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Cheeky Maggot's Amber Agar on small beginnings and great things



Interview by Emma Whitelaw

AMBER Agar set up Cheeky Maggot Theatre in 2002 and, since then, she has not only done great things behind the scenes, but has starred in such stage productions as Age-Sex-Location, at Riverside Studios, Soul Reader, at The Etcetera, and Revolving Door at Theatro Technis.

To top it all off, she is now a regular on ITV's hot new series, Murder City.

IndieLondon talks to Amber on her metamorphosis from Cambridge law graduate to producer of a thrilling new theatre company.

Amber got things started by describing how she founded Cheeky Maggot just as she was about to graduate from RADA.

"I had grown tired of revivals and wanted to be a part of something that gave me more control over my work - but that also promoted new work.

"It has taken me a while to work out what is our way of working - and every day, I am learning and gaining new ideas."

Cheeky Maggot is open to innovative works from writers and gives both prospective actors and directors the chance to work in a non-egotistical environment.

"At its essence, we have a laboratory style of working, which means we workshop new ideas in a collaborative way, where everyone has their say," she explained.

"When I receive a script, if I like what it has to say, or believe it has a potential, I then spend quite some time trying to marry the right script to the right director. I think once that relationship is in place, then the rest becomes easy."

It's not only local talent either, as she is quick to point out: "Some of my writers are in this country and some live in the States. The next stage is the writer and director meeting (or emailing, if there is that distance!) and discussing what they want to achieve, which are the areas they feel need to be worked on

"They may not always agree, and it has meant that often there have been false starts to projects, but I guess that is all part of the process.

"After that, we set up workshops and use this time to work around bits of the play that work, as well as improvise sections that may not work, that may need re-writes and so on.

"The writer is present at these and then can go away and do some re-writes, and so we keep going until we feel ready to go to a rehearsed reading for an invited audience - the type of audience and the venue all dependent on the exposure we want.

"I feel, though, that the team should believe in the work 150%, and be happy with it 150% before going into performance, for the sake of the actors, the cost and what can be achieved."

Cheeky Maggot is currently workshoping a new play by RL Nesvet, entitled The Shape Shifter.

I asked Amber what it was that attracted her to the piece.

"I loved the brave subject matter. Rebecca, the writer, not only deals with homosexuality in 19th Century France, and the taboo around that at the time, but also what sexual identity really is - how much it defines us, and in what way.

"There is a great fluidity and yet starkness to the language, which is a real challenge to the actors, and, I believe, to the audience.

" This is a very dense piece that, for some reason, I kept coming back to; in a sense, it haunted me, and I knew there would be no peace until I got it out there for its British premiere.

"As well as the fact that it is a love story, but not in your traditional 'boy meets girl' sense.

"And I like works that are a little off that expected mark, a little different… I am hoping that those who come to this reading will believe in it enough to help us take it to the next level."

As well as her work at Cheeky Maggot, Amber spends a lot of her time as an actress.

Such multi-tasking is a credit to her. But success did not come overnight and she is quick to explain that it hasn't been easy.

"I won't lie, it has been very tough in the last year.

"When I first left RADA, I was very naive, I had no idea what I wanted, and I was just happy to be out and meeting people; I have been a slow-burner.

"I spent a good six months being a jobbing actor, doing corporates, small-budget films and TIE. And I learned my craft.

"It started to get busy early last year. All that has meant is that when I do have some time free, then instead of going on holiday or down the pub, I sit at my computer for hours a day and work away."

With an obvious passion for her work, she has proved to be capable of great things.

It was not long ago, however, that she was studying Law at Cambridge. Hardly what you might call small beginnings, but certainly a curious start to a career onstage.

"Well, I left school always wanting to act, but never being brave enough to think I could do that for a career.

"I chose law because I wanted to make a change, to help people. Maybe that was very idealistic of me, I don't know.

"Cambridge was such a huge turning point in my life. I learned so much about myself and the pressures of Cambridge, where you work hard and party hard, makes you really define who you are."

It wasn't long before the star within shined through, though.

"In my first term of my first year, I played Madame in Jean Genet's The Maids, and was already getting into trouble with my Director of Studies of Law, for not concentrating enough on my degree," she recalls.

"In my second term, I played Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - a play I was obsessed with when we studied it at school, and rate the film, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, in my top ten.

"And I know how it sounds, but playing that part to an audience of 500 every night for a week changed my life.

"I suddenly found what I had felt had been missing for most of my life. That was it, I was bitten."

A career as both producer of Cheeky Maggot and as an actress is, no doubt for Amber, a dream come true.

"I can truly say I feel like I have found my vocation and constantly feel lucky that I can get paid for doing what I love," she concludes.

And it's difficult not to wish her every succes in the future, for this is one success story who thoroughly deserves the acclaim and success she is currently achieving.

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