Cell at Christ Church St Leonards

Cell at Christ Church St Leonards

A couple of articles from 2023 that deal with Cell

Hastings Independent Press

Cindy Oswin’s Cell

ELIZABETH ALLEN on Cindy Oswin – writer, librettist, actor, academic – and her new one-act play showcasing and interrogating Julian of Norwich

“All shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” 

Cindy Oswin

Many people will recognise this lyrical expression of ultimate hope, but not everyone will know that the lines form part of a text written by Dame Julian of Norwich, the first woman known to have written in the English language.This year is the 650th anniversary of the publication of that text, Revelations of Divine Love, and Dame Julian is the subject of Cell, a one-act play written and performed by Cindy Oswin and soon to be staged at Christ Church in St Leonards.

Dame Julian is a wonderfully interesting subject. Having lived through a severe illness and the terrible years of the Black Death, which killed off nearly half the population of Norwich, as an older woman she chose to become an anchorite, and lived for nearly forty years enclosed in a small cell. As a visionary and wise woman, she became a national celebrity, and numerous visitors came for counsel, communicating with her through a tiny window called a squint.

Read more at Hastings Independent press…

Hastings Online Times

650 years of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations

Cindy Oswin has a remarkable career as actor, director and writer. Her most recent commission was to write a play about the mystic, Julian of Norwich. The result is Cell – a one-person play about this mysterious woman with a man’s name who spent nearly 40 years locked into a 12 foot square room. Erica Smith asked Cindy to tell her more…

Cell is based on the life and work of Julian of Norwich, who was the first woman to write in English. Julian was a medieval mystic, who chose to be enclosed in a cell – women who elected to do this were called ‘Anchoresses’. They would sometimes have a small window where women from the congregation could come to ask them for advice.

Read more at Hastings Online Times

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on Stage

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on Stage

I was involved in the very first stage production of ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, directed by Ken Campbell at the ICA (Institute for Contemporary Arts) in the Mall, London, from May 1-9th in 1979. His company was called appropriately, The Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool.

When we began rehearsals, the BBC radio version was already up and running and had a growing audience. Peter Jones was playing the ‘book’ or narrator of the series. Ken decided that for the stage version, two female actors could share the narration, both to be dressed as ‘space maidens’. I arrived at the ICA one afternoon to talk to Ken about my upcoming application to the Arts Council to be his assistant director and there and then, found myself with a part in the show. That was typical of Ken, a kind of Anarchist/Taoist approach to life and casting. “Well Cindy happened to be there at the time” he explained. Together with Maya Sendall, the other actor playing the book of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I set about learning the huge number of lines. We started well in advance of rehearsals because we introduced and commented on every scene. Our costumes were made by Mavis Taylor and consisted of black and gold leotards with shiny pink tights and high heels. On our heads we wore gold caps to which were attached wobbling, gold antennae and to finish off the look, we had little black capes lined with gold satin, high gold collars and the words ‘Don’t Panic’ written on the back in bright pink letters. Ken suggested we also wore pointed gold bras on the outside of our costumes, like Modesty Blaise. I only agreed if mine could be used as a gag, more of which later.

The ICA had a small theatre space, insufficient really to create the illusion of an epic space journey; so Ken Campbell came up with the brilliant idea of sending the audience into space by seating them on a hovercraft, which would move around from scene to scene, using the full 360 degrees of the theatre floor. He managed to get the firm Rolair systems to lend us a small hovercraft, plus the air cushions on which it would sit. Mike Hurst built a wooden platform for the auditorium and placed it on top, which meant that the whole structure floated on an inch or two of air. There would be seating for eighty people, plus two of us ‘space maidens’ standing as flight attendants for the entire journey. (Health and Safety, I might add was not such an issue 40 years ago).

The opening scene where Arthur Dent learns from Ford Prefect that the earth is about to end, took place in the ICA bar. As you may already know, the unpleasant and bureaucratic Vogons had made plans to destroy earth in order to make way for an intergalactic bypass. The audience was prepared for the end-of-the-world and the beginning of their space journey by drinking Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters – a wonderful cocktail of a violent blue colour, specially created to a secret recipe by a cocktail barman from a famous London hotel. It was extremely strong and certainly put the audience in a good mood for the theatrical cosmic adventure which was to follow! The entire first scene, with John Joyce as the builder; Arthur Dent – played by Chris Langham and Richard Hope as Ford Prefect, had a great sense of urgency and impending doom. There were suitable crashing sound effects of bulldozers destroying Arthur’s house, while from the open door of the theatre came the roar of spaceship engines about to take off. As the scene ended, we space stewardesses rushed the audience into the smoke-filled auditorium with the encouraging announcement, “Don’t Panic!” Inside we helped them to clamber up rather rickety steps onto the hovercraft. Once seated, there was an enormous bang and, amid even more clouds of smoke, the hovercraft rose into the air, (actually about six inches but gave the impression of being much higher). Then the craft did a smooth 360-degree turn and rushed forward swiftly to stop in front of a narrow ledge on the theatre wall, where stood Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, (the actors were supported on the ledge by wires) apparently in the air-lock of their rescue spaceship. The disoriented but thrilled audience were now right bang up against the action.

After this short scene in the airlock, the audience were whisked around once more to the back of the theatre and then, accompanied by loud music and more smoke, the hovercraft was rushed forward to land in the brightly lit
interior of the Heart of Gold spaceship, where Trillian and her team of space travellers were waiting to greet them.
Trillian was played by Sue Jones-Davies (who went on to be Brian’s girlfriend in ‘Life Of Brian’.) The very hot costume for the two-headed schizophrenic Zaphod Beeblebrox was inhabited by Mitch Davies and Stephen Williams. Marvin the paranoid android was Russell Denton who had played the lead in ‘The Warp’ – the twenty-four-hour piece we presented at the ICA the year before, also directed by Ken Campbell (which entered the Guinness Book of Records as the longest show ever.)

There then followed ninety minutes of riveting space adventure as the audience’s ‘spaceship’ (pushed into place by hardworking stagehands), was moved around the Galaxy from platform to ledge all around the theatre space for each scene. We space maidens officiating on the hovercraft were close enough to the audience (practically sitting on their laps, the platform was so small) to register all their reactions, which was great fun, if sometimes rather alarming. One night, my mother was seated near the front and, as a result of probably too much Gargleblaster, responded loudly to every rhetorical question, which the rest of the audience loved and laughed along with, but deeply embarrassed me and impaired my concentration on the many, many lines we had to remember. We did, however, have a big bound copy of The Book to refer to but we hardly ever did.

At one point, the text referred to “Things not always being what they seem…” and it was then that I pulled off my goldy pointy space bra to reveal that it was attached to the two springs of a ‘slinky’ and the two peaks bobbed away on them in front of the audience – a cheap laugh but a big one!

In that limited run at the ICA, we became the hottest show in town. This was after a slow start leading up to the opening, where we ‘space maidens’ would have to hang around the box office in our silly costumes and encourage the punters to book for the show. Then there was suddenly a huge demand for tickets, because of the previews, plus the novelty of riding about on the hovercraft – which held only 80 people. We could have sold out many, many times and there was a long queue for returns stretching down the Mall, every day for the whole run. I was phoned by people I barely knew, who were trying to get tickets but of course, I had no control over bookings. Writer Douglas Adams loved the show and always maintained it was his favourite.

At the end of the run at the ICA, I was asked by Douglas and producer Geoffrey Perkins, to record for two audio albums of Hitchhiker. So in July that year, I went along to the studios and recorded Trillian and all the other female voices on ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ and ‘The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.’ I understand that both albums are available on CD and vinyl.

Hitchhikers Guide Anniversary

Hitchhikers Guide Anniversary

2020 was the 42nd anniversary of the first incarnation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – the hugely successful spoof science fiction written by Douglas Adams, originally as a series for BBC Radio 4. And on Sunday, March 8th 2020 there was a day-long celebration of the anniversary at the British Library in London. I was be taking part in readings from the play and answering questions on a panel.

I was involved in the very first stage production, directed by Ken Campbell at the ICA (Institute for Contemporary Arts) in the Mall, London, from May 1-9th in 1979. His company was called appropriately, The Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool.

When we began rehearsals, the BBC radio version was already up and running and had a growing audience. Peter Jones was playing the ‘book’ or narrator of the series. Ken decided that for the stage version, two female actors could share the narration, both to be dressed as ‘space maidens’. I arrived at the ICA one afternoon to talk to Ken about my upcoming application to the Arts Council to be his assistant director and there and then, found myself with a part in the show. That was typical of Ken, a kind of anarchist/Taoist approach to life and casting. “Well Cindy happened to be there at the time” he explained. Together with Maya Sendall, the other actor playing the book of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I set about learning the huge number of lines. We started well in advance of rehearsals because we introduced and commented on every scene. Our costumes were made by Mavis Taylor and consisted of black and gold leotards with shiny pink tights and high heels. On our heads we wore gold caps to which were attached wobbling, gold antennae and to finish off the look, we had little black capes lined with gold satin, high gold collars and the words ‘Don’t Panic’ written on the back in bright pink letters. Ken suggested we also wore pointed gold bras on the outside of our costumes, like Modesty Blaise. I only agreed if mine could be used as a gag, more of which later.

The ICA had a small theatre space, insufficient really to create the illusion of an epic space journey; so Ken Campbell came up with the brilliant idea of sending the audience into space by seating them on a hovercraft, which would move around from scene to scene, using the full 360 degrees of the theatre floor. He managed to get the firm Rolair systems to lend us a small hovercraft, plus the air cushions on which it would sit. Mike Hirst built a wooden platform for the auditorium and placed it on top, which meant that the whole structure floated on an inch or two of air. There would be seating for eighty people, plus two of us ‘space maidens’ standing as flight attendants for the entire journey. (Health and Safety, I might add were not such an issue 40 years ago)

The opening scene where Arthur Dent learns from Ford Prefect that the earth is about to end, took place in the ICA bar. As you may already know, the unpleasant and bureaucratic Vogons had made plans to destroy earth in order to make way for an intergalactic bypass. The audience was prepared for the end-of-the-world and the beginning of their space journey by drinking Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters – a wonderful cocktail of a violent blue colour, specially created to a secret recipe by a cocktail barman from a famous London hotel. It was extremely strong and certainly put the audience in a good mood for the cosmic theatre adventure which was to follow. That entire first scene with John Joyce as the builder; Arthur Dent played by Chris Langham and Richard Hope as Ford Prefect, had a great sense of urgency and impending doom. There were suitable crashing sound effects of bulldozers destroying Arthur’s house, while from the open door of the theatre came the roar of spaceship engines about to take off. As the scene ended, we space stewardesses immediately rushed the audience into the smoke-filled auditorium with the encouraging announcement, “Don’t Panic”. Inside we helped them to clamber up rather rickety steps onto the hovercraft. Once seated, there was an enormous bang and, amid even more clouds of smoke, the hovercraft rose into the air, (actually about six inches but gave the impression of being much higher). Then the craft did a smooth 360-degree turn and rushed forward swiftly to stop in front of a narrow ledge on the theatre wall, where stood Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, (the actors were supported on the ledge by wires) apparently in the air-lock of their rescue spaceship. The disoriented but thrilled audience were now right bang up against the action.

After this short scene in the airlock, the audience were whisked around once more to the back of the theatre and then, accompanied by loud music and more smoke, the hovercraft was rushed forward to land in the brightly lit interior of the Heart of Gold spaceship, where Trillion and her team of space travellers were waiting to greet them.
(Trillion was played by Sue Jones-Davies who went on to be Brian’s girlfriend in Life Of Brian ). The very hot costume for the two-headed schizophrenic Zaphod Beeblebrox was inhabited by Mitch Davies and Stephen Williams. Marvin the paranoid android was Russell Denton who had played the lead in The Warp – the twenty-four-hour piece we had presented at the ICA the year before, also directed by Ken Campbell (which entered the Guinness Book of Records as the longest show ever.)

There then followed ninety minutes of riveting space adventure as the audience’s ‘spaceship’ (pushed into place by hardworking stagehands), was moved around the Galaxy from platform to ledge all around the theatre space for each scene. We space maidens officiating on the hovercraft, were close enough to the audience (practically sitting on their laps, the platform was so small) to register all their reactions, which was great fun, if sometimes rather alarming. On one night, my mother was seated near the front and, as a result of probably too much Gargleblaster, responded loudly to every rhetorical question, which the rest of the audience loved and laughed along with, but deeply embarrassed me and impaired my concentration on the many, many lines we had to remember. We did, however, have a big bound copy of The Book’ to refer to but we hardly ever did.

At one point, the text referred to “Things not always being what they seem…” and it was then that I pulled off my goldy pointy space bra to reveal that it was attached to the two springs of a ‘slinky’ and the two peaks bobbed away on them in front of the audience – a cheap laugh but a big one!

In that limited run at the ICA, we became the hottest show in town. This was after a slow start leading up to the opening, where we ‘space maidens’ would have to hang around the box office in our silly costumes and encourage the punters to book for the show. Then there was suddenly a huge demand for tickets, because of the previews, plus the novelty of riding about on the hovercraft – which held only 80 people. We could have sold out many, many times and there was a long queue for returns stretching down the Mall, every day for the whole run. I was phoned by people I barely knew, who were trying to get tickets but of course, I had no control over bookings. Writer Douglas Adams loved the show and always maintained it was his favourite.

At the end of the run at the ICA, I was asked by Douglas and producer Geoffrey Perkins, to record for two audio albums of Hitchhiker. So in July that year, I went along to the studios and recorded Trillion and all the other female voices on The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I understand that both albums have recently become available on CD. – Cindy Oswin

Through the Back Door

Through the Back Door

“You can’t stand there, don’t you know there’s a rehearsal going on?” A big woman hissed at me from out of the gloom, as I stood waiting anxiously with my suitcase. I had found my way as per instructions – come in through the blue door in Sacheveral Street and up the steps on the left – it couldn’t properly be called a Stage Door – really the back entrance to the scene dock and the steps were wet and rickety. Once inside the darkened theatre, I was drawn, moth-like, to the wings of the brightly lit stage, when this actress in a large red hat appeared – not the stage manager I had expected. As I began to introduce myself, she immediately shushed me, “Not now, come with me.” I followed her past the prompt desk, with its panel of glowing cue lights and little mirrored spy hole; I wanted to stop and have a good look at everything but had no choice but to follow her down some stone steps into a big shabby room full of sagging sofas and overflowing ashtrays.

Voice Coaching

The Green Room was the actors’ hang-out and had a little kitchen attached. I was informed that was where I would make the tea for the company during rehearsals; Sam, the fireman would make tea during the performances. And I may as well start at once, as the company would break in a minute and would be parched, and no sugar for her as she took sweeteners. “By the way, my name is Mary Lainé with an acute accent over the E and not a Y. I know it’s a bore but do try to remember.” With that, she swept from the room.

The Stage Director came in as I was looking for the kettle and informed me that there wasn’t one and that I should set the water heater over the sink to ‘boil.’ Linda was the boss of backstage. She was of slight built with short blond hair and thick glasses. Over the next few weeks I came to appreciate her quiet authority and surprising physical strength. Next in line was the Stage Manager Geoff, who would be my immediate boss in the theatre hierarchy. He wandered in and grunted a greeting at me and then stared balefully at the reluctant boiler. Mary Lainé, I learned, was the leading lady and Michael Hall, the leading man. Ian Cooper, who had given me the job a few weeks ago, was the Artistic Director of Derby Playhouse.

I continued to wait for the boiler to actually do something before rehearsals ended, when the door next to me crashed open and a group of actors ran into the Green Room, lighting cigarettes and laughing. They were all pale from the long hours working in artificial light. I was introduced to all of them and promptly forgot their names, apart from Michael’s, he was older than the rest and seemed rather grand in his immaculate suit, but welcomed me warmly.

Everyone helped me to find tea things and pile a huge tray with mugs, milk, sugar and a big brown tea pot. I carried it carefully through the Pass Door and into the auditorium, where I placed it on the edge of the stage. From there, I shakily poured out about twelve teas. Mary declared hers to be “Gnatspistic,” which I had some difficulty in decoding, but eventually realised it was a pejorative reference to the urine of an insect. And that one of the most important things in my new theatre life was to regularly make a decent, strong beverage for the company. I was to run the Tea Club, collect money from everyone and then pay the bill at the end of the week in the shop across the road. Mary privately informed me that if I didn’t make money from this crucial job, then I was an idiot. After that shaky beginning, Mary became my ally and mentor.

The fact was, that although I now had a full time job, there was to be no money attached to this position of Student Assistant Stage Manager, I was the lowest of the low in the company. My mother gave me ten shillings a week for my living expenses, which I knew she scraped together from her work at the Electricity Board.

My job, apart from tea making, was ‘propping’ which meant going all round the shops in Derby and persuade them to lend their wares for the various shows. We were in fortnightly rep. so this was a regular task. The shopkeepers lent their china and furniture willingly, in exchange for an advert in the programme. Sometimes I was to be ‘On the Book’ – a much more responsible job which meant writing down all the actor’s moves in the Prompt Script, while sitting next to Ian, the director in the front stalls, as the rehearsal progressed on stage. I had to be careful to reverse left and right in the prompt copy, to accommodate the stage directions from the actor’s point of view. I was to learn to always be on the ball in following the script and be very careful with my prompts, in case I interrupted an actor with an inappropriate cue, while they were enjoying a dramatic pause; then they would yell “Don’t tell me – I know it, I know it.”

With the show changing every two weeks, the company was always in rehearsal for the next one, which put tremendous pressure on the leading actors. They were continually learning new lines for the coming show, while performing the present one at night. Rehearsals ran from 10.30 till 2pm so that gave time for rest and study before the evening show at 7.30.

That first evening, I was surprised to be asked to operate the sound for the show which was Tartuffe by Moliere. Although it was a small rep company, they attempted a wide range of work – from the classics, through to pot boilers like Sailor Beware as well as serious contemporary plays by Tennessee Williams and Max Frisch. And they also produced a musical comedy and a home grown pantomime, every year.

Linda took me up the metal ladder, into the flies. All along the gallery was a huge lighting board with levers and switches which had to be operated by hand. It looked like a railway signal box. Ronnie was the lighting man, blond, handsome and prone to moodiness. At the far end of the bank of levers was a desk, with a record turntable and a big tape recorder. It was called a Panatrope and tonight, I was the panatrope operator. “There aren’t many sound cues in Tartuffe so you should be fine,” said Linda, “But Ronnie will keep an eye on you.” So after giving me instructions and a little practice, she left me to it.

I stared hard at the red Stand By cue light on my desk and poised the needle over the groove on the record. I could hear the audience, muffled through the big safety curtain ─ called The Iron ─ dividing the back of the house from the front. Then it rose and the chatter became louder. My cue light flashed green, the signal from Linda in the prompt corner – I lowered the needle, the house lights went down, then a great brightness came up on stage with a lot of whirring and clanking of levers and cogs from Ronnie’s end of the gallery. The audience fell silent as the opening of Prokoviev’s Classical Symphony sounded, bang on cue, at exactly the right level, as per instructions. The play began.

Up in the dusty darkness with the little winking cue lights, looking down on the well-lit top of Michael’s big curly wig, I felt a huge surge of happiness. “Yes, I am here at last, I’m really working in the theatre.”

– Cindy Oswin

Welcome to My Voice Coach

Welcome to My Voice Coach

Public Speaking Coaching

I hope this brand new website will help you find effective ways of having a clearer, more relaxed and stronger speaking voice, as well as giving you tried and tested tips for dealing with any nervous moments before speaking in public. The vocal techniques and relaxation exercises, all tailored to your specific needs – will give you more control in presentations, interviews and speeches in your career and social situations.

My Voice Coach exercises will not aim to take away your accent – it is absolutely part of who you are. But communicating with a clear speaking voice is essential in today’s work environment; we all know that misunderstandings in speech can often lead to errors in outcomes. So we will look at ways of being understood more clearly by other people and how to improve your listening skills.

I do hope you enjoy your tour around the website and if you would like to ask me anything more about the coaching, do drop me a line by email – cindy@myvoicecoach.co.uk