Behind the scenes of new Essex-themed musical Love Letters

L-R Kit Esuruoso, Lucy Benjamin, Mike Lloyd, Holly Ashton (Love Letters, Queen's Theatre Hornchurch) Credit MarK Sepple

The actors are thrilled to be back in the theatre- Kit Esuruoso (l), Lucy Benjamin, Mike Lloyd, Holly Ashton (r) - Credit: Mark Sepple

“Actors have been overwhelmed during the rehearsal process, crying tears of grief.” 

Speaking during his lunchbreak, theatre director Douglas Rintoul recalled the sense of excitement around his latest show Love Letters, which debuts at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch later this week.

The artistic director and writer explained: “It’s such a lovely company, and everyone’s working really hard.” 

Douglas Rintoul

Rehearsals are underway for new Essex-themed musical, Love Letters - Credit: Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

Colchester-born Doug is keen to celebrate Essex’s music scene, which he said sometimes gets a “bad rep”. 

"We don’t have a clear musical identity, like Bristol or Liverpool, but there is so much talent that has come out of Essex,” he explained. 

“People are starting to wear the Essex badge with pride.” 

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Love Letters will be Doug's seventh show during the pandemic, and he explained the theatre has implemented a series of Covid-secure regulations. 

love letters rehearsals

The actors have been busy learning songs and scripts- Holly Ashton (l), Kit Esuruoso, Mike Lloyd, Hannah Price, Luke Thornton and Dannie Harris (r) - Credit: Mark Sepple

“There is no close contact or kissing, but intimacy between characters is implied,” Doug explained. 

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“It feels like I'm doing a play in the 1940s." 

The company has been rehearsing for around nine hours every day, as well as during some evenings and weekends. 

“It’s a bit of a marathon,” Doug admitted. 

“Actors are a bit like athletes - their muscles get out of shape.  

“They are having to learn lines and do long days, which many hadn’t done in months. 

“But everyone is pleased to be in the room, making something that’s hugely important to their identity.” 

Actor Lucy Benjamin added: “I feel joyous, and the actors are all thrilled to be back. 

“There was a sense of euphoria on the first day of rehearsals, but we also had the regular nerves that come with starting a new job.” 

Lucy Benjamin

EastEnders actor Lucy Benjamin stars in the new show - Credit: Mark Sepple

EastEnders star Lucy plays pub landlady Sheila in the new musical. 

“I’m really pleased with it, this is a really great show,” she said. 

“Because it’s brand new, there were teething problems and last minute changes to the script, but it has felt like a really organic and collaborative process.” 

Love letters rehearsals

The musical is set in a pub and features on-stage music- Steve Simmonds (l), Mike Lloyd, Luke Thornton, Holly Ashton and Dannie Harris - Credit: Mark Sepple

Reading-born Lucy moved to Gidea Park after meeting husband Richard, and said she now feels “very much like an Essex girl.” 

Now that her children have returned to school in Brentwood, Lucy is enjoying being back in the theatre, where she feels most at home. 

Love Letters runs at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch from July 30 to August 21. 

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