Performing in London is a somewhat ambivalent experience. For one thing, you are performing in what is perhaps the most culturally relevant and historically important cities in the world. Centuries have passed and in them so too have some of the world’s greatest writers, painters, performers and more, all stopping in the capital knowing that, for lack of a better phrase, it was the place to be. And so to be performing there felt in part surreal, but in many respects a privilege.
On the other hand, we were performing to a city that did not really want us there. Londoners, as has been mentioned, were not wholeheartedly generous with their time and attention whilst we were flyering. This wasn’t entirely surprising. On top of the reputation the capital city has for not being the friendliest of cities, there was not a Fringe or festival structure in which we were performing. Thus whenever we flyered, we were not doing so in the context of a local arts festival- as in all our other locations- and so caught commuters, shoppers, walkers even more off-guard, and even more irritable.
However, whilst a little disappointing, this wasn’t as big as a problem as it appears. Firstly, the performance space, as one might expect in a city as bustling and compact as London, was not as large as our space in Brighton. This meant that not only was our ‘stage’ more restricted in size, so too was the audience capacity. Second, those who did kindly come and see the show seemed to get a lot out of it, stopping to talk and discuss ideas from it afterwards, and kindly donating as well. Third, since so many of the cast and crew hail from London, each night we had a healthy turnout of family and friends. The group met Oli’s mother once more, saw how Sarah’s parents react when faced with a barrage of “fucks” and “cunts”, and chatted pleasantly to Dan’s parents and sister, the original Jonusas thespian.
As well as family, more friends came. We met Jamie Jones again who kindly came to see the show, bringing the ever-wonderful Louis Catliff with him. After the show we went to the nearby pub Dirty Dicks, the interior of which, rather than looking like an NHS clinic, was actually a Tolkein-esque room of wooden panels and barrels. I don’t remember the Dirty Dicks scene in The Hobbit, however. There, we chatted theatre and art over ale and cider (and a double-digit figure vodka and coke for Georgia. I thought she was aware of London prices?) before slowly going home, sporadically and a little unsteadily.
On another night, Joanna Bowman and Francesca Ffiske gave their critical eyes to the play, as well as Oli’s mates from school and his infamous gap year stories. (Did you know Oli went on a gap year? He barely ever mentions it.)
Despite now officially ‘working’, we still found time to fit in some of the cultural pleasures of the city. One such occasion was straight after a performance; a secret gig night was happening inside of JuJu’s Bar. (It was marketed as secret- if that’s not a contradiction of terms- but I think sufficient time has passed for me to write about it without getting in trouble with the authorities.) A casual BYOB night- an oddity surely for a private bar, no? – we sat at on the floor with our tins of warm lager, and watched the three acts give the crowd everything they had.
The first act was a soloist on his guitar. Singing simple songs, with audience participation at the end, he was able to create a soothing atmosphere in a room which, for him, must have been a million miles from what he’d call ‘relaxed’. The second was a jazz trio. With piano, bass and drums, those rhythmic tunes and sporadic melodies sent us somewhere else in time. By the end we were all tapping in a million different ways on the floor with our fingers and feet, and all had ear-to-ear grins. The final act was a guitar duo. One tall and one short, they played American-style folk, bluegrass and country, with the tall singer bellowing in such a way that appeared to both take every fibre of his being to produce such harsh, loud notes, and yet simultaneously seemed effortless. He was loud, sounded American and had an undeniable dose of style. He no doubt kicks himself every day for being born in Milton Keynes, not Memphis.
Another night saw us and Max Traeger, Dan’s school friend, going out to Brixton to a cocktail bar called The Blues Kitchen. Max very generously bought a round as thanks for a free performance, and we laughed and shared stories.
The rest of our time was filled with typical ‘London things’ by those of us not from the city. Gab patronised the Cereal Killer Café, audaciously ignoring the judgemental eyes of Guardian readers everywhere. Annabel enjoyed science fiction and video games at the Barbican, seemingly wanting to get away from the more terrifying news happening outside its walls at Downing Street. For myself, I like my fellow cast members attended the Tates, as well as the Natural History Museum. I strolled within Kensington Gardens and took in what I now consider my favourite part of the city. I spent a couple of my days there. As well as that, I bought more books than sense, and regretted nothing. (Until my plastic bag ripped open on a crowded tube.)
London certainly took a lot from us. Not just money, but it certainly took more than its fair share of that. It was both tiring and exciting, significant and lacklustre, a true honour of the tour at times, demoralising at others. Such is what anything is when stuck to and worked at repeatedly- not just when convenient- and in a professional environment, to a city unaware of your existence. But we did it. We performed five dates in London. No shows were cancelled; it didn’t rain. Some audience members laughed, some were shocked. Many never showed up.
But we had tackled the Big City, and came through the other side. Tired, appreciative, happy, aching. It was a surreal and, for most of us, unique experience. But one we all wish to repeat. However, whilst we took a lot from the city, the city also took a lot from us. We were all looking forward to a long weekend.