In conversation: Nigel Betts and Rebecca Scroggs

Photo by Mark Douet.
Photo by Mark Douet.

We caught up with Rebecca Scroggs and Nigel Betts, who’re currently starring in Steel at the Crucible Studio, the other night. Steel is a new play by Chris Bush about women in the Labour party thirty years apart and what’s changed, and what still must. Rebecca and Nigel play Vanessa/Josie and Ian/Dai in this fast-paced battle of wits, politics and identity.

'Steel' runs at the Crucible Studio until 6 October. Tickets are available here.

We quite like the number five here at Alive After Five. Describe ‘Steel’ in five words.

Rebecca: “Brilliant, witty, political, relevant, though-provoking.”

Nigel: “Ooh, you’ve really hit it on the head there. Fast, furious, excruciating, questioning, enlightening, entertaining and...different.”

How does ‘Steel’ compare to other plays you’ve been involved with?

Rebecca: “I’ve never been in a play with just two people before, it’s been great but really hard work ‘cause it’s always ‘your bit’ – even if you aren’t acting, you’re always in the room and watching and engaging.”

Nigel: “The play itself is quite an emotional rollercoaster because you have to link into parts of yourself that aren’t you and you have to give that to the other person, it’s not dissipated. You aren’t in a big company, you’re focussed in on each other and giving each other a lot of power and emotion and truth which can have it effects, y’know sometimes I feel like she looks at me and really hates me [laughs]

Rebecca: [laughs] – “That’s just my face!”

Nigel: “That’s definitely a difference that I’ve noticed- there’s no break from it, which is massively exciting and brilliant.”

Rebecca: “It’s an amazing opportunity and a sort of interrogation of ‘what is acting’.”

How has Chris Bush portrayed the fight for female power in British politics past and present?

Rebecca: “I think she’s presented a question of: what is revolution? Historically the Labour party has been the part of change and of revolution but I think [my character] Vanessa’s point of view – which she shares with a lot of the younger generation – is surrounding inclusivity. It’s not the first time this conversation has been had, back in the 1980’s it was all about identity politics and owning your race, class and gender but it’s not moved on a step and I think the point is that there’s no point talking about revolution if the people at the table having the debate are still the same ones who have always been there. Chris’s perspective is broad, and I think she’s used Vanessa and Josie as a metaphor for how everyone is different, it isn’t just about being black or a woman.”

Nigel: “And Ian is very out of touch because he’s talking from an old point of socialism about making things better for the workers – but there are no workers any more, there is no industry so there’s no ‘working class’ – there’s now a wealthy class and an underclass so the whole dynamic of socialism has got to change ‘cause it’s not about enfranchising the working man or woman, it’s about looking at society, and society is everybody.”

The UK and Sheffield have changed a fair bit since the 1980s. Is politics still just as chaotic now as it was then?

Nigel: “I think it’s far more chaotic now, because in the 1980’s it was simplified – there was somebody to really hate, a proper figurehead that was dismantling the industrial north, and society. It gave a focus of attack. Now, the problem is that they’re all just the same and the colour of their rosette is often the only thing that tells them apart – they’re mostly middle-class, educated career politicians who have a certain distance from what’s going on. I was at college here in the 80’s during the Miners’ Strike and lived in the communities that were living through it, and you felt privileged being a student, even financially. It’s far more complicated now and very difficult.”

The pair in action. Photo by Mark Douet.
The pair in action. Photo by Mark Douet.

What excited you about the play when you first came on board?

Rebecca: “I think it was just the subject matter. I’m interested in politics and political theatre and I just thought there was such a rich conversation within it. I didn’t even think about it being a two-hander until I was on the train to start rehearsals!”

Nigel: “The same! The script, but also I saw a bit of a technical challenge within it that i’m just about to celebrate a birthday and i’d never had a go at a two-hander before so I should while I still have the faculties to do so – a big mountain to climb but exciting and terrifying in equal amounts.”

How are you finding audiences are responding to Steel?

Nigel: “They’re all very different; we’ve had such different audiences each night. We’ve had pin-drop audiences who are big listeners and do a huge applause at the end, and we’ve had huge amounts of raucous laughter.”

Rebecca: “This play really needs a diverse audience because it plays to so many different areas. For example, last night was on average a little bit older so they were getting a lot of the stuff about the 1980’s in Sheffield and really onboard with the history. There’s a line about spiralizing an avocado and I think about three people laughed at it, whereas the night before there were lots of young people in and they really got it.”

Nigel: "Exactly. You have an audience who lived through hthe 1980’s, and you have an audience for who the 1980’s is a piece of history."

What words spring to mind when you think of Sheffield? Why?

Rebecca: “I’ve never been here before but I really like it as a city, there’s something about it that I find very pleasing to be in, which is great for me because I don’t always bond with places. Sheffield is easy on the eye and it’s easy to talk to people. It’s a big small city but it doesn’t feel hectic, it feels calm – although we did arrive in mid-August when it was really quiet!”

Nigel: “I worked out that the last time I was here was 30 years ago while on tour, there was still a booming steel industry then. It’s been so interesting for me getting to learn that it now has such a thriving student industry – i’m also just starting to venture out ‘cause we’ve just been in rehearsals for long days since we started. So it’s new and exciting.”