Director's Cut: The Alex Jackson interview

PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:41 09 January 2018

Alex Jackson in A Night at the Musicals. Picture: Lewis Law

Alex Jackson in A Night at the Musicals. Picture: Lewis Law

© Lewis Law

The Honiton Community Theatre Company first performed in 1985 as the Honiton Pantomime Society and continue to go from strength-to-strength. Steve Jennings spoke to Alex Jackson about the company's ambitions.

Alex Jackson as Widow Twankey in Aladdin. Picture: Lewis LawAlex Jackson as Widow Twankey in Aladdin. Picture: Lewis Law

Alex Jackson’s mother had a notion; that even before her son was born, that he would love musical theatre.

“My mum says she was listening to a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals when she was pregnant with me”, Alex says with a smile. “And that is where I found my love of musical theatre. So it’s all down to mum!”

And mum has been proven right. Alex is a creative force in the ever successful Honiton Community Theatre Company. The current vice-chairman, he manages a large amount of the company’s marketing and communications and has also directed and appeared in several of the shows that continue to sell out at The Beehive, and when on tour.

Aside from these achievements, he has also appeared in neighbouring towns in East Devon and at the Exeter Corn Exchange and the Northcott Theatre, also in Exeter. His ‘day job’ is as sales and marketing officer in the city’s Bike Shed Theatre.

Alex Jackson as Mrs Smee, in Peter Pan.Alex Jackson as Mrs Smee, in Peter Pan.

Just 22 years young, he has lived in Honiton all his life and the actual love of drama was forged at Littletown Primary School, when he performed in choirs and small parts in shows. His first performance with HCTC was playing Boy Blue in the 2009 production The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe. And there started a mutually beneficial association with the company.

So what does he attribute the HCTC’s enormous success to? “Luck has a lot to do with it”, he admits. “But the hard work of the team is also vital. We are very lucky because we have a high level of commitment from all of the team. It might look to the public that we just rock up and put on a show, as they only see the team on stage – and they work really hard – but it’s the people building the set, the people making the costumes, these are the things that take time.

“There is an awful lot of advance planning. Then rehearsals are two nights per week, there are meetings with The Beehive, planning the marketing and so on.”

But the Honiton Community Theatre Company are far from being just a panto society these days. The company has successfully experimented in the past two years. In 2016 they performed Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, followed that with Urinetown, a musical comedy, before performing an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s First World War drama Private Peaceful.

Alex Jackson in A Night at the Musicals. Picture: Lewis LawAlex Jackson in A Night at the Musicals. Picture: Lewis Law

In 2017 there was a rousing and highly professional A Night At The Musicals too, which the company took on a ‘world tour’ to Dunkeswell, Gittisham and Sidbury. So how does the committee decide on what the company perform next?

“I think what we have learnt from experimenting over the last few years is that our audience is family”, he says. “Our strongest sales come from shows where we allow the whole family to come and enjoy a panto or a musical.

“But we also do some more variety based shows too; we have performed musicals and powerful dramas too. And we will be performing the family musical The Wind in the Willows fresh from its recent run at the London Palladium, so watch this space!”

Before that, the next panto will be Snow White And The Seven Dwarves in February, a follow up to the highly successful Aladdin in 2017, which played to a sold-out audience at The Beehive.

But being panto, things can go slightly awry at times. But the show, as they say, must go on: “On the first night of Peter Pan, the lights went off in the first scene,” Alex recalls. “So the stage manager had the bright idea to turn on the general lighting, which is on a different circuit to the stage lighting.

“But the lighting guy was turning them off as the stage manager was trying to turn them back on; they had no way of communicating with each other. So we carried on, even though the lights were flickering on and off. Then one of the cast said ‘someone didn’t put some money in the meter’, and that got a laugh. And then the audience are with you, they are on your side.

“In Babes In The Wood, which was ages ago, I was playing the Sheriff of Nottingham and I had to read this letter every night. I couldn’t remember the lines off by heart. On the Saturday night one of the props guys had put a picture of a page three model in instead, so I was trying to remember the lines whilst looking at this naked woman and trying to hide it from the audience.

“On another night in Cinderella we had this blackout so the frog could turn into the Prince, but it didn’t happen quickly enough and they were both stood on stage at the same time in bright lights!

“But that’s Panto; stuff like that happens and you just have to get on with it.”

Alex retains strong personal ambitions: “In five years’ time I would love to be working full-time as a director”, he says. “And my dream would be to direct a panto at the London Palladium. That would be amazing.”

A dream indeed. And don’t bet against Alex achieving that!

You can follow Honiton Community Theatre Company at www.honitontheatre.co.uk and on Facebook and Twitter.

You can buy tickets for Snow White in person at The Beehive, by calling the box office on 01404 384050 or online at www.beehivehoniton.co.uk.

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