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Maria McAteer and Hugh

Maria McAteer and Hugh Degenhardt: One Last Look

One Last Look

Award-winning playwright, actor and singer and Irish dance teacher, Maria McAteer, moved to Hastings a couple of years ago, and has already thrown herself wholeheartedly into the cultural life of the community. Following on from the success of her last touring show, My Friend Lester, which she also brought to Hastings, her latest play, One Last Look, is due to open in April, inspired by Hastings and St Leonards. HOT’s Zelly Restorick asks her about her latest work, her extraordinary creative drive and her experience of Hastings. 

A site specific piece, One Last Look is set in a dingy flat in Hastings, where a man and a woman await a phone call from a colleague. As they chat idly, they find themselves unwrapping progressively more revealing and surprising secrets.

You’re an accomplished singer, actor, playwright and Irish dancer: tell us a bit about yourself and your creativity.

Well, where do I start? Big question. I guess at the beginning – and I’ll try to keep it brief, hard task for a writer :-)

I was born in London and moved to Newcastle Upon Tyne when I was 3 years old. I have many fond memories growing up in Newcastle but it was tough too, being the only brown skinned girl on the block. It’s changed there now but back then I really stood out and did experience a fair amount of bullying. I guess feeling so isolated at times I turned to writing and music to escape into another world.

I started Irish dancing aged 4 years, I didn’t really have a choice: if you have an irish mother its kind of compulsory. I loved Irish dancing right from the start, the music and dance transported me. I worked hard at my dancing, travelled around the country to competitions at weekends, another escape and another world. I became an All England and All Ireland champion and then won a World Championship status. If Riverdance or any of the big shows had been about back then, I’m sure I’d have run off to join a show, but they weren’t and as A levels approached, teachers at school were breathing down my neck to make a decision. I chose Drama School and was immediately told by my stern headmistress that acting was a hobby not a profession. I was very good at biology, so it was decided that I was going to university to study biology and I was put on the rellevent A level courses.

Obviously that didn’t work out! Half way through my A levels, I totally lost interest with everything. Still with pressure to start a ‘proper’ career, I decided to train as a nurse at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital; I got my RGN/SRN, trained as a midwife and have to say I enjoyed this for a while, but my dream to go to drama school was still there. I heard about The Poor School in London, a charity run drama school that allowed students to work during the day and study evenings and weekends. I went to London, auditioned and got accepted. I graduated, got an amazing agent, tv and theatre followed, my dream came true.

One of the jobs I had was working for The Soho Theatre as an actor working on characters in writers’ new plays so they could develop them. It was round about this time that I decided to enter a couple of my plays, anonymously, for The National Westminster Playwrights Award they ran. I did this anonymously as I didn’t have the belief that they were good enough but to my surprise I was awarded for both of my submissions and the plays were produced and performed. So guess I started to take my writing more seriously then.

One Last Look is the fifth of my plays to go into production. My Friend Lester -the story of Billie Holiday & Lester Young – most recently toured and sold out at three Brighton festivals. This play is still very close to my heart as it gives a glimpse into the jazz world, a world my father was part of until his death in 2000. Dad was a Trinidadian jazz saxophonist and composer, best known for his hit “Kiss Me Honey Honey Kiss Me.”

I started singing after his death to reveal some of the beautiful songs he wrote that never got published. I realised, like he always said, I did have jazz in my voice and that I loved jazz. I did a jazz vocal course at Chichester College and trained with Jazz diva, Liane Carrol to help me find my voice… and I did.

In short I guess creativity is how I share my voice, my experiences, my soul with the world. I look back and see that any time life or a situation or people try to put a boundary on my creativity, it just roars, breaks free and grows bigger.

A scene from One Last Look

A scene from One Last Look

Please tell HOT about the inspiration and catalyst for your latest play.

Hmm… don’t want to say too much in case I give the story away. I was actually mid writing another play and suddenly this one spilled out. I guess an interest in things and people not being what they appear to be. The secrets that people keep from each other. You could be sitting on a bus next to someone not knowing what they’d just done or what they are on their way to do. It’s a bit of a thriller.

Was the piece created specifically for The Horse and Groom?

Yes, the garage theatre behind the Horse and Groom is a unique space, perfect for the story.

What’s your connection to Hastings? What do you like about living here?

I moved here from Brighton two and a half years ago. I absolutely love the atmosphere here and find people are so open, genuine and friendly. When we moved here neighbours popped round and introduced themselves, offered help, information, support. I have a little girl and have found the community so welcoming. I also feel excited by the inspiring group of creative individuals I have met here, all so very down to earth, just getting on with things. There are so many new exciting projects happening creatively and everyone is so supportive, reaching out, opening doors for each other rather than closing them.

And your co-actor, Hugh Degenhardt – and his Hastings connection?

Hugo grew up in Hastings. He went to Christ Church Primary School and The Grove Comprehensive. He moved to London to pursue a career in drumming; this took him around the world working with artists such as Jack Bruce (Cream), Steve Hackett (Genesis), Rod Stewart, Robbie Williams and Bryan Ferry and he toured extensively with The Bootleg Beatles for several years. During this time he studied drama, landing roles in commercials and indie films but always kept connection with his hometown. The lure of the sea and the Sussex countryside pulled him back to Hastings five years ago. He now lives just round the corner from The Garage Theatre and the Horse & Groom is his favourite local.

One Last Look is directed by Karen Spicer and stars Maria McAteer and Hugo Degenhardt: 11 – 14 April 2018, The Garage, Horse & Groom, St Leonards, 8pm. Ticket Price: £10 (+ booking fee). Box Office: Brown Paper TicketsMore about Maria McAteer.

Posted 13:33 Friday, Mar 23, 2018 In: Performance