Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Playing the Princess of Pink

Claire Handley, currently studying Drama and French at Queen's University, Belfast, talks about playing one of the lead characters of "Popular" in this autumn's production - the radiant Miss Kerry Davison.

1. Claire, you're playing Kerry Davison in the first ever theatre production of Popular. Tell us a little bit about her.

Kerry Davison is the 15-year old princess of the popular clique. Her passions include pink, loveliness and attention on her. Kerry's best friends are Imogen Dawson and Cameron Matthews, also technically Meredith Harper, but Kerry and Meredith are prone to clashing, as Kerry does not always appreciate Meredith's tyrannical control of the group. Despite her outwardly fluffy demeanor, Kerry is also fiercely independent and most definitely not a subservient follower. Put it this way; if Kerry decides that she would like to wear a full pink ballgown complete with matching tiara to a casual house party, she will. Not pointing any fingers or anything, but I would like to point out that my own requests for a ballgown in the stage adaption of Popular fell on deaf ears.

2. You've spoken passionately in rehearsals about being a big fan of Kerry's. What about her makes you like this delightful being so much?

The thing I adore about Kerry, is the character's deceptiveness. At first, anyone might assume Kerry's just your typical one-dimensional airhead. In fact, Kerry is a really strong character, and she's definitely not someone to be messed with. Playing Kerry has been weird because I've only just got to a stage where I'm happy with her on stage, she's like totally complex and stuff. Apart from that, Kerry is just, like the funnest person ever and keeps me laughing constantly. 

3. Popular is set in a Belfast grammar school and you are a former student of Sullivan. How close to real life do you think the book and play are?

Oh God. Popular is worrying close to life for me. When I was in school, and friends will stand by this statement, I literally spent my time gossiping and doing make-up. Classes were an irritating and unnecessary inconconvenience and in classes which I did not care for, I would play hangman or paint my nails without shame. (Biology and geography, FYI, bleuugh). As for the whole BT9 thing, in Sullivan it was definitely more BT18/19 but that whole 'everybody-knows-everything-about-everyone' thing was exactly the same. In conclusion, book and play are very close to real life, both were delightful.

4. If you could bitch slap one character in 'Popular', who would it be and why?

Oh God. It would definitely have to be Coral Andrews. She's the worst kind of person - like that girl who manipulates everyone around her, but does it with such a sugary sweetness that people don't even know she's totally screwing them over. That, coupled with the 'i'm-sooooooo-super-alternative' thing, a performance put on solely to remind the world that she is different, and therefore better than everyone else - and definitely she makes a very worthy slapee. Although technically I am opposed to violence (mainly due to my lack of upper body strength) I would love to slap someone properly one day. Watching Emma, who's playing Imogen Dawson slap Matthew who's playing Michael, the other day in rehearsals made me really wish for a slap moment for Kerry, so maybe we can sort that for Kerry and Coral at one point? Just an idea... 

5. What has been your favourite bit of the rehearsal process so far?

I would definitely have to say, cheesy as it is, getting to know all the lovely Popular peeps! The banter in rehearsals is amazing, and every day we go in there is at least one instance when I laugh so hard it hurts. If you're coming to see the play, I guarantee you will get this same pain.

6. One reason why people should come and see 'Popular' next week:

If you don't know how to pronounce the word 'beau' (and no, it's not like 'bow') you need to be at the Belvoir.

To reserve tickets to see Claire rocking a beret next week in Belfast, contact popularbelfast@yahoo.com

Thursday, 25 August 2011

"Popular" review giveaway!

Fun news. If you have a blog in the UK or Ireland that has over fifty registered followers, then Penguin are giving away five free review copies of Popular. Get in touch to the theatre show's e-mail address popularauditions@yahoo.com if you're interested!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Playing Blake Hartman

Adam Gillian is a former student of the Royal Belfast Academical Institute, which, weirdly, given how catchy its name is, is locally shortened to "Inst". Despite the fact that the story of "Popular" is set in Malone and Adam resides in Malone, the genius of the auditioning process lead to him being cast as one of the very few characters in the novel not actually from there. Instead, Adam, who is active in the local music and musical theatre, was cast as Blake Hartman, a native of New Canaan, Connecticut, who transfers into Mount Olivet Grammar School, south Belfast, and becomes entangled in the messy world of the BT9 cliques. Today, Adam's here answering some questions about Blake Joshua Elijah Hartman.

1. Adam, you're playing Blake Hartman in 'Popular'. Who is he and what attracted you to the role?

Adam: Blake Hartman is the 16-year-old, eldest son of an American pastor, who has moved to Carryduff, Northern Ireland (without even knowing that the north and south of Ireland are two different countries ... jeez). Originally from New Canaan, CT, his father has relocated after a problematic divorce, and has moved to Northern Ireland with his 'kid brother', Jack. Blake played tennis for his high school, and is therefore quite athletic. He is confident but not cocky, charming but not sleazy and works best in one-on-one friendships. In many ways, he is the epitome of the American teen, and he himself is somewhat aware of this. He is in Malone now, and come hell or high water he will be making friends. Little does he know what Malone has in store for him... I suppose what attracted me to the role of Blake is the amount of similarities there are between he and I. Where Blake could be seen as the anti-hero, I very much see him as a good guy who means well but gets crosswired along the way and loses his direction.

2. Tell us a bit about your new song 'Run to Me' about Blake's experiences in 'Popular'. 
Adam: Well when I read the book and got more and more into the storyline and into Blake's head, I saw a lot of potential for a great song. He is a hopeless romantic and his relationship with Cameron is one of such bittersweet tenderness that it lent itself very well for lyrics and ideas. I enjoy songwriting quite a lot, so I felt I'd try my hand at writing in the mindset of a character. After a few weeks of playing around with ideas and lyrics I finally came up with 'Run to Me'. Lyrically it would be from Blake's point of view, how he feels about Cameron, how he wants to be the one holding him and basically says everything Blake can't say in the book/play. All being well, it will be recorded very soon and available to hear on iTunes, and there will hopefully be copies of it to grab on the night!

3. 'Popular' is set on the Malone Road and, obviously as an American transfer student, it's not a setting Blake himself is initially familiar with. But, because of his friendship with Cameron, he gets drawn into its wider network. What do you think his attitudes to the clique system at Mount Olivet really are?
Adam: I think Blake is quite surprised at how tight the cliques really are in Mount Olivet. He does find them trivial and somewhat petty and pointless, but he also sees how much it means to Cameron to be part of Meredith's group, and almost finds it endearing. Blake can get quite jealous of the girls being close to Cameron, in a selfish way but it never really causes many problems between Cameron and him. Sure, there were cliques in his school in America but never to the extent of the ones in Mount Olivet! The popular, or "plastic" kids got over themselves by the time they left Middle School and went into the big, bad world of High School. Then it was every polo-shirt wearing boy and flip-flop wearing girl for themselves!

4. In the theatre version of 'Popular,' we see a few new scenes and a side to Blake that we don't see with his storyline in the novel. I'm thinking especially of the scene with Cameron's birthday present and his scene with his younger brother, Jack (played by Ross White). How much do you think the Blake of the book and the Blake of the play differ?

Adam: The Blake in the book and the Blake in the play are similar yet totally different. The added scenes allowed for a far better insight into his personality and how he felt about a lot of things and consequently added more depth to his character. The Blake in the play is a lot more aggressive when he needs to be, but at the same time is polite when the occasion calls for it. He is compulsively friendly and does his best to please everyone. But it is this compulsive need to please others that leaves him in a mess. He would rather others were happy than himself; his best and worst quality and ultimately his downfall.
In the book Blake almost has the Edward Cullen factor, in that he is the dreamboy that the girls want, but his downfall leaves him with nowhere to run and therefore he can easily be hated. I feel that the play gives him a chance to redeem himself. I may be biased however, people may still hate him!

5. Okay. Usually I ask people who their favourite character is in these interviews, but to mix it up a bit, who is your personal least favourite? No pressure, but I will instantly be judging you. Obviously.

Adam: Wow, see what you did there. Cunning. Well I've gotten on very well with the cast and they are terrific people, their banter bus never stops! If I had to pick my least favourite character it would have to be Meredith. I get that she's radiant (obv) and she's beautiful and all the rest, but she pretty much epitomises everything I don't like about her world - at the risk of sounding like an Indie or, God forbid, Coral. Meredith is the one person Blake's charm and compulsive politeness does not impress and he's left with nothing to offer. I'm sure they get on later in the series.. lol jk, he will forever hate her!

6. One reason why people should come and see 'Popular' in September 2011:

Adam: You get to see what the kids of BT9, 'BT Fine' and 'BT Beau' really get up to with daddy's credit card and an interest for scandal!

Adam can be seen on stage at the Belvoir Players' Studio Theatre playing Blake Hartman in "Popular" by Gareth Russell from September 6th to 10th 2011. "Run to Me" will be available on i-Tunes soon.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Playing Imogen Dawson

Emma Taylor is currently a student at Grovesnor Grammar School in Belfast. An active member of the Belvoir Players, Emma has been in many of the theatre company's productions and her most recent roles on stage in Belvoir have been as Mrs Potts in the musical "Beauty and the Beast" and in the Sam Cree play, "Married Bliss," a comedy set in rural Northern Ireland in the 1960s. This September, Emma will be taking on the role of the party queen of Mount Olivet Grammar School in the company's production of "Popular".

1. Emma, tell us a little bit about your character of Imogen Dawson in "Popular".

Emma: Imogen Dawson is the wild child of the popular clique. She’s confident, sexy and hilariously cruel at times. She’s going into fifth year and she's sixteen years old.  Imogen is a newer recruit to the popular clique, not an original member, but she’s so cemented into the group now that people tend to not guess. She’s dating Stewart Lawrence, who is (almost) the captain of the rugby team, although she takes the risky decision to pursue another romantic interest, the Immaculate Heart of Mary bad boy, Michael Laverty. She says what she thinks and never apologises. In short, she is fabulous. 

2. Imogen's known as being the "party girl" of the popular set. How similar are you to her in terms of personality?

Emma: I would LOVE to say that I was similar to Imogen, but I don’t think I am at all! She is literally the life and soul of the party, whereas I would fill the role of amused observer most times. I’d like to think I’d get along with Imogen in real life, although I would be constantly fearing for my self-esteem and sanity. And liver. She would be the ideal partner for a night out. Although we would, without a doubt, end up in a gutter, having lost our shoes and clutching various empty bottles of alcohol.

Emma (right) with Alexandra Moyna, who plays Natasha in "Popular".

3. You've said before in rehearsal that you absolutely love the character of Imogen. What is it about her that made you warm to her so strongly?

Emma: Imogen says what she thinks. She says things that everyone wishes they had the confidence to say. She is so confident and so assured of her role in the group and of her popularity. I just love the character so much, because she can get away with so much. She also just doesn’t care what people think of her. Imogen hates people pressuring her to do things; anything she does, she does on her own terms. The bitchy comments and penchant for casual violence are also amazing. 

Imogen is so fun to play because she is so far removed from any character I’ve ever played! She’s also so different to myself, which means that in playing her, I can step into someone else’s shoes completely. I also adore English accents in any way, shape or form. So yes. Imogen is utterly amazing. 

4. Favourite line as Imogen?

Emma: Oooh. There are SO many. I have to say I adore the line “I went for a wax and the woman must have been trained by the KGB. If she’d pulled any harder, she’d have ripped off my clitoris.” But then again, I also adore every single line in Imogen and Michael’s break-up. She is on fire in that scene. 

5. Apart from Imogen, who is your favourite character in "Popular"?

Emma: This is a toughie. I’m going to have to go for Kerry or Cameron. Kerry has been a favourite from the moment I read her audition extract. She is utterly hilarious, and Claire [Handley], the actress playing Kerry, just gets the character. Kerry’s comic timing and her beret are just … amazing. But Cameron [played by Robbie Dagher] is a new favourite. He’s just got such a vulnerable side. Characters who can move me to tears always become my favourites.

6. One reason why people should come and see 'Popular' in September: 

Emma: Because it’s going to be utterly beau. No other explanation needed. :)

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Playing Cameron Matthews

Robbie Dagher, unashamed drinker of regular Coke, is a graduate of Down High School, where he sat A-Levels in English, History and Theatre Studies. On stage, his previous roles have mostly been in musicals, including "Will Bill" Hickock in "Calamity Jane" and Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music." Along with acting, at Down High Robbie was also a member of the First XV rugby squad. Finn from "Glee." Obvs. Only not an idiot. This summer, Robbie is playing Cameron Matthews in the Belfast stage adaptation of "Popular" and is here to answer a few questions about his character.

1. Robbie, tell us a little bit about your character of Cameron Matthews in 'Popular'.

Robbie: Ok, so Cameron is 15 years old and is just starting fifth year at Mount Olivet Grammar, currently "studying" for his GCSEs. Born and bred in Malone, Belfast, Cameron is a proud BT9er. If you think a postcode doesn't mean much, Cameron Matthews will argue otherwise. Cameron is confident and takes great pride in how he looks. He is the most popular guy in school, who is caught between different relationships throughout the play. Cameron was accepted into the "popular" clique which he is now in at the beginning of third year, and ever since has spent less time with the "lads", which is felt strongly by Cameron's best friend since prep school, Mark Kingston. The arrival of the new American-born student Blake Hartman into fifth year at Mount Olivet means a different side to Cameron is seen, and a love story begins!

2. What have been the main challenges of playing Cameron and what have been the best bits?

Robbie: Without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest challenge of all thus far playing Cameron Matthews has been pretending to be a fully fledged DIET Coke drinker and Blackberry addict - eugh! Haha, kidding. In all seriousness, one of the hardest things for me has been the Malone accent. I struggled at the start of rehearsals, but it is getting there (I hope!) slowly but surely. In some ways, it is harder to just tweak my own Northern Irish accent and emphasising parts of words that I wouldn't naturally, instead of changing my accent to an entirely different one. Another challenge is the journey of emotions that Cameron feels throughout the play, and therefore as an actor I need to portray all of those. It really is a bit of a rollercoaster ride for him, as one moment he can be making a nasty remark and laughing along with the girls; the next he can be in tears.

One of the best things about playing the character of Cameron is how he has many different relationships in the play. This is good from my perspective, as I enjoy acting with the different characters, in totally contrasting moods and different scenarios. For instance, I could be in a highly amusing scene with Peter or a very tense scene with Blake, and I like this as each scene is rewarding in its own different way.

Robbie in rehearsal with Adam Gillian as Blake Hartman
3. You've said before in rehearsal that Cameron is your favourite character in the story. What is it about his personality that you like the most?
Robbie: I surprisingly like how behind being the most popular guy in school and behind the force in his "popular" clique, Cameron actually is quite vulnerable. I really like Cameron's sense of humour, and the bitchy comments he can come out with spontaneously.

I also admire how Cameron really does care about the people he is close to, and their feelings. Despite what others in the school (i.e. the trolls) may think, Cameron is sensitive and does stand up to the girls on occasions. I must note though, that Cameron is only sensitive to people who deserve it. It's not Cameron's fault that he is better than 95% of Mount Olivet's other pupils!
4. Words of wisdom, much?! ... Anyway... What would you say Cameron's worst qualities are?
Robbie: One of Cameron's worst qualities is that he is stubborn. Most notably, he is arguably too stubborn to concede that it was just as much his fault that Blake for the situation they ended up in. I do sympathise though, I must say. I can draw similarities with Cameron's personality and my own!

Another negative quality is how he is sometimes easily walked over by the girls, well, Meredith mostly. Mark quite rightly does tell Cameron to "grow a pair" at one stage, and I must say I partially agree. But that is the height of it in terms of the negativity. I really do admire the character of Cameron Matthews and what he stands for.
6. Apart from Cameron, who is your favourite character in 'Popular'?
Robbie: Ooooh, that's a toughy! Ok, it's down to two but I'm not sure I can pick. The two are Peter and Catherine. Although I guess a lot of the time I am laughing at Catherine, rather than with her, so if I was made to pick, I'd have to say Peter. The reason I say Peter, is because he can be a bit of an asshole and just get away with it purely because he's so lovable. He could say or do something to you that arguably nobody else could, and you'd be in stitches. I can also draw quite a few similarities between myself and Peter, so I guess that influences my decision as well! But no, overall Peter is a seriously funny, dead on, down to earth guy who everyone likes! 
7. And finally: one reason why people should come and see 'Popular' in September?
Robbie: It would be rude not to.
Robbie Dagher can be seen on stage playing Cameron Matthews in "Popular" at the Belvor Players Studio Theatre, Belfast from September 6th to September 10th 2011. 

Friday, 12 August 2011

"Popular" cast (2011)

"A brand new theatre adaptation of Popular will be coming to the Belfast stage in Belvoir from Wednesday 6th to Saturday 10th September for its first run! Adapted by Gareth Russell from his novel, which was published by Penguin on 7th July 2011, Popular is being co-directed by the author and by Pamela Mills. The show will start at 8 pm every evening and there will be a Saturday matinee on the 10th at 3 pm."

So here is a sneak peak at the Belfast cast and follow this blog for more information about the book, the play, interviews with the cast, photos from rehearsal and in character, as well as news on the original music being composed for the show by two of our cast members - Adam Gillian, who'll be on this blog soon talking about his role playing Blake as well as his new song inspired by the novel, and Sarah Patterson, who'll be performing her brand new song Today on-stage in Act 2, Scene 3 of Popular. By the way, if you're interested in more of Sarah's stuff, check out her Facebook page


Friday, 5 August 2011

Character Profile: Kerry Davison

One of the original core members of the popular posse, Kerry Davison has always been at the very centre of the clique. Along with her closest frenemy, Meredith Harper, there's absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that Kerry belongs in the it-crowd and if Meredith is its queen, then Kerry is very much its princess. Her life, in short, is utterly delightful. She knows this.


FULL NAME: Kerry Faith Davison

BIRTHDAY: September 7th

HOME TOWN: Hillsborough, County Down, BT26


RELIGION: Christian - Protestant (Presbyterian)

PLACE OF WORSHIP: House of Fraser.

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: Potentially the moment she got caught in a rain storm in third year on a school Geography trip and her curls frizzed to the point that Imogen walked behind her for the rest of the day singing the opening chorus from "The Circle of Life."


FATHER: Paul Davison, businessman who lives half the year in Argentina (58)

MOTHER: Janet Davison, interior decorator (46)

SIBLINGS: Helen (22) and Victoria (19)


PRIMARY SCHOOL:  Rathkeltair House Prep, Malone (Age 4 - 6)
Hillsborough Primary School (Age 6 - 11) 
SECONDARY SCHOOL: Mount Olivet Grammar School (Age 11 - now)


FORM TEACHER: Mrs Vaughn (Spanish department)
G.C.S.E subjects: Mathematics, Additional Mathematics, English Literature, English Language, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Religion, History, Business Studies and Spanish


BEST FRIENDS: Imogen Dawson and Cameron Matthews

PAST BOYFRIENDS: Kerry is famously so picky when it comes to men. Cher's quote about shoes in Clueless deffers springs to mind. In second year, she did briefly date Matty Kilbride, one of the guys in her year, but she broke up with him 3 weeks into it because he burped in front of her and she was so disgusted she proclaimed she could never look at him again without vomiting in her own mouth. She  also dated Robbie McIlwaine, a guy in the year above, who she broke up with after nine days due to reasons she said were 'complicated,' but which may, in fact, have been boredom-related.

CURRENT CRUSH: None, really. Rumour has it that Peter Sullivan (hotty on the First XVs, serious playah) has a crush on her. But, I mean, obviously.


PERSONAL HEROES: Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France (1755 - 1793), Carrie Bradshaw, Elizabeth Taylor (1932 - 2011) and Scarlett O'Hara

FAVOURITE COLOUR: Are you joking?

FAVOURITE TV SHOW/S: Sex and the City, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Glee, Keeping up with the Kardashians

FAVOURITE MOVIE/S: Sex and the City, Sex and the City 2, Marie Antoinette, Cindarella, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Mermaid

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Being published

Well, it has been three weeks since Popular hit the shelves in the UK and Ireland and twenty-four hours since it appeared in South Africa. I've been meaning to write this since then, but everything has been so hectic. Anyway, Popular was published on July 7th and that night, I had a gathering at my house at which my mate Robbie was apparently planning a heartfelt toast at midnight for the moment when I technically became a published author. Sadly, he was too drunk to realise when it was midnight and so here's to you Adam for being the first person to congratulate/remind me at 1:56 a.m. Lad.

I've loved doing the interviews to promote Popular and so far there have been interviews in The Sunday Times, The Down Recorder and the radio shows Good Morning Ulster and BBC ArtsExtra. There are going to be quite a few more up ahead and I'll also be writing a guest post for Between the Lines, Penguin Australia's amazing on-line blog for when Popular is published there on August 29th.

I've also been doing some book signings at the Waterstones store in Belfast city centre, which has been awesome and it's been great fun seeing people buying so many copies of the book. Keep an eye out for the store's promotion of the Belfast stage show of Popular which I've adapted for the theatre and am co-directing. It's being produced by the Belvoir Players and it'll be on stage with the most incredible cast in the first week of September. Rehearsals have been long, but really rewarding and I really hope that anyone who's a fan of the novel is going to enjoy what we've done with the storyline and characters to make it ready for the theatre! I can't tell you how proud I am of the cast and the humour and the drama is all still there. I'll be posting interviews with some of the cast members and lots of photoshoots and information about the stageshow, along with information about the performance dates and any more news on the novel.

Perhaps one of the most surreal things about the last month has been the process of actually becoming published. It's a very strange sensation to explain, because I've lived with these characters and this book in my head for so long now and then, one day, it's available to buy in some of the biggest stores and online sites in the country. There's also a definite thrill that comes from people talking about the characters in Popular and telling you their favourite bits, whether it's the funny or sad moments, and demanding to know when the sequel's out. It's been a wonderful three weeks and I do certainly feel incredibly lucky.

A big, big thank you to all my friends and everyone who's been so supportive of Popular, either buying the book online or in stores and to Sarah Houghton, who caused a scene in the Waterstones in Manchester by trying to move all copies of Popular over into the bestseller aisle. Finally, everyone at Penguin UK and Penguin Ireland has been so much help and a lot of fun. It's been great to be out there talking about Popular and, obviously, Meredith (main priority, obvs) and the rest of the summer is shaping up to be v. beau.


Monday, 1 August 2011

"Popular" in South Africa

Popular is now available in South Africa, which means Meredith's message of delightfulness is going global and it will be available in Canada in just over three weeks!
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