Sophie Arthur

‘By The Waters of Liverpool’: An Interview with Nathan McMullen

You may recognise Nathan from his recent performances at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre in productions including ‘Paint Your Wagon’, but he recently took on a new role in the adaptation of Helen Forrester’s ‘By The Waters Of Liverpool’.

You weren’t in the previous production of ‘Twopence’ were you? How did you find coming into this cast completely fresh?

No, I wasn’t but it was absolutely fine. You just have to dive in head first and hope that everyone will welcome you and thankfully they have!

What’s it like to be able to play a part in the telling of a true story?

Extremely humbling to be able to play a true character. You just hope that you can bring it to life in the way that Helen intended – and Rob as well, in his adaptation. Hopefully we bring a truthfulness and humanity to it that audience members can recognise.

Are there any elements you feel link to our lives nowadays?

I think for me it was more the anecdotes you might here from grandparents or people around that era. When you read the script, everyone’s got a little story about maybe their grandad or their next-door neighbour. Gareth, our director, talked about his dad growing up in Wrexham and looking over towards Liverpool during the blitz and it just being an orange glow. People wanting to share these stories with us, as actors, just makes you want to dive into it.

I also think it’s something that will always go on, is war. It will always be present in our lives unfortunately. It’s just in a different manner now. Rather than being thousands and thousands and thousands of people on the front line or signing up to some kind of service all around the country – it’s kind of a bit more specific now.

Tell me a little bit about the process in the rehearsal room. Was there a script to work from or did you work from the novel? How did you go about it?

Well, this is only our fourth day! It’s the shortest period I’ve ever had to work on a production to turn it around in two weeks and then put it on the stage, so it’s a challenge! It’s definitely a challenge! It’s just something where you’ve got no time to rest, all we can do is make sure that this production is ready and up-and-running on the day and that we’re proud of what we’ve created.

How did you find it different to working with the REP at the Everyman and Playhouse?

I think specifically that alone – diving in to two weeks of rehearsal. Whereas with ‘Paint Your Wagon’ [at the Everyman], it was 7 weeks after our initial meeting that it went up on stage. We had more time to click with all the actors and build a relationship, and even research the character. With this, any work that you might have done in a rehearsal room over 7 weeks, you’ve got to do beforehand to be able to come prepared.

How did you go about continuing the story from the first show? Did you go and see ‘Twopence To Cross The Mersey’ or read the books?

No, I didn’t get a chance to see it the first time, but fortunately I know one of the actors quite well who was in ‘Twopence’ and I managed to talk to him about it. I also spoke to Gareth and Rob, but it wasn’t something I’d seen before. I was just coming into it with a fresh pair of eyes.

What questions kept reoccurring in your rehearsal room? And perhaps then a secondary question of why this, why now?

I think a lot of it is the family life and a family that were coming from London to Liverpool, and adapting to the working conditions, and what it was like for the North of the country as opposed to the South with Chamberlain and Baldwin. There’s a scene between a newspaper seller, a pawnbroker and a butcher when they’re talking about government not caring about the North of England, and specifically Liverpool, and more recently, the likes of Thatcher being in government and not caring about the North of England. A lot can be said for that being very true for the likes of today.

How does the history of the world since this was written impact on the performance? Or do you just take it as it was presented on the script?

I think it’s staying true to what’s written on the page to begin with and then looking at the period. Times were very different, as in every walk of life, during 1930s and 1940s Liverpool, but, as humans, our sense of humour and our relationships that we form everyday with people are effectively still the same and the same qualities, so you can still draw from your own experiences and still bring that cheekiness – for my character – to life on the stage. For me it’s still finding that little sense of cheekiness or humour that transcends any decade.

How easy have you found it to portray the real relationships between the characters on a stage because naturally you’d want to do it justice?

Well, it’s a very different family household to the one I grew up in! It’s a lot more strict and stern, and I certainly wasn’t expected to go out and work at 14/15 to provide for the family – if I did, it was maybe a paper round to put a couple of quid in my pocket for the weekend! You just have to tap in to what it’s like for a family to have to go out and provide for a house of 10. It’s not just up to the mum and dad, you have to work in order to live and to help.

‘By The Waters of Liverpool’ is on at the Liverpool Empire until Saturday 13th October 2018.

‘Twopence To Cross The Mersey’ will be returning to the Liverpool Empire from Tuesday 11th – Saturday 15th June 2019.

All tickets can be booked here: https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/liverpool-empire/

Photo Credits and Feature Image: Anthony Robling

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