Interview: Director Lynne Morris on Leitheatre’s upcoming production of Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple’

Leitheatre are an amateur theatre company with a long, and hard won reputation for excellence. I had a chat with Lynne Morris, director of their next production, ‘The Odd Couple’; the play that elevated playwright Neil Simon from success to phenom in 1963.

I begin by asking Lynne about the show, and how it came to be this year’s summer offering from Leitheatre…                                                         

Well, we actually chose it 2 years ago…It was put forward by another club member, an experienced director that we use quite often. Well, he couldn’t do it, back then, for health reasons and I jumped in and said I’d love to do it, because I’m a really massive Neil Simon [the creator of The Odd Couple] fan. The 1968 film is one of my favourite films ever, and Jack Lemmon is one of my favourites as well. Not one of my favourites, my absolute favourite. I though, This sounds great!

Now, I haven’t directed a lot but I thought, no, I think I could probably do this Justice, because I know it quite well.                                                                                 

When things started up again this year, they came back and asked me if I wanted to pick things up from where we’d left off. I asked if they didn’t want to go back to Matt, as he might be available now, but they said, “no, you started the work, you’ve done the casting, so we’re giving you first option.” That was great!

I asked then about Leitheatre’s experiences of returning to rehearsals after restrictions began to lift…

Well, we had two or three people who had been cast who now can’t do it this year. It’s a combination of work, holidays, the dates have changed. The original booking was for the first week in May, but this year we’ve only managed to secure the last week. We’ve got one guy who’s a teacher, and this is his worst, most hectic time for example. So, we’ve had to re-cast the parts, but when we were doing that we still weren’t permitted to hold the big auditions we would normally have had, so that was a bit fiddly.

I think the hardest bit, is that we thought we would pick up from where we left off, but nobody can remember anything! Couldn’t remembering the blocking, or anything else, so we’ve literally had to start over, which as I think of it is perfectly fair, after all it was 2 years ago when we last laid eyes on it.

Lynne went on to explain that despite one or two new members, the team are mainly old acquaintances, quickly capable, and excited to slip back into familiar rhythms.

I ask then a little about Leitheatre, its history and ethos…

Well, I’ve only been a member since 2008, so that’s only 14 years, others have been members for 30, 40 years. Leitheatre is an amateur drama club, though we rarely use the term “amateur”. We’ve been going since 1946. It started off as the Kirk Gate Theatre, and has had various different guises since.  It’s run by a committee that meets every month; we’ve got our own premises at the top of Easter Road, we’ve got our own rehearsal rooms. We’re really lucky to have that. We’ve got a huge wardrobe and massive storage for flats and so we keep our sets. It takes a lot of work, and commitment from the club members to keep it going.

We tend to keep members, though we do get we get new people coming in. Our most famous club member/alumnus is probably Mark Bonnar who’s still very good friend with guys in the cast of the Odd Couple.                                                  

Mark Bonnar, alumnus of Leitheatre, for more on that story, click here. Credit: Pip

I then ask how Lynne feels Neil Simon’s 1968 play holds up in the 21st century theatre…

A few years ago, I put forward to direct Plaza Suite, and at the time with that, I thought, this has not aged very well…because the humour of people being on unfaithful to each other isn’t that funny in the 21st Century…I don’t think people think that that is hilarious.

I worried the Odd Couple would be similar, but the more I read it, the more I’ve felt it’s subject matter: things go wrong, relationships end, you have to just move on, and you do that with your friends. They see you through. That will always be the same.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in the1968 hit film adaptation of The Odd Couple

There’s nothing in it that’s really a problem. The humour, that sardonic New York humour, at the time was probably quite new, and fresh, but that has carried on, hasn’t it? Just think of Will & Grace, and characters like Chandler from Friends, it’s that sort of friends who can take the p*ss out of each other. I think people really still love that, and my friend’s teenagers tell me that Friends is a big thing with kids these days! They weren’t even born when it came out.

I think those sort of group dynamics, I think it’s still relevant, and that’s what I’m hoping to work on in The Odd Couple. People bouncing off each other, the one-liners; how to slag someone off, but in an affectionate way.

I raise the popular series, Grace & Frankie as an even more recent drama which holds more than passing similarity to Neil Simon’s Odd Couple. Lynne points to Simon’s own female version of The Odd Couple, which never achieved quite the success of its forebear, and which she herself didn’t find all that amusing.

Netflix struck viewing figure gold with Grace & Frankie, not least thanks to Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the leading roles…Credit: Netflix

I then ask, looking ahead to the play, how Lynne is feeling about a return to performance after such a long-enforced absence….

It’s still very early stages, we’ve only had 2 weeks of rehearsals so far, and that’s 4 hours a week. So we’re really still at the blocking stage, and making sure the sets are still functional. But the cast is still there, and doing the lines; and I’m still bursting out laughing. I did it the other night, and everyone just looked at me as if I’ve not heard it before! Sometimes, though, people just say a line the right way!

It’s just exciting…exciting getting into the venue again, just to be backstage, and feeling the adrenaline. It’s early though, so we’re at the stage of the fiddly stuff…I’ve got to make lots of calls today to coordinate with the wardrobe folks, and speak to the people who will be acting as prompts and such like.

In a few weeks, though…I made a rehearsal schedule last night…for the whole of April, we’ll be working on stuff I like: the characters, bringing out the jokes, delivery of one-liners to get the most impact. That’s what I really like!

It’s great though, it’s been a long time coming!

I go on to ask how she copes with the admin that comes with being director, and balancing that with her life outside the theatre…

It’s a bit strange…up until a couple of months ago I was working full-time, but now I’m part-time.  thought that would give me more time, but actually I find I’m as busy as ever!

I think you just expand tasks into the space. I decided to do a part-time course at University, and I’m doing one called, “An Introduction to Comedy,” which is looking at comedy from Greek, right up the modern day, we’re doing Abigail’s Party next week, another of my favourites, and Fleabag will be covered at the end.

So what I’ve ended up doing is absolutely filling my diary up! I’ve had to set aside today to do a lot of the theatrical admin, and communication needed. I had a long conversation with my stage manager last night, and he’s saying – he’s a lot more experienced— “Lynne, what you’ve got to do, is just be assertive. Just say: this is what I want to happen. Don’t worry about offending people, do it nicely, but just tell people what you need to happen. Don’t feel the need to ask what they think, it’s not their name that’s going to be on the programme as Director.”

I have to set aside little blocks of time, to sort what’s needed. Then, hopefully my time will be freed up for the more creative side of things. You do have to do all the other stuff, and the club is really good, and supportive. So many people who have so many skills, in all the different areas, that you can simply say, “Right, we have an issue, what do you think we should do?”

So, it’s fine, but I don’t have as much time as I imagined I would have when I stopped working full-time.

I go on to ask how it is acting as shepherd to a company with so many responsibilities outside of theatre…

I think it’s, well because we have so many people who have been there before, and doing it for years, they, in general, don’t need a lot of herding. Of course, you’ll always have 1 or 2 who ask questions I don’t have time for, but it’s no problem.

I do think sometimes you do have to come over a bit nanny-ish, and tell everyone to behave themselves. But no, it’s fine…we just have a very supportive bunch of people.

I had a bereavement in the family recently, and aged uncle, but it happened a couple of days before our first rehearsal which meant I was dealing with a lot of stuff, as he didn’t have any other family. Therefore, I wasn’t as prepared as I’d have liked to be on that first rehearsal.  So, it was a little bit chaotic.       

I forgot that some of the cast hadn’t even met each other yet, and didn’t know which part they were playing…I forgot about the need to sit down and get everyone introduced and such. At the end, I sent to our WhatsApp group thanking everyone for their hard work, “It’s going to be great, sorry if was a bit more chaotic than I hoped!.”

They all came back to me saying it was absolutely fine! When I mentioned my uncle’s passing, they said, “we understand, we’re on your side.”

It’s that kind of club. It’s really good to people.        

If you’d like to know a little more of the playwrighting legend known as Neil Simon…

I asked if Leitheatre is on the look-out for new members…                                          

Yes!

We’ve done some promotional stuff in the past, but obviously not the last couple of years. We’ve opened up the premises, in the past, displaying all our amazing costumes, and posters from old shows, clips from old productions, all trying to attract new members this way.

But when we don’t have anything to present, and no productions are happening it’s a hard sell! Hopefully we will be starting to reach out again, because we do definitely need younger people, but that’s common to all amateur clubs.

It is the sort of thing that attracts middle-aged people like me who think, I used to like acting when I was younger, I’ll go and do that. A few people, well a lot more, under 30 are definitely needed, because it limits what you can do, and the types of production you can put on. To be clear we’re keen to find new members to take on any, and every role: front, and backstage. Whatever your talents, there’s a place for them with us.

I suggested that there might be a lot of younger jobbing actors which might find a place amongst amateur companies between bookings, and keep their skills honed…

We’ve had a couple of professional guys before, when we did a production of Bouncers about 5 years ago and it was one of the most successful things we’ve ever done. They were in the show, and were attracted by the show, and having such an experienced crew in charge, who they knew of.

When chatting with the two jobbing actors, Lynne overheard one wondering why they’d never thought of doing this [jumping in with an Amateur company between jobs]. The other observed that they were only scared that a job would come along whilst they were working together, and then leaving them in the lurch.     

But they got a lot out of it, Lynne finishes, and so did we.

I finish by asking what’s next for Lynne…

I’m hoping to get a part in the Fringe show we’re doing this year. That’s what I enjoy, the fun bit. I do other creative things, painting, pottery, and I’ve begun to learn to sew! I tend to take on things, rather than give them up.      


Leitheatre presents The Odd Couple, will play the The Studio at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh from May 25-28. For more information, and tickets, click here.

For more on the continuing work of Leitheatre, or even to join, click here.

Published by wjquinnauthor

Son of Dundee, resident of Edinburgh. I write fiction, critique the arts, and interview fellow souls on the creative path.

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