After receiving his Physics Degree, University of Nottingham alumni Douggie McMeekin trained at LAMDA and is now receiving his professional stage debut as one of the Lost Boys in Ella Hickson’s Wendy & Peter Pan at the Royal Shakespeare Company. I talked to him about his time at UoN, drama school and all things magical.
Theatre seems to have been a big part of your time at Nottingham; did you have an interest in acting prior to university?
I did a bit at school but it was always just for fun, I never did it for A-Level or anything like that. I was always good at maths and science and came to Nottingham to do Physics, and kind of fell into it. You fall into things in the first term or two and they end up being your primary outlooks for time spending. The New Theatre was exactly that, for me it was where I made a few of my friends early on and just never looked back.
How have the skills you learnt whilst involved in a student-run Theatre Company shaped your career?
It was where it all began, for sure. I liked it at school but it was always just for fun whereas at the New Theatre there was a big group of us who loved it and took it really seriously. We were quite competitive about it, we wanted to put on really good shows and make sure that our show was the best. I became very good friends with some of the presidents, who really defined the atmosphere of the building – a lot of who have continued on in the industry. For a lot of them their interests were cultivated at the New Theatre and they’re still some of my closest mates.
“I still wasn’t 100% sure whether I wanted to be an actor but I knew I wanted to learn how”
So during your time here, you went to National Student Drama Festival (NSDF) and the Edinburgh Fringe. How was the experience of meeting other student companies and getting a taste of the industry so early on in your career?
NSDF was the turning point for me. I went there in my 4th Year when I was working on the Students Union. I did a Physics Degree, then I was the SU Activities Officer; I wasn’t really planning on being an actor at all. All I knew was that I loved it and then I went up to NSDF and I met a few people including the casting director of the RSC and I didn’t even know who she was at the time. I remember that the show we did went quite well, for whatever reason my performance went quite well.
That’s always good!
Yeah, lots of people were pushing me, telling me to do it, and I was like “aaah! I don’t really know” It’s not something I’d ever thought about doing and it didn’t really fit in with what my Dad wanted. And then I met Hannah Miller and she said just find the course you want to study because going to drama school doesn’t mean you become an actor. You go to drama school to learn how to be an actor. I remember hearing that bit of advice and being like ok, ok, that I can fit in to my world – do I want to go and learn how to be an actor? The answer to that was yes, I did. I still wasn’t 100% sure whether I wanted to be an actor but I knew I wanted to learn how. I decided to apply for a few courses and I got in. I think that week at NSDF really was the point where it all came together.
“People will always tell you about how hard it is but you just don’t listen”
You often hear that the initial aim of drama school is to break you down so that they can build you back up again. Was that your experience?
No that doesn’t happen at all. I’ve heard that phrase banded about but I think drama school is a facilitator for you to just learn who you are. You can really take the time to try and understand this crazy, whatever you want to call it, whatever acting really is: an art form or a skill or whatever. You take the time to really understand your body and mind, how to take down texts and how to connect with other people. It’s an amazing place and not somewhere that changes who you are, if anything it makes you realise who you are.
Since graduating drama school you have been prolific. Others aren’t so lucky. What can an actor to do to stay creatively engaged when they are out of work?
It’s hard. Everyone says ‘it’s hard’, ‘you will be out of work’ et cetera… people will always tell you about how hard it is but you just don’t listen. I remember thinking it will never happen to me and that I’d be fine. No one is ever fine, it’s brutal. A lot of the time it’s not worth it but then little things happen and it is. This year I’ve spent 5 months auditioning, working in a brewery and genuinely being pretty miserable. But, suddenly, things change and it becomes the best job in the world.
So you’re in Wendy and Peter Pan till the end of January, tell me about your character Curly.
Curly is one of four lost boys. Wendy is the central character; she and her two brothers fly to Neverland with Peter and Tinkerbell. Curly is lovely and beautiful, perhaps a bit slow, he loves breakfast and joy and can’t stand the idea of being sad!
Why is the story of Peter Pan still such a crowd pleaser today?
It’s just so good. When I was cast I read the book for the first time since I was a kid and it’s just a masterpiece in imagination. All of these things fit into the mind in a very honest way – we have a tendency nowadays to be overly positive and that’s great but it’s also dishonest. In this, these lost boys are full of joy but essentially they’re children who’ve died. [chuckles]. It’s a lovely balance of being really fun, full of light and colour, whilst also offering a very human, grounded take on the world.
What does Hickson’s newly adapted text bring to this familiar story?
It makes Wendy the central character and follows her journey in getting over the loss of her brother – everything is kind of Wendy’s World. In this industry there are so few parts for women, compared to white men – it’s nuts. Even though this cast isn’t the best example of trying to combat that, when the ten-year-old girls in the audience see Wendy they’ll say, “Oh my god she’s amazing, she’s so strong and confident and honest and lovely and I just want to be her.” I think that is an amazingly powerful thing.
Rehearsal image credit: Manuel Harlan
For more information regarding RSC’s ‘Wendy & Peter Pan’, see here.