IT took a bawdy classic and an enduring amateur dramatic society to lure former Sheffield Theatres high-flyer Mark Feakins back into the director’s chair.
Now he is revelling in the challenge of helping the Midland Players deliver a very different Tom Jones to the University Drama Studio.
Mark was executive producer at the Crucible, working on numerous shows, until 2009.
After two years out nurturing his photography business he says he’s rediscovered his theatre passion.
“I left theatre professionally after 20 odd years,” says Mark, whose career included acting, producing, directing and stage managing in the West End and Broadway as well as on national tours.
“It started off as my hobby and became my job, but towards the end of my time at Sheffield Theatres I was kind of thinking I’d burned out of theatre, the passion was gone for it. It’s not my job any more so maybe it is time to go back to it as a hobby.”
Mark’s involvement followed his watching a friend in a previous Midland Players show. Now his influence, as well as a CV that includes working with the likes of Joanna Lumley, Alan Rickman, Jude Law and current Crucible Othello star Dominic West, appears to have brought in new members, as well as reviving his appetite for theatre.
“I started in amateur theatre in Sussex from the age of 11 until I went to drama school at 21 and was doing four or five plays a year, everything from directing to acting, prompting and set painting.
“The last few years I was producing I was sitting next to directors rather than actually doing it myself. But working with people like Trevor Nunn and watching them work was a learning curve even though I was producing and your job is to give the director notes.
“It made me think, I really did enjoy directing and the challenge and it’s been really interesting, having worked with professionals, coming in and working with community actors because they don’t have the same language.
“Also they don’t have the time. Rehearsing with a professional company it’s five weeks, every day, eight hours a day whereas these guys are only doing two or three hours twice a week.
“They have a much tougher job, so to get where these guys get to is quite incredible.”
Mark opted to give the production of Henry Fielding’s classic, adapted by Joan Macalpine, a very basic treatment. The colourful, often rowdy, tale of an orphan who grows into a young man with life and the ladies on his side is given a simple treatment with emphasis on a riotous, saucy story that has remained popular since it was born out of 18th century London.
“It’s a good fun story. It’s been around since 1750. It’s not shocking any more but it is still bawdy, cheeky,” says Mark, who in his previous life used to deal in huge budgets.
“What I do is different to the stuff Midland Players have done before. There’s no set; it’s very stripped back. I’ve seen a few productions and if you do it with the original stage directions with stairs and different sets it becomes really clunky.
“If you take all that away and run it with humour and fun and a bit of cartoon ridiculousness – we’ve got people playing bushes, curtains, windows – it suddenly comes to life. That was the challenge; start with a really blank stage, let’s see if we can just connect with the audience and take them on this journey. I hope that’s what we’ve done. I’ve asked a lot of them but they’ve risen to the challenge. They’ve having a lot of fun and it’s a good show, I hope.”
And it may well mean Mark once again becoming recognised for something other than his winning appearance on Channel 4 show Come Dine With Me.
“I was on honeymoon in Copenhagen having breakfast at a cafe and a woman at the table next me got up, came over and asked me about it.”
Tom Jones runs Wednesday until Saturday.