RAISING THE CURTAIN #11: “My Theatre History” by Zoe Divers

A good friend of mine asked me to write this blog post about my past theatre experiences on the Isle of Wight. This got me thinking. Without the island’s theatre scene, I wouldn’t have met this friend. In fact, I wouldn’t have met the majority of the wonderful, talented people that I am so lucky to call my friends. My teenage and early adult life would have been so much less colourful and vibrant without the island theatre and here is why…

My love for the theatre all began in middle school when I was taught by the legendary Janey Hawtin. Mrs Hawtin was my year 7 teacher and directed all of the school productions (along with the wonderful Mr Selwyn Hawtin). The first production I was in was Much Ado About Nothing in which I played Benedick. Memories are hazy of this production for me but I’m sure Janey has some embarrassing recollections of my first performance! I am forever grateful to Janey and Selwyn and they have since become life-long friends (who have the most drama expertise out of anyone I know!)

The first theatre show I was part of was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole at Trinity Theatre in Cowes and I auditioned for the part of the bully. It was a very small part (actually a boy’s role!) but because I wasn’t too confident in singing or acting at this stage, I guess I just wanted to be involved somehow. I’ll never forget angrily singing this verse…

‘I’ll have his girly guts for garters, smash his face in just for starters!

‘Coz you know my golden rule is no holds barred, head for the goolies!’

…whilst kicking poor old Adrian Mole in the nether regions.

I loved this song, but nevertheless, I’m surprised I didn’t completely traumatise my grandmother who was sat in the front row!

Anyhow, as it transpired, my ability to be convincingly ‘boy-ish’ turned out to be a good thing, and gave me the confidence to audition for more shows.

And that is where it all began. Notably, ‘Barry the Bully’ wasn’t the most glamorous role, but it led onto a whole host of adventures from the wonderful to the wacky. A memorable time for me was playing Tiger Lily in Olly Fry’s adaptation of Peter and Wendy. The character had a very feisty nature and a fair few men faced the brunt of her cack-handed stage fighting. I can certainly name a handful of men that probably have a few problems having been kicked in the crotch by Tiger Lily…on more than one occasion. Made quite a habit of that over my time on stage, it would seem!

My first pantomime was Aladdin at Trinity Theatre, in which I had very few lines but a largely dance based part, and started to develop my singing ability. I loved it and panto is one thing I miss very much about performing. A notable memory from Aladdin was when the  the pantomime horse danced straight off the stage and onto the orchestra. Genuinely never laughed so much in my life…especially when the piano player donned a builder’s safety helmet for the remainder of the show!

Taking part in Pygmalion was one of my most memorable roles, playing Eliza Doolittle opposite my good friend Joe Plumb as Henry Higgins. I remember it taking an age to learn how to put on a convincing cockney accent, and rewriting lines in my script such as, “I want a be a layday in a flaer shop ‘stead o’ sellin’ at the cawner of Tottenham Cawt Road”. As I’m sure Fiona Gwinnett (the director) and other cast members will remember, most lines were real tongue twisters! Needless to say, now that I live in London, I’m glad of this experience…the dialect here sometimes seems like a foreign language!

Another one of my best memories was performing as Rachel Crabbe in One Man Two Guvnors at Shanklin Theatre, again directed by Fiona Gwinnett. This show was sooo much fun. My character was disguised under cover as her brother, Roscoe Crabbe, and switching between the two for the whole show was a great challenge! Robbie Gwinnett played my onstage lover, Stanley Stubbers – a very snooty, cocky character. When talking about being in boarding school, Stanley Stubbers said, ‘I spent all my time in the radiation cupboard trying to make my penis glow’ and it is probably one of the most hilarious things that has ever come out of Robbie’s mouth. Robbie and I met whilst performing in my first play at Trinity Theatre, and he has been friends with good ol’ ‘Barry the Bully’ ever since.

Having finished 6th form, I went onto work for Vectis Ventures, performing in a variety of professional shows under the guidance of the wonderful Verity Godwin at Blackgang Chine. Some of my best memories of performing are from Blackgang, from gunfights in cowboy town as Hoedown Holly to sailing the seven seas as Bob Along Bonnie the pirate captain. It was a magical time of my life that I will never forget. Yet again, I made life-long friends on the performance team here too – Nick Weightman, Michael Mullin, Mel Jones, Olly Fry, Andrew Butcher, Holly Gardiner, Alicia Dent – to name just a few!

This led to even more work at Tapnell Farm Park. From presenting the Bugs and Beasties show to working as a professional elf, Tapnell has been so much fun. Working with the ultra-talented Kimmi Scadgell and Dan Selle, and with Nick Weightman as part of my ‘double act’, I have made some amazing memories and love coming back to the occasional job at Tapnell from time to time. One of the best memories was taking part in the first ‘Tapland’ event as ‘Zo Ball’ the elf and convincing everyone that Nick and I had lots of wrapping to do…then breaking out into some sort of improvised rap song! Truth be told, it’s pretty tough now that I am up in London ‘full-time’, but I love love love going back to hang out with the animals (Nick included haha!).

And now here I am, living in London and training to be a secondary school teacher. What are the chances? No, it isn’t strictly a performance job (as most thought I’d do!), but truth be told, I perform every day. An audience of 30 kids, 5 hours a day. Though now, instead of just sitting and watching, these children are learning life-long skills from me and what I present to them. It is the most rewarding and wholesome job in the world (though I will always dabble in a spot of acting work from time to time…).

So yes, I have had loads of different exciting, crazy and wonderful experiences with stages all across the island – but it is the people that make it so special. My friends I have made will last a lifetime and I’m sure many island theatre makers share the same view. So – to the friend that asked me to write this blog post, and to all of the others that I love and cherish, thank you. Times are very strange right now, but just think of all those wonderful people we can work with again once all this is over.  X

Zoe Divers

This is the 11th in a series of “Raising The Curtain” posts, thank you Zoe!

If you would like to share an Island theatre story, to reminisce, let us know. We look forward to sharing your contributions.

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