In the garden of the Duke of Wellington at Ryarsh, in the shadow of the North Downs, actress Annabelle Blake ponders the wooded hillside rising from the fields about a mile away, its mottled tree canopy veiling dark depths within...
"Who's up there? What's up there?"
Umm, probably a couple of people going for a walk and a few foxes skulking around? That could be true, but it's missing the point, and totally dismisses the possibility that there's a criminal gang or escaped panther on the loose up there - or maybe even a small surviving neolithic tribe, hiding out close to their ancestral home at the Coldrum Stones.
Childish nonsense? Probably... but the world's pretty boring without childish nonsense, as playwrights William Shakespeare and Richard Brinsley Sheridan would no doubt agree.
Currently playing lead roles in two works by the aforementioned writers - Love's Labours Lost and School for Scandal - Annabelle is on a whirlwind summer tour of historic venues around Kent with Changeling theatre group; but has taken a rare chance for an afternoon's break in her childhood home of Ryarsh - a little village with a big role in her life story.
"I think it's had an influence on my imagination," she says, reflecting on how she was first drawn to acting. "When you grow up in the countryside, you have a couple of friends here, but because my school was quite far away most of my friends were quite far away, and my sisters were older than me so I used to just play in my imagination.
"I used to make up stories about people in the hills - I know I might sound bonkers. I used to see police helicopters going up there when I was younger and when you're little you're thinking 'who's up there?' Now I'm thinking I probably know what's actually going on up there!"
With those stories bubbling in her imagination, the budding actress found her first audience in her parents - a medical herbalist and scientist.
"I'm such a cliche, but it's all I've ever wanted to do," says Annabelle. "My family are nothing to do with acting, but I used to do little shows for my mum in the living room. I used to think I could hula hoop and things like that" - although she's quick to add: "I mean I don't still do that, it would be a bit strange now!" Although, she sort of still does - just to bigger audiences - and the 24-year-old remains committed to the dreams of her younger self.
From the living-room stage, Annabelle graduated to the stage at Sutton Valence School, having won a scholarship there, but while the school was renowned for theatre and the arts, she still had to fight to stay on her dream career path.
"When I got to sixth form I was thinking 'yes I want to go to drama school' but loads of teachers were like are you sure that's the way you want to go - you could have a proper career. I was like yep this is what I want to do, I don't believe in plan Bs. It's a tough one, my granny was always saying 'be a doctor', but I thought no I don't believe in plan Bs, because as soon as you start to go down plan B you give up on plan A. You have to give yourself to it."
Having gone on to top drama school ArtsEd, Annabelle then completed a BA in acting and went onto the National Youth Theatre, which she's still involved with.
Like many actors, not just in the wake of Covid but throughout history, she's battled to find work - but it's not just a personal campaign, and she speaks with a missionary-like zeal to stress the importance of the arts in society, encouraging others to engage and invest - both emotionally and financially - in the creative sector.
"It's becoming more that they're cutting acting out of curriculums, and acting is so important - it's important just to be playful. When we're a child we know how to play, we just pick up things and we talk to people, and as we grow up we become more and more 'gosh I can't say that, I can't do that, I can't dance like that, I can't sing out loud', and it's almost like going back to how it was before you have all these other things imposed on you - that's what it teaches you at school, you get to be free, you get to have fun, you play all these silly acting games, which we still play now.
"I saw it at school, and now my partner works in schools and they're just cutting and cutting it. I've worked with children too and they're like 'no, we don't do acting in school', and it's such a shame, because you get to have that freedom. If they're just stuck to doing maths or science or even English and all of those subjects - if you're not the most academic person in the world, it might not bring you any inspiration. There's children getting to sixth form thinking 'I don't know what to do' and I think that's sometimes because they're not shown every range of opportunity that they could be, and they're not encouraged."
Meanwhile, while children are missing out on the skills, empathy and confidence instilled by drama, wider society too is going to start missing out on the simple joy of the theatre if funding cuts continue.
"Since Covid there's been a lot of cuts because it's the area to cut in," adds Annabelle. "It's been in this sector because that's where they deemed the cuts would come in. I know Changeling would have struggled if it wasn't for the trustees and the people who love Changeling. A Midsummer Night's Dream would never have happened if we hadn't gone out and asked for the funding for it to go ahead because government weren't giving anything. There's a lot of getting funding from the different venues or different sponsors. And then they're always trying to find sponsors because some sponsors want to pull their money if their company's not making the money they need to make.
"In the West End now a lot of shows are only doing shorter stints because they might not sell so many once the shows have been on for a certain period of time. They're just trying to make money where they can."
Of course, the West End and potential TV roles still have their appeal, and the Ryarsh actress has ambitions to work on London's big stages, or in period dramas like Call the Midwife.
One big dream would be to work with the touring Mischief Theatre Company, famed for their productions of “amateur performances that go wrong” - while another would be to play Abba star Agnetha in a film about the origins of the 70s Swedish megastars.
For now, the life-long Abba fan Annabelle is content in her role as a “super-trouper” with the Changeling troupe – and is keen to sing the virtues of the Kent group, and its artistic director Rob Forknall.
"It's a brutal industry; that's why I'm grateful to Rob to keep offering me work and being able to tour in my home town," she adds. "I moved back to Kent and it's been nice to work in Kent – to know that there is acting work in Kent.
"When you're young you think it's all in London, but there's actually a lot of work coming out of being here.
"One thing Changeling does well is it gets the audience involved and I think that's why people come back year after year after year."
The current Changeling Tour is a fantastic showcase of Kentish acting talent – with Annabelle and fellow cast members flipping roles with near-schizophrenic ease in both productions – and the cast have built both a strong bond and fanbase as they fly around the county on their whirlwind tour.
"We have one night off a week, so it's intense," she adds," but I quite like the intensity, and the cast is lovely, we get on really well which I think helps. Both shows are very ensemble based – you've not got a big lead role – and we're all in it together, so it's great and Changeling has done great things for actors in Kent."
Among those great things is offering the apprentice scheme – which this year has gone to 18-year-old Miliie Bevan from Rochester, and Changeling has consistently flown the flag for up-and-coming actors.
"Millie's in both shows," adds Annabelle. "She's not gone to drama school so she's getting to try out acting and try different roles. It's always someone from Kent so it's giving someone an opportunity. I was a rookie for my first year and there's always a rookie who comes straight out of drama school, so it's giving someone an opportunity to act coming straight into the industry.
"It's not that easy getting jobs. A lot of people from my year at ArtsEd haven't worked, and it's a tricky one."
That may be so, but it's a tricky one Annabelle is determined to keep working at.
To catch her before she gets the call for the Agnetha role in the Abba biopic (someone is writing the script somewhere, right?), visit changeling-theatre.com for details of Changeling's summer shows.
The tour is set to continue around Kent throughout August – along with four dates in Brighton next week – until it finishes with three nights at Boughton Monchelsea Place from Friday, August 18 to Sunday, August 20.