This job contains a lot of ‘firsts’ for me: my first time working with Northern Broadsides, first time performing at Dean Clough, first time I’ve performed in Much Ado About Nothing and the first time I’ve played a lead role in a Shakespeare play.

I’m also at home at the moment and able to commute to work, therefore I can get on with some much needed DIY, too. So, it’s also the first time I’ve ever attempted to build a log-store out of reclaimed wood and unwanted pallets.

Some of these things are happening with more success than others.

I was performing in Panto at the Lawrence Batley Theatre (which is very good, by the way. You should go and see it next year. I’m in it. Tickets are on sale now.) as the Dame when Conrad Nelson offered me the role of Don John in Much Ado.
His last Broadsides project would be my first. I accepted. I had to.
He had incriminating photographs of me.

Broadsides is one of those theatre companies that I have always circled the periphery of but never fallen in to. I had worked with Conrad on a couple of projects recently but neither were with Broadsides. One was a New Vic production and the other was with his new theatre company, ClayBody. I was surprised and very pleased when this offer landed on my doorstep.

Robin in rehearsals – Photo by Nobby Clark

It was on the first day of rehearsals that I received an email that very much changed the direction the next few months would take me. I hadn’t actually started rehearsing myself (only the main characters were asked in that first week) and I was at home with my feet up.

Conrad’s email said that the actor playing Benedick, Reece Dinsdale, had received some very bad news. He’d rushed home and probably wasn’t coming back. Could I step-up with immediate effect? I said I would.

Two days later I was at the New Vic meeting the cast and being confronted with the reality of learning hundreds of lines in a short space of time. Over the next few weeks the play text hardly ever left my side. I ate with it, showered with it, slept with it. I got to know that Arden Edition very well indeed. Eventually the lines went in.

I did, of course, have mixed feelings about taking this role, especially under the circumstances and given such short notice. However, it’s been a great experience for me; I’m just sorry that Reece wasn’t able to continue. I’ve talked to him once or twice online and he is an absolute gent. Maybe one day we’ll work together.

Robin Simpson as Benedick – Photo by Nobby Clark

Benedick is, in my opinion, one of the greatest and funniest of Shakespeare’s male characters. His journey from arrogant, self-centred bachelor to a caring and loving (soon to be) husband is beautifully drawn. He’s also genuinely funny throughout whilst also being serious when needs be. When you play Benedick you are aware of playing someone much more intelligent and witty than you are even though Benedick is not quite as intelligent and witty as he thinks he is. He’s certainly not as quick witted as Beatrice. A fact that annoys him greatly in the beginning. He, of course, loves her wit towards the end. He’s always loved her. They’ve always loved each other. They just never could admit it to themselves.

Isobel Middleton and Robin Simpson in Much Ado – Photo by Nobby Clark

We’ve toured to many theatres over the last few months but Dean Clough has to be one of my favourites. Yes it’s damp and gloomy and when it rains you get dripped on whilst on stage but the atmosphere is great and playing in traverse a real challenge. The show has grown a new lease of life there and I’ll miss it when we go back to performing in more traditional theatres. The audiences in Halifax have been warm and encouraging. Northern Broadsides obviously hold a special place in their hearts.

Performing in Much Ado About Nothing has been an absolute joy. I cannot tell you how much fun I’ve had. I’m trying to savour every minute of it. The company is filled, without exception, with wonderful, talented individuals and it’s a pleasure to spend so much time with them, on and off stage. Here’s to the next several weeks!

Right, I’d better get back to making that log-store. It’s causing me a bit of trouble, by the way. There are quite a few nails I’ll either have to prise out or saw through and I might actually have to buy some wood from a shop, heaven forbid! But, if I can learn all of Benedick’s lines in three weeks then surely I can do this. Now, where did I put that saw?

By Robin Simpson