Working with Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson and Elaine Paige – Nick Bromley

Image above: Delinquent Dad, directed by Nick Bromley, 11 October and runs through to 28 October 2023.

Simon Thomsett talks to Nick Bromley about his career as a company stage manager

Theatre at the Tabard will be hosting the premiere of a brand new comedy this autumn: Delinquent Dad: ‘a fast paced knockabout comedy about feeling older in a rapidly changing world, getting caught out and finding redemption’.

Thirty-somethings couple Matt and Cara have enough trouble on their hands with their landlord trying to get them to move out, without Matt’s dad arriving on their doorstep.

‘As Dad’s misdemeanours are revealed, hilarious mishaps ensue as the three of them dig in against the landlord and find common cause against the world.’

The play is the product of a formidable combination of local theatre expertise – directed by Nick Bromley, who has turned his hand to directing relatively recently (The Last Laugh) after a long and successful career in theatre as a company stage manager.

Simon Thomsett saw Nick as he was conducting the auditions for Delinquent Dad and asked him about his career.

Image above: Nick Bromley

Guest blog by Simon Thomsett

I bumped into Nick Bromley recently when I dropped by the Theatre at the Tabard one afternoon.  He had been auditioning actors for his latest project and he agreed to have a chat.  As you will see, he was in a playful mood at the start but he eventually opened up about a new play coming to the theatre this October…

Hello Nick, why are you sitting here in the Theatre at the Tabard on a summer afternoon?

It beats standing which I’ve been doing a lot of today as we’ve been holding auditions. I suppose the next question is why you need to stand to hold them and the answer is you don’t, but it’s always good to measure up to actors. You need to look them in the eye rather the stomach but height is a growing thing in this business.

You’ll be surprised how many tall actors have to go to Istanbul for hair transplants because they’ve scalped themselves walking through short set doors. We must be vigilant for everyone’s safety.

You are well known in the theatre business as a Company Stage Manager; in a sentence, what does that job involve?

Keeping the show afloat, dealing with sudden leaks, collisions and mopping everybody up afterwards.

You will have worked with many well known faces over the years; anyone we might know…?  

How old are you? I don’t want to mention names that will send you running for an encyclopaedia. But I’ve been very lucky to have worked with Richard Briers and Paul Eddington so that’s half the Good Life, Robertson Hare – Oh Calamity for your more mature readers, Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson, Elaine Paige, Michael Ball, Tim Piggot Smith, Simon Russell Beale, Maureen Lipman and Tim Curry. Then there’s Alan Bates, Alan Bennett, Alan a Dale – no that’s too far back . . .

Alec Guinness?  What was he like?

He was extraordinarily generous – everybody in the company would be taken, in small groups, for an after show dinner at Cecconi’s and made to feel special.  He had just finished filming Star Wars but was somewhat uncertain as to what it was about!

Our play The Old Country was about espionage and members of the intelligence service would often come round backstage at the end of the show. Of course, the hot topic was (Kim) Philby and I remember Sir Alec telling me that when he asked one particular officer what he would do if he met him again, the answer shot back: ‘kill him’.

There’s a bit of a misty-eyed view these days about Philby – but that officer believed he was responsible for hundreds of deaths.

Who was the most fun to work with? 

Orson Welles.

Go on…

He had the force of personality that would open any door, no matter what the request.  He was demanding, inspiring and charming.

What was the job?

I was one of his assistants whenever he was in London.  This was during the period that he was filming Ten Days’ Wonder for (director) Claude Chabrol as well as filming the TV adaptation of The Man Who Came to Dinner in which he played Sheridan Whiteside.

On top of all that, he was also setting up and filming F For Fake, and that was the one thing he wasn’t.

Who were you pleased to see the back of?

That would be telling. The thing is, one forgets most of the bad times and  CSMs are employed for their discretion. A lot of what goes on goes on behind locked doors, but I do remember things weren’t helped by an open dressing room door on one production.

The two stars of the show having got on like a house on fire at rehearsals had unlocked the door connecting their two star dressing rooms to exchange pleasantries. Then we started playing and fire extinguishers were required.  Things soon  got so bad that at one interval both left the stage bellowing at each other.

The quarrel continued to rise in volume until it could be heard on stage so I thought it high time to calm things down for Act 2.

I found them throwing fisticuffs at each other through the open doorway. I got between them rather like one of those hands-on boxing referees but suffered no injury. Neither did they, for, being acutely aware of their profiles, their punches were frankly pathetic.

When the round and the interval came to an end and beginners were called, I persuaded them to get on with the show and locked the communicating door. For the rest of the run they were reduced to shouting at each other through the keyhole but the key was safely in my pocket.

I was pleased to see the back of them of course but if you want a name and because I believe he’s safely dead, that Jerry Lewis could be a bit demanding.

So why the change now to directing? 

It gives me a chance to be demanding.

What was it like to direct The Last Laugh at this theatre last year?

Wonderful. It’s a terrific play for beneath the laughs it tackles the universal problem of creeping totalitarianism. Richard Harris who is one of our great playwrights was kind enough to allow me to direct it and gave me his generous support throughout.

READ ALSO: The Last Laugh – Review

What made you take on Delinquent Dad?  

It was that or reading Alan Titchmarsh’s poems aloud on Turnham Green. But look, we’re all delinquents at heart, aren’t we? It’s relevant, it’s new, it’s a comedy and it gives us all an opportunity to wreck the rehearsal room.

It’ll be alright on the night though, I promise. I have worked before with the producers and I’m looking forward to having  the chance of meeting the writer before too long.

What can we expect from Delinquent Dad when it opens in October?

We have a really talented group of actors on board so you’re going to see an amazing cast, all of a safe height, in an up to the minute, truthful and very funny play about modern family life that we can all identify with. Damn. Have I given too much away?  Either way book your tickets now!

Thanks Nick and all the best for the new show. 

Delinquent Dad opens at the Theatre at the Tabard on 11 October and runs through to 28 October 2023.

Book tickets: Delinquent Dad tickets

Simon Thomsett

Simon Thomsett has worked in the professional theatre for a number of years. He started out as a stage manager and technician then became a venue director and producer, notably at the Hackney Empire, Fairfield Halls and most recently the New Victoria Theatre in Woking.

Since leaving full time work last year, he is now working as a consultant and on some small scale producing projects. He is a Chiswick resident and a passionate advocate for great theatre.

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