Passion for the Planet, mole valley 2023: Creative team

John Allen

Trainee Assistant Stage Manager

John AllenJohn is 16, and already has a lot of acting and performing arts experience under his belt. This includes work with the Reigate School of Ballet (for about 4 years) and with YESPA (Youth East Surrey Performing Arts).

He’s well versed in musical theatre, and has taken part in many productions including SIX, Jersey Boys, Cinderella and We Will Rock You. John has also performed in the show & Juliet (a musical spin-off of Romeo and Juliet), in which he played Romeo and Prince Francois.

He enjoys putting on different voices during shows and performances in his college classes – his speciality is a French accent!

John recently started at Reigate College and is looking forward to the plays that will be put on during the next 2 years.

Away from theatre, John enjoys sport (he plays a lot of football) and music. He started playing the piano aged 7, and has a couple of songs that he wrote myself.

He’s excited to be working with Damn Cheek on Passion for the Planet!

Mahsa Hammat Bahary

Associate Artist

Mahsa Hammat BaharyMahsa originally trained at Project A, an intensive acting course at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal. Since graduating, she has appeared as Hobby in Teechers (Gala Theatre, Durham), Alana in Our Laygate (The Customs House), and as lead role Farida in the regional short film Falling.

Mahsa has also performed in several Theatre in Education tours throughout the UK. These performances were aimed at young people aged 12 to 15, and covered topics such as water consciousness, environment care and awareness of after-school education options such as traineeships and apprenticeships.

Mahsa began working with Damn Cheek when she appeared as Jamilla in the 2021 production of Passion For The Planet at Christ Church Felling and then as The Girl in the tour of Monday’s Child (2022).

She is delighted to be an Associate Artist, working with the Damn Cheek team whose core values she shares and with whom the “work” of acting is always “fun and a privilege”.

Pippa Banks

Trainee Assistant Director

Pippa BanksPippa started acting (aged 3!) with Stagecoach Dorking, and further fostered that passion for musical theatre with the British Theatre Academy, and RARE productions.

More recently she joined the LAMDA (London Academy of Musical and Dramatic Arts) framework and is currently working towards her grade 5, having gained distinctions in her earlier grades (and in the Performance Arts Award exams she did through Stagecoach).

Soon after discovering acting, Pippa began flexing her writing and directing muscles – drafting in her younger brother and neighbours to help perform her shows for friends and families.

Last Christmas she was co-director, scriptwriter (and actor!) for her musical theatre group’s pantomime. This year she has relished the opportunity of a week’s work experience learning skills in lighting and sounds (and having a little turn on stage too) with the Globe Players.

Pippa discovered Damn Cheek productions were developing Passion for the Planet at her local Quaker meeting house, and is very excited to have been able to get involved. She will be keeping an eye out for future productions!

Darren Cheek

Director and Performer

Darren CheekDarren Cheek is an actor, director, writer, teacher and dramaturg. He co-founded Damn Cheek in 2013 with the aim of encouraging and supporting individual and community involvement in theatre.

Darren himself found his theatre vocation through being fortunate enough to have the love, support, encouragement and direction of his secondary school drama teacher – and, as such, he is a passionate advocate of this kind of ripple effect.

For more than 25 years, Darren has performed both main and supporting acting roles with many of the UK’s leading regional theatres, on the national touring circuit, and at several West End theatres. Over the years he has appeared regularly in film and on television.

Before founding and becoming Artistic Director of Damn Cheek, Darren was Associate Director of Krazy Kat Theatre Company. A fluent British Sign Language user, he toured regularly in Krazy Kat Theatre Company’s sign-integrated productions between 2000 and 2011. He has also worked as Associate Director for theatre companies UnFit Productions, YCT and Kipper Tie.

Since 1997, Darren has been actively involved in the writing and development of many original plays and adaptations.

He is an experienced trainer, role-player, presenter and facilitator in both public and corporate, national and international settings, including NHS Trusts, BBC Academy and the National Bank of Pakistan. He is also a fully qualified individual, relationship and group psychotherapist.

Darren is excited to be leading the Passion for the Planet team again, helping to create this vibrant and powerful show with the Mole Valley community.

 

Chris de Wilde

Designer

Chris de Wilde

Chris is a London-based theatre designer who has worked extensively both at home and abroad. Highlights include Candide, Sweeney Todd and Nine in Sweden, Il Trovatore in Georgia and Cyberjam and Nixon’s Nixon in London’s West End.

While he enjoys creating work on a larger scale, Chris also relishes the challenge of distilling the essence of a piece when resources are limited, and his work has been seen in over 20 of London’s leading off-West End and fringe venues.

Chris has created shows in barns, on boats and above canteens, as well as in Trafalgar Square, the Courtauld Gallery, the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the chapel at New College Oxford.

He was Associate Artist with Krazy Kat Theatre Company for many years, collaborating on 19 shows for children including The Singing Ringing Tree, Clownderella and The Very Magic Flute.

Passion for the Planet is the third show Chris has designed for Damn Cheek, following Monday’s Child and The Causeway.

Tony Earnshaw

Writer

Tony Earnshaw

Tony grew up in a family where theatre was a passion, and his own love affair with the stage started with a lead role in a gang show – awarded to him simply because, in the cub troop he had joined, he was one of the few who could read. He then progressed through school productions and student theatre before a career in pensions and investment took over. He never stopped writing though, and in 2008 he switched careers to make that his focus.

Following this switch, he found early success with his play The Door on the Edinburgh Fringe; it later transferred to a run at off-Broadway 59E59 Theaters in New York. Somewhere along the way Tony met Darren Cheek and the idea of forming Damn Cheek Productions was born. A double bill of a revised version of The Door along with Tony’s prophetic political The Speech became the new company’s first production and toured covering London, Birmingham and various fringes and other venues around the UK. Tony’s further work with Damn Cheek includes Sex is another Language, Fred and Georgie and The Causeway.

Tony’s first novel, Blessed Assurance, was published in 2019 and has been adapted for the stage by Damn Cheek. His latest poetry collection, Paths and Digressions, was published in May 2021.

Tony’s other activities include a book for children, a millennium review and (as co-writer) a libretto for the choral pageant George and The Dragon. He also finds time for running writers’ groups, choral singing and playing saxophone. Tony is also a director of Terrestrial, a Bristol-based arts company.

Willie Elliott

Associate Director and Audio Describer

Willie ElliottWillie Elliott has performed with Gay Sweatshop, Red Shift and the Northcott Theatre Exeter, and for over 10 years was resident Pantomime Dame at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham.

He has extensive experience as an actor–director and facilitator in Theatre for Children, Theatre for Young People and Theatre in Education. For 11 years he was Associate Artist at Theatre Centre London, developing professional theatre for young audiences.

Willie also works as an audio describer and now trains describers across the globe. Currently part of the audio description team at the National Theatre, he also provides audio introductions for the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet and English National Opera. He described the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games and the Sochi Winter Paralympics for Channel 4.

Willie has actively contributed to Damn Cheek since its early days and now brings his expertise and experience in Education, Children’s and Young People’s Theatre to support Damn Cheek’s work in these areas.

Helen Potter

Musical Director and Performer

Helen PotterAfter growing up in Essex, Helen trained at East 15 Acting School and has since worked as an actor, writer, singer, voice-over artist and musician.

Recent credits include: Mr.Burns: A Post-Electric Play at Derby Theatre, NotGames video game Not For Broadcast, The Museum of the Last Fragments at BoomTown Festival and The Hippie Shakes at Edinburgh Fringe.

She is also a member of singing collective ‘HOWL’ who have recently performed at King’s Place London and the main stage at Smuggler’s Festival, and will feature on Cosmo Sheldrake’s upcoming album.

Helen is delighted to be part of the Passion for the Planet team!

Alison Pottinger

BSL Interpreter

Alison Pottinger Alison Pottinger trained in Technical Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford College where she now works as a tutor. She has 30 years’ experience as a stage manager and 20 years’ experience as a BSL/English interpreter.

Ali has worked at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, the Tricycle Theatre (now the Kiln) and the Royal Court Theatre London; for The Posse, Black Theatre Co-operative and Talawa Theatre Company; and on Muhammad Ali and Me and STARS by Mojisola Adebayo. In 2019 she was part of the stage management team for the all women of colour production of Richard II at the Globe Theatre, co-directed by Adjoa Andoh and Lynette Linton.

After training as a BSL/English interpreter, Ali has worked in that field, mainly in the arts, since 2002. She has been lucky enough to combine BSL and stage management working for Deafinitely Theatre, for Graeae Theatre Company on Reasons To Be Cheerful and with the RAMPS consortium on The Who’s Tommy, and BAZ Productions on The Process.

Ali has worked as an interpreter on integrated summer schools for Polka Theatre, and was recently stage manager for RED, the inaugural show in the company’s new building. She is also the project manager for Technical Theatre BSL, which aims to encourage Deaf people to take up careers backstage.

Ali is delighted to be working with Damn Cheek on Passion for the Planet, helping to create this vital piece of work with the Mole Valley community. 

Karen Spicer

Performer

Karen SpicerKaren Spicer (pronouns: she/her) is an older, Queer actor, director, workshop facilitator, access support worker, creative enabler and mental health survivor from working-class Nottingham roots.

 Karen has over 30 years’ experience as a theatre practitioner, during which time she also worked as a relief mental health recovery support worker.

Understanding and acknowledging her own story saved Karen’s life. Being allowed to be creative has been, and continues to be, a vital part of her recovery and well-being.

Karen has had the amazing opportunity and experience of performing and touring both nationally and internationally on mainstream stages – from Brazil to the Barbican and beyond. She has also had the thrill of acting on TV, radio and in a number of short independent films, playing a variety of mums, social workers, therapists and art teachers. Plus a super hero…

It is, though, through her work with companies such as Red Ladder, Theatre Centre, Graeae, Diverse City, Damn Cheek and – in the 80s – her own company RandomPact, that Karen has grown artistically, politically and personally. These companies were and are made up of artists who strongly believe that culture and creativity should be accessible to and for us all, and that stories which still remain untold should be told.

Karen has a great desire to keep on challenging herself and her creative practice; to keep learning; to be compassionate, curious and playful; to practise and promote diversity and inclusivity. And also to embrace, to rage, to celebrate, to laugh and to create through this glorious mess we call life.

She is thrilled that Damn Cheek is giving her a golden opportunity to pursue these desires with them, and is excited to be part of Passion for the Planet this autumn.

 

Vicky Tearle

Education Consultant and Facilitator

Vicky Tearle Vicky is a retired schoolteacher. Following an honours degree at Durham University and a PGCE at Southampton, Vicky started her teaching career in secondary schools in Hampshire and Wiltshire. She then moved to Essex, and while her family was young she did part-time and supply teaching in adult classes, further education, English as a foreign language, secondary and primary schools. She then went back to teaching full-time in a large primary school.

Vicky has always loved the theatre and has performed in school, university and amateur theatre groups, both acting and singing. She has sung in several choirs, most notably a 6-person harmony group ‘The Cavender Singers’. She has also appeared in musicals, singing many lead roles, most notably in My Fair Lady, The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance. Vicky first met Darren when they were both in The King and I as Lady Thiang and Prince Chulalongkorn!

In all the schools where she taught, Vicky formed drama clubs and directed school plays, pantos and musicals, most of which she wrote herself. For the music, she called first upon her brother, Nic Clarke, also a teacher and a talented musician, and then her son, Tom Haines, now a professional composer and musician.

Vicky is passionate about introducing young people to literacy and literature, drama, poetry and especially Shakespeare. She is delighted to be part of the Damn Cheek community!

Stephen Thompson

Company Stage Manager

Stephen ThompsonStephen’s childhood was punctuated with regular visits to Harrogate Theatre. His parents also encouraged his interest in theatre through visits to London, where he saw many plays – after each of which, the whole family would patiently wait at various stage doors.

After gaining a degree in Drama at UCW Aberystwyth, Stephen worked backstage in several major London theatres before becoming Box Office Manager at what is now the BFI Southbank. While working there, he also began writing film reviews and interviews for magazines and for a major film website.

Following this, he managed an independent bookshop, retrained as a primary school teacher, taught in schools in disadvantaged areas of London and worked with creative lighting design company Light Follows Behaviour which works inclusively within varied communities, enabling them to improve their environments with light.

When working on the National Theatre’s production of David Eldridge’s Beginning, Stephen was inspired to start writing plays. He was encouraged and supported in this by Darren Cheek, and has since contributed scripts for Damn Cheek’s recent Zoom-based productions.

At present Stephen is developing a stage adaptation of Sally Bayley’s Girl With Dove, and has just had his first short story published. Alongside working backstage in the West End, he currently presents 2 podcasts: Mr Bert Pods and Nothing To See Here with Darren and Stephen.

Stephen is proud to be part of Passion for the Planet – and of the Damn Cheek community, which embodies the power of theatre working with communities to educate, enable and positively create change in our society.