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Caroline Harding On...French Fancies

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Playwright/Actress Caroline Harding is a well known face to theatregoers in the North West, having starred in such hits as The Real Thing (Library Theatre) and Frankie and Johnnie in The Clair De Lune (Bolton Octagon). She also runs Two Friends productions with actress Candida Gubbins. One of the fruits of their labour was the one woman show Pretty Witty Nell which toured the UK. Their latest production, French Fancies runs at the Lowry later this month. We caught up with Caroline to find out more about the play and the company she runs with Gubbins.

Can you tell us a bit about the play?
I would describe French Fancies as Moulin Rouge meets the League of Gentlemen meets Jane Austen. It’s inspired by the short stories of the 19th century short story writer Guy de Maupassant.  It’s a rather wickedly funny evening with newly composed music and performed by three very talented actor/musicians. (Not me, I’m not in it) You’ll meet some great characters: A countess charges her husband to sleep with her, a man with an interesting mannerism, two homicidal servants and a young wife who accidentally discovers herself in a new profession...the oldest one!

What’s been the most interesting aspect for you when writing this piece?
I’m mostly interested in writing myself the best part and giving myself the best dialogue. I feel very magnanimous when I give anyone else a good bit. No seriously, I love the idea that at some point the whole thing is going to spring into life, actors, director, and designer. This is piece often turns on a sixpence, high comedy and pathos alongside each other. I always act out what I’m writing which is probably best done in a room alone and not at the local play centre which is where I wrote much of this when the children were younger. Waving and showing great interest in children tumbling about whilst writing was part of the feat of the accomplishment. Mind you, come to think of it young children are barking mad so I think some of that must have been inspirational to the piece.

Two Friends also produced Pretty Witty Nell.  Do you prefer creating plays/productions set in the past?
Now you come to mention it, I suppose the short answer is yes. I like marrying what I am interested in, history, heritage, theatre. The next idea I have is based on an Elizabeth Gaskell short story, it’s very dark and not at all like the Cranford she’s famous for. I love the idea of marrying history and heritage with theatre. I’m also drawn to the eras where life had no safety net. It was more acute, more immediate, life really was short; women in particular had to rely on all sorts of skills to survive. I love the idea of a character grabbing life with both hands and raging before they go under.

Can you tell us a bit about Two Friends Productions?  How did the company come about and what are your aims?
I started Two Friends with Candida Gubbins my friend and fellow actress in 2000. We were coming into our late 30’s, a notoriously difficult age for actresses, so in the spirit of grabbing life with both hands, instead of ploughing some money I had made on an advert back into the family coffers, we raised what else we could and staged this play in its first incarnation of Postcards from Maupassant. We took it To Edinburgh and toured it. Our next production Two Sisters was nominated at the MEN Theatre awards and Pretty Witty Nell my one woman show toured for two years (Blimey, how did I manage that?) Our main aims are to continue surviving and entertaining as many people as possible with our tales.

Do you prefer writing to performing and what do you enjoy about both?
I love both equally. They fulfil both sides of my nature. Acting is sociable, collaborative, scary, heightened in its experience.  Writing is ideally quieter, more reflective, a few hours alone here and there with no distractions talking to yourself.

Finally, if you were to tell our readers – why they should see French Fancies, what would you say?
French Fancies is a genuinely entertaining evening of songs, stories and a small amount of bodice ripping. By turns raucous and reflective. It’s a rollercoaster evening with quiet moments. We’ll make you laugh and only cry a little bit.

Caroline Harding was speaking to Glenn Meads

French Fancies is at The Lowry from 24 - 26 March and for more details, click here.


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