Jake Ferretti plays Josh Harper in The Understudy, a brand-new radio play broadcast in two parts to raise funds for the theatre industry which is facing a devastating impact from the Covid-19 health crisis. The Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield will split proceeds of this project with charities including the Theatre Development Trust (SOLT and UK Theatre), Acting for Others and Equity Charitable Trust.

Coming together at a time that matters the most, the stellar line-up cast includes Stephen Fry, Emily Atack, Sheila Atim, Layton Williams, Russell Tovey, Sarah Hadland, Mina Anwar and many more. Based on the novel by the best-selling author David Nicholls, and adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett, the cast and creative team have taken part completely in isolation.

You can tune in to listen to Jake Ferretti in The Understudy by buying a ticket for £5, all of which will go to help individuals and organisations struggling because of Coronavirus.  Tickets are on sale here.

You’re starring in Lawrence Batley Theatre’s brand-new online radio play – The Understudy, what can you tell us about it?

It’s a story about the underdog, which I know first-hand (having been an understudy) what that’s like and how it has the capacity to make you fizz with utter joy and excitement, but also tear you down and make you question, “what the hell am I doing with my life?”. Also, during these extraordinary times, pulling together for each other is now more important than ever, but that also means for things like theatre and the arts. I think the UK is the best place in the World for theatre and can also give so much to local communities, so to support theatres like the Lawrence Batley in Huddersfield, can be huge lifeline to those struggling.

What was it about David Nicholls novel, and Henry Filloux-Bennett’s adaptation of it, that made you want to be a part of it?

I read ’The Understudy’ years ago…..whilst being an understudy. I would NOT recommend matching the two together as it’s a brilliant, yet brutal book. It’s so gloriously written from someone who’s, obviously, experienced the acting world from the inside, so I felt a real affinity and connection to David’s work. I was also in ‘Nigel Slater’s Toast‘ last year at The Other Palace in London Victoria and so had worked with Henry too. I love his writing; he’s got a real dry sense of humour, which I am all about, but also a tenderness which sometimes completely stops you in your tracks, makes you pause and listen a little more intently. Plus, I get to play a character like ‘Josh’ who is an absolute dream for an actor! I love him!

Tell us more about your character, what is it you love about Josh?

I guess some could argue or view ‘Josh’ as the ‘villain’ of the piece; 12th Sexiest Man in the World, BAFTA-winning, possibly the next Bond, egomaniac. He’s everything that Stephen McQueen (the lead) is not. But, when we had the read-through, all I could feel was sorrow and pity for him. For me that feeling was palpable. Just ‘being’ Josh Harper on a day-to-day level is like a full-time job, but this wasn’t always the case for him. Granted, there are parts of his personality that are not great and, as he says himself, he has a tendency to “chat shit sometimes”, but I found him deeply troubled and wildly scarred by the industry that he says is the only thing he has. His need for affirmation and validation makes him a very sensitive person, I love him for that – plus the hilarious, killer lines he has too.

It’s an amazing cast, was it tough not being in the same room for rehearsals and recording?

Yeah, not ideal. I had to re-record all my lines 3 times because I struggled to get decent sound levels from my flat. I absolutely love the rehearsal process; creating stories and banter amongst a small family that you may be with for up to, or longer than, a year. Trying to pitch your performance in a way that you THINK will be appropriate to how Russell, for instance, MAY pitch his was also super difficult. If you come into a scene with a huge offer, for instance, and Russell responds (in his recording) in a different way, you could sound like you’re in two completely different plays. I do want to pay special tribute to Alex Faye-Braithwaite, Annie May Fletcher and Sophie Galpin who weaved the music and scenes altogether from a cast of 14. They are the heroes of this production!

Did you learn anything about yourself as a performer having to work in isolation?

This may sound odd, but I was not loving being given free rein to work whenever I want! I think I work better when I know I have to be somewhere, have something ready, whatever. Also, I didn’t realise until this job how much I need that interaction with the cast – not just in a performance/rehearsal sense, but also in a community sense.

The Understudy about the industry and is raising money to support the theatre industry, why is that more important than ever?

It should be constantly important. I know there are a million and one people, places and things that should be cared for, obviously, but if this time has taught us anything it’s that we’re all important. We all need support. Maybe we took certain things for granted (I certainly did)? And that the things we cherish and hold dear may not always be there, so……how can we help each other? The charities that this play supports are fundamental to the members of our industry (an industry that brings in more than the Premier League!), so you’re not just buying a ticket, you’re providing assistance to those who occasionally struggle.

What would you say to anyone thinking of listening to The Understudy?

Who knows how long our current global situation will continue. If this is to be the very beginning of a ’new normal’ in the acting industry, then you are at its inauguration, which is pretty cool, no? There will be some gorgeously familiar voices in this play and some delicious voices that you may never have heard of (like myself), but I know what we have created together will titillate and tease, will delight and enchant…..and all for a fiver? Bargain! Enjoy!

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly


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