Before the lockdown, actor and puppeteer Matthew Forbes was playing the role of Zazu in the UK Tour of The Lion King having previously starred in productions such as Skellig, Holes, Treasure Island and War Horse. I was lucky enough to get to talk to Matthew all about how he has been adapting to this strange new way of life in lockdown and his hopes for the future of the theatre industry.
First of all, how are you feeling about the whole virus and lockdown situation?
The current situation is completely unprecedented and has pulled the rug from beneath so many of us. That said, I think that there has been a wonderful sense of community spirit, volunteering and support that has come from it. I have been fortunate in the fact that I have been able to spend some quality time at home and have been able to reconnect with old friends. I have not been filling my days with activities, but have not found myself getting bored… yet!
How have you been keeping yourself occupied during the lockdown?
At the beginning of the year, I was out on tour with The Lion King, as circumstances become more serious, we were one of the first to close our doors to the public, for everyone’s safety. I was in Edinburgh when the lockdown was announced, and ended up having a wonderful month in Scotland. I was able to keep myself isolated and safe and occasionally went for my daily exercise – exploring the empty streets of the city. I have been back in London for the past month, which has been great. Since being back in London, I have actually signed up to a sports massage therapy course. As a performer, I have always relied on sports therapists to keep my fit and healthy, and I thought that an enforced lockdown would be the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill.
What are you most looking forward to doing once lockdown is over?
Getting back to work! I trained as an actor and have been working professionally for many years, so the sooner I can get back to work the better. I think that we all need theatre, and the sense of escapism that we experience in the theatre is needed now more than ever. Of course, we shouldn’t return to work prematurely, but I sincerely hope that we will be able to entertain people in theatres soon. Sharing a story in a theatre is a thrill, it’s a responsive and dynamic experience… far more exciting than watching a movie at home. The ritual of going to the theatre is exciting, and hopefully audiences will be keen to get back to the theatre, as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Is there anything we, as theatre fans, can do to help the arts industry in these trying times?
Book theatre tickets and stay engaged with your local theatre! Box office takings are often a theatre’s main source of income. Without people buying tickets, income will drastically drop, and could even lead to the permanent closure of a theatre. If people who have brought tickets for shows that have been postponed or cancelled, many theatres are asking the ticket holders not to request for refunds, but instead donate the money to the theatre in exchange for credit vouchers. A lot of theatres are rescheduling cancelled performances for next year, and will be keen for their audiences to return or rebook. Keep an eye on information from your favourite theatres, perhaps join their membership schemes so that you can become one of the first people to hear about updates, reopening or new events!
What is your favourite thing about the theatre industry as a whole?
The shared experience of theatre and the suspension of disbelief is magical. In an era where we all have mobile phones that continue to get more and more technically advanced, being able to sit in a theatre, watch characters interact and let our imaginations run wild in the theatrical world that is presented is fantastic. Humans are social beings; we love telling and listening to stories.
With the theatres closed and so much being moved online, do you think that we are seeing a big change in how the industry works?
Moving theatre online and giving people access to archive recordings is a wonderful way for theatres to share their extensive catalogues of work. It gives people a front row seat in their living rooms, and for many people gives them the chance to see a show that they may not have normally been able to see. That said, I don’t think that the ritual of going to the theatre can ever be replaced. The experience of sitting in a theatre and watching a show live cannot be replaced or manufactured, it’s a unique and special experience, that I hope that people will be keen to go back to when it is safe to do so.
How have you been managing day to day life in quarantine? Do you have a routine, or do you just go with the flow?
Each day is different; depending on the weather, my mood and schedule. I’ve been trying to speak with friends and family everyday, and have been involved in many online quizzes! Generally, I am taking a very relaxed approach to each day, not planning anything major, which mans I can then respond to things easily and not feel stuck. Everyone is different, and so I am sure that my approach might not work for others, but so far I have found it liberating and relaxing.
Do you have any advice for people who are perhaps finding lockdown hard to manage?
Lockdown is bound to test our physical and mental well being, and there is nothing wrong with saying that you are struggling. Remember that you’re not alone, this lockdown is a global experience and everyone responds differently. Speaking with friends and family is a wonderful way to stay connected, but to also voice any worries or anxieties you have. Do something each day that makes you feel good; dance to your favourite song, kiss your partner, watch your favourite TV show, eat your favourite snack! Staying active, minimising negative influences and keeping in touch with friends and family will really help you to stay positive.
Do you think that it is important to talk about mental health in these challenging times?
Looking after your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health, so never feel like you can’t ask for help. There are many organisations out there that can help, and of course friends and family are a huge source of support. There is a huge connection between mental and physical well being, if you feel good mentally, you’re likely to feel good physically. We all have good days and bad days, if you can recognise when you are feeling down, try to do something to boost your mood. At any point, if things get tough, reach out for help.
I would like to thank Matthew for his time and his answers to this interview, as well as wish him the very best for the future. Stay safe x