Q&A with The Falcon’s Malteser’s Feargus Woods Dunlop and Heather Westwell
| By Jade Ali
The acclaimed stage adaptation from New Old Friends brings Anthony Horowitz’s hilarious novel to life for a strictly limited season this summer at London’s Vaults. Tickets for The Falcon Malteser are in high demand and it’s not surprising as this play is set to have audiences laughing out loud every night, starting 17 July 2019.
This hugely acclaimed show stars just four actors who brilliantly take on dozens of roles, two of which include the brothers Tim and Nick from the Diamond Brothers Detective Agency. With comedy songs and a fully staged car chase scene, this production is set to cause an unforgettable whirlwind this summer. Before this production opens later this month, I got to talk to the creators Feargus Woods Dunlop and Heather Westwell from the award-winning company New Old Friends and ask questions all about their latest great work! Read below to see what they had to say…
Q&A with Feargus Woods Dunlop and Heather Westwell
1. You run a multi-award-winning company, New Old Friends, that is designed to bring about accessible shows that will entertain wider audiences with the purpose of making them laugh. Why did you decide to make a career out of making people laugh?
Feargus: Without wishing to sound too pretentious, I’m not sure I ever did decide. Not formally anyway. I had a pretty rough time at school with bullying and probably conform to the cliché of using comedy to deflect the negative and make friends. But now that it is a career, I couldn’t be happier, without that experience at school I don’t think I would have got here.
Heather: It’s the best feeling in the world. I’ve always performed to friends and family, and just love making people laugh.
2. New Old Friends, brought you two together, do you think your productions have the power to bring other people together and in what way?
F: It would be nice to think so. Our work is unashamedly optimistic and joyful, which in today’s climate is a nice tonic. Hopefully, we can unite people in laughter and send them out of the theatre feeling better about themselves.
H: Then as they’re feeling good, maybe they meet the love of their lives, have the confidence to say hi, and another ‘New Old Friends’ is born!
3. What was it about Anthony Horowitz’s novel The Falcon’s Malteser that made you think it was suitable to be adapted for stage?
F: It was all Heather’s idea.
H: Feargus was reading the book for a summer school he was leading and kept laughing throughout. He gave it to me to read once he’d finished and I just kept thinking what a wonderful stage show it would make. Nick narrates the book, which lends itself well to direct audience address, which is a theatrical technique we use a lot in our work.
F: A long time ago I dabbled in bad stand-up but talking directly to an audience can be a powerful and lovely thing.
4. Is The Falcon’s Malteser funny for audiences of all ages or do you have a target audience in mind?
H: The official guidance is 8+ as there are a few bits that are scary (plus it’s 80 minutes straight through) but we work hard to put jokes in there for everyone.
F: The book is genuinely beloved by lots of older people who read it 30 years ago, and there are moments in the show that appeals to adults more so than younger people, but always with the goal of it being an enjoyable and inclusive family trip.
5. Why did you make the decision to have four actors playing multiple roles and do you think this boosts the humour factor?
F: Honestly, it was originally driven by budgets as well as creatively.
H: That’s true, but one of our favourite stage shows ever is The 39 Steps and we wanted to borrow some of that energy and hilarity.
F: This show doesn’t have quite as many characters as that, but there is so much joy to be had seeing an actor transform from one character to another.
H: Sometimes in the same scene!
6. The production has already received a mass of critical acclaim, do you think audiences and critics in London will receive the play in the same way?
H: We certainly hope so!
F: It’s a great story that Anthony has written, and we are just trying to serve that as best we can. I think as long as people recognise these characters we should, hopefully, be OK.
7. You have a fully staged car chase scene, how technical/difficult is this to pull off and if so, is it worth it?
F: It was a challenge to achieve in the style of the piece we’re presenting, but audiences have always got a real kick out of seeing it presented.
H: We are very proudly ‘theatrical’ in our work, and love the audience being able to see how effects are being achieved. This is a classic example of it, it is definitely a car chase, but also definitely something else.
8. New Old Friends has many productions under its belt but what’s next for the company? What are you aiming for?
F: Up next we’re touring Crimes On The Coast for a second time this autumn (it originally toured last year as Crimes Under the Sun). That show is an adult comedy thriller inspired by Christie Coward and The 39 Steps once more.
H: Then at Christmas, we are co-producing The Swiss Family Robinson with the Core at Corby Cube, in association with Imagine Theatre and the Albany Theatre Coventry. We’re really excited by it; it’s a very imaginative and theatrical take on the classic family story.
9. The company seems to have a preference for adaptations, how do you go about finding the next story to adapt?
F: Our adaptations have only really been for our family work; the adult shows tend to be original. I think it is probably due to us not yet having a young family of our own, and so when we venture into that world, we want to know the underlying story appeals to that generation.
H: In terms of how we choose them, images and staging ideas tend to come first. Then we add jokes and tweak characters.
10. Do you have original works, and would you like to produce an original production? Do you think your adaptations have given you the knowledge on what works well with an audience?
F: Yes, we do have original works. The ‘Crimes…’ series of comedy thrillers are all original stories although they are often inspired by Christie’s settings.
H: We’re very lucky, they’ve been hugely popular with audiences around the country. They’re a lot of fun to do.
11. Your productions have been staged across the UK; do you hope to have your productions run in the West End? Is Broadway on the horizon?
H: We hope to make as many people laugh as we can. We love touring and are passionate about regional theatre. But if the opportunity arose to present our work in one of the biggest theatre hubs in the world, we’d be thrilled. But I wouldn’t say it is an outright goal of ours.
F: Yeah, as long as we can continue creating work and making people happy, that would be brilliant for us.
12. In three words, why should people get their tickets for The Falcon’s Malteser?
F: Fast, Family, Fun.
H: It’s very funny.
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