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Rada and New Islands on the World Cruise

March 5, 2009

We Are Cunard

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The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts have been associated with Cunard since the launch of Queen Mary 2 and it was great to have four graduates from this most prestigious Academy on board for our last leg of the world cruise. Following on from the success of last year’s World Cruise one cast joined us from Los Angeles to Auckland and we have another cast joining us from Hong Kong back to Southampton. One of the cast, Oliver Pengelly, was kind enough to share his thoughts with us for this week’s Blog which I’ll come to in a while along with what we have been up to this last week on the next stage of our World Cruise. Firstly though, here’s “This week in Cunard’s History” for the week of the 6th to the 12th of March.

March 7 1980

QE2 makes her first transit of the Suez Canal

March 9 2000

Cunard signs letter of intent with Chantiers de l’Atlantique (France) for Queen Mary 2.

March 9 1946

Queen Elizabeth leaves Southampton for her post war technical Re-fit.

March 11 1921

Antonia is launched and is the first of 6 to begin with the letter A because they were A Class liners.

March 11 1853

Samuel Cunard wrote to Viscount Canning requesting the contract to take mail from Liverpool to Halifax & Boston.

Before I get to Oliver’s guest Blog, I must tell you about two of our ports of call this last week which, as new ports for Queen Victoria (and for me for that matter), were equally exciting, but couldn’t have been more different. Firstly Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, which I have to admit, that when I first found out that it was on the itinerary, I had to look it up on a map. It would be fair to say the port of Rabaul, was rustic and fairly basic but certainly very unspoiled. Initially it had a feeling of a new location from the “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here” TV show, but I soon discovered it was a fascinating place. The main attraction for our stop over, were the hot springs and the incredible volcano which is continually erupting. These are a couple of pictures taken from that day and one of them the ship itself.

The continual eruption did mean it was quite dusty, but the locals seemed quite used to it, and not in the least bothered by the rumblings from the volcano which sounded like continual thunder. Speaking of the locals they were genuinely very charming as they smiled and waved at us with a certain amount of intrigue, as they only get a few visits from ships each year. What was lovely, was that although there were plenty of local handicrafts to buy they weren’t a bit pushy so looking round the market was actually good fun, although I couldn’t tell you what half the vegetables were!

Two days later we arrived in Saipan which is a beautiful island (but yes another need for the Atlas!). It’s the largest island, and capital of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (no wonder they shorten it to CNMI). For many of our guests from America it was a pilgrimage to the memorial which remembered those who lost their lives in the “Battle of Saipan” in June 1944.

It was also an opportunity for all of us to enjoy some idyllic beaches, and yes I think the phrase “Paradise Found” applies to the beaches on this island which were stunning. I just couldn’t resist having this one taken, (not out of enjoyment of course), just for the Blog!

Meanwhile it’s time to get to Oliver Pengelly and the RADA team who were on board between Los Angeles and Auckland. The team were (from left to right) William Norris, Nicola Lyons, Oliver Pengelly and Emily Gilchrist.

It was a pleasure having them on board, not just because they were great to have around but for the extra enjoyment they were able to offer our guests with their acting workshops and performances. But I’ll leave Olly to tell you more about that but would like to take the opportunity to thank him for his great report and for all he and the team did in enhancing our guests voyage. But before I hand over to him, just to let you know that of course I’ll be back next week with more news from us around the world and a special interview with John Duffy who many of you will know as the remarkable and long serving Hotel Manager on QE2.Anyway that’s next week – in the meantime here’s Olly’s Guest Blog.

Oliver Pengelly – RADA Graduade Guest Blog

“HOW did you learn all those lines?” This is the question an actor is asked most frequently, often with a look of suspicion as if somehow we might secretly write them on pieces of scenery or use some elaborate trick of the mind. There is often a mysticism that surrounds an actor’s profession; his training, approach to work and the glamorous lifestyle, forever rushing from movie premiere to glitzy party, from studio to stage. It is indeed, an exciting and unpredictable job, but the reality of it is that you spend a lot more time taking a bus to some cold and dreary rehearsal room in South London (where most West-End productions rehearse), spending hours searching for part time work to fill in the gaps between jobs and a lot of time in your pyjamas watching day time television. In reality, it can be a very lonely and unglamorous profession.

So, when you get a phone call from Ellis Jones, previously vice-principal of RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), asking whether you would be interested in performing theatre on a Cunard ship, you’d be forgiven for thinking it a prank. Me? A scruffy young actor from Cornwall? I’d probably be more at home on a fishing trawler than an ocean liner. It takes about 2 seconds to decide- “I’ll do it”. Within two weeks, we’re in rehearsal. Luckily not in a dreary church hall in South London, but in one of the well equipped rehearsal studios in RADA, central London. This is the school in which I, and the other three actors in the cast, spent three years training. There are many memories from this building and plenty of history too. Not only is it the place where we learnt Shakespeare speeches, worried about impending assessments and stressed about our vocal qualities, but they are the same corridors that Alan Rickman, Sir Richard Attenborough, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Imelda Staunton, Vivien Leigh, Ralph Fiennes (just to name a few!) probably had exactly the same experiences.

Quickly down to work in the rehearsal room, the first task is to get to grips with the scripts and, if necessary, cut them to a reasonable length for Queen Victoria’s Royal Court stage. The plays on this contract are a double-bill by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov adapted by Brian Friel, The Bear and The Yalta Game, and Charles Dickens’ classic Hard Times. As it happens, the Chekhov plays are of a good length, but cutting Hard Times to about one hour is no mean feat. Pencils at the ready, the process sparks many a lively debate amongst actors and artistic team as we argue over lines and characters, being ruthless yet trying to keep the heart and style of the script- all on the first day of rehearsal! Pretty soon we are up on our feet as the “blocking” begins, followed by three weeks of researching, fleshing out and putting the detail into characters as each actor, with the help of Ellis and Dom (our team of directors), work through their method- oh and, of course, there are hours of line-learning!

After a dress rehearsal in a grey and rainy London we are finally ready to board Queen Victoria. It is hard not to feel like a travelling troupe of players as we arrive at the port with set and costumes, ready to set up and perform wherever and whenever we are asked. We needn’t worry about that though, as we soon spot the ship’s magnificent Royal Court Theatre which is a glamorous 837 seat theatre that, with its boxes, pays homage to some of the classic West-end theatre like the Garrick or the Wyndhams. The theatre is very well equipped too not only with a state of the art technology, but also with a very knowledgeable and dedicated technical team who have to support a raft of different shows. So, as soon as we arrive we are almost straight back into rehearsal. This time Technical Rehearsal, where the lights and sound effects are added to the production and things are tweaked a little to suit the stage and the space we are performing in. These rehearsals tend to take place in the early hours of the morning, because the theatre is utilised all through the day to provide almost constant entertainment for guests. Trust me; remembering your lines is even harder at 2am!

Once this is over, we are all ready to go. Time to relax? Oh no, we are quickly into planning one of the many workshops we run whilst on the voyage. On regular sea day mornings, the cast run a series of interactive classes. This is a chance for the guests to experience and gain an insight into our training, rehearsal process and techniques that we utilise in performance. It is also an opportunity for the budding actors on the ship to perform for each other, but more than anything, it is the chance to come and have fun. We have many a giggle during the workshops, as it is chance to do something a little different, learn some tricks of the trade, but also be a bit silly for 45 minutes!

Soon enough, performance days come and go and we are blessed with big, appreciative audiences that seem to enjoy the plays as much as we do. Of course, we get the opportunity to find out soon enough.

One of the nicest things about working on a Cunard ship are the privileges that are extended to us, which allows us to socialise with our audience and our audience to socialise with us. We love it when guests approach us and often they want to discuss the performances they have seen, the workshops or anything else related to the theatre.

It makes me realise how rare it is that an actor gets to meet his audience. It also makes me realise that all of a sudden here I am standing in a dinner jacket, in a beautiful lounge on one of the most luxurious ships in the world sipping on a citrus bellini. Maybe I am living up to the stereotype of an actor’s glamorous lifestyle! Inevitably, at that very moment, I am approached by a guest who, with a look of wonder, asks me the big question- “HOW did you learn all those lines?”

Let me put it this way, it’s much better than being asked, “WHY did you learn all those lines?”

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  1. Christian Reay says:

    Once again another thrilling installement from the World Cruise of Queen Victoria. I must say that I am rather envious at those lucky few that have the pleasure of sailing on the full world cruise – what an experience and a half that must be!!

    Tell me, when are we likely to hear anymore about the new Queen Elizabeth?

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