The Long Road to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe is running throughout this month and Chiswick’s very own St Michael’s Players will be joining this year’s line-up. The amateur dramatic society are taking their award-winning production The Long Road to Scotland’s capital for the world-renowned festival on 19-24 August, performing at one of three theatres at The Surgeon’s Hall.

The Long Road, written by Shelagh Stephenson, is a powerfully hard-hitting production which follows the struggle of a family forced to deal with the fatal stabbing of their son Danny in a random attack. The story describes how Danny’s mother comes to terms with the atrocity, part of which involves her coming face-to-face with her son’s killer.

St Michael’s Players first performed The Long Road in Chiswick in April last year, receiving outstanding reviews which led to the group bringing it back for a second run this year.

Photographs above: left – Louis Bricusse as Joe, Alastair Dewar as John, Elizabeth Ollier as Mary, Leonia Chesterfield as Elizabeth, right – Fleur de Henrie Pearce as Emma [Credit: Ian Trowbridge]

At last week’s preview, Elizabeth Ollier truly inhabited the role of the bereaved mother offering a hauntingly captivating performance. Fleur de Henrie Pearce also played the role of Emma Price exceptionally, with her compelling take on the convicted criminal. It felt as if someone had pulled away a wall of the family home revealing the devastating after-effects of bereavement. Both Fleur and Elizabeth were able to transport audiences away from the world of Am-Dram into another realm entirely, making this the perfect performance to take to the Fringe.

How did St Michael’s Players end up taking part in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival? It seemed like something other people did, Elizabeth told me. It wasn’t until she performed at the Fringe last year, with a different theatre company, that it occurred to them it might be a realistic project for St Michael’s Players to take a play to the festival. “We all thought why not?” said Elizabeth “and then the idea really took hold when we put on The Long Road which was really well received and something a little bit different. It also sadly resonates with what’s happening on the streets right now”.

“We were all blown away by The Long Road even at the first read-through. The fact that it had been written in collaboration with prisoners and prison charities and was actually intended to be performed in prisons gave it a real authenticity.”

Photographs above: left – Elizabeth Ollier, Alastair Dewar, centre – Leonia Chesterfield, Fleur de Henrie Pearce, right – Alastair Dewar, Elizabeth Ollier, Louis Bricusse [Credit: Ian Trowbridge]

St Michael’s Players were inspired by the real-life story of Ray and Vi Donovan, whose own tragedy provided source material for the play. Ray and Vi set up the Chris Donovan Trust when their son Chris was killed in a random attack and Vi’s way of dealing with the trauma was to meet her son’s killers, and ultimately forgive them.

“Their story was really moving for all of us” Elizabeth told me. “We were so thrilled that Vi came to see our play and said afterwards that she felt we’d given a really accurate portrayal of the way she’d felt at the time. That meant a lot to us and helped with us deciding to get the play in front of as many people as possible.”

Photographs above: left – Elizabeth Ollier, Fleur de Henrie Pearce, top right – Louis Bricusse, Elizabeth Ollier, Alastair Dewar, Fleur de Henrie Pearce, Leonia Chesterfield, bottom right – Louis Bricusse, Elizabeth Ollier, [Credit: Ian Trowbridge]

As a local group, Elizabeth said the decision to perform in Edinburgh wasn’t something the committee took lightly.

“Our priority is and always will be very much producing shows for our local audiences who are really loyal to us, however I think for an amateur dramatics company putting themselves outside their usual environment into something as exciting and innovative as the Fringe does make them lift their game – it certainly worked for us.”

Elizabeth is the only member of St Michael’s Players who has previously performed at the Fringe. Fellow cast members Louis, Alastair and Leonia have all visited the iconic festival but Fleur has never been to the Fringe or even Edinburgh before.

Photographs above: left – Elizabeth Ollier, centre – Fleur de Henrie Pearce, right – Elizabeth Ollier, Fleur de Henrie Pearce [Credit: Ian Trowbridge]

“From looking at all of the videos and social media and all of the press I am expecting it to be a hugely exciting, buzzy, non-stop, never-ending plethora of people and shows” Fleur told me. “It’s just a hugely exciting and positive environment and one that that’s full of life and energy and I think it’s going to be absolutely fantastic and unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before.”

As the Fringe gets closer, Fleur told me she feels both daunted by the enormity of what it means to perform at the festival but also energised and excited. It will be “a conveyor belt of shows”, she said, as once they’ve finished one performance they will be straight onto the next.

“We know it’s going to be a huge challenge but I think we’re all very much up for the challenge and taking ourselves out of our comfort zone of performing in a space or an environment that we are used to, in front of our peers. I think it’s going to be an incredible challenge but an incredibly exciting one for us all” said Fleur.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Ten years at the Tabard theatre

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