Theatre Royal work experience leads Abi to twin loves of her life
- Credit: Tony Pike
The Theatre Royal changed Abi Hood’s life. Without it she would never have gone into acting or met her husband, fellow actor Kevin Tomlinson.
“It’s been hugely important in my life,” says the Bury St Edmunds born and raised performer, returning to the theatre this Friday with Kevin as part of Kepow Theatre Company’s improvised comedy show On The Edge.
“I spent a lot of time there growing up. The Angela Morgan School of Dancing used to supply the dancers for the Christmas pantomime and I used to audition every year. I did it for seven years running from the age of nine-15. That’s when I fell in love with the stage, particularly the stage in Bury.”
The pivotal moment came when she was 15.
“I wanted to be a dancer for a long time but I did work experience at the Theatre Royal and watched a load of plays. I told one of the actors I didn’t known whether to do dance or follow the drama path and be an actor. He suggested I stay on, do A-level drama. Doing that work experience actually changed my life and led me down the straight acting path.”
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Abi, who also cites her former Thurston Upper School drama Jackie Deane as a major inspiration, went on to perform with Suffolk Young People’s theatre every year from the age of 16 into her early 20s - which she describes as “the best three weeks of the year” - lots of productions with the town’s Irving Stage Company when she was 16-20 and lots too with the Bury St Edmunds Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society from 16 onwards.
She went on to study acting at the Oxford School of Drama, which is when she met Kevin, and gained a drama degree at Middlesex University.
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“I used to watch the Oxford Stage Company a lot in Bury. They used to tour there quite often. Now I’m living in Oxford and I work a lot with John Retallack who was its director for a lot of years. It’s weird how everything goes in circles and overlaps.”
Abi, whose freelance acting CV includes a guest lead spot as teenage tearaway Lisa Garrett in a Christmas episode of The Bill and working with former Doctor Matt Smith at the Royal Court a few years ago, says Friday’s show is a real homecoming.
“We did our show Seven Ages there last year, that was such an amazing experience. To be welcomed back for a second time as a professional is really special. The show in Bury will be my 100th performance of On The Edge too.”
The comedy explores all those moments in life when we are on the edge - from falling in love and leaving home to getting a job and bungee jumping.
“Kevin and I are are literally on the edge because we don’t have a script or anything. He first did the show about 17 years ago by himself. About four years ago I joined him. We take suggestions from the audience for starting points then we run with those.
“For example, when they come in we ask people to write down a line from a song, we collect them all up, scatter them over the stage and during the performance we pick them up, read them out and they’ll be our characters’ thoughts and feelings which takes it off in various directions... And we’ve got various characters we play.”
Describing as a bit like Whose Line is it Anyway but with more narrative and not quite as random. Nobody has to worry about sitting in the front row.
“We do all the creating, nobody has to worry.... Nobody’s asked to do anything they don’t want to do.”