Emma and Lily from NewPlay Productions
Lily Newbury-Freeman and Emma Playfair are two Australian actors living in London. I caught up with them ahead of a rehearsal for their play, Food, at the Finborough Theatre.
Emma and Lily are both NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts) graduates. Perth-born Lily was an early acting enthusiast and began performing in childhood while Emma had a previous incarnation as an occupational therapist in Sydney. The pair met at NIDA in January 2011 sowing seeds for on ongoing creative partnership.
After graduating, the two women separately pursued a variety of theatre and film opportunities before fate brought them together again when both Lily and Emma happened to be living in London at the same time and their plans for establishing their own production company took hold.
"It was a situational thing and quite unplanned," says Emma. "Over a few drunken evenings we started seeing what a dream could look like, what could happen and how we could achieve it. And then things started falling into place and people started saying yes to us."
There was an impetus to move on with their plans very quickly. "Both of us felt that we didn't want to wait around," explained Lily. "Emma was on a two-year visa and we really wanted to get things happening for us. There was a time pressure."
The move to a new city also brought renewed creativity and opportunity. "Being a new person in a fresh city can be very freeing," says Emma. "I had lived in Sydney for a few years but I had not been flowering and that had been frustrating. Nothing was happening for me so London felt like a place of opportunity."
Lily agrees, commenting, "The pace of London is so much faster than Australia and that is really exciting. Everything has a sense of now. As amazing as Australia is, it has a much slower space and there is less urgency."
Establishing a Production Company
From this dreaming and planning, NewPlay Productions was born. Being in control of their own production company held great appeal. Lily explained, "At first we thought about teaming up with other people we know and putting on productions but what you miss out on as an actor is that control. You do really beautiful and creative work but you hand over the control to others. We wanted to be the producers as well so we established ourselves as a production company. It's stressful work but it's a combination that suits us because we are detail-orientated people."
Emma agreed, "We had a lot of contacts with fellow Australian theatre graduates across different disciplines, and it seemed like a great opportunity to patch people together and do some quilt work out of all their skills and talents. It seemed right to make a company and do it properly."
Food, by Australian playwright Steve Rodgers, is their latest production and the work has refined the niche of their production company. The pair also perform in the show.
"Our first show, Airswimming, was a beautiful piece but it was written by someone English and we did it in English accents and to an English audience," explained Emma. "We walked away from it loving the story we told but realising we were one of the hundreds of English production companies. We started to ask what was it that we bring? What was our niche?"
Food embodied the right direction for the fledgling company which aims to keep women at the forefront. "Both Lily and I had seen Food when it was on in Sydney, Australia. The second we started talking about the play, all these wonderful memories came flooding back. It has such a beautiful, visceral quality and it plays with all aspects of theatre as well as friendships, sisterhood and relationships."
Lily agreed, "It's a show that makes you feel something and we really wanted to bring it to London."
"And there are two meaty characters for women," laughs Emma.
The two women are very keen to see how their work resonates with British audiences. "What spectrum of Australia do we place the show on? The show is set in the outback of Australia and it has all that front-footedness of Australian people. We have the beautiful English director Cressida Brown working with us and it has been amazing talking to her about how Australians behave, speak and interact. I am looking forward to seeing how these Aussie Ocker girls and a Turkish man show their culture on an English stage. "
London for these Australian women has been liberating. "I feel like London is so much more awake to the theatre," says Emma. "You hear people talk about theatre all the time, even on the tube. It's made a huge difference to me by being in a place that embraces actors and theatres."
Lily agrees, "There is so much going on and especially independent theatre. People take bigger risks here and it's so exciting to be part of that community. London is a tough city. People work very hard and career is at the top of the list. I am excited to be part of that."
Favourite parts of London
So what are Lily and Emma’s favourite aspects of London?
"There is something so amazing about these long days in summer. Yes, you have to endure a lot of dark winter," Lily laughs, " but after a show, it’s still so light and you can go out and have dinner it is so lovely."
"For me, I will be clichéd and say Soho," says Emma. "When I arrived in London, I was in LaLa land and going out for dinner and seeing show after show in Soho. I can walk around there even now and get a sense of a whole new world opening up."
You can book tickets to see Emma and Lily at Food, Finborough Theatre London. The show runs until the 15th of July.