Today I have the pleasure to bring to you a great interview with Mirren Wilson who is an actress and a writer who makes critical reviews about theatre productions. She also used to work as a tour guide and usher at Capital Theatres. Due to the closure of theatres around the UK her recent reviews have been on shows and plays that are available on the internet.
I met Mirren outside the, now locked and empty, Festival Theatre in Edinburgh and she was happy and friendly as always wearing a cool colourful scarf. We fought through the weather to a lovely little coffee shop in the centre of Edinburgh where we enjoyed hot drinks on what I can only describe as a very windy day. During this interview I avoided structured questions and took notes in my diary rather than recording and transcribing anything as I wanted it feel more like a chat that an interrogation which made the whole experience fun. I truly enjoy her company and getting to know more about her writing and learning a bit more about why she decided to review theatre.
Her involvement with theatre is of great interest to me as I miss seeing shows and plays with cultural venues being closed due to the pandemic. My boys love theatre and I highly encourage them to see a few shows a year. Also so many great books for adults and children are adapted into a stage production and I am always so blown away by how the actors get into their roles and they make the characters come to life. I’ve never thought to write about anything I’ve seen however I do read reviews before or after I see shows as I love to see different perspectives.
I will let you check out the interview and I hope you all enjoy it.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Mirren comes from a town called Grangemouth in Scotland. She moved to Edinburgh when she was 17 years old to pursue a career in acting and where she joined the Edinburgh College to do her training. While chatting with her she mentions so many fun hobbies which included yoga and active walks and she was definitely excited to talk about some of her experiences. She is definitely an adventurous and ambitious person who loves finding new hobbies and who loves reading. As I am always curious about peoples reading and writing so I had to ask her about her favourite book to which she replied without thinking ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ written by Muriel Spark and which was made into a stage play in 1966. One of her main goals is to one-day write her own play which she already has an outline for.
What have you been up to during lockdown?
When we moved to this question I was a bit surprised to hear than Mirren contracted Covid-19 (although was cleared long before we had coffee) which left her weak and tired. She spent weeks in isolation recovering during which she had time to think about what she wanted to do next and how her priorities had changed a bit. She discovered during her hermitage that It was a time to re-discover herself. One way to cope with such an overwhelming abundance of time was the decision to practice yoga which helped her maintain focus and to get her strength back up. Reading and writing where also ways to cope with isolation and stress.
One of her projects during lockdown was to watch the Star Wars movies as she had never seen them before. She started her own blog and reviewing them just for fun but soon discovered that people were very interested in reading them. (Linked here)
As well as the blog mentioned above she kept on writing reviews for ‘A Young Theatre’. A group of young writers who pride themselves on doing No-B******t reviews and opinions and which I truly enjoy reading.
What kind of reviews do you do at ‘A Young Theatre’?
Mirren usually focuses on plays that take place in Scotland, although at the moment she is limited to doing reviews on digital theatre which is a bit different to what she was used to but she quickly adapted and now she has a routine which works for her. I will leave here some links so you can go and check out some of her reviews, her sketches and her writing style.(here and here are links to some of her reviews)
Your reviews at ‘A Young Theatre’ are honest and very detailed. How do you go about reviewing a theatre production?
Before watching a show Mirren likes to know the least about it as possible so that she won’t have any good or bad expectations about it. She made very clear it’s important to her to always have an open mind about productions, their scripts as well as the acting. For her is important that there is a clear message conveyed by the play or show and this is a key point to her while rating it. She told me that it is quite a different experience to sit in a live theatre to create a review than to make a review from a show online. Live, it is necessary to watch the show where Mirren will take mental notes as her full attention is on the play while also trying to feel the atmosphere of the audience. While reviewing a digital theatre production the setting is a very different and she will have a notebook available and a nice hot drink.
Reviews are important for a play’s success as people can use them to discover productions they might enjoy and they help people decide if is worth going to see a show they were already aware of. Mirren tries to write reviews that people will enjoy reading as well as will inform the reader of the shows strengths and weaknesses. You will be able to find the link to the production at the end of each review as well as the website where you can find the play to enjoy it yourself.
As well as acting and ushering you mention being a writer on your site bio. Do you do any other types of writing than the reviews?
While talking to Mirren as soon as I mentioned writing her posture completely changed, she was so excited to tell me that she has been writing a script for a while now and although is not close to being ready she is very happy to keep working on it until she is fully satisfied with it. Her play doesn’t have a name yet but the location will definitely be Scotland. The script has only two characters and the theme is a chance encounter. During her writing process the characters don’t have any assigned gender which open the doors that anyone could play the roles. Another detail is that the personality of her characters are very quirky and that they need to learn to deal with the company of each other.
Mirren wants this to be a great project so that is why she has decided that she is in no rush to finish it and that she will take her time to make sure that she is truly happy with her work and what she wants to project. Writing inspiration comes to her at the most unexpected times which is why she always carries a journal with her. She will write out her ideas and sketches the images that come to her mind which I found really cute and smart.
You are a great actress; can you tell us which roles have been the most exciting to perform?
Being at College was one of the best times in her life. She remembers all her acting classes and the advice she was given. All the roles that she performed during this time helped her develop a passion for the stage and make her feel more comfortable and confident in front of people. Her passion for theatre was clear and she discovered the power of the arts to entertain.
She was cast to play a girl called Sally in a pilot for a television show that didn’t have a name yet and where she played a nurse. Unfortunately, this project stayed as just a project but Mirren clearly enjoyed the experience and remembers it as one of her best acting experiences.
By this point in our conversation we both had finished our hot drinks and we were enjoying the calm of the coffee shop and the smell of warm pastries, I decided at that point to buy one on my way out but in the end totally forgot as my head was buzzing with all the interesting information from the chat that we had.
I absolutely adore that with every review we get to see a sketch inspired by the play, can you tell us why you decided to include all this sketches?
There was a very easy answer for this question and that was that simply Mirren truly loves drawing. She will draw all the time. She wanted to incorporate her sketches into her reviews as she wanted to portray her impression of the play in a visually artistic way as well as through words. She is a very visual person and wants to bring a different dynamic to her reviews which makes them feel a bit more fun and unique. ‘A Young Theatre’ has been very supportive about her work and reviews and they let her include her sketches and anything that she feels would make a great review. Personally I always look out for those sketches in her writing and I’m always happy to see them.
We came to the end of the interview and we decided to walk together for a bit until I saw a bookshop and couldn’t resist going inside. By this point the weather had improved a little bit and it wasn’t as cold as before. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
It was such a pleasure to have a conversation with Mirren and to learn a bit more about her writing and what it takes to be a theatre critic. The dynamic of this interview was different from previous ones. I love getting to know people and I am extremely happy that I get to interview individuals not only whose work I admire but also that I admire for who they are.
Thank you so much everyone for reading this interview.