Archive for the month “July, 2017”

Stooping in the Rain?

When we got to the open air theatre yesterday evening, the first thing we had to do was to dismantle what was left of our backstage gazebo, where we are supposed to sit whilst waiting to go on stage.  The wind had been so strong that it had sheared one of the bolts that held the roof together, rendering the whole thing liable to tear itself to shreds, if left to face the wind in its severely weakened state.


Fortunately, there were enough willing thespians on hand to carry out the work before the roof blew away.


With my faithful servant, Diggory, ‘whom I have advanced from the barn’, making his own unique contribution.


The storm clouds were gathering as we donned our costumes, but the audience just kept arriving, all equipped with picnics, rugs, anoraks, and various items of arctic clothing. About 120 people sat through the evening enthusiastically laughing and generally making us feel that our chattering teeth were still able to deliver some of the lines correctly.

We were rewarded with warm and generous applause at the end, but we were too cold to do more than one quick bow, before fleeing for the warmth of the hut that served as our dressing room.

The weather forecast for this evening is less than encouraging.  My guess is that the show will, in true theatrical tradition, go on, but I think it will be a pretty damp affair.  Only crazy people, with good waterproofs, will turn up to watch.  But this is Brighton, so who knows?

Tomorrow, if the weather forecast is to be believed,  I think we will be wise to abandon the theatricals and divert our energies to building an ark.  Whether or not our last performance will take place as planned on Sunday is firmly in the lap of the rain gods and the management of the Brighton Open Air Theatre.

Whatever floats your BOAT.


A breath of fresh air.

There are a number of challenges associated with performing a play in the open air.  The one that occupies the front of your mind is the possibility of rain.   But for the last three months we have been watching the cloudless skies in Brighton and worrying that the reservoirs must be running dry.  Rainfall in May and June was minimal.  The first part of July was pretty dry too.  But now?

The weather forecast for the next few days is for heavy rain interspersed with less heavy rain.  Well, that’ll be fun!

Moving from the tiny stage of the Brighton Little Theatre to the enormous apron stage of the Brighton Open Air Theatre was a challenge in itself.

For example, only the bare minimum of furniture and props could be transported from one to the other and, once the stage had been vacuumed …


… they were laid out on the stage.


As you can see from the photo above, we now have acres of space to fill, not only on the stage, but also in the amphitheatre. (At the back of this photo you can see the houses on one of the busiest roads into and out of Brighton!)

Next, we needed to create a lighting and sound box to house all of the ‘techie’ stuff.


It was fortunate that we had a good number of servants and villagers to accomplish this.  It was really not the sort of thing that I, as Mr Hardcastle of Hardcastle Hall, or my friend Sir Charles, would like to get involved with.


Fortunately, they were stalwart chaps and made a very good fist of it.  Salt of the earth really!


Then, of course, the whole play had to be ‘re-blocked’- as we thespians call it!  At the Little Theatre, you could cross from one side of the stage to the other in three paces.  At the BOAT we have more space than we know what to do with, so we have to try and use it to best advantage.

And then there is the small matter of voice projection. We are all praying that there isn’t a stiff wind blowing from the sea for this evening’s opening night.  If there is, there could be a lot of shouting going on.

And then, of course, what happens to the actors when they are not on stage or are waiting to come on?  Well that’s where the self-assembly gazebo and the camping chairs come in.


Well, a gentleman has to have somewhere to keep his wig!


Wish me a broken leg!


Meet the B.O.A.T.

One of Brighton’s most closely guarded secrets is the existence of its open air theatre, BOAT. It’s within ten minutes walk of our house and until this week, although I had caught tantalising glimpses of it from the top of a bus, I had never been inside.

The theatre has an interesting history.  It all started with a charismatic Brighton man called Adrian Bunting, who was a construction manager by profession, a playwright by hobby and an ardent supporter of live theatre by inclination.  In the 1990s he founded Brighton’s only regular cabaret venue, the Zincbar and he had an unshakeable belief in the power and importance of live theatre.

In 2013 he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and six weeks later he was dead. He was 47 years of age.

Knowing that he was going to die, he decided to put in train a set of events that would result in Brighton having its own open air theatre.  He gathered a group of friends together and between them they sketched out the outline of a unique amphitheatre on a former bowling green in Dyke Road Park on the outskirts of the town.  He recognised that Brighton was one of the most artistic and creative towns in the UK and he believed that it deserved its own open air space to promote live theatre to tourists and residents alike during the summer months. He donated his own savings of £18,000 to get the fundraising started and called on his friends to make his dream a reality.

A year later, Brighton Open Air Theatre opened its gate for the first time.  The BOAT was launched.


Facilities at the BOAT are limited.  Actors have to get changed in what used to be the club house of the now defunct bowls club,  a small wooden garden shed has been erected to enable drinks to be served during performances, and the nearest toilets are miles away in the park outside the fence.

After only three years in operation, the BOAT is able to put on a full, four-month season of plays, concerts and other theatrical events, that starts in May at the time of the Brighton Festival and goes on until September. The Brighton Little Theatre was offered two performance slots this year and thus brought Frankenstein and She Stoops to Conquer to the stage.


Yes, this volunteer is vacuuming the stage.  Astroturf is wonderful stuff!

The show must go on… and on!


Well, if you missed She Stoops to Conquer at the Brighton Little Theatre last week, don’t despair.  As a special treat, we’ll give you a second chance next week.

The run at the Little Theatre was great fun, especially as ‘little ‘ really does mean ‘little’.

The theatre itself seats a maximum of 71 at any one time.  If the audience in the front row stretch out their legs, they can be touching the front of the stage.

Although, with the stage lights on, you can see the people in the front row, the rest of the audience is completely hidden in the blackness behind the lights.  So you have no idea how many people there are in the auditorium, whether they are following the story, or, indeed, whether they are still awake.

There are no proper dressing rooms at BLT, so the women get changed in the kitchen, surrounded by coffee mugs and biscuits, while the men are consigned to the workshop, surrounded by pots of paint, ladders and boxes of props.

The stage is about the size of a primary school classroom, which means that projecting your voice is not really an issue.  However, it does mean that you have to be careful not to bump into the furniture or, worse still, that you don’t ‘mask’ other actors from the audience.

When the set is in place and the show is on, there is only room for single-file traffic off-stage for actors wanting to make their dramatic entrances and exits. There are lots of whispered ‘Sorry’s’, as people try to squeeze past each other

But all of these problems will pale into insignificance next week when we start our second ‘run’ at the Brighton Open Air Theatre.  (Thursday 27 until Sunday 30th July.  Be there, or be square!)

The B. O. A. T. is huge!


It can seat nearly 450 people and, apart from a couple of white walls at the back, it has no ‘backstage’ at all! So we won’t be able to complain about being cramped.

Making sure we can be heard, if indeed there are people choosing to sit in the back row, might be a bit tricky, especially if it is windy.

However, for me, the biggest challenge will be that all of the performances will take place in broad daylight, so we will be able to see the audience in all its glory as they eat their picnics, sip their chardonnay, chat amongst themselves or doze peacefully in the sunshine.

Sunshine?  What sunshine?   I’ve just read a headline from one of our more excitable tabloid newspapers that says that next week is predicted to bring the worse period of sustained bad weather this summer.  Oh, boy! Can’t wait!

Oh, well.  The show must go on!  Break a leg, everyone.

What is the point …

… of shaving?

Some men do it every day!  Why!  What is wrong with them?

What is the point in spending time every day scraping your face with a sharp blade until it is as smooth as the proverbial baby’s bottom, only to find that six hours later it feels like sandpaper again? And the next day you have to do it all over again!  Crazy!


As you might have guessed, I’m still grieving for my lost beard.  And with good reason.

I started growing it when I did VSO for the first time.  That was in the Sudan in 1972.

Now that I am old and grey, I can confess that, when I got the letter from VSO informing me that they were going to send me to the Sudan, I wasn’t even sure on which continent the Sudan would find itself.  I had opened the letter in the canteen of my university hall of residence where I was having breakfast.

I showed the letter to a fellow student who was sharing my table, and asked him casually if he knew anything about the country.  I will never forget his prophetic words.  He raised one eyebrow, passed the letter back to me and said “It’s bloody hot there, mate!” And so it was!

Khartoum, where I was based, was so hot that you sweated all day and sweated all night.  Shaving and sweating at the same time just resulted in a nasty rash, so I left the beard to grow.

I shaved it off once for a play in the 1980s.  I was taking part in a production of “Oh What a Lovely War,” and I had to play about six different roles, including Field Marshal Douglas Haig, an army lieutenant and an American war profiteer. The beard was considered to be too ‘defining’, so it had to go.

I then shaved it off once for a job interview.  I had obviously concluded at the time that I didn’t want to run the risk of the interviewer being a ‘pogonophob’, a person with an irrational fear of beards.  Now I can’t even remember which job I was applying for.  All I can recall about the incident are the stunned expressions on the faces of my wife and daughter when I came out of the bathroom with an exposed lower face..

As soon as this play is over, the beard will be back!

The Cultural Event of the Year.

… well, of July at least.  Well, of July in Brighton, at least.

Yes, I refer, of course, to the Brighton Little Theatre’s long-awaited, forthcoming production of Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer.


When I say, long-awaited, I should perhaps add that no-one has been more eagerly awaiting next week’s opening night than me. We seem to have been rehearsing for ever!

She Stoops to Conquer was first performed in 1773, but, surprising, much of the humour still works today. It is a comedy of manners and mistaken identity and I play the part of Mr Hardcastle, a much put-upon, North country squire with a daughter to marry off, hopefully to the son of his wealthy friend, Sir Charles, thereby achieving the double aim of successfully marrying off a daughter and gaining access to a higher social circle at the same time.  Mayhem and confusion ensues.


Much of the comedy comes from the interactions between Mrs Hardcastle, my wife, and her errant son, by her first marriage, Tony Lumpkin. The poor actor who plays Lumpkin is subjected to a level of physical abuse that would, in more modern times, attract the urgent attention of Social Services.


Subtle, it isn’t, but good knock-about comedy it certainly is, and given that the text is now 250 years old, it is still remarkably accessible.

After much misunderstanding and a good deal of social comment, all is happily resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned, particularly Mr Hardcastle and Sir Charles.


Production note:  Apparently, in Georgian England, only sailors and army officers wore beards, certainly not country squires in the North of England.  So mine had to be sacrificed on the altar of high art.

I look forward to its speedy return once the show is over! Shaving is such a pointless and futile activity!

Who is this fine fellow?


Every inch the Eighteenth Century country squire, I’m sure you will agree.

The name’s Hardcastle, Richard Hardcastle, at your service!

Beware the mixed metaphor.

When we were in school we all learned that a good metaphor can enrich a piece of creative writing.  We might even have been introduced to the mixed metaphor, which we were always taught to avoid because they often don’t make sense.

It may be true that they don’t make sense, but they can sometimes convey ideas that ordinary speech just cannot do.

One mixed metaphor that Linda came up with many years ago has become part of our family lexicon.  In a philosophical moment, as she mused on the meaning of life, the universe and everything, she said.  “You just have to take advantage of every opportunity in life.  You only get one innings and it’s not a dress rehearsal!”

Very profound, if a little confusing, especially if you don’t understand the finer points of cricket or amateur dramatics.

But last week I came across a mixed metaphor that literally left me speechless and struggling to maintain my composure.

I was a formal meeting where some very weighty matters were being discussed.  The person leading the meeting was a woman who, at one time in her career, had been a senior nurse and she was relating some of her experience from that time.

I first started to lose my grip on the discussion when she announced that, at one point in her career, “Leg ulcers were my bread and butter.”  Once that image gets into your head it is difficult to concentrate on what people are saying.

Eventually I regained my mental equilibrium and started to catch up with the debate in hand.  No sooner had I re-joined the discussion than the same person, in an attempt to encourage us not to shy away from difficult situations, said “Sometimes, whether you’re a man or a woman, you have to have the balls to grasp the nettle.”

That was it!  I was lost to the meeting. All my energies had to be diverted into maintaining my serious demeanour, as a stared fixedly at my shoes and desperately tried not to giggle.  The more the image settled into my brain, the worse it got.

It was agony, not dissimilar to grasping a nettle in the manner suggested.

I have no idea how the meeting ended!

The Vatican was awesome… sorry … awful!

The highlight of any first visit to Rome has to be the Vatican, surely.  At least that is what I thought. So we booked our tickets and presented ourselves at 10.0’clock, full of expectation.


Even before we got close to the walls of the Vatican itself, we could see the problem, and once inside it just got worse and worse.


Now, I am not agoraphobic, and I don’t suffer from claustrophobia but the Musei Vaticani brought me pretty close to both.

We became part of one long human snake that slithered its way through one gallery of magnificent paintings after another. The snake never stopped, so it was a bit like watching scenery go past when you are sitting in a train.P1080374P1080379

It was a pretty grim experience!


Every so often, the human serpent would suddenly grow spines like a giant porcupine as it briefly bristled with selfie sticks.


And then we reached the world famous Sistine Chapel, where the head of the snake stopped to admire the ceiling, while the rest of the snake carried on walking.  The result was inevitable.  I’ve never travelled in a cattle truck, but I think I know the feeling!


We were so tightly packed together that it was impossible to stand and stare, much less admire.  People just had to keep shuffling slowly forward in whatever direction the snake decided.  If you stopped to look up, the people behind you would trample on you.  If you looked up without stopping, you risked treading on the people in front of you.

And then, to add insult to potential injury, as we were all apologising to the people we were trampling, a booming voice on the loudspeakers, sounding like the voice on God from the top of Mount Sinai, intoned, in English and in Italian, “Silence! This is a place of prayer!”

This was the point when I decided that I had seen enough and needed to get out of the building.  I am not a religious person but it seemed to me that the Sistine Chapel did not resemble any ‘place of prayer’ that I had ever seen before.  It seemed to me to be a highly decorated room into which hundreds of people were packed after paying a large number of euros for the privilege. A massive fundraising machine with paintings.

Neither a spiritual, an uplifting nor even a pleasant experience.


I know how he felt!

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