choose love

How The Crown’s Gala Gordon and producer Isabella Macpherson are using poetry to help refugees

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  • Buy tickets to watch Florence Welch, Ben Whishaw and Game of Thrones star Tobias Menzies read poetry in aid of Help Refugees

    Words by Victoria Fell

    On Monday 19th February, stars ranging from Florence Welch to Ben Whishaw will take to the stage for Choose Love at the Fortune Theatre in London to read love poetry in a special production directed by Polly Stenham.

    The night is all in aid of Help Refugees and is the brainchild of actress Gala Gordon and producer Isabella Macpherson.

    Gala Gordon is a successful model and actress who has starred in plays at the Young Vic and as Christine Keeler in The Crown while Isabella Macpherson juggles producing a host of short film, fashion and theatre productions alongside being a mum.

    In May 2017, the pair founded a non-profit company Platform Presents which seeks to give a ‘platform to rising star talent: actors, writers and directors, with a special interest in female voice’.

    Now they’ve teamed up with the charity Help Refugees to stage a very special evening of poetry in aid of the charity.

    We sat down with Gala and Isabella to talk about Choose Love, Help Refugees and women’s representation in the art scene.

    How did you meet?
    Isabella: (Oscar-winning director) Oliver Stone brought us together!

    Gala: We went to the première of his film Snowden, and went to dinner afterwards, which is where I met Isabella. I’d had some ideas ruminating for a while and even though I’d only met Isabella once, I just called her up and said ‘I was wondering if you could introduce me to someone who could help me?’ Isabella said ‘I don’t want to introduce you to anyone; I want to do it with you.’ And that was it.

    What was your inspiration for founding Platform Presents?
    Isabella: Theatre right now in London is very, very hard to get in to, especially if you didn’t go to one of the main acting schools. There is no space for young actors.

    Gala: It’s really tough being an actor and it’s so important for me that rising stars get the opportunity to be part of a company – I’ve been very fortunate with my experiences, for example with (BAFTA nominee) Vanessa Kirby in Three Sisters at the Young Vic. We wanted to create a space where young actors can express themselves and work with other talented people.

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    Stars performing poetry at Choose Love include Florence Welch, Andrew Scott and Ben Whishaw

    You’ve spoken about how you want Platform Presents to promote the voices of women in theatre. How were you influenced by experiences that you’ve had in the industry, and also by the #MeToo movement?
    Isabella: We wanted to create a space where we actively sought out women who find it harder to get access to roles and jobs. In the last year, I’ve read 103 scripts and, yes, we are slightly biased in terms of looking at female led plays. I’ve become quite a rabid feminist with age because I’ve had enough of it, I’ve had enough of not being considered for something and I’ve had enough of people putting my girlfriends down. I think the acting industry is probably one of the worst places for it.

    Gala: On the other hand, it’s also a really exciting time – I was in LA recently and it’s brilliant to see these women speak out and inspire women to use their voice across all industries. If we stand in solidarity and support them, it’s only going to have a good result.

    Why did you decide to use poetry for Choose Love?
    Gala: I think all actors secretly adore poetry! I was also lucky enough to train with Patsy Rodenburg at the Guildhall in poetry and Shakespeare for three years.

    Isabella: My family are very literary and my mum is a complete poetry freak, so we have poems all over the place. She reads poetry to us every evening.

    How do you curate the poems?
    Isabella: We’ve tried to get the balance right between old and new, men and women and British and international – everything from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to (Native American poet) Ofelia Zepeda. Of course, we had to give Ben Whishaw a classic one!

    Gala: It’s amazing to be curating a company that is able to tackle and perform these poems – someone like Chiwetel Ejiofor will totally mesmerize the audience.

    Who is your favourite poet?
    Gala: I’m a huge fan of Christina Rossetti’s work, Up-Hill is one that comes to mind very quickly.

    Isabella: Mine are two poets who we didn’t manage to include in the show. The first is Lord Byron’s She Walks in Beauty and the other is Ogden Nash, whose lines include ‘Candy/Is dandy/But liquor/Is quicker’. I also love Dr Seuss!

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    All profits from Choose Love will go to supporting Help Refugees

    What is it like working with award-winning director Polly Stenham?
    Isabella: Polly is so thoughtful and sweet, and has a real sense of herself. She’s completely open to ideas; the whole process has been very collaborative. You can have that level of collaboration with women – there’s no pride involve and everyone gets their hands dirty.

    Why did you decide to donate to Help Refugees?
    Gala: I attended a talk at the Cob Gallery where I met Josie (Naughton, founder of Help Refugees), who spoke about how she started the charity. I was just so impressed that I thought, ‘I have to do something.’

    Isabella: It’s an extraordinary charity, which is based on a network of some 15,000 volunteers and 94% of the money they get goes straight to refugees. It’s really staggering how much they do; they might help refugees find jobs or spend time tackling policy changes.

    After Choose Love, what’s next for Platform Presents?
    Isabella: We start rehearsals in April for our next show, Blueberry Toast, which opens at the Soho Theatre at the end of May.

    Gala: The playwright, Mary Laws, is outstanding. Almost immediately after I read the play last year, I flew out to meet her to get the rights to the play!

    What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
    Gala: No idea is a bad idea.

    Isabella: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

    Choose Love takes place on Monday 19th February at 7.30pm, at the Fortune Theatre, Russell St, London WC2B 5HH. Tickets are £40, (or £25 if you’re under 26).

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