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Penwortham man Nick Sagar made such a sound career choice

Nick Sagar, freelance sound designer, from Penwortham
Nick Sagar, freelance sound designer, from Penwortham
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There isn’t a sound Nick Sagar can’t make – and he is willing to travel to the ends of the country for it. The 49-year-old from Penwortham has worked around the world capturing and creating realistic sound effects for the theatre.

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David Walliams with the cast of Awful Auntie

David Walliams with the cast of Awful Auntie

He cut his teeth as a sound engineer at a theatre in Germany and he soon found himself working on the West End with Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

After 15 years, he decided to move back up north and began freelance work as a sound designer, which has taken him all over the globe.

Nick says: “I grew up in a pub, The Ram’s Head, in Tarleton, and I was surrounded by live bands.

“As a result, I had always had a love of music and showbiz and that got me interested in the arts.

Andrew Lloyd-Webber could be quite demanding as you would expect.

Nick Sagar

“When I was 18, I moved to the big lights of London and went to Mount View drama school.

“My first professional job was in an English speaking theatre in Frankfurt.

“I spoke German and so it was an ideal first job for me. I did one year there as a sound engineer, mixing voices, music and sound effects together, and then I moved back to London.

“I was very lucky to get a job in the West End work with Andrew Lloyd-Webber. I started on Starlight Express, and then did Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar and Sunset Boulevard.

Freelance sound designer Nick Sagar working in the studio

Freelance sound designer Nick Sagar working in the studio

“Andrew Lloyd-Webber was great. He could be very demanding as you can expect. He always knew what he wanted. Luckily he liked what I did and employed me.

“We did some of the biggest shows together in the West End which was a massive challenge for me, but I really enjoyed doing it.

“I worked with Andrew Lloyd-Webber for eight years but I was in the West End for about 15 or 16 years.”

Nick then moved back to the north with his partner, Claire Blackburn, to raise his two children and took up freelance work as a sound designer.

Awful Auntie by David Walliams at Birmingham Stage Company. Stella drives the 1919 Rollys Royce

Awful Auntie by David Walliams at Birmingham Stage Company. Stella drives the 1919 Rollys Royce

He says: “As fantastic as the West End was, it was not great for seeing my family as I was working a lot of evenings and weekends.

“Ironically I met my partner while working in London, but she actually came from Leyland.

“She was working on a production of Whistle Down the Wind as a stage manager.

“So, with having both sets of parents back in Lancashire, it was an obvious move for us to make.

“As a sound engineer, I had been working with some of the best sound designers in the industry and had learnt a lot from them. It stood me in good stead to become a freelance sound designer.

“Being a sound designer is more involved as you look at the technical equipment and the creative side, creating soundscapes and sound effects.

Awful Auntie by David Walliams: Aunt Alberta with Wagner

Awful Auntie by David Walliams: Aunt Alberta with Wagner

“I am creating the mood and atmosphere through the sound and music.”

Although he has travelled all over the world with his work, Nick’s latest project has led him back to where his heart is: Preston. He has been touring with the Birmingham Stage Company as they perform Awful Auntie, by David Walliams, and the stage show is currently playing at the city’s Charter Theatre.

He says: “It is brilliant to be working in Preston.

“As much as I have enjoyed working around the world, there is nothing like bringing everything full circle and coming back home to show the work here.

“Even though I had moved away for a bit, I have come back.

“With the development of Charter Theatre and the cultural quarter, it is great more theatre shows are coming to Preston.

“I feel honoured to be part of bringing quality theatre and family shows to the city.

“Awful Auntie is a fantastic show which will play at the West End eventually.

“David Walliams is brilliant and he has really tapped into a style of writing for children that we have not seen since Roald Dahl. His writing is unusually dark, but with humour and he understands the mind of children.

“I have been very lucky to work on this show and also Gangster Granny.

“His books work really well in the theatre.”

As with any of his shows, the former Hutton Grammar School pupil has been meticulous in creating the most realistic sounds possible.

He took great pains to source a vintage 1919 Rolls-Royce, the car that main character Stella drives, to capture the true essence of the classic vehicle.

He says: “We have a scene where Stella is driving a Rolls-Royce.

“I thought rather than using any old car sound effects, I would find more authentic noises.

“We were very lucky to get in touch with a guy who was a vintage car collector on the south coast. I was able to spend time with him and his 1919 Rolls-Royce silver phantom car, which was in pristine condition.

“It wasn’t the only time the car had been used for showbiz, as had been used in the film Nanny McPhee.

“I recorded noises like the car horn, doors opening and closing, lights switching on and off and gears crunching.

“I know 99 per cent of the audience wouldn’t know that it was authentic, but for me, it adds to the atmosphere.”

Nick takes great pride in ensuring every sound is unique and adds to the magic of the story.

He adds: “The show is based in a very musical and atmospheric world.

“Stella lives in an old manor house with her auntie and my role is to amplify that, so I add creaks and moans to add scariness to the house.

“The audience are able to hear the sounds and become included in her world.

“There is also a large Bavarian owl called Wagner and as people may know, their noise is very limited. But my job is to give him a voice and personality. I could not just record an owl hooting. I had to create a voice for him, with a lot of squawking and clever tricks.

“I also do a lot of subtle things. Even the buildings have a character.

“We are very lucky to have a revolving set, so although the same doors are used, I have included different creaks and noises to show it is door to the bedroom or the kitchen.”

Nick is so passionate about his work that he has set up Ryddingwood Studio Recording to help develop young and emerging bands.

He adds: “When we moved back up here, one of my dreams was to have my own recording studio. I have been very lucky to set up a space at my home and work on other projects I am interested in. I have just finished working with local rock band Sugarstone and they have released their first EP.”

And if it is not Nick making noise at home, his sons, Alex and Ben, are also partial to creating their own melodic sounds.

Nick adds: “They are surrounded by music and we listen to it all the time.

“My elder child, Ben, 16, is a great singer and my younger, Alex, 13, plays the piano and wants to pick up the guitar.

“Although they are both musical, I don’t think they will go into it as a career. They are more interested in sports at the moment.”

n Awful Auntie, which follows young Stella as she battles her awful Aunt Alberta in the wake of her parents’ deaths, is at Preston Charter Theatre until January 21.

For tickets, from £17.50, visit www.prestonguildhall.co.uk/shows/david-walliams-awful-auntie/

The show will continue touring the country, including Manchester, Hull, Bradford, and Southampton.