Guest interview: Steve Pratt chats with Lisa Howard ahead of her work with Engine House Theatre’s Park Bench Theatre season in York.
Lisa Howard went back to the land during lockdown. “I went allotmenting, growing stuff and trying to feed the world from my allotment. I was imagining the worst, that there would be no fresh food in the shops,” she explains.
“I wanted to provide my own food. I had already started hoarding last year because of the fear of Brexit. I’d already gathered toilet rolls. I got a bit paranoid.
“I didn’t do what a lot of actors did and make a sound studio or practice getting on to Zoom. I thought I’d never work again. I did get a bit down about it. So I buried myself with getting mucky hands in the allotment. Something that felt real and connected to the earth.”
In The Park Bench Theatre season she is performing in Every Time a Bell Rings as Cathy, who emerges from isolation and sits on her favourite park bench in her favourite park reflecting on her situation.
Lisa was asked to play the role by director Tom Bellerby. She said yes without reading the script. “Later that afternoon I read it and was glad I said yes,” she adds.
She has worked with Tom before, firstly when he was a member of York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre. He was part of the cast of a Damian Cruden- directed production of Macbeth in which Lisa played one of the witches. Later he was associate director on the Pilot/Slung Low/York Theatre Royal promenade production of Blood and Chocolate in York.
“Every Time a Bell Rings is an inner monologue about a woman who is out of isolation after 14 days of not going anywhere or seeing anybody. Basically it’s the story of her life. She’s a woman in her fifties who’s had a life full of ups and downs,” says Lisa.
“I have done my fair share of new writing. I enjoy creating characters and working through stuff that’s fresh and people haven’t seen before. It’s good to be working on something that’s so groundbreaking about a situation that none of us have experienced before.”
She’s no newcomer to outdoor theatre or site specific productions, notably Slung Low whose ‘sense of adventure’ she admires. Blood and Chocolate was an epic promenade production around the city of York, and last year she was in three plays – Twelfth Night, The Borrowers and Henry V – in Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre. But she is new to Rowntree Park, despite having worked and stayed in York many times.
She has just one worry. “I hope I don’t fidget too much sitting in one place on a park bench for a long time. I might have a cushion sewn into my trousers,” she says.
Her most recent appearances at York Theatre Royal were in Pilot’s Noughts and Crosses in the main house and Ladies That Bus in the Studio. “Luckily we finished the tour of Ladies That Bus before lockdown happened. We were in our own little bubble on a rural tour with no concept of what was happening.
We mentioned it once when we were washing our hands and singing happy birthday. The tour ended and lockdown happened.”
As well as more acting, Lisa would love to see the return of Lula and the BeBops with whom she’s lead singer. “It feels like we have been scuppered at every turn. The last gig we did was a couple of years ago. We’ve haven’t done anything recently mainly because I’ve been working away a lot with different tours.
“I’m desperate for us to get back together again. It’s wanting to perform with other people in groups. It’s great to be part of a band.”
Lisa Howard performs Every Time a Bell Rings from 26 August to 5 September as part of the Park Bench Theatre season in Rowntree Park from 12 August to 5 September. Tickets and information here.