The B.O.A.T., for those of you who are not ardent followers of my blog, is the Brighton Open Air Theatre. The front cover of this year’s brochure shows the opening dance from last year’s production of “She Stoops to Conquer”, in which I took part.
In fact, the lady dancing at the front, ostensibly with no partner, is, in fact, completely masking me and preventing me from claiming my place in posterity, just so that she can be seen in all her finery. Huh! Actors, eh?
The short history of the BOAT is worth re-telling. It all started with a terminal pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
Adrian Bunting was a Brighton based writer and a leading light of the Brighton theatre scene. He wrote plays and was a founder member of the Upstairs Theatre Club.
In April 2013 he received his diagnosis. A month later, he was dead. In the last weeks of his life, he drew up the plans for an open air theatre for Brighton. He found a disused bowling green and convinced the Council to let the new theatre company have the use of it on a long-term lease.
He then raided his bank account, took out his life savings of £18,000, called five of his friends together and asked them to use the money to help make his dream project come true. In May 2015, almost exactly two years later, BOAT opened its doors. It is now in its 4th season.
The theatre runs from the beginning of May until the end of September and puts on a bewildering array of shows, ranging from Shakespeare to the Railway Children, from musicals to Frankenstein.
This was the touring company from the Globe Theatre in London. They were in Brighton for six performances and it was the audience who decided which play they should perform. It wasn’t a completely free choice, so I still haven’t seen Titus Andronicus, but at the start of the evening, the audience was offered a choice between Twelfth Night, the Merchant of Venice or The Taming of the Shrew. The loudest cheer from the audience decided the matter. We saw two of the plays and they were both brilliant.
Both Linda and I have volunteered to be stewards for the BOAT, which means that we see people in and check their tickets, serve them drinks from the bar in the interval and tidy up afterwards. And for this, we get to watch the shows. Seems like a good deal to me.
The front gate including the impressive Box Office, complete with plastic box to keep the programmes dry.
Last week, we were on duty for an Eagles tribute band, the Alter Eagles.
Now, I’ll admit that I have always been a bit ‘sniffy’ about the idea of a tribute band. If you were around when the Beatles were top of the pops, like we were, why would you want to go and listen to imitators?
However, having seen my first tribute band in operation last weekend, I have to accept that if you like the type of music that the original, long-departed group used to play, the only way you are going to hear their music live is through the work of a tribute band. And there was certainly no shortage of people who shared my opinion.
And at one point in the proceedings some of the audience got up and were soon bopping their shadows off.
The week before, it was the Railway Children. Lots of misunderstandings, confusions, running about and crumpets for tea. All based at the Giggleswick Railway Station. Great fun.
Stage sets at the BOAT tend to be pretty basic. They usually arrive in a van with the performers. The audience is required to fill in the details with their imaginations…
… which they didn’t seem to find difficult at all!
As September wore on, the weather started to get a bit less reliable, until last Saturday when the heavens opened and the rain fell all day and long into the night. The planned performance of ‘Fagin’ had to be relocated into the hall of a local primary school. It wasn’t difficult to see why….
… as the autumn rains lashed the theatre.
“Fagin?” was an interesting re-telling of the story of the miser from the Oliver Twist story, that everyone knows from the musical, ‘Oliver’, where Fagin is portrayed as a loveable rogue, looking out for the impish street urchins under his care.
In actual fact, in the original story, Dickens presents a much darker image of the old, grasping, cheating, lying miser, living off the immoral earnings of everyone around him.
In this play, we meet with Fagin during the last twelve hours of his life, as he sat in his prison cell trying to blot out the knowledge that he was due to hang the following morning. His thoughts were further tormented by the appearance in his dreams of his long- dead accomplice, the villain, Bill Sykes and the poor, murdered Nancy who had tried to protect the innocent Oliver Twist. Not exactly a barrel of laughs, but well worth seeing, nonetheless.
The only problem was that the school hall was about five minutes walk from the open air theatre and somebody had to be left at the theatre gate, in the pouring rain and the fading light, to tell members of the audience where to go. Guess who got that job!
So after Shakespeare and a children’s classic and the Eagles and reinterpreted Dickens, last Sunday’s offering was a couple of very talented, young ‘folk singers’, who undertook to improvise songs, on the spot, based on suggested titles, written by the audience and placed in a hat on the stage.
Titles suggested by the audience included the famous rock anthem “The Saga of the Stone in my Shoe”, the steamy blues number, “Boozey Hot Chocolate”, the legendary R&B ballad “Why do I hate Birkenstocks” and the unforgettable folk classic, “Whose idea was it to tile the bathroom?”
The duo arrived from London at about 12.30pm in the pouring rain for a show that was due to start at 2.00pm. At about 1.45pm, the sky started to clear and by the time the show started, promptly at 2.00pm, the sky was a cloudless blue.
Thanks to two days of almost incessant rain, the audience was, to say the least, modest. Indeed the theatre’s own volunteer stewards formed 25% of the crowd, but, like true professionals, the two singers carried on, with full energy and commitment, as if they were playing to a packed Albert Hall. Awe-inspiring.
The theatre’s season ends on Saturday with another tribute band. This time it will be the Brighton Beach Boys rocking the BOAT. The full capacity of the theatre is 420. There will not be a spare seat in the house. Can’t wait! Just pray for a warm, dry autumn evening.
Adrian Bunting, we salute you! You gave something new, special and quite unique to the town you loved.