ROTHERHAM Rep’s Liz Cooper has enjoyed two spells with the theatre group over the course of 30 years. She talked us through her favourite shows, and revealed how one Civic run put her off oranges for good.
Q: How did you first come to find a passion for drama — and end up joining the Rep?
A: I’ve had two goes at being in the Rep. The first time was 1990-ish and, after some time away, I rejoined about five years ago.
First time around, I was doing A Levels at Thomas Rotherham College and I discovered, much to my huge surprise, that I was really interested in drama.
My previous secondary school didn’t do it as a subject but I loved it at TRC when I gave it a go.
Stuart Lister (the late long-time Rep director and chairman) “interviewed” me when I joined and before I knew it, I was cast as Barbara in Billy Liar. I remember having to eat a lot of oranges on stage. And I hate oranges! That still makes me feel a bit sick thinking about it!
Q: What other plays from your early days in the Rep bring back memories?
A: I did a few more plays while doing my A Levels, including Sailor Beware, a 1950s comedy.
This time I was working with the marvellous Christine Charlton who played my aunt Emma — a full blooded harridan — and the much missed Dawn Waudby as my much meeker Aunt Edie.
Every night we sat down to tea on stage. One night, one of Christine’s lines caused a riot of laughter in the audience and we all just looked at each other and exploded into giggles. Boiled ham and lettuce sprayed the front row. That did nothing at all to stop our hilarity!
How we got through that scene I’ll never know. That’s when I found the first real joy of being in the Rep.
Having fun with people I would never have met otherwise- such is the diversity of characters in the Rep.
Q: You’ve not just stuck to acting roles, have you?
A: I had my first crack at directing through the Rep. When I was 18, Stuart asked if I’d like to direct the Young Rep’s production of Gregory’s Girl at the old Arts Centre.
That’s where my love of direction started. Having an overview of a show from start to finish: planning lighting, sound effects, projection, character development and movement and seeing what you imagine in your head becoming reality in front of your eyes. That love, which got me directing umpteen school productions, began in the Rep and had been a constant channel of creativity in my life.
I stayed in the Rep through university, travelling up and down the M1 to and from Leeds, and I think the last play I did before teaching and real life took over was Fur Coat and No Knickers in around 1995.
Q: What have been your highlights since you rejoined the Rep as a “grown-up”?
A: I’ve realised that learning lines has slipped my grasp and I’ve had the pleasure of directing some brilliant productions.
One play that stands out is Neville’s Island, which we put on in 2017 — such a superb cast.
I’ve never laughed as much as I did with Roger Green, Shaun McHale, Steve Coward and Nic Longmore.
From flooding my bathroom to record the sound of a man decapitating a trout with a mobile phone to unveiling my dubious karaoke skills as Denise from planning on the party boat, I loved it.
I was fantastic working with such a hugely variety of experience. Rog has been in the Rep for 50-odd years and Nic just a couple.
That set I designed and the unsung hero of backstage, Tony Carver, built was amazing.
And the sight of Rog coming “over the top” like the creature from the black lagoon every night never failed to entertain me or the audiences.
That’s when the second thing about being in the Rep hit me — if you can’t have a laugh putting on a production then what’s the point?
Q: Are there any other productions you’re particularly proud of?
A: Brassed Off. I’ve never seen the Civic sold out and we sold out the whole run.
I’ve never received so many emails, texts, social media posts and cards before from people who saw it and wanted to congratulate us on the production.
I even received one or two emotional ones telling me what the production had brought back and meant to them.
Again, it was made by an outrageously talented cast (above) — Roger, Shaun, Mark Hone, Trish Lister, Yvette Sayles, Richard Wilshaw, Leah Culf, Polly Lovegrove and loads of others, including the much loved and missed Sheila Kay plus the lovely folk of Rotherham Town Brass Band.
I loved picking Harrison Smith — who was 12 at the time — to join us in the narrator’s role of Shane. It was his first time on stage and he blew us all away. And then to do it all again in the marquee at the Rotherham Show just topped off a truly magical experience.
Q: Besides the serious – or not-so-serious on-stage and backstage business, what else do you enjoy about being in the Rep?
A: Friendship. I’ve made some friends for life. Some are from my first stint in the 90s and others from the next generation of young Rep members, like Harrison and Jack O’Boyle from An Evening with Gary Lineker, which I also directed.
That’s what makes me proud of being a member of Rotherham Rep.