Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Shouting Distance

If ever there was a mid-scale touring venue which inspires love and hate in equal measure, it's Hemel's Old Town Hall. The plus side is that it's within reasonable reach of London so your agent/casting director/family and friends/famous celebrity chum (in Peter's case) might come. The minus is that the get-in's a monster. Just ghastly. There's a spiral staircase for God's sake. Madness.
The other minus is that ironically, the pluses tend to inspire a certain edginess because of the pressure to put on a good show. If you're feeling jaded in the middle of a long tour this can be good, but we're not and I think the show falls somewhat short of our barnstorming gig on Saturday.
It's amazing how different this audience is, though. They're knowing and savvy; they like the broad comedy less; they pick up on totally different things than we've been accustomed to.And by gum, they're close.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Chewing The Scenery

I sometimes wonder what our promoters make of us. They're usually there to welcome us and sometimes they stay for the get-in and out, and it's then that we slip into a sort of theatre slang generally centred around the shortcomings of our set. Manfrotto stands become Man Fridays and then morph into Frangipanis, we'll audibly hunt around for the Stage Right Flappy Thing, The Piece of Wood That Does F*ck All and The Pointless Support Under The Upstage Step. Interrupt us during the laying of the floor and you'll wonder why we rub the edges vigorously with candles; come in when the windows are going up and the Fatties and Thinnies conversation may puzzle you. You'll need a clue to discover why the ladder's called Zach (he's an a-frame) and why the door lintel is called Fellini (he's number eight and a half). That's not even mentioning multicore, socapex, DMX, phono cables, DIN and spiders (all Colin's domain and therefore not to be tackled lightly. Or at all if you can avoid it).
Later on you get the whole thing in reverse, with Colin bellowing for Fascism, T-bars and Soft Things To Stuff In The Shelving Unit. It's worth the entry price without seeing the show, I can tell you...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Easy, Now...

Leadenham is not a prepossessing name for a village, and the place looks asleep when we arrive - a feeling reinforced by the sophorific atmosphere in the pub. However, at the hall we get the warmest welcome yet, along with tea half-hourly, and the most fantastic smells coming from the kitchen.
Here they've chosen to add a buffet to the beginning of the evening and consequently it's a sell-out, with an audience of dangerously full and contented punters - one wonders whether they'll manage to stay awake for the full 75 mins of the first half.
But we needn't have worried - they're with us all the way. It's our best show yet, for me certainly, great on cues, lots of fresh things happening in the characterisation and so on. In fact it belts by, carried along on a wave of enthusiasm, appreciation and good humour. This continues well into the get-out, where we're invited to hoover up what remains of the buffet, glug some wine and depart with a carrier bag of pork pies. Fantastic.
The pub where we're being put up tonight stocks 700 whiskies, and we sink a couple along with the late night pints. Just as we're contemplating retiring - at about 2am - local Colston Bassett Stilton is brought out by the landlord, and the night owls invite us to join them. Mad not to, although we may feel bilious over breakfast. Oh, what the hell. We live once.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Breakfast Business

It's two nights in a Travelodge for us here in Nottingham, and there's a pub next door which opens for breakfast. Colin and Dan are already there when I show up, and are tucking into the maximum possible breakfast available. We're all losing a bit of weight because the tour's so physical, but there's something about Stage Managers and their metabolism - I mean, Colin ate seven KitKats the other day without incident.
Next to the order point there is a display of cheesecakes of such obscene dimensions that is makes me queasy. They are covered in Aeros, Dime Bars, Twix and so on, and they're all at least a foot high. As someone who's attitude to food is "cram as much sensual gorgeousness into your mouth as you can" not much throws me, but the sight of this, coupled with the carvery along the counter where someone chooses that moment to pour about four gallons of gravy into a tureen makes the knees buckle. Ugh.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Loose Lips

Both Sophia and Dan have London auditions this morning (for Shrek, Avenue Q and Journey's End), so it's a depleted van which departs for Nottingham. I did check my voicemail for messages from Trevor Nunn and Steven Spielberg, but they're probably still making their minds up. Me or Colin Farrell - tough choice.
Anyway, Grange Hall is the polar opposite of yesterday in terms of capacity, and it's a busy night again.
The show's well bedded in by this stage (although we've only clocked up 12 performances) but every now and then we'll get the odd reminder of what a fragile and unpredictable medium live theatre is. The odd dry and fluff is to be expected, and there are more than a few of those tonight, perhaps accelerated by the presence of visiting directors and a video camera (along with our peripatetic director!). My only gaffe is to substitute one word for another, but when it's "heroin" instead of "morphine" it provokes an audible gasp and bang! Roger's a druggie from "Trainspotting". Oops. Karen's very kind about it, but I guess she'll video again tomorrow... 

Wecome to our Village - Beware Livestock.

We have some trouble finding East and Botolph Claydon, and when we finally arrive and set up, the stage totally dominates the hall. They're sold out, too, so the audience is only a few feet away from the front of the stage. The performance which follows is necessarily detailed and intimate - more that ever before, I think.
Our confusions with directions means that by the time we leave we're comically low on diesel, and despite our efforts the return journey turns into a mini-drama all by itself with wrong turns and lost GPS signals and, at one point, a sheep with a gammy leg standing in the middle of the road. It's totally impervious to horns and shouts, so we get out and try to encourage it to the side of the road. The sight of a human makes it freak out, and it's all we can do to get it to stop on the verge whilst the van slips by, running on fumes and not much else by this time...

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Jacket Potato and Quiche*

After a while, tours get into a routine. We always have a tea break after we've constructed the floor and before we erect the set; Pete and I are always forced to shave and smooth our hair in the public loos just as the audience arrive; Sophia and Dan always manage to squeeze in a cigarette milliseconds before the half is called and Colin always manages to get himself trapped behind something very heavy during the loading procedure. It's rather reassuring to have these firm planks to rely on.
I wasn't expecting Karen to be so omnipresent in our out-of-county dates - it's very unusual to see so much of your director at this stage, and hugely welcome. And not just for notes and updates on how the show's going, either - the Robertsbridge ladies are well and good, but there's nothing like a Karen Simpson (and sometimes her well-muscled husband) for speeding up the get-out.

*Our default supper in rural venues!

Friday, 15 October 2010

"Have you ever seen this before?" The past catches up with Renee...

Young Guns (Go For It!)

The most charming man greets us at Marchington, which is the first of our two Staffordshire dates this week. He's not the contact name on our list, but after a heavily deviated journey the tea he makes go down well. When our contact Julia does arrive, she reveals that he's on day release from the local open prison at Sudbury. Whatever he was in for, it wasn't because he couldn't put a brew together, and I don't remember any actors disappearing in this area lately....
In the more rural venues, the audience is generally my age or above, but we're buttonholed by two embryo actors tonight who are in their teens. It's difficult not to try to distil many years' experience of training, fringe, touring, etc into a five minute conversation, so we look for signs of eyes glazing and try to hold off the more abstruse details. My conversation with the father is very positive, though, he's clearly behind them 100% and not put off by the prospect of having to bail them out for the next, oooh, thirty years or so.

I should probably give him my Dad's phone number.   


We played Church Lawford last night to a sell-out crowd, and we're in a Travelodge overnight - this one's not in an industrial estate next to a Little Chef, though. It's next to the Lady Godiva statue in Coventry city centre.
I've blogged before about the crimes which have been visited on Coventry, but this unexpected visit sort of distils the joys. The Travelodge staff are hugely friendly, and encourage us to eat our dirty kebabs in the bar (which stays open until 2am, God be praised). They must know we're going to trail salad and chilli sauce all over the place, but they don't mind. The Tempranillo's pretty good, too.
In the morning I visit the market and have breakfast there amongst the traders and shoppers. It's so bustling and active and good-natured that it leaves me with a huge sense of well-being. This is soon cured by a hilarious and diverting jaunt around the ring road...

Thursday, 7 October 2010


Apparently last night was a triumph - OTC had a bunch of movers and shakers in, all of whom seem to have been favourably impressed.
That won't make any difference to where we're going today, Robertsbridge being out-of-county and one of a growing number of national dates on the roster. It's pretty brave programming when you consider that lots of Oxfordshire venues thought the show too unpredictable to book, despite being a local company and sporting a local actor (i.e. me).
After lunch we spot this church near the pub - it strikes us as very reminiscent of the church in the show - "out of proportion...the tower's too tall, and it leans..."
Anyway, there's a great sense of community in the local hall, from the effort that's gone into preparing our supper (wraps, sandwiches and some pretty spectacular cookies) and the after-show glass of red, to the human chain of ladies helping us with the get-out. I mean, it makes me shudder to see them shouldering 12-foot lengths of scaffolding outside to the waiting Colin, but they won't be stopped. I bet the chiropractor is busy tomorrow.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


There's a palpable thrill in the van today, because it's Chipping Norton and the last theatre proper for a while. I saw LCT's "Beauty Queen" here shortly before I was asked to take over, and also their "Caretaker" earlier this year, so it's almost my local theatre.
I'd forgotten the bizarrely high stage, though, which means that even on the deck you're at least two metres higher than the eyeline of the stalls audience. On our 50cm raised stage, we are on an eyeline with the balcony. Our set could have been made for the width, though. It looks gorgeous, and it doesn't creak...

Of course, the boys naturally gravitate to the Ronnie Barker dressing room. The theatre desn't seem to have any particular connection with him, though - as far as I  can make out, his antiques shop in nearby Deal is the extent of his affiliation with the area - but it's a nice touch, and a good deal less macabre than the Roses in Tewkesbury and their memento mori dressing room plaque to Eric Morecambe.  

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

School's In

It's the first of our school dates, and the first of a four-day run which is both exhilarating and worrying, because even with Karen helping us out on Saturday we were four hours get-in and two hours get-out. Just too long.
At Wheatley Park we can't really set up until after school finishes, and comically there's PE going on in the harsh, echoey hall anyway. However, once the set's up it's truly extraordinary how much it transforms the most unprepossessing arena. We're held up by waxing the edges of our floors (to stop the interminable creaking which tends to wreck the tender moments - few as they are) and we complete cabling by 6.30pm, not even an hour before beginner's. So it's caffeine-rich cokes and coffees all round and a quick sit-down.
What follows is an eye-opening experience. A house of about 80, mainly students, provide the most attentive and rewarding audience so far. Naked flesh doesn't perturb or embarrass them, they don't get bored or answer phones or do anything except give us their full attention. I remember giving Michael Pennington such a hard time during a school trip that he stopped the play to bollock us, but there's only respect and overwhelming applause here. Fantastic.
Still two hours to get out though, and we're all knackered. Dear Me. 

Monday, 4 October 2010

Running Away with Me

Yikes. It gets away from you all too easily! So we opened on the 25th in Didcot, played our second show three days later in Henley and then a third in Botley, Oxford on Saturday last, the 2nd October.
Didcot's Cornerstone is a great new venue, only a couple of years old, and a superb place to open. Good crowd, big studio (if anything a little too big for our set) and we responded well to the anticipation, despite a gruelling get-in and dress that afternoon. The press was there in the shape of the Oxford Times (actually in the specific shape of Angie Johnson) and for the last time, the entire creative team.
Afterwards we're allotted a 15 minute furlough in the bar to meet friends and receive plaudits but we spend a good deal longer than that, so much so that by the time we're backstage again half the set is down and in the van. Even so, it's a long process - and with five extra bodies helping it doesn't begin to resemble a get-out after a normal show. Back home buzzing at 1.30am.