 144-149 Piccadilly having been a Royal Residence (of George the Sixth as Duke of York to be precise). It’s not clear whether Wayne deliberately got his facts wrong to provoke Louise (in a jokey way) or if he really hadn’t researched it properly (as I can tell you he certainly could have found the information from the internet as to where Arts Ed was when Louise was a pupil there if he looked properly).

 Since this is Brighton, a city Louise first performed in over 49 years ago (November 1974 to be precise) Wayne then asks Louise about the tour of Hair! She was in (which played Brighton). Louise talks about how she was working in Sherringham as an Acting ASM and her then agent (she named him) called her and told her to go to Sunderland. She talks charismatically about arriving in Sunderland and not knowing where to stay or anything and ending up asking at the Police station about digs!. She says the cast seemed “a bit druggie” in a tone that suggests she is nothing like that. She also recalls a lack of rehearsal, which the way she tells it is hilarious, apparently one night she had to watch the show, the next night she performed in the first act and the night after the whole thing. She was instructed that if she forgot what came next to “just look stoned”. (still the experience has evidently stood her in good sted, how often in her long career has she had to cope with insufficient rehearsal time?). She continues with a tale about the curtain coming down too slower at the end of act 1 and on a nother night too quickly. Wayne moves on to asking her about her Muppet Show Audition. Having heard Louise tell the tale on several podcasts, its rather nice to hear her talk about the time her then agent (whom she doesn’t name, but I have heard it said it might have been June Epstein at that point) told her “you have to ask to go to it” and her asking the director, the Stratford East trained Ken Hill, who despite there being no understudies let her have a matinee off for that audition. That of course led the interview on to The Muppet Show, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and Spitting Image – interestingly Louise recalled that she was asked to be a producer on Spitting Image but refused (because it would have been a lot of work and not something she was interested in. she’d rather be acting). She also described how on Spitting Image she used to make the puppeteers do fitness work outs, at which she gave an impression of the sort of things she used to say to them “If you want to puppeteer you’ve GOT to be fit”. It was funny to hear. And for those of us who’ve seen That Puppet Gameshow we can’t help knowing exactly who the character of Miss Jemima Taptackle was clearly based on. Moving on Wayne asked Louise about some of her musicals. Louise mentioned how much she loved doing Anything Goes, and Gypsy and it becomes clear that she adores singing Cole Porter and Sondheim, and roles written for Ethel Merman (though she doesn’t specifically mention Merman by name). Chitty Chitty Bang Bang gets discussed and Wayne quotes a review, which I think might have been Ian Shuttleworth’s. Louise mostly approves of the comments about her, until the last half of the quote. Certainly the review started with the words “Louise Gold always gives excellent value in musicals”.

On the subject of musicals, Louise mentions that before she took over from Elaine Paige in Anything Goes in London she was flown to New York to audition for Jerry Zaks. – Se seems quite impressed that the production company did that with her.  – I found myself thinking I hope Mr Zaks appreciated her Mermaneque qualities. Talking of Merman musicals, Gypsy comes up. Louise says that she only agreed to play Mazeppa in it on condition that she got to be Imelda Staunton’s understudy. Everyone told her that Imelda would never miss a show, but in fact she missed three and Louise got to go on as Rose. Louise tells this with almost a smirk of satisfaction in her voice.

Also speaking about musicals, Louise mentions how wonderful the sound was at the Sitz Rehearsal of Follies. She kindly explains (for those of us who don’t know), exactly what a “Sitz Rehearsal” is. She adds that as a performer she can never hear the orchestra quite so well as at the Sitz Rehearsal. Given how much I admire Louise as a singer, was just lovely to hear Louise speaking about music in this way. I noticed too that she was so aware of her audience (making sure she explained things clearly that we might not understand).

 

 

The interview continued, with Louise telling a few of stories about when she insisted on having time off from her puppetry work to audition for acting jobs. She mentions that Jim Henson was always very supportive of her desire to be an actress (and he came and saw her in Godspell). The Time off topic includes revealing that for The Muppet Christmas Carol they had wanted her to do The Ghost of Christmas Past, but she turned it down to audition for a little role in The House Of Elliott. – I can see from the point of view of The Muppet Christmas Carol it’s a shame (and it would have given her a bigger role in that iconic film. But her bit part in The House of Elliott as “That Duchess” is also jolly good, and probably gave her more scope as an actress, and she was so right for that part, that on balance in my humble opinion she was probably right to do that. Sometimes it is clearly difficult for her trying to run two parallel careers like she has done for so many many years. Another time off story has Louise explaining about how she got time off from The Secret Life of Toys (which resulted in Mike Quinn voicing her Rocking Horse for one episode and it never got redubbed) to audition for a film job, that she didn’t get and describes the costume she wore for that audition (involving a corset, and what she said at the audition (about the character (“basically just has big txxs”), which is possibly why she didn’t get the part – Louise can be quite forthright in her opinions). In fact she later ended the interview railing against (and swearing about) people being replaced by machines at supermarket checkouts, and how art and culture is being so overlooked. She also stresses that she’s still very fit and wants to work. She has no idea what she’ll do next, probably something she hasn’t thought of. She seems to thrive on her jobs being unexpected ones. As long as she’s using her acting skills to perform that’s what matters to her. Wayne points out that seeing how well she answers his questions why doesn’t she do stand up or something like thar? Louise explains that she needs to be directed. She says that she “did a cabaret act once”. But that really she needs someone to tell her what to do. Its clear Louise understands her limitations as a performer, she knows what works for her. Yes she can improvise well around a framework, but she says she needs a director (it should be noted that when she did a cabaret act she got Nigel Plaskitt to direct her).

Wayne opens the interview up to questions from the floor. The first question was most definitely from one of Louise’s fans. (Perhaps many of the other audience members, those there for Laurence, were still getting used to Louise and were still thinking about it). The question was “How does your serious drama work, such a Shakespeare, Brecht, Chekov etc  compare and contrast with zany comedy and musicals you normally do?” Louise responded by going into a quick little improve (in a mock elderly actressey voice) playing to Wayne, telling him he hadn’t asked her about “acting Shakespeare” (and her Titania and Kate in the Taming of The Shrew). Then in her normal voice, she says there is a lot of seriousness and pathos in comedy, which is actually one of the things she likes about acting comedy, and she highlights The Birds And The Bees as an example, She does however add that she enjoyed doing Caucasian Chalk Circle (though she doesn’t say anything else about it). The rest of the floor questions are, as one might expect, focused mainly on her puppetry.  One of those asked about puppeteers monitors, so Louise kindly and very eloquently explained how Jim Henson always used ordinary monitors, known as ‘Straight scan monitors’, because reverse-scan monitors had not yet been invented. Louise explains that Straight Scan is better, because that way the puppeteer sees the shot exactly the way the camera sees it, the way the TV audience will see it. For once (possibly sensing the audience are not necessarily puppet-orientated) she doesn’t jokily get het up in berating reverse scan this time, she just calmly explains why she absolutely believes straight scan to be better. (in a purely puppetry context she can be much fiercer about that). I was actually very impressed by her intelligent eloquent handling of the question (like the puppetry expert that she truly is). Some twenty years or so ago, when she first started appearing on TV or at events as a puppetry expert she couldn’t have explained it like that with such calm firm eloquence. Another question involves her television acting, asking her about the time she played “a judge in Coronation Street”. Louise while recalling the part, cannot tell anyone who was on trial. She does however tell a funny story about a friend of her’s whose parent watched Corrie and could think of about ten possible sceniors, so it must be one of those. She also says the role shehad in the TV series Doctors was so awful it was forgettable.  – Is she referencing the “Hole In The Heart” episode? Or a more recent one?

Another floor question, is one I’ve never before heard a Muppet Puppeteer being asked before. Someone want’s to know how she feels about the way the word “muppet” gets use derogatorily, Louise naturally (as one might expect) clearly dislikes it and feels it unfair on The Muppets themselves. She is asked if anyone has ever used it to her and if so how would she respond. That almost seems to amuse her. And she says it gives her an idea for how she would respond if anyone did use that term in that manner to her,

 

Soon it is time for an interval of about 20 minutes.

 

For the second half of the evening, Wayne took up his position on the stage, showed some clips of Laurence’s work and then invited Laurence Rickard to the stage.

The second half of the evening also had some interesting stuff. I discovered that Laurence Rickard is about 20 years younger than Louise, with the result that when he was growing up he evidently saw some of the legendary film and TV projects that Louise has been involved with. Laurence mentions as a child he and his friends grew up watching Blackadder, The Young Ones. And the Henson stuff such as Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. He talks a lot about his writing as well as his acting. Particularly about Horrible Histories and Ghosts, and then about Yonderland (the latter having been inspired largely by Dark Crystal and Labyrinth). Laurence has a lot to say about Ghosts. He talks about how he hadn’t wanted Robin The Caveman to occur too often so he came up with the headless character as an alternative, but Robin is the one everyone remembers. He also thinks the writers for the US version got the essence of that programme right too. While talking about Robin The Caveman in Ghosts, Laurence makes a really interesting observation. He mentions its not his own hair, and for acting in Ghosts he had to have his own hair cut short, He says that short hair makes people look older, where as long hair makes them look younger (at least that’s what he finds).

Some of us may have just noticed at this point Louise fiddling with her chestnut locks, twisting one of them between her fingers, and I can’t help thinking that Laurence might be right. Certainly Louise looks younger than mid sixties with her delightfully tousled titian tresses, whereas when she had her hair short in her forties I always thought it made her look older than her forties. Whether it applies to everyone I’m not sure, but it’s certainly true of the two interviewees.  In the middle of Laurence being interviewed a little diversion was caused by an odd beeping or ringing sort of noise, that could only be someone’s mobile phone. Of course these days we all have phones, but I did find myself thinking “Surely whoever it is should have known enough to put their phone on silent in the theatre”. Eventually Laurence paused during the interview and apologised, it turned out it was his phone that was ringing! At which Louise stood up and came halfway up the aisle to meet him and handed him his phone (which he had left on the seat next to hers) she said that she had been trying to turn it off for him.” Laurence took his phone and silenced it.  (while Louise returned to her seat).

 

Towards the end of the interview Laurence is asked about his latest projects, but he says he’d love to tell but for both of them he’s been made to sign non disclosure agreements so he can’t. Obviously he’ll obey that, even if he personally thinks it all a bit over the top.

There are a lot of questions from the floor. Some of them are a bit silly, and seem to say more about the audience members asking them then they do about the subject they are supposed to be about. Although it was nice of one lady to tell Lawrence that his work had got her and her family though some really difficult times and want to thank him for that. Someone merely wanting to state they had come all the way from north Brighton for tonight was just plain silly, and Wayne evidently thought to so. I understand people want to connect, but if people are going to be one of the floor questions at this sort of event, it really helps if you try to think carefully about what would genuinely be a good question to ask ideally one that will encourage the interviewee to say something interesting. Obviously sometimes there will be something you just really really want to ask that has a simple answer, but the best questions are ones that genuinely encourage the interviewee respond. Thankfully, both Louise and Laurence responded well to questions and recognised that sometimes interviewees just have to use the question as a handle to talk about some element of their careers related to the area of the question rather than just answering it. That in itself is a skill (and one which Louise at least has had to develop over the years).

During the Questions from the floor this time, I realised that that I think the major part of the audience were there for Laurence. Obviously most   of the audience had seen some of Louise’s work, and I think there were a few, like me, who were there for her. But it was mostly Laurence’s fanbase. Louise to some extent secondary star, the warm up act. Made abundantly clear when Laurence then had to draw the raffle. However, at the very end, when Wayne had to do all his “thank yous” , to venue staff and then the guests, Louise did get a really good round of applause. So I think everyone really liked her as well.  Finally Wayne concluded the evening by plugging The Space’s future shows (which are going to be in a different venue). The audience were growing a little restless at that. Personally I was almost reminded of the way in the good old days at the Lost Musicals in the introductions Ian Marshall-Fisher always had to plug his next shows (and how Louise used to make fun of him when he was doing it).

 

All in all a good fun evening. If there’s a performer you happen to like being interviewed byThe Space, I can certainly recommend seeing them. One of the really great things about this interview, is that it was intended to focus on the whole of its chosen performers careers, not just one or two really significant elements of it. So often when Louise gets interviewed the focus is quite understandably so much on her puppetry that her acting doesn’t necessarily get a fair look in.  (of course there was the New Wosley Theatre’s interview which perhaps balanced that by not mentioning her puppetry at all). I think its great to find such a variety of different things in the interview. Obviously you have to have The Muppets, and Dark Crystal, and then Musical Theatre is such a significant part of her career (she has done so many West End musicals  and a few significant regional ones too) that it often gets at least some mention, But to also include her television acting, her non musical stage work and things like that was just great. Another thing that really struck me, because two quite different actors were being interviewed, is what a beautiful speaking voice Louise has. I’ve always admired her voice as a singer, and like d hearing her deliver lines on stage. However in interview I’ve noticed that while she can be loud, to tone and importantly the tempo of her speech makes her voice surprisingly restful to listen to, I noticed that Laurence had a slight tendency to speak faster which could make his words a little harder to follow.

I’m really glad that Louise Gold was part of this kind of event. Having watched her in a number of podcasts over the past few years, it was lovely to see her talking, about much the same kind of thing, only this time live on stage with an audience. And I do hope she gets some more work. She’s clearly still a very strong, capable performer., and incidentally she is also a fine voice-artist amongst all her various talents. SO really hope she gets some job she wants that we get to enjoy seeing her do.

 

 

 

 

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