A Brief Word on Theatre and Community

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.

Advertisements

Northern Souls

And so we left Barnstaple, another leg of the tour behind us and a heavy day of travel ahead. It was raining when we made the walk to Barnstaple train station, where we would catch a train to Exeter, a coach to London, before a final coach to Manchester. A trying trip, but all within the realm of possibility. We all had our bags, we all had our tickets…

Now, before I continue, let me paint a scene for you. It was a cold evening in March, and we were all in Oli’s flat, planning our travel routes and buying our tickets accordingly. Some influential genius thought it would be good idea to start drinking, and this novel idea soon caught on with the rest of us. The hours past, trains were imagined, spirits sank as we realised how many cross-country coaches would be necessary, drinks were consumed… By the end it was past midnight and we were all that head-heavy kind of drunk that comes after mixing alcohol and strategic thinking. But we all bought all of the necessary tickets. All of them. Only an idiot would have not done so.

Anyway. Back to Barnstaple…

We reached the train station and got aboard with no problems. (Why would there be? We all had the necessary tickets.) Once in Exeter we again made the tedious walk from train to bus station with all our gear. Having arrived a few minutes early, we sat down in the waiting area and prepared our tickets. I sat, relieved to get the weight of my rucksack’s straps off my shoulders, and checked my tickets folder on my phone. I saw the train ticket I had just used, my bus ticket from London to Manchester, my bus ticket from London to Manchester, my-

Oh.

There must be some mistake.

Where?

Oh.

As it turned out in a twist of fate I still to this day claim was not my fault- but was probably the result of a high alcohol intake- I had bought two tickets from London to Manchester, but no ticket to get to London. Or, at least, not according to my phone.

The coach was leaving in six minutes.

I ran to the ticket office. It is surely a problem universally-acknowledged that whenever you are in a queue and in a rush then the universe or some divine being decides to put humanity’s slowest and most easily confused in front of you. Tapping my foot impatiently, I waited behind two elderly women and a man who seemed to be having trouble grasping the concept of ticket buying. He wasn’t finishing any time soon. The old ladies were taking their sweet time as well. “Yes, we’ll pay separately.”

As always happens, both counters became free at exactly the same time.

Thankfully, I was able to buy a ticket for the same coach. With only a minute to spare, I joined the rest of the cast and crew on the coach who, with a sigh and laugh, welcomed both myself and another disaster avoided.

I had had to pay extra, of course, but that coach journey felt so satisfying to be on.

police pride
Police with Pride

After several tedious hours we reached London. We had no time to stay, of course, but as we arrived in the city we drove next to the Thames and could see the cityscape we had all been immersed in only a few weeks earlier, and it dawned on us that tour really was nearing its end.

Another coach, and late in the evening we finally reached Manchester. Finally. Back Up North. Most of the team had never been to Manchester- firmly London-bumpkins- and I personally was extremely excited to be back in what I consider to be my home city.

We walked to our flat, in a great location on Oxford Road, and got an early night.

zoe manchester
In a good mood…

The next day was our first performance. Originally meant to be in Sackville Gardens, we were moved by the Fringe to the close by Vimto Park. (For those not from the area and interested, it’s the park with the large sculpture of a Vimto bottle in the middle of the green. That’s probably why they called it that.)

Considering we had done no advertising that first day (the flyers were late to arrive), we had a surprisingly good turnout. The few posters we had posted along Canal Street must have worked.

The next day we moved down the park, away from the trees and their desired aesthetic but also away from the road which had caused a lot of noise during the show. The train line on the bridge overlooking us was and still is an issue, but train strikes aside, not much could be done about that.

manchester cathedral
From the cathedral 

As most of us had never been to Manchester, the gang took the time to explore the many exciting things the city has to offer. Gabriele visited Manchester’s Gallery– a free and brilliant way to spend an afternoon, and something that definitely deserves a return visit. Zoe went vintage shopping around the Northern Quarter, easily the coolest place in town. (This was also a great place to deposit flyers. Definitely our target audience.) Emily, Georgia and I visited Manchester Cathedral and read about its centuries’ old history, how it lived through war and depression, and the role it plays today.

cathedral manchester
Inside the holy walls

On another day, Emily and Zoe went to the gallery and did a ‘mindfulness’ exercise. A therapeutic art exercise to stay calmer, happier and more creative.  Em said she thought she was only there for fifteen minutes. It turned out they were there for an hour.

On July 4th, we weren’t just celebrating the United States breaking away from our union. It was also Emily’s birthday. The captivating Jen Grace made an appearance and beguiled us with stories. After a lot of drinking in the flat- and wearing Hen Party masks I was under very specific instruction from Em to buy- we headed to Kiki, a club on Canal street. It had the distinctive smell of vomit to it, which put us in mind of Brighton and the early days of the tour. Ah, the relationship between smell and involuntary memory. We all had our very own Proustian experience in the middle of a throbbing dancefloor.

em birthday
Did we mention it was her birthday?

It was quite the messy night. We staggered home, takeaway pizzas and chips in hand, and were grateful to fall into deep sleeps.

On another night, Oli, Sarah, Dan, Annabel and I visited Albert’s Schloss. It was the night my mother came to the performance, and after she kindly took me out for dinner I hurried along to join them. A lively place for a Wednesday, this bohemian piano bar takes requests and the live band plays whilst the drunken listeners dance on the floor and on the tables.

albert schloss henry
Ignoring strangers’ booties…

Of course, we didn’t have to go out to have a good time. Many of the best nights were spent in the flat. One such night saw us drag blankets, lamps and wine glasses out onto the balcony, where we sat and talked all evening until the bottles ran dry and the sky grew dark. On another night, we watched Mean Girls. If any film is to unite a group of millennials, this is surely it. To our amazement, we learnt that Gab had not seen it. Naturally, he fell in love with it. It was so fetch. (Mean Girls reference, or MGR for short.)

albert schloss.jpg
Partners in Crime

A few days into the Manchester run, I started to feel a little ill. I was extremely tired and my tonsils were severely swollen. I carried on performing, although not to the best of my abilities it must be said. Oli- sorry, Doctor Savage, as he keeps referring to himself- assured me that it wasn’t anything much and would go away in a few days. It didn’t. Eventually, after a restless night of no sleep and agonising pain, I walked to the hospital a mile down Oxford Road. Diagnosed with tonsillitis, I returned back to the flat before everyone had woken up, packed my bags and- with Oli’s consent- went home.

I wasn’t sure how the show would run in my absence…

oli manchester
Our Commander-in-Chief

On the Road to Barnstaple

If you recall where we left you last time, we were all saddened to be leaving Ludlow, but such was our love of the town and our time there that it was impossible for us to be too down-heartened. We had just finished a successful leg of the tour, and were looking forward to continue in such a blazing fashion. Today was the day we travelled to Barnstaple. The air was hot, and we had heavy bags and equipment on our bags and in our hands. But what did that matter, so long as everything stuck to plan…

 

Now, we all know the UK is rather small. Unlike our American cousins, it is hypothetically possible for somebody to travel from one end of the country to the other in a single day. With a complex link of train trains, motorways and walking paths, Great Britain finds one of its greatest assets in the cosiness between its many towns, villages and counties.

 

This can be both an asset and a hindrance. As we found out that morning. Tired and exhausted (and, lest we forget, sweaty; the kind of sweat one acquires from a tandem assault from carrying heavy bags through oppressive heat), we threw our bags down on the platform, only to discover that our train was delayed, possibly cancelled. We had a very precise circuit-like schedule for the day. If we did not reach Birmingham by a certain point, we would miss our coach. It looked as though that was the fate of the day.

train station group pic
Facial expressions say it all

The reason for this delay-then-cancelation was due to stolen cable lines, appropriated for their valuable copper. This wouldn’t have been quite so bitter a reason if the copper lines stolen hadn’t been in Reading. Reading. Miles away, on the other side of the country, wreaking havoc from coast to coast. (The smallness of this isle is a boon and burden.)

 

We managed to board another train and made our connection to Birmingham, though not without some difficulty. What with so many trains being cancelled, the train we needed to board was quite literally full when we arrived on the platform (each of us with lumbering rucksacks, tents and props). The conductor took a look at us and assured us that we weren’t getting on. We assured him that we needed to get on in order to make our coach on time. He looked at us, looked at the train- seats and isles filled like a compact sardines can- and looked back at us again. He smirked. “Try your best.”

em gab coach
They had to pass the time somehow…

We got on. Spread across all the carriages, standing awkwardly with our bags between legs, this heaving, sweaty and irritable train reluctantly marched on. With each stop, two or three people got off whilst fifteen surprised and anxious passengers seemed to get on. And in doing so, all of us had to adjust in whatever space we could, whilst still trying to preserve the inch of wall one was luckily able to rest their head upon, or that exact position where the draft from an open window met one’s tired red face. Eventually, there was not a foot of space left to be occupied. Entire isles were taken up, and for anybody to get off at any station was in itself a herculean challenge, given the number of people in any given carriage.

henry coach
I was having a pleasant time. 

In this hot-house of annoyed and tired people, I was reminded and comforted by a line Bill Bryson wrote when he coincidentally was on a hellish journey to Barnstaple. “Someday, this will be twenty years ago.”

An on coach
Making the most of it

(Don’t worry, the group of boys on their way to a lads’ holiday- with beers in hands and their horrendous music blasting for the whole train to hear, whilst not offering any of their seats to the many older people in the carriage- seemed to be having a great time.)

 

Once off the train, we had to walk from Birmingham train station to bus station. To be honest, we were all glad of the chance to move our limbs once more, even with heavy equipment on our backs. We were like fatigued Hobbits. In Birmingham City Centre.

 

Tired and bored, we got on a coach and made our way to Barnstaple in a manner so uneventful and tedious it can only otherwise be described as ‘a coach trip that happened.’

bags
For all our egos

Once off the coach, it was another short train ride to Barnstaple. We arrived in rain, more tired and weary as ever, and trudged our way to our new home.  Our host- Nicola- kindly greeted us on the way and walked us to her marvellously large and elegant home. Nicola works for Barnstaple Fringe, carrying out an array of duties, but surely her biggest challenge was having to put up with nine flamboyant actors in her loft for six days.

gang train
A mixture of moods

Unlike our last digs, where we had had a whole building to ourselves, in Barnstaple we had a whole room to ourselves. A loft, more accurately. Directly above the owners of said room. Now it speaks volumes of the nature and size of the house when I say that the loft was of such a size as to accurately comfortably fit all nine of us in. We all managed to find a place to lie down without overlapping limbs. And so we knew that we were lucky. However, nine twenty year olds in a single room in a stranger’s house is always going to create what can kindly be called friction.

But, in all and total honesty, we were fine. It was a cramped environment, and an odd one (reminiscent of childhood sleepover, only with more intrusive snoring), but we managed to get out of there without any arguments. Which speaks volumes.

(Also, the house had cats. Three cats. Three really cute, adorable cats. So that helped.)

em cat
Best friends

Barnstaple Fringe is known as the Friendly Fringe. It’s easy to see why. On our first day, we went to a local café where several of the acts were presenting their shows, and we got to meet them afterwards and it was true; everyone was just so welcoming and happy for us to be there. This extended to everyone working in the Fringe, performing or not. Barnstaple isn’t a huge place, so an annual festival like this is so important, and proof of the good they can do for small towns.

 

Just some of the names performing were Witch by Circle of Spears, a three-person show based on historical accounts of accusations of witchcraft; Nature Knows Best by TicTac Theatre, about the relationship between humans and the natural world, and Square by The Monday Collective, a show asking the question: what sort of a shape is a square, really? Theatre tackling society’s most thorny issues.

 

Wood was performing atop a castle mound. A small, wooded hill whereupon one had to follow a winding series of steps to reach its flat, grassy top. We remarked how it would be perfect for a Midsummer Night’s Dream performance. Or indeed, a semi-immersive show about camping. It truly was a most magnificent spot.

sarah cats
Better company than the cast 

However, it took us a little longer than expected to actually perform there. Heavy rain and wind forced us indoors on our opening night, but we were offered a space in the indoor market, bustling with commercial activity just a few hours earlier, now empty. It was a grand and long space, with Union flags hanging from the ceiling on both sides every foot for as long as the entire market. In such a space, our lines and shouts echoed with a chilling omnipresence. It certainly wasn’t the play’s intended space, but I think it worked.

 

The rest of the nights we performed atop the castle mound. On our final performance, the weather was actually sunny- after several days of ambivalent clouds and light rain.

group on castle mound
A Midsummer’s Performance

But it wasn’t all work. One night, we made a makeshift sofa in the loft and watched Hot Fuzz, a film that a few of the cast had never seen and, after Brexit and Trump White House, actually seemed ominously relevant and foretelling. (If that seems hyperbolic, it’s because it is. But still, watch the film again. It’s a different film now.)

 

Another night we patronised Barnstaple’s only club Fever & Boutique, which Oli lovingly referred to as “Fever Booty”, usually in a caressing whisper. I don’t want to say that Barnstaple is small, but I recognised a few of the people in there.

 

Barnstaple is not the most exciting town, but it is probably the friendliest we’ve been to. Its people, not just from the Fringe, were happy we were there. They were engaging and interested, and took the time to discuss the show with us when we flyered on the street. We left, thinking that the castle mound was probably the most apt location we’ve performed in thus far, and how much small towns, much like the one I and several other cast members come from, benefit from amateur theatre.

 

(Even those with the line “I want you inside me” in them.)

Kings of the Castle

It must be said with a fair degree of accuracy that one’s first impression of a new place depends, in part, on how one got there. For the majority of our cast and crew, this meant a crowded bus to Birmingham that was late, a train that was missed, another train, and horse and cart at one point, I think. For myself, it entailed a leisurely drive through the countryside, stopping off for lunch in Shrewsbury. However, I think we all realised upon first laying eyes on the Shropshire market town of Ludlow, the others tired and fatigued, myself content and full-stomached, that we were in a rather pretty town.

em field
She’s always watching

First, a word on accommodation. The original plan had been to camp. Given that we were in the middle of a heatwave, that wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. But how were we to know this a month or so ago? So when the option to sleep in an unused office building was offered to us, we hurriedly took the opportunity. We weren’t exactly sure what we were going to get. A whole floor to ourselves? Just a cramped room? No, we got the whole office building of the Ludlow Fringe. A two-storey building that had the distinct smell of dry paint in high school art classrooms.

Oli eating from tepot .jpg
Our fearless leader

This arrangement had many upsides and downsides. For one thing, like I said, we had a whole building pretty much to ourselves. Whilst some people occasionally used downstairs to work, I myself never saw any employees there. And so the downstairs arts-crafts room (or, to us, the dining room) was a room we used throughout the night hours, playing charades, makeshift Pictionary, or for those deep conversations until sunrise that feel pretty natural around the fifth beer. As well as this, we had the quirky opportunity to be living in an office building, something which, if done for a lifetime, is a cause for concern, but if only for a few days, a funny story. Finally, unlike London, we were all together under the same roof once more.

Bridge group picture
Note nervous smiles

However, despite the briefness of this particular tour stop, staying in an office building had its drawbacks. For a generic group of sweaty greasy-skinned 18-25 year olds (“young people”, as they’re reluctantly acknowledged by the government), two amenities, before running water and a roof, are of essential status. To be told that we would be staying in a building without shower or Wi-Fi for a night would be a struggle. For five, it should be a nonstarter.

train to ludlow
Tired travellers

But that’s how we found ourselves. Having to use the library for internet and the leisure centre for showers (link for those looking to find a lovely shower in rural Herefordshire) certainly added what I’d reluctantly call character to Ludlow, as well as an incentive to get out of bed (well, the sleeping bag on the air mattress) in the morning.

Castle
Castle much

(A slight amendment needs to be added to one of the above points. Yes, we were alone in that building. For the most part. On the final two nights we were joined by an American couple, one an erotic poet whose show “Nerdfucker” involved, we learned from secondary sources, giving away sex toys, the other, a long-haired leather-wearing gentleman who looked like he’d just come from a Black Sabbath reunion. We were all aware that they would be staying with us. Well, except for Zoe, who discovered this fact just in the early hours of the morning, after opening the door to the bathroom and unexpectedly seeing the long-haired boyfriend.)

As for the town itself, it really is rather lovely. Whilst out of our element in London, the country bumpkins were now in their home territory in this small town setting, the conservative middle-aged couples and £3 pints serving as warm reminders of home.

There are hundreds of other towns just like Ludlow across Britain, but this one felt a little different. Its bridge was just a bit more striking, its river more beautiful, its castle certainly grander and imposing.

bridge and castle
View of a Bridge

However, upon arriving, the town had a little ominous feel to it. Like everyone who resided there had a secret, or some terrible deed occurred upon nightfall. Like some town from a Stephen King novel. Or Hot Fuzz. This fear was not aided by what occurred on our first night. After eating dinner on the castle green and getting a couple of games of Vampires in, we crossed Ludlow’s empty streets to see a stand-up comic in a night run by the Fringe organizers. However, once we stepped foot into this attic room above the pub, the whole act stopped. Not only did the few audience members turn to us, but so too did the comic onstage.

“Are you the guys coming from Birmingham?”

(We were.)

We nodded.

“You guys Wood?”

Nod.

Our arrival was ominously expected.

A side note, the comic was called Al Kealy, and while he divided opinions, Oli thoroughly enjoyed his sharp, politically charged humour. Check him out at the the Edinburgh Fringe if you get the chance.

Flyering in Ludlow turned out to be a little difficult. Of course, it’s a small town, not a large city, and with the added obstacle of the Fringe being in only its fifth year, we weren’t expecting a whole host of welcoming theatre-goers. But after the trauma of flyering in London- that is, flyering to a brick wall with expensive earphones- we were expecting something a bit easier. Friendly conversations, genuine enquiries about our travels and about our shows. And in many respects this is what we got. However, we were all quite struck by the number of people who, in capital city manner, managed to completely ignore us whilst on the street. Not even a “No, thanks” or sympathetic smile. Too much for the young and ambitious. Not everyone was like this, of course, and many people were courteous and polite and engaging, but it just goes to show that rudeness is a nationwide affliction.

gab field.jpg
Gab in a field.

Our performance space was perhaps the more wonderful of the tour thus far. Granted, whilst the rolling garden of Brighton had the indulgent view of sea and spark and sun, the frequent drug deals and pervasive smell of cannabis went someway to de-romanticise the venue. No such problems in Ludlow. (Or, if so, a much greater effort was employed to conceal them.) Next to an arched bridge over a strong river, with ducks, ducklings and swans lazily meandering on its surface, and under the watchful eye of Ludlow castle, we were honoured to perform on a lovely stretch of grass called the Millennium Green. (Presumably the newest thing in that town.)

After playing around in the new space for some time (playing hide-and-seek at aged twenty can bring untold pleasures, I assure you), we went on to perform. The first show ran for the most part smoothly. This being the first show we had done since our few-day holiday, we were all a little nervous. However, there were no major disasters, and the audience turnout was healthy.

dan sarah castle.jpg
A couple in a castle

However, just because we were performing next to the river didn’t mean we didn’t get our feet wet. The loveable Steve, who chairs the charity that owned the land on which we were performing, came and saw the show our first night and enjoyed it. He mentioned in passing the beauty of the area, spoiled somewhat by the intrusion of an unwelcome sofa resting gently in the running water. Us being young and mindful citizens (and after being forced to by Oli…) we dutifully made it a team effort to roll up our trouser legs and remove that lumbering, soggy sofa from Ludlow’s waters and carry it around the green until we reached a suitable disposal spot. The lower half of our legs were drenched and our arms and backs ached with the pains of manual labour (a new experience for many of the actors), but Steve was greatly appreciative, and bought us a round at the Rose and Crown, one of Ludlow’s many pubs.

sofa
Community helpers

Over drinks, we chatted with Steve about the theatre and life in Ludlow generally. It turned out that he had had quite a colourful life. He was a former actor himself, and not just amateur dramatics. After finishing RADA, he did work across the country, including at the National Theatre and with Alan Ayckbourn.

The second day wasn’t quite as a successful. After another demoralising flyering shift, we performed to an audience of- wait for it- two. And their dog. Yes, a little better than the one-man-audience we had in Brighton, but that was hardly a consolation. However, the day was not at all a waste. Em, Gab and I took a walk across the bridge, playing word games and having a general laugh. We found what we took to be a wheat field (in our hearts of hearts we knew it wasn’t, but for the sake of a good in-joke we supressed our rationality and common sense) and ran through it, damn to the farmers it may not entirely please. (Politics joke.) We lay in the field overlooking river, bridge and steeple, and thought ourselves tremendously lucky.

The third day was something special.

Oli hanging from tree.jpg
He has our infinite trust

Zoe and I enjoyed a indulgently fabulous pub lunch. (Featuring what was accurately described to us as “the best cheese in the world” by the waitress, a Hereford cheese bought from the shop next door, with the firmness of a soft apple, with apple, grape and black pepper. Trust me friends, it truly was a fabulous cheese.)

camp lane
Mature.

After this, we headed to the town square to take part in Ludlow’s first ever PRIDE event! Amazingly, Wood was built in as the finale of the day. And so we marched from the town square to the millennium green and there a whole host of people- men, women, children, dogs- enjoyed the sunshine and the multi-coloured flags. The sun was shining and everybody seemed to be smiling, and we had a great full audience on chairs and blankets to watch our show about sexuality, gender and labels. It was a great end to a great day.

The next day we had a day to ourselves. We explored Ludlow castle, and absolute must see if you find yourself in this sleepy town. We walked around its grounds and imagined putting on Shakespearean plays, filming battle sequences from its towers, and what it must have been like to have lived in such a place in time and space when it was a functioning castle beyond tourism.

Oli and I Castle
Historians exploring.

(Also, Oli decided today was the day to be on his worst behaviour. He was like a child on a school trip after consuming too much sugar. I weep for his teachers.)

We dined at The Blue Boar – a local pub with a stunning seletion of food and drink, and probably the group’s favourite. Oli and I shared a camembert-  camembert being a relatively recent arrival in Ludlow- of such smoothness and richness and deliciousness it may even overtake the Hereford cheese as best cheese tasted in Ludlow. Maybe. It may have to be put to public vote.

Ludlow group pic.jpg
With our favourite newest cast member.

We left Ludlow, knowing that what we had participated in and contributed to had been of great importance. The town was beautiful and of a perfect size. It had gorgeous Victorian buildings, green and pleasant lands, and wonderful architecture combining man and nature. We left the town tired, our arms full with equipment, and sad to be leaving Ludlow.

We had a day of travel ahead of us. What could possibly go wrong?

Calling in London

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.)

me reading train.jpg
Someone coughed during reading

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.

gab g train
Drunk tube.

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.

ann drink in park.jpg
Worth a thousand words

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.

brixton drinks
From Brick Lane to Brixton

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.

A Capital Time

Wednesday 7 June

A big day. For anyone, I would hope, but especially for those of us not from London. (‘Country bumpkins’ as we’ve been described by our Capital-dwelling counterparts in a manner I’m choosing to believe is affectionate.)

Zoe arrived at Oli’s house having spent a night at home in Cambridge, and so she, Oli, Gab, Annabel and I departed the domestic comforts of Elstree & Borehamwood and headed into town.

Getting into Blackfriars station, we walked amiably down the South Bank and picked up our tickets to see Romeo & Juliet that afternoon at Shakespeare’s Globe. Day standing tickets are only £5, and so one is left wondering a) how this isn’t a regular habit for all those within an hour radius of the city and b) who would pay extra not to stand with the ‘groundlings’?

We had some time before the performance at two, so we wandered a little further onward to Borough Market in the hopes of finding some lunch. However, as we had anticipated, the market was shut and surrounded by police, still an active crime scene from the terror attack to have happened there just days earlier. So we dined on those other most famous of London delicacies- Subway and cheap sushi- before heading back to the Globe.

*globe ext
A real treat.

Daniel was waiting for us when we arrived, anxious by our tardiness and fearful that we weren’t coming. (Come on, would we dare miss a show that Michael Billington of The Guardian described as “perverse” example of “vandalised Shakespeare”? And as liberal high-minded Arts students, we all know that The Guardian is always right. Always. And never wrong. Never.)

For many of us, it was our first time in the Globe. (It was my first time in London for a period beyond eight hours.) But for us all it was an especially memorable and poignant pleasure to be there, since we had all been involved in BoxedIn’s own version of RJ just a few months prior. (Well, almost all of us. I won’t name names to spare Zoe’s feelings…)

And so by the show’s end we found ourselves in a bit of a predicament. Some of us, like Billington, agreed that the Globe’s main function was historical ‘experience’ and replication, and so productions should adhere to the ethos of being performed ‘as it would have been done.’ Others did not share this view. However, despite all of us having something to say and aspects to critique, we all thoroughly enjoyed the performance. (Two and a half hours standing is never easy, but it could hardly be described as difficult that afternoon.) I myself take the traditional view for the performance space, yet found myself laughing and enjoying this wacky production of clown costumes, Doritos bags and drunken renditions of YMCA.

*globe int
Thankfully it didn’t rain

We left the venue immersed in this debate, but all concurred that our own production in March was superior. (I mean Romeo played by a man?! How absurd…)

*rj group
RJ Cast! (+1) …

Took the tube into Camden where we met up with Sarah. Had dinner at the market, all of us choosing separately from the various and diverse stalls before eating together. The day was just starting its slow and long drop into night, and the mood was jovial.

(London prices can actually fuck off, though.)

Went back into town and met up with Emily. We were all lucky enough to be given free tickets to see Kinky Boots on the West End by our good friend Jamie Jones. For those uninitiated with the show, it was written by Cyndi Lauper, it features a lot of drag queens, and it’s about shoes. (It’s also about respecting our fellow human beings for who they really are and accepting them in a modern diverse society, but it’s mostly about shoes.)

It’s basically a more fabulous version of Wood.

*kinky boots
They ask the one with the longest arms to take the pictures.

We all loved it, and came out singing and tapping our feet. Jamie Jones and Hannah Raymond-Cox took us for drinks afterwards, where we all got quite merry indeed.

(Until I saw the prices. Seriously, London, we’re trying to make it as actors. Help us out.)

A Shakespearean show with my fellow Shakespearean (amateur) actors, Camden market dinner and a West End musical. I hadn’t felt a country bumpkin when I left the house…

Thursday 8th June

Left to our own devices, we each spend the day doing our own thing. Since it was election day I felt it only fitting to get off the train at Blackfriars again and walk up to Westminster and around Parliament. (Not before walking past the National Theatre and BFI Centre, thinking how these two giants of British art could be next door to one another, and about the privilege and good fortune of those who work there, and how they got to do so.)

The cast came round to Oli’s for a rehearsal in his spacious garden to refresh our memories of the play and to work in the small rewrites Oli had written in. (Did anyone else notice how only my lines had been cut?) After which we all shared a barbeque with Oli’s parents, eating and drinking inside in the warm summer air, abruptly brought to an end by the warm summer rain.

*bbq
Celebrating a presumptive Labour landslide!

Those of us residing at Oli’s stayed up to watch the election results come in. Whilst not a conventional win, we were all relieved to see Mrs. May’s majority go down (even if later dismayed at the implications of this regarding the DUP.) We took a break and had a swim in the early hours, feeling like teenagers five minutes into a slasher movie. Shivering, we headed back inside and went off to bed, the results suggesting a Conservative reduced majority, proving not all victories are overt, and Tories are capable of losing two gambles with the electorate in a row. One cannot self-prescribe hubris, it seems.

*oli swm
Looking like a Tolkien creature not used to the light.
Version 2
Dripping with sweat from election nerves or just wet from the pool? (AKA Baywatch Cast)

Friday 8th June

Another day spent doing what we pleased. I returned to Westminster and briefly hung outside Downing Street, seeing a few protestors and a single camera, but not general attention as I had thought. (In fairness, it had been a long night.)

As Saturday would be our first performance day, we spent the afternoon around Liverpool Street Station and Brick Lane, trying out the best flyering spots. Turns out the high prices weren’t the only London stereotype which turned out to be true. Londoners, though living in a wonderful city, are rude. And reserved. And looking at either a phone or their feet. They were a resistant wall almost impossible to flyer to.

*z and i fly.jpg
Flyering, looking fly.

(Then again, if I had just finished a long day’s shift in the office, having a greasy-haired twenty-something with bad facial hair offer me a free evening of queer theatre would probably make me reach for my phone, pretending to be busy.)

That evening we all watched Barber Shop Chronicles in the Dorfman at the National Theatre. It was my first time in the building proper (discounting my open-mouthed lull around the bookshop the day prior) and I was genuinely excited, as was everyone else.

*barbershop
At least we can say we’ve been onstage at the National

Another wonderful show. Funny, emotive, poignant, political, personal. And slick (those transitions, man…), it really was a brilliant piece of theatre and one I am glad I got the opportunity to see. I advise people to see it, and I hope to see it again myself.

I really was enjoying London a great deal.

*barber set
Barber set (not Sweeney Todd)

After the show we all took a stroll down South Bank, the city lit up, the office blocks slowly fading, St. Paul’s Cathedral dominating the cityscape across the Thames. Down on the shore there were shirtless fire dancers, spinning flaming touches in a sort of jungle-style ritual. We watched, and a fellow onlooker informed us that it was in celebration of the full moon, and something they do on every such lunar event. No wonder the city and water had looked so charming.

Oli was particularly content, and commented that we had just seen a wonderful show in the greatest city on earth, and by this time tomorrow we would have contributed, if only slightly, to that artistic-cultural mosaic.

(I don’t think Lawrence Olivier ever had to say “I want you inside me Nick,” however.)

Saturday 9th June

Our first show day.

The afternoon was spent flyering as required by our shifts, the rest of the time we were free to do as we pleased until call time at 5:20.

*juju ex.jpg
Outside JuJu’s. Annabel dressed 10. Me dressed 65+

Both activities- flyering and meandering around shops- further confirmed by suspicions about London. The flyering, as has already been mentioned, simply strengthened my belief in the rudeness and reservation of Londoners compared to the rest of the country. (Granted, we had only Brighton to compare them to, and one would be forgiven for assuming that the only constituency willing to vote in the Greens would be a little friendlier than most.) The second was what was on display in this trendy, up-and-coming area. Unsurprisingly, there were vintage shops, market stalls and cheap delis. However, there were some others occupants to these important buildings that were both surprising and, given the general degree of piercings, tattoos and beards I saw on the populace, not surprising at all.

One chief example would be the room dedicated to coal. Not a shop, almost an art exhibition, this environmental project wished to spread its message by renting out a room, filling it with coal, and giving away bags of coal to anybody who wished to possess a bag of coal before instantly regretting their previous decision, now stuck with a bag of coal and blackened fingers. The message seemed to be if curious Londoners had the coal in paper bags, then other people with ulterior motives couldn’t have at this seemingly precious reserve of coal. (Fat Cats, I believe they’re collectively known as. Or, better still, ‘The Man’.) This was an unanticipated and interesting use of space, but considering it was mere metres away from the Cereal Killer Café– the pricey shop that made headlines back in 2015 with accusations of gentrification of the neighbourhood gone bad- a room full of coal didn’t actually seem all that surprising.

*coal shop
A coal shop in London. It’s like a setting from a Dickens novel.

What I’m trying to say is, London was fulfilling expectations.

Since we were performing in the beer garden of JuJu’s Bar and Stage (which, predictably, was usually filled with paying beer drinkers) we could not use the space until just a little before show time, just time enough to set up the performance space. So we went to a nearby park to warm up. We’ve done it so many times now, it’s funny to think how odd we must all look, singing and moving around and playing games in an enclosed space, oblivious to the surrounding park-goers confused as to what this loud intrusion is. They just wanted a quiet rest at the park, away from the noise of the city.

*perf space.jpg
‘Performance space, pre-set up’ (or ‘2 Gentlemen contemplate art amongst tables’)

The performance space itself was smaller than what we had had in Brighton. We were all slightly nervous about this, nor were we sure what to expect. The ground wasn’t what you’d traditionally call even, and once we moved the tables to the side we saw on the ground a large family outing of maggots, and the odd worm. Gab, who spends half of the show lying on the ground as the dead body, had a look on his face I don’t think was stage fright.

Further problems arose when we attempted to peg the tents down. Putting the peg into the ground, rather than rummaging downwards through inches of soil, there was a strong resistance mere centimetres beneath the ground. I cleared away the soil with my hand to see that this little layer of earth was lying upon a brick flooring, clearly impossible to fully peg down a tent in. Since the garden was enclosed by walls, we prayed the wind would not be too strong.

*first show.jpg

The audience was mostly made up of family and friends – although we did get a few locals coming every day, curious about all the creative commotion in an other-wise quiet beer-garden. The show ran smoothly, the new space not proving an obstacle after all, and the show ran very smoothly, with positive feedback from all the audience members.

And so we had enjoyed the fruits of our capital city, realised its obstacles and limitations, but had, in some small way in a little beer garden buried in a corner of Brick Lane, contributed to its artistic landscape.

(I don’t think Romeo & Juliet had that many “fucks” and “cunts” in it, however.)

*gorup.jpg
Well done team.

Brighton Rocked

Thursday

Remember where we left off on Wednesday? It was a gloriously sunny day and we had our largest turnout yet. Thirty-five! On a Wednesday!

Thursday: a little closer to the weekend, but it was just as sunny. Even better, if anything. Not a cloud in the sky. A perfect day. The show was obviously creating some sort of buzz. A sell-out show? Not beyond possibility. The people from the night before coming back to see the roles reversed? The rest of Brighton high society trying to look casual as they stampede to New Steine Gardens, wanting to be seen seeing what was obviously the hottest new show in town.

Thursday Audience Count:

One.

Oh.

I guess not all of Brighton got the message.

He dutifully stayed for the entire show and gave us a very generous donation and a smile before leaving. However it must be said that, especially considering the large turnout the night previous, that we weren’t in the best of spirits.

Nevertheless we went down to the beach and played some games, talked, laughed. Oli later joined us and as we all got a little drunker our collective spirits rose.

Our first stop was the Ye Olde King and Queen. We had passed it every day on the bus, its mock-Tudor style a striking contrast to the takeaways and grocery shops that share its street. Once inside, we were quite impressed. Boasting to be Brighton’s largest public house, its interior was that of a pub, only much larger, grander in certain features (round tables of such a size to put one in mind of Camelot), and filled with mostly students. It was a rowdy and loud place, but we filled a circular table, and, feeling a bit like lowly peasants at the king’s court, drank ourselves silly.

18985124_10212907405184695_1619675092_n
King and Queen
19021660_10212907405264697_2146635277_n
Posers

Not sure where to head next, Oli took charge. Club Coalition. We hadn’t heard of it. “Guys, we’re on the guest list.” Won’t it be busy by now? It’s past midnight. “Guys, don’t worry. I emailed. They put us on the guest list.” But- “Guys, it’s Oli Savage plus eight. Trust me.”

We walked to the seafront. Oli led the way and strutted to the bouncer. (Did anyone else notice the lack of a queue?)

“Hi, I’m Oli Savage and I’m on the guest list.”

“No guest list tonight, mate.”

“But I sent an email and everything.”

This was not a problem in itself, other than for Oli’s now-crushed ego, as the club was largely empty. Again, not a problem. The strange underground club at the seafront is based in an abandoned viaduct, with archways and tunnels that gave the place an eery quality. (Only enhanced by the lack of people.)

But perfect for us. As Oli says, “I need dance room”. We all had a dance, moved our limbs (even me) and had a weird old time.

By the time we all staggered home, I was left wondering whether it was possible to enjoy a night out in Brighton that couldn’t be characterised as “weird”, “different” or, to use our favourite, “rogue”.

Friday

Another hangover day. To be expected, I suppose. It’s always a little harder, I find, to flyer enthusiastically about queer outdoor theatre when your head and body feel like a heavily-trafficked dance floor (pounding, sticky and, objectively, a bit unpleasant).

18928161_1674745565898926_1108458930_n
Being dramatic

We performed our penultimate queer run of the show. It was windy. Oh so windy. Oh so windy that some of the pegs holding down the tents came out of the ground, and we had to place the unused chairs facedown on the ground once it became apparent that, if we didn’t, the wind would do so for us, only in a less orderly fashion. Still, it was this weather (granted, on a Friday) that prompted citizens of Brighton to come see us, and not the cloudless climes of the day before.

Back at the house, we watched National Treasure. For those who haven’t seen it (which, before Friday, included several of our cast and crew, myself being one of them) if you’re in need of  a film that unifies a group with its marvellous cliches, disgustingly brilliant remarks and just Nicholas Cage, then you wouldn’t go wrong with National Treasure. We all laughed ourselves silly as pretentious arts/history students, whilst all not too secretly loving it. We need to find a National Treasure Drinking Game.

(Fun Fact, according to IMDb the original rough cut of the film was four hours long. I’d be on the floor by the end of the first act.)

Saturday

Our last ever straight run in Brighton. A bittersweet feeling, only to be amplified the next day.

Back at the house that evening several of the gang FaceTimed our good friend Molly from the USA, and shared in some transatlantic thespian laughs. I made my famous spinach and pesto quinoa and totally did not stress over it. Not even once. Honestly.

Late at night we were all still up when the news from London reached us. We all made the appropriate calls and watched the coverage on television, saddened that this was not the first time since arriving in Brighton that such news had reached us.

Sunday

A hard flyering drive in the hope of getting rid of all of our flyers before our final ever Brighton show that evening. Made all the more difficult in the heat, the extra-large piles of flyers took longer to get rid of to a citizenry who clearly, after a fortnight of daily campaigning, were a bit sick of us.

Once I was finished, I took a long walk on the seafront into Hove, listening to Dylan, smelling chips and the sea air, watching smiling faces of people at the seaside.

Our last ever show in the Brighton garden. There was a large audience, if quite a few walkouts. It had turned quite windy by the evening. We thanked the audience, packed away and went home, privileged for the opportunity to perform in such a characteristic (and loud…) space, overlooking the sky and sea and, on a clear day, France.

18928255_1674745342565615_1274601954_n
What a space

Georgia left us an evening early, so we all had a group hug and said goodbye to her.

At home, we all made a collective dinner. Tacos, fajitas and mojitos. Zoe made a vegan filling, I a veggie, and Em a meat. We sat at the table, ate quite possibly the most amazingly hearty meal I’ve ever had, and discussed our favourite moments of the tour so far, our sadness to leave that great house, and our excitement for what was to come.

We played a few rounds of Vampires (did Oli get too invested? I couldn’t possibly say…) before bed. We had an early start in the morning…

Monday

Ouch. Getting up at early in the morning when used to rolling out of bed close to midday, after mojitos and Vampires until the early hours, was not pleasant. But we knew this the night before.

It was a dull but frantic morning. We got on the bus and, seeing the performance space one last brief time, transported the seats back to their home in storage next to the pier.

Back to the house to clean, tidy, pack, check- you know the feeling. In groups, we left the house sporadically depending on train times. Oli, Gab, Em and I were the last to leave. Between us, including personal and show-related, we were carrying eighteen bags. We were definitely the most popular people on the two buses we had to get as we blundered our way to the station.

(On one of the buses there was a child crying very loudly about nothing in particular. I said he was like Oli. His father then calmed him down and he stopped crying. Oli said the father was like Sarah.)

Using Oli’s failsafe method that carrying five bags is the optimal number (four too few, six too many; you all know how numbers work) we finally shifted our flustered selves to the train station. The three boys took the train to London Victoria, saying goodbye to Emily, Brighton and a wonderful two weeks. Brighton, you were great.

18983150_10212907405984715_716299885_n
Travelling light

Now, I’m not a city person myself in my upbringing. Certainly not a London-person. But I think that carrying five bags each through busy London train and tube stations is a stressful job for anyone. For me, not knowing my way around and with an irrational fear of inconveniencing strangers, this was especially hard.

Annabel waited for us at Victoria, and the four of us managed to fight through train and tube and eventually made it to Oli’s station. I hadn’t realised that we were near Elstree Studios, particularly interesting as I had been reading Carrie Fisher’s book The Princess Diarist on the train, which naturally mentions the area. His mother very kindly drove us to the house and we settled into our new ‘digs’.

The four of us headed back to the station. I now know why Oli loves the Fast and Furious franchise so much. They taught him how to drive.

Feeling a little dizzy, we got onto the train and headed back into the city.

18983110_476209646050567_1767141094_n
Ah, JuJu’s!

We headed to see our performance space. JuJu’s Bar & Stage is in an extremely trendy area of London. Every corner of the street someone seemed to be doing something that could be described as trendy. And everyone seemed to have piercings.

It’s unlike the North…

JuJu’s was charming and stylish, and the garden in which we’ll be performing was a compact but elegant space in the midst of all this urban activity. It will certainly be a different environment to the rolling garden of Brighton. After a short meeting, we said goodbye to the space before moving on.

Oli took us to “the best sandwich shop in the world” before going under cover (it had started to rain) to find a fashion show by the London College of Fashion. It was a strange but interesting affair; not a kind of art I know much about, but people seemed to be getting excited by what was being displayed, some conservative outfits, others costumes from science fiction. London is not like Blackburn.

18944726_476209622717236_1841240649_n
Not enough tweed. 

Next was the much-publicised “best bar in London” (quote Oli, again). And whilst it is thus far the only bar in London I’ve been to, I feel he may be right. Vagabonds is a wine bar where one receives a card, puts money on it, and then is free to sample the wines on display around the walls. It was a stylish and ‘classy’ affair, and Gab, Ann and I were all very glad Oli took us. Caitlin Morris, who played Romeo in BoxedIn’s Romeo & Juliet, came to join us briefly. We all talked and caught each other up on what we’d been doing, before heading back to the tube, picking up some wine on the way and with some people, not naming names Annabel and Gabriele don’t worry, managing to leave the security tag on the bottle.

Some people just can’t handle the big city.

 

 

A Different Pier to St. Andrews

Hi guys. I ended the last blog post telling you about us singing through the pouring rain on Sunday night (well, Monday morning), all happy despite the storm and not caring about being soaking wet. We were drenched, tired and cold, but happy when we went to bed.

Monday.

Hmm.

It appears we may have overestimated our own strength. (Or forgotten our collective weaknesses.) Turns out spending a night in the pouring rain isn’t actually ideal for one’s health. (Who knew?!)

18835409_10212859349183325_1288156589_n
Shelter from the “storm”

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a great day. The weather was against us, which only made the cast members who were feeling under the weather feel a little bit worse. There was a slight drizzle all day, and the weather hadn’t improved come show time.

For those yet to see the show, there’s a dead body. This dead body is, naturally, played by one of our actors. The thought of an already under-the-weather actor lying on the damp ground for an hour wasn’t a brilliant one from a health and safety (and, let’s face it, common sense) perspective.

Naturally, before anything else, the health and safety of the cast and crew comes first. Always. The show is also second to that.

So Monday was our first cancelled performance of the tour. Oli and Sarah courageously stayed behind to wait for the several people willing to see the show despite the spitting rain.

We all went home and rested. Doing a show every night of the week is a new experience for most of us, not quite like the weekend student performances we’re used to in St. Andrews.

Lessons learnt: this tour is a marathon, not a sprint. Look after your health. The show always comes second to that.

Tuesday

The glorious weather returned, and we were all in better spirits.

We awoke to a smoothie Oli had made us all whilst we were sleeping. He said it was full of fruits and vitamins. We can’t be sure exactly what was in it, but we’re all still here. So that’s a good sign.

18869730_10211888319355384_1241230596_o
The “thing”

We went about our usual flyering duties. We occasionally get into a pleasant conversation whilst flyering; often we just get ignored. Occasionally we get a bit rudeness. On Tuesday I got a Magnum. A real chocolatey free Magnum. Off two girls who even came to see the show! Double win. Thanks again guys.

18838364_1494225150599545_1929376882_o
Free food

The show went well. The audience size was pretty good and, thankfully, the sun was shining. (We’d missed it. It had only been a day.)

We came back to the house, all happy to have the show back running as usual. We drank a little, and played the game ‘Vampires’, and laughed into the wee hours…

18836155_1775892565763588_1553211212_o
lol, covfefe

Wednesday

Another gloriously sunny day. Since arriving, we had been planning- and postponing- a ‘pier day’- a day set aside for, you guessed it, Brighton Pier. The sun was shining and it seemed like today would be the best day. So a very last minute decision was made: the day would be spent on the pier. (Whilst still adhering to flyering duties. Cry.)

18838328_473094989695366_517372096_o
Self-evident, and thumb.

Dan, Sarah and Zoe were first to flyer. So the rest of us went to the pier. Throughout the day we all gradually dispersed and reappeared in accordance to our advertising commitments. But we all spent time on the famous pier which, in a shocking turn of events, is nothing like the one at St. Andrews.

Gab, Em, Annabel and I enjoyed the fruits of the pier. The fruit we were particularly interested in was the largest rollercoaster they had on offer: Turbo. Praying our bags wouldn’t be stolen, we queued for a whopping sixty seconds before getting on, bracing in (double checking we were definitely braced in), ascending, seeing a panoramic of sea and sky and city, (definitely definitely checking we were indeed braced in), before descending, whirling, upside-down-ing. (It’s a word.) You all know what a rollercoaster is. Or at least a mini-pier-sized version.

18836240_473094976362034_382703853_o

18836490_473094969695368_1335387981_o
Before the turbo

Gab ran off to flyer (on time, promise promise promise…) and we three got food. I got an incredibly economical box of noodles. (Seriously Dr. Noodle, what you playing at?) We sat on an old style bench, watched the sun flicker off the sea, and felt like we were in the olden days. (Well, at least I did.)

Somehow we resisted the temptation to pay £20 to have our fortunes read. (Seriously, how did we have that will power? I mean, the guy could read our futures! Seriously! For real!)

Em had some cash to spend, and so got a temporary tattoo. After much debate and squabble (“No we can’t get the BoxedIn Theatre logo”) a little dinosaur named Skinny Jeff was decided on. He doesn’t immediately look skinny, but if you look at his relatives in the big book of tattoo options, Regular Jeff and Fat Jeff, the name makes sense.

18838357_473094973028701_1796700395_o
Getting ink. 

I’ve never seen someone so excited.

18902255_10212859348823316_495139716_n
Skinny Jeff

I left to flyer, but the others stayed and enjoyed the day. Sarah, after much persuasion, went on her first rollercoaster. She vowed never to go on one again.

18901005_10208895825773392_25846531_o
Never again…

The gang went down to the beach and by all accounts had a great time. There were a lot of chips and, I’m told, a lotta’ laughs.

These prescribed settings also seem a bit odd to me. Although every venue wants you to feel a certain way (a restaurant satisfied with a meal; a theatre happy with a show), it always seems odd when a place prescribes the emotions in their actual titles. (‘Amusement Park’; ‘Arcade of Fun’, etc.) I don’t know if the arcades really were that fun, or the rides that thrilling. But the air was hot. And we were all there. Everybody seemed to have a good day.

18902283_10212859348743314_1606929015_n

18835232_10212859349463332_1157010938_n

 

We went to the park and somehow, as if by magic (or an effective advertising campaign), we got our largest turn out yet. Thirty-five real human beings! (For comparison, our capacity is forty.) The show went well, but we didn’t think about it for too long. Why were we packing up so fast…

Oh, yes. That’s why. Not coerced or disproportionally influenced by any of the cast and crew specifically (seriously guys, definitely not Em and Annabel; definitely not them…) that evening we were seeing Macho Macho. For those who didn’t read the last blog post, Em and Annabel (and quite a few others, it must be said) got a little excited watching Macho’s own effective ad campaign on the street. (That campaign being stripping and flexing.) They were certainly excited to see the real thing and, to be honest, the rest of us were as well.

None of us were entirely sure what to expect. We knew it was a show exploring masculinity. A physical theatre piece, of some description.

We took a bus to Hove. We got our tickets but were a little early, so we bought some drinks and found a magnificent garden just down the road. It was very much like our performance space (long, green, running down to the sea), only instead of being surrounded by holiday hotels, we now found ourselves surrounded by the apartments of the evidently very wealthy. The sun was setting and the mood was calm.

We arrived at the Old Market theatre. There was even some pre-show virtual reality entertainment, which a couple of us decided to try out…

18838748_473095013028697_1075291029_o
The future is now

The two bodies were onstage, curled on the ground, as we walked in. (I can only presume they took inspiration from Wood.) For an hour we watched an intense physical duet, the two lifting and supporting each other, trying to keep up, panting, staring into the bare stage lights, staring into the audience. Oli got given one of their sweaty t-shirts. Why he voluntarily gave it back at the end I can only guess.

18871401_10212859349623336_1703659741_n
Excited…

It was clearly not to everybody’s taste. A few people walked out (none from our party), and several of the older audience members had clearly bought their tickets thinking they were seeing something else.

We all concurred that, despite the two being evidently talented, the show did not use their talents effectively. It was a short show, only an hour long, but their movements were repetitive. I myself am not particularly well-versed in physicality, but there were clearly some ideas that were being effectively communicated. Still, they were two clearly talented individuals, and we all came home glad to have witnessed Macho Macho.

So that’s that. Tonight we’re hitting the town (Thursday, student night, get with it) and so we’ll let you know how that goes. Will it be as messy as Gab’s birthday? Time will tell…

What We Do In The Rain

18816786_1772443996108445_35809664_n
On a pebbled beach

Hey guys, Henry writing here. We left you off on Friday, looking forward to the big night ahead of us celebrating Gab’s birthday. And what a night it was…

18763436_10212829009184844_1209706037_n
How much skin is too much?

The day was spent in sunshine. As well as our usual flyering duties, we all found time to bathe in the sun in the Royal Pavilion Gardens (this is becoming our “regular” hang-out spot during the day). By the end of the afternoon, we were all there. Happy and content, we headed for the New Steine Gardens to warm up.

18816988_10211880315315288_1843092325_n
At the “regular” spot

After a successful straight run of the show, we packed up the set as quickly as possible to let the celebrations begin with no second spared. (Seriously guys, we’re getting pretty good at assembling/dissembling the set promptly. Whatever you think of the show, give us credit for that.) Whilst some of the cast quickly went home to get changed and drop off bags (thanks guys), Oli, Emily, the birthday boy Gabriele and myself headed to Morrisons, made some economic choices concerning drink, and then headed straight for the beach. (Two bottles of Prosecco for £13, three bottles for £12. You do the maths.)

18763138_10212829009664856_154429489_n
An audience member taking a little too much interest in Gab…
18816126_1665890133451136_62191633_n
Friends, laughs, booze and beach

We sat on the beach and eventually the others joined us. We gave Gab his card (he didn’t even notice us writing it hastily on the beach…) and shared in some cake. As the evening sky lazily transcended from a rainbow display of colours to a starry night sky without us even noticing, we lay on the pebbled beach, the lights of the pier flashing, our drinks bubbling, with the distant view of the ISS falling gracefully down the night sky. We were all laughing, and the general mood was simple contentment.

The first bar we went to had a smell of vomit.

I’m sorry to throw in that sudden sensory distraction, but it was quite a distraction for us, and a sudden one at that. Dan and Sarah had left at this point to celebrate their six month anniversary. Whilst we are indeed an eclectic bunch of people, I think we can be unified in our shared belief that any good night out should at the very least not include the pervasive odour of stomach bile. (Well, not before the early hours, at least.) We used the bathroom facilities, shared a silent nod of agreement, and we were out the door, leaving Bar Revenge (and its accompanying odours) in the past and in our memories.

Next was Club Revenge. This we had to pay to get into, and we’ve since made it a general rule never to pay for entry on cast/crew nights out. Looking back, there were two indicators of the extent of our mutual drunkenness. One was our willingness to pay a lot for drinks once inside. The second was our dancing. Whilst not a big clubber myself, I was certainly “getting jiggy with it”. (Seriously guys, I was moving my limbs. That’s a big deal.)

In fact, we all were. We were all dancing and celebrating a friend’s birthday. We must have spent some time in there, since when we left it was well past half one. But it was still the birthday boy’s night…

18763149_10208873238808732_880492766_n.png
Birthday boy

Now, for those unfamiliar with the Brighton night scene, I must emphasise in the strongest words possible our excitement at entering the next venue. For days, en route to and fro the performance space, we had passed a drag club with a pink exterior which, despite the sun being up, always seemed to have a drag karaoke on. We thus made it our ambition, nay, our obligation, to go to Priscilla’s. When the time was right…

Half past one on Saturday morning was that time. We arrived during final orders, and Zoe and Gab treated us to a gloriously predictable rendition of “It’s Raining Men”. If you didn’t like that song before…

18763432_10212829009824860_535998585_n
It was as good as it looks…

Priscilla’s closed, and we returned to the streets. We may have been a little too intoxicated at this point, for we were denied entry into Funky Fish. And so we went home, all giggly, a little staggery, myself battling hiccups and a near-to-capacity bladder, everybody happy.

The same can’t be said for the next morning.

18788286_10212829010624880_1834805124_n
Feeling okay?

Despite us all being in our prime, we were all somewhat, shall we say, under the weather come Saturday morning. (I was looking forward to a long lie-in to recover, only to see my world come crashing down when Gab shook me awake and uttered the ominous words “Oli says you’re on the first shift.”)

And so we went about the business of the day. The weather was not perfect, but thankfully it did not rain. (I had only one job apart from flyering, and that was to give Dan and Sarah their flyers by half three. Once I was finished with my shift, I went inside to the library, got five pages through Arcadia, and in a tandem assault from a hangover and Tom Stoppard’s sentence structure, fell asleep. I missed my half three deadline… I blame Stoppard.)

18763016_10212829008704832_1160312956_n
Trying to work out Fermat’s Last Theorem

The wonderful Alison Thomas visited for the day which lifted all of our spirits. She, Oli and Em had a picnic at our regular hang out at the Pavilion, and were later joined by a few members of the cast. We then all walked to New Steine Gardens, and Alison helped some of the actors with the physical transitions between scenes. We all know Alison from her incomparable help with the dance sequences of BoxedIn’s last show, Romeo & Juliet, and she did not let us down now. She and a few others watched the queer run, and the sun even managed to come out for the show.

18817057_10212829010464876_843085056_n-2
Alison brilliantly helping

We retired home. We all made dinner, debated what to watch on television, before finally compromising on an episode of Black Mirror. We all went to bed feeling unnerved and a little frightened. Those familiar with Black Mirror will know all-too-well the feeling.

Sunday, predictably, arrived. We went about our usual flyering duties and a few of us may have taken a bit of interest in the boys from Macho Macho, advertising (stripping) oh so wonderfully on the same street. Not naming names, but…

18788392_10212829010704882_714828897_n
In love much?

Georgia made us all jealous once we met up in the gardens, having spent the day on a private tour with a historian around the Royal Pavilion. She indulged us with the facts, but only she got the real thing.

We dutifully went to New Steine Gardens. One of the problems of performing outdoors in a public space, we’ve all come to learn, is external distractions. These can, have and will come at any time, either during warm ups or the show itself, and include people shouting, dogs barking (Dolly…), and traffic. During our warm up, we had a rowdy spectator, but the entire cast stayed cool, kept composure and were constant professionals.

And that’s what made that show so great. To a healthy (and generous) audience size, we performed what was later mutually agreed to be our best straight run yet. Lines were perfect, laughs were had, and the amazingly adorable dog in the audience remained both adorable and quiet. We packed up, and left the park very happy.

18788732_10212829010544878_669173799_n
Did we mention Annabel is vegan?

That night we all contributed towards a vegan dinner. (Did we mention Annabel is vegan?) A warm cottage-esque pie was made by all of us (although particular credit goes to Oli, director of both the stage and the kitchen) and we all danced and sung whilst we cooked and cleaned like young people without cares or problems.

We dined together, drank good wine (I thought a can of Stella might ruin the ambience) and toasted to a wonderful performance, a great night ahead, and a wonderful summer spent with friends with nothing but love and care for each other.

That evening we all had tickets to see For the Birds, an outdoor immersive show at a secret location starting at around midnight. Our slot late on Sunday would be their last. None of us had any idea what to expect, such only adding to the excitement. We got a bus, walked, and then waited at another bus stop for the Birds-specific bus to pick us up and take us to the secret location in the woods out of the city…

18788057_10212829008584829_1377805897_n
Oli looking at plants. “My friends,” he calls them.

Only, once we were on the bus, rather than talking amongst ourselves (or, indeed, looking down to our phone screens) we all found ourselves staring out of the window. Flashes of light were routinely striking the midnight sky. “Part of the show?” “Can’t be. That’s definitely lightning.” “Maybe it is the show.” “Look, that was fork lightning! Definitely nature…”

We got off the bus and walked through the guided path. It was dark and a light rain was bouncing off our heads, but such only added to the immersive experience. It may sound pretentious, but we were all genuinely happy for the weather.

What we saw of For the Birds was marvellous, a beautifully lit up forest, reminiscent of Tolkien and Carroll, with ominous sounds of voices and instruments scoring the scene. However, the real star of this show was the natural environment. Every minute or so the sky would erupt in a flash of lightning, and crashing thunder pervading the forest. These wonderful lights, both real and artificial, added to an ambience that we all felt privileged to be apart of.

However, as one might expect, being in a forest wired with electrics during an electrical storm in the rain offered a health and safety nightmare, and so we were all escorted out of the wooded area, the sky still routinely flashing like a Biblical scene.

We were all naturally disappointed not to see the rest of the display, but all felt genuinely privileged to be in that time in space, watching the grandest of storms in a fairytale forest. Cue our annoying thespian mentality, but waiting for the bus in the pouring rain, we decided to do one of our warm up exercises. And so we found ourselves at one in the morning, in the pouring rain, under a tempestuous sky, with our eyes closed and hands held “tuning in”, to our mutual smug delight and no doubt annoyance to the other rainy miserable walkers.

18816037_10212829010384874_1852675197_n
The happy couple

Deciding that waiting for the Birds official bus would be too long, we walked to a bus stop. Despite it now genuinely pouring down like a scene from the Old Testament, our spirits were high. We sang as we walked through field and street, singing such movie classics as ‘Stand By Me’ (although, if I remember, those kids got to walk in sunshine…). Such was the extent of our good moods and the brilliant resilience of this group of people, not even a cancelled show and pouring rain dampened our spirits. We were all smiling, all laughing, and then a kindly stranger appearing like magic from the shadows offered to take our picture…

We found a bus stop, eventually finding Ubers to take us home after unsuccessfully contacting several Taxi firms. Our drivers were two of the kindest people we’ve accounted, and reaffirmed our faith in people acting a little kinder than usual in circumstances that require it.

 

We got home. We shed and hung over soaking clothes, changed into pyjamas and drank tea and hot chocolate whilst watching television, the thunderous sound of the storm raging outside. Our hair was soaking, we were cold, tired, fatigued; we did not get to see the full show, but we were happy. Such is the character of this group of wonderful people.

And then we remembered the washing we had left outside to dry.

18816752_10211880314875277_1961034794_n
Friends

Lads on tour

Four shows down and we’ve decided to start a blog. Who could have possibly seen that one coming?

That’s right everyone, welcome to the BoxedIn Theatre blog, where we’re going to be charting the progress of our tour so far, and keeping you up to date with all our antics and adventures along the way! This week, we’ve been in Brighton, performing as part of the Fringe and enjoying everything that the city has to offer – which is a lot by the way. We’ve also learnt that outdoor performances are rather weather dependent. Who knew?

I’m going to post a little bit more regularly than this just to keep everyone up to date – perhaps aiming for 2 every week. That means that this post will be a little bit of a whistle-stop tour. So hold on to your seats people, cos away we go.

Sunday

Gabriele, Emily and I arrived in sunny old Brighton with a spring in our step and the world at our feet, to meet an exhausted Zoe who had driven down south overnight to make it on time. That’s what dedication looks like people.

We woke up early to make our first train, which was great, except that it made lugging 17 bags (not hyperbole, literally 17 bags) on a South-western train service that was HALF THE SIZE IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN a little bit of a pain. The underground wasn’t ideal either. But we were hopeful – we’d got the difficult part out of the way, so all that was left was to grab a taxi to our beautiful Brightonian house.

We were met by a cabbie who took one look at this sorry, sweaty bunch of students and pelted off as fast as his teeny tiny car would carry him. Like we were the fucking Babadook or something. At this point, there were 4 of us with 19 bags, so I guess that made sense. Eventually, we met a man brave enough (with a cab big enough) to take us to where we needed to go.

18745400_10212798569863880_1988711990_o
Welcome to our crib

And wow. A massive shout out to Kelly Scales at Airhostforyou.com because she found us this stunning house for an incredibly cheap price that we all fit very comfortably in. I have a feeling that the living situation will only go down hill from here. As everyone trickled in, we lapped up the last of the sunshine and enjoyed a welcome drink before getting down to business with some rehearsals. And then, of course, a huge family meal to round it all off.

18718133_10211853466684089_78331997_n
Happy Families!

Monday

Audience Attendance: 13

And all of a sudden, here it was, our first show day. 12 months of writing, 6 months of planning, and 3 months of rehearsals all to get to this point. So we started the day like any other day, with a nice solid batch of flyering.

Just a word to the wise for anyone thinking about coming to the Brighton Fringe – it’s a VERY different beast to Edinburgh. Despite having a similar number of shows, the runs are much shorter, and the audience is generally made up of locals who will look through the brochure and pick out what interests them. Which means that flyering is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s always a great way to tell people about why your show is exciting. On the other hand, most people really don’t give a shit. Targeted flyering is a must for Brighton, because that’s the only way to make sure that all the hard-earned cash you spend on your beautiful flyers doesn’t simply go to waste.

Frankly, the day flew by in a bit of a blur – at 2:30, we met up with the lovely Daniel Watson of Brighton Council to pick up the chairs that he would be lending us, and then delivered them to the New Cosmopolitan Hotel. Big shout out to these guys – their hotel is in an amazing location, it’s reasonably priced, and the staff are all so friendly. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Brighton, I’d highly recommend it.

A little bit more flyering and then bam, we’re good to go. For the first time, we’re staring down the barrel of a loaded show, with the set built in the way we’ve been discussing and everyone in their tents ready to start. It’s a special kind of feeling, that first performance – for me it’s like being at the top of a roller coaster just before the first big drop. Because I would do anything in my power to get the fuck off and walk away and not have to face whatever is coming next, but then I’m already strapped in, and before you have the chance to shout ‘stop’, the music’s already started and there’s nothing that you can do but sit back and try not to scream.

18620493_257869561287905_6666279666376691798_n
Welcome to the campsite

Just me? Yeah, maybe.

The show was a roaring success – probably the best first performance of any show I’ve ever been involved in, which gave us all a huge morale boost, of course. So we celebrated like any students would, and went out to get some drinks and see a free show.

James Loveridge has finished his run in Brighton, but I think he’s going up to Edinburgh this summer. He’s really clever and also absolutely hilarious, so if you’re around, I would recommend him to anyone.

Tuesday

Audience attendance: 5

The low cloud that settled overnight was not a good omen – we woke up to an oppressive atmosphere and quiet streets all across Brighton. But the show must go on, as they say. We got our flyering shifts done amid a minor panic over the number of flyers that we’d ordered (possibly a story for another time) and set up the campsite to get prepped for the show.

Despite the low audience turn out, we still put on an amazing show. And the mist really set the mood as well. It’s a shame, because the show looks best in miserable weather, but just that no-one wants to sit outside in the rain.

18765064_10211853466324080_1907421835_o
Absolute mood

Also, our hopes and dreams were almost destroyed by a dog called Dolly, who wanted to play with the actors halfway through scene 13. She was so cute but also GET OFF THE STAGE OH GOD PLEASE.

I suppose we probably should have taken dogs in to account when planning the show…

Wednesday

Audience Attendance: 30 PEOPLE I SHIT YOU NOT THAT’S ¾ FULL BABY.

But as you well know, the weather had cleared up as quickly as it soured, and we were treated to a beautiful day in Brighton. At least 2 members of the cast and crew were very excited to get tanned and insisted, despite my reminders, that they ‘never burn’ and ‘don’t need to put on sun cream’ saying ‘leave us alone you’re not our mum oh my god stop following my around with the sun cream don’t you have work to do?’

MY WORK TO DO IS KEEPING YOU HEALTHY DAMMNIT.

So yeah, Zoe and Gab are looking a little bit tomatoey at the moment. But hey. We live, we learn.

We enjoyed a lovely afternoon in the Royal pavilion gardens before heading over for the show once more. WHERE 30 PEOPLE SHOWED UP. That was incredibly exciting. We’ve started plugging that the show is outdoors so people can bring their own alcohol if they want, and honestly that seems to be our most convincing selling point.

Thursday

Audience Attendance: 17

The day got warmer and clearer as it went on, and this time Zoe and Gab decided that maybe they should start wearing sun cream. Good decisions all round. While I spent most of the day in the library doing some admin, everyone went out to the Constable exhibit in the Royal Pavillion. They said it was stunning, and a must see if you’re looking for something to do during the day in Brighton.

Again, the day flew by – as apparently it tends to do when it’s beautiful and you’re by the sea. When we arrived at the performance space, we pointed out to Emily that you could see France because it was so clear. She got very excited.

18721173_10211853557526360_1729381907_o-1
Perfect weather for camping

When we got home, we had dinner, made a vat of popcorn, and settled down to watch ‘What We Do In The Shadows’ (top film, 10/10, would recommend) before calling it a night.

And that brings us up to today! I’m writing from the kitchen of our house while everyone is out enjoying the sunshine and, most importantly, celebrating Gabriele’s birthday!!

18742598_10208850819008251_966151566_o.jpg
SUCH A CUTIE

We’re going to have our first big night out as a Cast & Crew – we’ve been told that Funky Fish and Club Revenge are great places to be, but if you have any recommendations of where to go, please feel free to get in touch! And of course, I’ll be letting you know how it all went in the next post – keep an eye out on Monday!

All my love,

The WOOD Cast & Crew