Interview with Phoebe Rose of ‘China Doll’ by Bad Habit Theatre

We caught up with Phoebe Rose who plays ‘Ana’ in Bad Habit Theatre’s – ‘China Doll – A Neuropera in Four Seasons’. We posed several questions to her about her work in this operetta and her time at the Fringe. Here are her responses.

Ginger Wig: Hello Phoebe, thank you for joining us.

Phoebe: Thank you Ginger Wig!

GW: Acting at the Fringe is one thing, but singing ever single day is completely is completely different! How have you managed with thats?

Phoebe: Exactly. So many of my friends are doing straight plays and they go out every night, get drunk all the time, stay out till 4 in the morning and here I am going to bed at 11 (she laughs).

GW: Tell us about China Doll.

Phoebe: It’s set in an Eastern European village and it’s about a prostitute who can’t have children. It follows her life and the people who are in it, like her landlady who I play, Ana, and her boyfriend. There is also the boy that she is trying to trick into staying with her, by convincing him that she is pregnant. Then there are the people in the village, their pregnancies mirror her fake pregnancy and my inability to have a solid relationship, let alone a baby. It’s all about love and relationships and loneliness.

GW: And its linked to the seasons musically and dramatically?

Phoebe: Yes exactly, it goes through four seasons. So Ana and Alexi are a lot happier at the beginning in winter, but over the seasons they become further and further apart as Vincent comes into the picture. The seasons are also mirrored throughout the piece in the costumes and sets.

GW: Can you tell us about the creative team?

Phoebe: Jakob Robertson wrote the piece. He is 22 years old. He is absolutely incredible. He is a composer/writer and he was an actor as well. He is a drag performer and he is part of a company called ‘The House of Grand Parade’ who do drag acts around Brighton and London. This is his second opera, his first one was Lolita. The Director, Bryony Maguire I think is 21. She is a director and actor. They grew up together actually, they were next-door neighbours. Bryony did National Youth Theatre, which is where I met her two years ago and that’s how I got involved in the project. Since then, she’s been acting and she directed Lolita. Everyone else in the company know each other through other jobs or through friends. Some of them grew up together. It’s a lovely mix of people.

GW: Well we definitely could see you were all good friends. This was your professional debut. How did it feel stepping out on to the stage for the first time?

Phoebe: It was amazing. This show started last year. I first got the part of Ana in December last year. This was the first version of the show. The Scratch Night previews were done at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter, so that’s the first time this opera was shown to the public and the first time that Jake had had a cast doing it. After we did that we then did some more shows in Plymouth. They were doing their Fringe festival. We wanted to do the (Edinburgh) Fringe but we weren’t sure how it would work out. So then we applied for the Les Enfants Terribles Award which was going to get us to the Fringe festival. We did that and we were runners-up, which was amazing. A lot of people didn’t even get on stage.

GW: Can you tell us about the Les Enfants Terribles award?

Phoebe: They are a physical theatre company, kind of quirky, just a really cool new company and they are doing a show at the fringe right now – a children’s show and another one – so their award was to give an emerging theatre company a run at the Edinburgh Fringe with financial support and that kind of thing. You should check them out because they are really cool. They were doing ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground’ in London, like a really cool piece, it had these cards everywhere, in an underground space. So they were just trying to give a new company support and a platform to show their new work. The company that won were called ‘Fine Mess Theatre’ and they are doing ‘Diva’ in the same space as us. They are in the Ten Dome as well!

GW: What do you think about opera?

Phoebe: I love opera, but I’ve never done any opera before. Obviously this is an operetta so its sung in a musical theatre style. I’ve trained in musical theatre my whole life so this is kind of second nature. But because it is an operetta we wanted it to be a play with song. We have really worked everything like a script. Especially for my role, apart from her flamboyancy at the beginning, she is a real person with real feelings, she puts on a show, but she is incredibly vulnerable.

GW: Can you tell us a bit about the rehearsal process?

Phoebe: Sure, so when we first got the script, we learnt most of the melodies with Jake. Then we would go through it line by line with Bryony looking at the intentions, really looking at it, as a script, really thinking about the thought processes, what are they saying to each other. Then we would put it up on stage and explore it. We did lots of things that you would do in normal plays, we did thought tracking, hot seating and we also did improvisations. When the chorus do their ‘We’re having a baby’ thing, they are caricature’s. The idea of the chorus is that they are these ridiculous people which is ridiculous compared to Nina who is incredibly truthful. We put them on stage and then Bryony would say “Ok, so you need to tell Otto that you are having a baby. How are you going to say that?” Then we watched them play it out and how they would say it truthfully. Then we would work it in with the music. We all learnt together and it has changed since it started in January. It’s a long time ago. We did it at the Bike Shed and then we had to do it in Plymouth which is a much bigger space. Then we did it at Egg London which is a club as part of the Tête à Tête Opera Festival, but it was a very different space. It had poles and columns and that was more in the round than this, which is head on. We had feathers at one point around the edges, which was so beautiful, but that wouldn’t work for a fringe venue because you have to get out in ten minutes. We really worked on things with Ana and Alexi pretending we were a couple and the things that you say to each other, things you don’t say. Also, before we did the Fringe, we did half a day in our character’s lives. We’d lie on the floor and then Bryony would say “Ok, so its 7am. It’s winter” and then we would all have to literally play out the whole day, just as characters, talking, being with each other. Things like that were really useful because from doing the piece you know how you feel, but having your own voice to kind of work on things, explore and just improvise, that was really good.

GW: What is your favourite thing about being at the fringe?

Phoebe: I think it’s all the incredible theatre, the people you meet, the things you get to see that you wouldn’t see. Most of the stuff at the fringe is new writing, which I think is just unbelievable, like the direction from the scripts that people come up with. It’s just being constantly surrounded by so much inspiration!

GW: Have you got any personal favourites of things you have seen at the fringe?

Phoebe: I would say ‘Trainspotting’ by ‘In‘Your Face Theatre’ which is at Assembly which is amazing. I would say, ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’ which is at the Pleasance, done by a company that work with deaf and disabled actors which is incredible. And ‘Molly’ which is at the Pleasance and that is absolutely incredible and kind of physical with a really good script. I’ve seen a lot of amazing things.

GW: What are you future plans?

Phoebe: I have a couple of things in the works, but nothing is a definite at the moment, which is classic acting. So a couple of potential projects. This is not the last you will see of me!

GW: We hope not! Thank you very much for speaking to us Phoebe. Good luck with the rest of your run.

Phoebe: Thank you, nice to speak to you. And thank you for saying you loved the whiskey sandwich!

If you want to see China Doll it is on at the Pleasance Dome at midday until the end of the fringe!

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