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Archive for the tag “Brighton Open Air Theatre”

Open air theatre, don’t you just love it?

The problem with open air theatre in Britain is … that it’s in the open air and therefore at the mercy of the British weather.

On the Friday evening of our run of She Stoops to Conquer at the Brighton Open Air Theatre, (BOAT), it started to rain quite steadily during the second half but, undaunted,  we kept going and the audience stayed with us. Everyone on both sides of the non-existent footlights got wet, but nobody seemed to mind. On Saturday we were supposed to be doing two performances, one at 2.00pm, the other at 7.00pm.

We assembled at the theatre as instructed at just before 1.00 pm and, cruelly, the sky was threatening but the rain was holding off. So, we set up the lights, erected the control tent to protect the lighting and sound technician and her equipment, set the stage and got into our costumes, so that we could be locked away in the hut before the audience started to arrive. At 2.00pm, right on cue, we started the play with the opening country dance and the Prologue. What professionals!

About ten minutes later, it started to rain, not heavily, but rain nonetheless. We sturdy thespians were undeterred. We snapped our fingers at the gathering clouds. Ha! The show must go on!

Then it became a game of chicken between us and the elements. Guess who won?

After about 40 minutes the director came backstage where a couple of us were waiting for our cue lines with the rain dripping from our chins and asked if we were prepared to continue. We said that we were, if the audience were prepared to sit there in their wet weather gear and watch us. After all, they had paid money to see this play. What’s a bit of rain one way or the other?

The play continued for another five minutes and then the decision was taken out of our hands. Reports from the other side of the wall where the sodden onlookers were sitting told us that the rain was now so heavy that, however loudly we declaimed, the poor audience couldn’t hear us over the noise of the rain drumming on their umbrellas. The decision was taken to abandon the show and cancel the evening performance as well.

It was announced to the dripping crowd, that tickets for the Saturday performances would be valid for the final show on Sunday afternoon and everyone went home.

The following day, as if embarrassed by its behaviour on the Saturday, the weather behaved itself impeccably. The costumes were dragged out into the sunshine to dry.

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Even some of the actors were allowed out of the hut to soak up the sun before scurrying back inside as the audience, with their picnic baskets and bottles of wine, started to arrive.

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And so the play got underway.

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What could possibly go wrong?    Funny you should ask!

The young woman who played the part of my daughter, Kate, didn’t look well when she arrived at the theatre. Unfortunately, her role in the play is quite crucial as she is the one who actually ‘stoops to conquer’.  She takes on the role of a serving maid in order to capture the heart of Mr Marlow, the rich and eligible bachelor pictured above.  Mr Marlow has a major social failing in that he becomes cripplingly shy in the presence of woman of a higher social order.

(Actually, viewed in the cold light of day, Mr Marlow is something of a monster.  He is quite willing to seduce any woman of a lower social standing and when challenged by his friend, Hastings, about robbing a  serving wench of her honour defends himself by saying:

“Pshaw! Pshaw!  We all know the honour of the barmaid of an inn.  I don’t intend to rob her, take my word for it.  There’s nothing in this house I shan’t honestly pay for.”

I’m not sure that there was much gender awareness around in 1773.)

Anyway, back to Kate.  As I said, she looked terrible when she arrived but went on stage for her first few scenes and no-one would have known there was anything wrong with her. She switched brilliantly into character and carried the story on with full vigour.

Then came the scene where I, as the grumpy squire, Mr Hardcastle, have a long ‘aside’ to the audience in which I complain about Mr Marlow’s insolent behaviour towards me, including the fact that he has taken possession of my easy chair by the fireside! The speech ends with the words “I am desirous to know how his insolence affects my daughter.  She will certainly be shocked at it.!”

My next line was supposed to addressed to my daughter as she comes on from the back of the stage to join me at the front.

Well, my Kate, I see you have changed your dress as I bid you….”

No Kate.

Whatever bug had caused her to look so ill before the show had tightened its grip on her and made it impossible for her to continue..

A few minutes of frantic ad-libbing ensued before my new ‘daughter’, now in modern dress and some thirty years older, came on stage with the script and read in the lines.  It was in fact the director who happened to backstage just at the right moment.

As I said, the show must go on!

During the interval, my new daughter donned the costume of my original daughter and, script in hand,  played the part through until the end.  The audience suspended its disbelief a bit further and their applause  at the end was generous and fulsome.  They had had a great afternoon despite, or perhaps because of, our distress.

But, hey!  It’s live theatre.  Anything can happen.

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 …

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… they were laid out on the stage.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Wish me a broken leg!

 

The show must go on… and on!

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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!

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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.

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