In 1987, actor Mark Rylance had a decision to make. Whether to join Steven Spielberg and play a role in the film Empire of the Sun, or follow Mike Alfreds and take part in his new season at the National Theatre. He weighed the pros and cons of both; he couldn’t decide. They both seemed so appealing. Finally, he turned to the I-Ching, the ancient Chinese philosophical oracle. With regard to the theatre, it gave the answer “community.” And that’s what did it for Rylance. Having never felt a spirit of community on a film set, he turned down Spielberg’s offer and trod the boards once more.
I have never been a part of a film production, but I have been lucky enough to be part of a theatre group many times. However, this was my first time on tour, out of a school or university setting. There were no classes, parties, lunches or other such activities to otherwise occupy our time and space. It was largely a communal experience. It meant the hardships were harder, but the highs were higher. Joy multiplies.
After so many weeks of these blog posts, I shan’t bore with the details of our final days. We were all tired. Emily and I got tonsillitis. Oli had to fill in for me for a few performances. Ellie Burke visited. We all made it back for the final performance and the most wonderful of cast parties in our flat organised by the commander-in-chief Oliver. We drunkenly said our goodbyes on the balcony overlooking a busy and ambivalent Oxford Road, before spilling out onto Manchester’s streets for one final evening of regrettable dancing and merriment in some of the, shall we say, inferior establishments this great country has to offer.
We had experienced that great feelings of community. Even after eight weeks of sharing cramped single rooms, sleeping on floors, enduring bigots and ignoramuses, restricted transport, illness and harsh weather, we were still laughing on the other side. If you can laugh in Barnstaple, you can laugh anywhere. To those who helped us on this journey, for donating or seeing the show or telling your friends, we thank you with a gratitude as strong and endurable as humans can muster. We hope you enjoyed the show.
Alexander Pope said that the theatre was to “wake the soul by tender strokes of art, to raise the genius, and to mend the heart.”
It applies to those both on and off the stage.