Shook was due to transfer to the West End. Then coronavirus hit and theatres closed for the first time in a century.
Shook won the 2019 Papatango New Writing Prize, being nominated for 7 OffWestEnd Awards and The Stage Debut Award for Best Writer for its creator Samuel Bailey.
This February, a filmed capture of the original world premiere, revived in collaboration with a BAFTA-winning filmmaker, will be shared via Papatango Theatre Company’s website.
Bailey’s play is inspired by true stories and looks at three young offenders who are due to become fathers while incarcerated. As Cain, Riyad and Jonjo embark on parenting classes under the instruction of Grace, their different histories slowly emerge and their different futures take shape.
We spoke with Andrea Hall, who plays Grace, to find out more about the journey Shook has been on, and why she thinks the play was such a critical success…
Please introduce yourself?
Andrea Hall, born and bred Londoner, actor.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.
Shook first premiered at Southwark Playhouse in November of 2019. Did you have a sense from the outset that the play would be so well received critically?
I knew it was a great play and that there was definitely an audience for it. That said, I was still blown away by the response from both audiences and critics. The combination of Sam’s wonderful writing, George’s clever and snappy direction, and the ridiculous talent of Ivan, Josh, and Josef meant that we were really in tune with each other and I think the audience responded to that. I remember watching the guys for the first time very early in the rehearsal process and thinking ‘they could perform this in front of an audience tomorrow and we still have two weeks left’.
However, I was still really struck by how the play affected people across the board from young to old and from seasoned theatre-goers to those for whom Shook was their first experience of live theatre. Obviously, you want your work to be well-received, but ultimately, it’s not something you have control over. I try to focus my energy on what is in my control and that means serving the story to the best of my ability. I am just so proud of this play and everyone involved, both on and off stage.
After receiving such critical acclaim, the play was due to transfer to the West End, then coronavirus hit. How far has the pandemic affected your work in the last year?
There are many people in the creative industry and across all walks of life who are really struggling for various reasons, so I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had these past 10 months. It was disappointing not to be able to take Shook to a wider audience in the West End. I had also just filmed an episode for a T.V drama and was due to film for the same show again the week we went into lockdown. Those episodes would have aired just after the Shook run ended and to get that momentum going would have been great as work tends to lead to more work. I then had something similar happen towards the end of the year where filming got postponed due to Covid but I then couldn’t do the new dates as I was filming Shook! I’ve also filmed a couple of monologues for online viewing (including one for Papatango) so although there have been a few setbacks, I’ve had doors open in other areas.
Do you have any tips for how to navigate this third lockdown?
I put my energy into staying connected to the people who uplift me. I try to eat healthily as much as possible, though if I want to indulge I will as I’ve always had a sweet tooth. I also try and do some resistance training at least twice a week as it does wonders for my mood. Otherwise, I’ll do some kind of movement every day even if it’s just to dance to some old favourites. I also try and get outside at least once a day which means fighting my natural urge to hibernate when the weather is cold.
My friend Manjeet Mann had her first book Run Rebel Run, a beautiful verse novel, published last year. I read it during lockdown and it reminded me of so many conversations we had about how important it is for us to tell our own stories. I have found it so inspiring that her first novel is receiving critical acclaim now. I’ve also found myself revisiting Iyanla Vanzant’s Acts Of Faith. There is a lot of ‘noise’ around at the moment and her meditations keep me focused on what is important to me.
The National Theatre’s Death Of England: Delroy was incredibly powerful. Michael Balogun’s energy practically leaped out of the screen and reminded me how much I miss live theatre and why I believe the industry will come back stronger on the other side of this. And I loved Bridgerton, it has been the perfect antidote.
How did you feel when you received the news that a filmed version of the original world premiere would be shared?
I was so excited [that] it would potentially reach a wider audience than in the West End. And I was thrilled when I heard James Bobin would be on board so audiences would get something more than just a straight transfer of a live show onto film. I genuinely felt like Shook had further to go and this feels like absolutely the right way to tell this story at this time. And of course, it was great being able to work with the company again albeit for only a short period of time. It was all still there so I think it must be in our DNA now. Shook is the kind of play I would have watched and said ‘that’s the kind of theatre I want to do’. As an actor, it has been a huge gift.
So, you play Grace, the woman tasked with the job of turning Cain, Riyad and Jonjo into parents. Do you see any aspects of yourself in Grace?
I think she’s just like me.
The trailer for Shook includes your poignant line: “This moment in your life, this place here doesn’t have to define you, doesn’t have to define your life.” Have you ever felt yourself to be in an impossible situation, and how did you navigate your way out?
I have found that being honest about what I was feeling and then speaking that truth to someone who I felt safe with, whether that’s a been a friend, family, colleague, or acquaintance, has provided me with the strength and support that I have needed at the time.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the numerous ways in which the government fails to protect the most vulnerable members of society. Do you think Shook offers any thoughts on how society can better protect the futures of young people?
I think the beauty of Sam’s writing is that he doesn’t try and give you any solutions but simply presents three teenage boys, gives you some insight into their world and how they think, and then leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions. He also reminds you that these young people are more than just statistics, they are boys who are smart and funny but whose environments have made it difficult for them to choose a different path.
The intervention needs to come much sooner than by the time they are already in a Young Offenders Institution. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is any political will to invest the resources into eradicating child poverty, providing adequate schooling for all, providing aid to parents who can’t cope, youth centres, better housing, homelessness, etc etc. I do think Shook has the power to change perceptions but will those able to affect change come and see it? Do they even care?
Have you got any other projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
I can’t mention anything specific, but I am excited about how our industry is going to respond to the events of last year. I think we are going to see some really interesting storytelling.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
- A book you have to have in your collection? – The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
- A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – Janet Jackson – Control
- A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? – The Matrix – Interestingly, the pandemic has forced many of us to swallow the red pill.
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? – A production of Return To The Forbidden Planet at the Tricycle Theatre (now Kiln Theatre) in Kilburn where I grew up. It was a school trip and I’m not sure how old I was, but I just remember watching the performers and thinking ‘I want to do THAT!’
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – Nothing has made me sad, it’s been a good week. I haven’t watched much news recently so am relatively calm as I was fed up with being mad! I’m continually glad for my friends who have been making sure I am ok.
Shook will be available to watch from 5 to 28 February 2021. Find out more here.