Tuesday, 23 June 2020

The Corona Diaries: Christopher Howell

These recent times have been some of the hardest challenges we've faced and as a community, it hit us pretty hard. However during these difficult times, here at Pocket Size Theatre, we wanted to spread a little positivity and share some peoples experiences because we are all in this together. Each day we'll be speaking to our friends in the industry to share their experiences with you all so take a read and see how people are getting through these hard times.

Let's stick together, share the love and get through this as a community!

*Some information mentioned in this article may be out of date due to the progress of the current situation. Please keep that in mind when reading* 

Christopher Howell is due to appear in Hairspray at the London Coliseum. His other credits include Goldilocks and the Three Bears & Cinderella (London Palladium); Bert Barry in 42nd Street, Anything Goes & Sir Reginald Tarrington in My Fair Lady (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane); Arthur in Made In Dagenham (Adelphi Theatre); Percival Murray in Stephen Ward (Aldwych Theatre); Dr Dillamond & The Wizard in Wicked (Apollo Victoria); Farmer Sutcliffe/Arthur Cunliffe in Betty Blue Eyes (Novello); Rex de Havilland in Too Close to the Sun (Comedy); Raymond Neff in The Witches of Eastwick (Prince of Wales); Sir in Side Show (Southwark Playhouse); the title character in Sweeney Todd (Union Theatre); Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls (Marigny Theatre Paris); Sheriff Earl in Love Me Tender (Tour); Gus/Bustopher Jones in Cats (Tour); Amos Hart in Chicago (Tour); Marksman/1st cover Firmin in The Phantom of the Opera (Tour) and Priest/Herold in Jesus Christ Superstar (Tour). 

On Monday 16th March 2020, The Society of London Theatre announced the closure of all Theatres in London. This followed suit with regional venues. Where were you when you found out and what was your initial reaction? 

I had literally just finished my first day of rehearsals for the London revival of Hairspray when we all got that fateful news. We had a meet and greet (always horrific and you only have to same your name) and started re-learning the finale as I'd done the show before. I was aware that things were getting serious as I had relatives in a care home that had shut its doors the week before. 

I had just been doing another production of Hairspray at HMP Bronzefield for Pimlico Opera and it was very clear that this virus was becoming a serious threat, particularly in a Prison. With the potential of the lockdown in mind, my partner and I went to see the excellent ‘The Wicker Husband’ the weekend before at The Watermill in Newbury choreographed by Steven Harris (my brother in law) and directed by Charlotte Westenra, who had created a beautiful piece of theatre which also included my pal Zoe Rainey, who incidentally I met on Hairspray years ago - I hope that show gets a chance at another life someday.

I think we all knew deep down that it was coming but that in no way sweetened the feeling that things were about to change. I think I swore at the television but at that point, because everything was so up in the air we were still going to try and rehearse as much of the show as we could before the eventual lockdown - we made 2 days and 20 minutes. I have to say that our producers have been excellent with us as have the company - we all believe the show will still happen.

Can you tell us anything productive you’ve been doing? 

I have picked up my running again, it’s been so good to get up and out - I’m lucky that I have a few parks and open land where I live so I’ve been able to run outdoors alone with my thoughts and podcasts. It’s really hard not to face plant in the fridge all the time right now so having the thought of exercise is a good deterrent! 

I’m lucky that I have a close family and good friends so we have had lots of Zoom meets and have played a variety of games (Bingo, Play Your Cards Right, Name that Tune) and we even tried a murder mystery - I had to be Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors - Ellen Green would vomit if she had heard my impression! I’ve also painted the whole of the ground floor of my house, we built a sideboard then moved and decorated our summer house - really proud of that - I never knew I would be quite so good at cutting in. I have done a couple of bits of singing for Alex Parker which has been fun and built a Lego cinema. The proudest thing I have from lockdown is my puppy, Elmo, who arrived on the last flight from Cyprus before lockdown where we rescued him from - he is simply adorable.

There's so much important information and messages being spread on social media but sometimes it can be quite mentally draining and consume a lot of your time, how have you been trying to look after your mental state whilst using these platforms?

I think keeping positive is so important right now - yes professional life is in hiatus but we will recover from this. Keeping mentally active is the key to getting through this awful situation and having faith that our industry will return is vital right now. Sonia Friedman recently wrote a brilliant argument regarding the importance of preserving our theatre - I pray that her wise words will not fall on deaf ears. There is great power in positivity and I believe if we all practice this our industry will return stronger with all of us employed in it more united and thankful to be a part of it. 

With the Arts temporarily shut down, how would you advise people to continue to support the Arts industries? 

I think that every little helps so whatever time you have or funds you can spare can be focused into keeping the industry alive - that could be from fundraising to play readings to encouraging others to watch a streaming of a production. The important thing is to keep the Arts in the minds of our families and friends.

Have you discovered anything that you’d like to recommend to our viewers? 

Well, as a huge Star Wars fan there are 11 films and a few TV series I could recommend straight off. I have read quite a bit and also tried to listen to a different soundtrack each week - I think that’s an excellent way to find new material to use. I love comedy and iPlayer has Nighty Night on it which I would thoroughly recommend, as I would Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. That said I’m trying not to sit in front of the TV during the day - thank the maker for this excellent weather.

In these times of Social Distancing and isolation, how have you been trying to connect with Friends and Family? Any fun quizzes or games?! 

I have met friends in parks (that sounds dodgy) and we regularly take my 84-year-old Father food round. Sadly, I lost my Mother, Aunt and Uncle during this time and I can’t imagine how he must feel grieving in isolation - I think that this lockdown has really emphasised the importance of family and care for others and ourselves.

And finally, looking to the future, what are you most looking forward to when all of this is over? 

Of course, I am craving the day I can get back into a theatre and sing with an orchestra but what I’m looking forward to most is being able to hug people, and to see faces in the flesh. The first thing I’m going to do is give my Father a monster hug.

We'd like to thank Christopher and all other performers who have given up their time to contribute to this feature.

For more information please visit GOV.UK and NHS.co.uk

Other useful links for anyone needing further help:

Acting For Others - Charity that provides financial & emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need.
Help Musicians - An independent Charity that helps all forms of Musicians through times of need.
Industry Minds - Mental Health Support for the creative arts.
Theatre Helpline - a free, independent and confidential phone and email service that provides support to people working in the theatre industry.
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