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Theatre Preview: Bessie at Midnight, Alone

The actor of this one woman show, Janelle Thompson reveals that she learnt her trade in an unusual acting job in Blackpool

“Bessie is a ‘Lady of the Night’, who’s waiting for her last customer of the evening, but he’s running late. So, to keep her mind occupied and off the cold, she regales the audience with stories from her life,” explains Janelle Thompson, the sole performer in this deceptively simply-titled one-woman show Bessie at Midnight, Alone.

The show is the last of a string of fringe performances underway at Bootleg Social. The small programme began with an evening of poetry with Tony Walsh and also included a spoken word show from Henry Normal.

Bessie is written by Derek Martin who moved to Lancashire when he was seven, studied drama at Preston College and wrote the play while living nearby. Now a prize-winning playwright with several successful tours, his richly-written script jumps around the centuries, not fixed in time or space. Packed with tense drama and fiery Northern wit, Bessie engages with the audience, has conversations with various characters from her past, and undergoes a transformation in her understanding of her world, with a blazing kick at the end.

The show is directed by Rhonwen McCormack, produced by Manchester-based Blue Masque Theatre, and has already been performed at Buxton Fringe Festival, Greater Manchester Fringe Festival and Birmingham Fest.

“Bessie is strong-willed, but only up to a point. She’d like to have had more autonomy over her life, but doesn’t know how to achieve that,” explains Thompson who studied contemporary performing arts at UCLan in 2000 before moving to Cambridgeshire to further her studies.

“I worked in TIE [Theatre in Education] for many years,” she says. “I’ve been involved in street theatre and role play and I also worked with a community arts organisation before finding an agent.”

But Thompson’s first acting gig was right here in Blackpool as one of the original cast at Blackpool Tower Dungeons.

“Working in the dark and applying gross make-up – it was definitely one of the more unusual jobs I’ve had,” she says. “It was an excellent way to brush-up on my improvisation skills. I really enjoy working in close proximity to an audience, where you can engage fully and go on a journey together.”

Bessie at Midnight Alone is at Bootleg Social on 24th May. Tickets are available via Skiddle.

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