Backstage with Amanda Hadingue from the National Theatre's 'A Pacifist's Guide'

I'm fascinated by works of theatrical art and am even more fascinated by the people behind them. In today's edition of the Backstage series, I sat down with Amanda Hadingue - star of A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer at the National Theatre, Dorfman - to find out about how the show came to life and how it's affected her as both an actress and as a human.

SN: What is special about A Pacifist's Guide to you that is so different to other work that you've worked on?
AH: My career (if I can call it that!) began in experimental performance in the 1990s, although I've spent the last ten years predominantly working as a more conventional actor. So it's been very exciting for me to return to a more challenging mode of theatre making, working with a young and I believe significant artist, whose way of making work and of connecting with audiences is completely new to me. To be doing this kind of work at the National is also very gratifying, and Rufus Norris (and indeed Complicite) deserve some credit for that.

SN: How long have you been with the piece; have you had any creative input into the production?
AH: I've been involved in workshopping the piece since May, but Bryony, Brian Lobel, Tom Parkinson and others in the creative team have been developing the work for a couple of years. Crucially, this included collecting input from cancer patients themselves, and thinking about how they might wish to be represented. The idea to focus on the stories of five cancer patients, based on real people, was already in place when I came on board. The shaping of my role as a linking figure took longer to find. I began as a narrator, and gradually became incorporated as a character in the fiction itself. I had several discussion with Bryony as we tried to establish the character of Emma and her role in shaping the piece, and generally Bryony was open to the input of actors regarding their characters.

SN: Can you tell us about Bryony Kimmings's creative process when pulling the piece together?
AH: During rehearsals, Bryony tended to divide her time between writing and re-writing at home, and testing the material in the rehearsal room with us. She also liked to regularly share work-in-progress with invited audiences (friends, family, NT staff etc), to keep track of how audiences might respond. There are at least two distinct tones in the show - the more narrative, musical-theatre mode of the first half, and the more performance- or live-art language used particularly in the second half. Bryony made the second half of the show with us very quickly, as this is the language with which she is presumably more familiar from her own practice. At this point I should also note the sterling work of choreographer Lizzy Gee in putting the first half on its feet.

In Action: Amanda as Emma in A Pacifist's Guide... at the National Theatre, Dorfman

SN: How do the audience react every night; is it always an emotional and positive response?
AH: Audiences have been overwhelming positive in their response to the show, and seem usually to be very moved. Which is, in turn, very touching for us to witness.

SN: What's been your favourite and most fond memory of your time with the show so far?
AH: I love the music. I love being surrounded by such extraordinary voices (I'm not from a musical theatre background). The band are terrific too.

SN: What's the public reaction been like in response to such a raw and open show like this one about a topic that is so personal; do we need more of this?
AH: I'm not saying every show should operate the way ours does- creating space for real  experiences and real emotions- I like a nice play or a daft comedy as much as the next person. But there is clearly an appetite for this kind of work - and I think audiences (as ever) are ahead of the critics on this. The creation of a genuine, if temporary, communal space and the use of authentic experience seem to be hungrily embraced by our audiences.

Amanda's character Emma is based on the show's creator, Bryony Kimmings

SN: What's it like to perform such a taxing and heavy show most days of the week?
AH: Some of the show is a bit taxing to perform, and being immersed in the world of cancer like this is as challenging and rewarding as you might expect. My train journey back to Brighton is a pain in the arse, but it's also a chance to stick my head-phones in and watch Bake-Off or re-runs of Green Wing with a cup of tea and/ or a glass of wine. Luckily, our cast are also great mates.

SN: What has the piece given you as both an actress and as a human?
AH: I feel grateful to Bryony, and to Judith Dimant at Complicite, for trusting me to take centre stage in this (although the show is absolutely an ensemble piece - and that's not false modesty). I'm having to draw on elements of everything I can do to manage it - trying to be truthful as an actor, while incorporating a bit of singing, some physical theatre, and improvising. The way the show concludes will, I think, be unforgettable for me.

SN: I think it's fantastic that women are being given the chance to tell stories about women written by women and APG is a perfect example of just that. What is it like being a woman in the industry?
AH: Things are slowly changing for women in this industry, thank god. There are more of us in significant creative roles, and (in some theatres) more of us on stage. For this we can thank forward-thinking artistic directors like Phyllida Lloyd, Daniel Evans and Emma Rice (much good it did her)... We've also seen some great roles for women on TV lately, and I'm particularly heartened to see older women cast as something other than mum or police woman. But it's still tougher for women because there simply aren't as many parts for us. Which is another reason that new work needs to be supported. There's still a long way to go.

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer runs at the National Theatre, Dorfman through November 29th. Buy tickets here and read my five-star review of the show here.

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