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Archive for the tag “She Stoops to Conquer”

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.

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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.

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

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

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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 …

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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.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Brighton Little Theatre.

A few weeks ago I joined the Brighton Little Theatre.  The word ‘little’ is particularly well chosen as the theatre currently seats a total of 64 people!  However, there is nothing little about the theatre’s ambitions or its performance programme – it apparently puts on around ten productions a year, so there is always a play in rehearsal and as one show finishes, the next is ready to take to the stage.

Even more unusually – particularly for an amateur theatre club – the theatre owns its own building in the centre of Brighton and operates at an, albeit modest, profit.  It also has ambitious plans for redevelopment which, when complete, will increase the theatre’s seating capacity to an unimaginable 75!

I’ve always been a bit of an amateur thespian. — what other, more uncharitable people might describe as being a bit of a show off — but my main thought in joining the club was just to get to know some more people and to support local theatre.

It worries me that whenever there are cuts in school budgets, it’s always subjects like music and drama that get dropped from the curriculum. As schools chase league table ratings, and become organised into consortia like industrial companies, the sacred cows of English, Maths and Science become untouchable but more creative subjects are left to wither on the vine.

Don’t get me wrong, the country needs its mathematicians and its scientists. There is no debate about that, and clearly every country needs its own citizens to master its own language. But I am concerned that as we use austerity to narrow the curriculum to what we see as being the needs of the economy we lose sight of the fact that the kids that we are currently educating are being educated to do jobs that haven’t yet been invented, and. more significantly, many of them may be being educated for no jobs at all.

As robotics gets into its, as yet. awkward stride, the need for workers looks set to diminish. Even professionals like doctors and lawyers will find more and more of their work taken over by robots and even delivery drivers could be a thing of the past with the next few decades. My guess is that we will have to challenge our own assumptions that having a job means working five days a week and more if you want to impress the boss. We could find that the working week will become three or even two days and if that happens filling leisure time will become the challenge of the age. So is this the time to be squeezing those subjects out of the school curriculum that could give people creative ways of spending their increased leisure time. Or is daytime television the only way forward for the upcoming generations?

I’ll let you into a little secret. Much to my own surprise, I passed GCE Maths, including Trigonometry, when I was sixteen years old. That was 50 years ago. In the intervening 50 years, I have never had to solve a quadratic equation or calculate the angle of a ladder against a wall, never had to draw a rhombus and certainly never had to work out the value of ‘x’. So why on earth were so many hundreds of boy-hours spent sitting in a fog of misery and misunderstanding as a succession of dusty teachers tried to teach me Algebra and Geometry? (Note for younger readers: when I was a school, all teachers were dusty, because writing with chalk on a blackboard and getting us to copy everything into our exercise books was the chief method of teaching.) And why was Music such a joke subject in my school and a subject that I had to drop after Year 8 because there wasn’t room for it in the curriculum?

But I digress. I was telling you that I had joined the Brighton Little Theatre. Imagine my surprise when I got notification that one of the next plays being planned was Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, a ‘comedy of manners’ written nearly 250 years ago.

Flash-back to 1973. I was doing VSO for the first time in The Sudan. Like most VSO volunteers at that time, I was teaching English, qualified only by the fact that I could speak the language quite well and, having a degree in German, I knew the difference between a noun and an adjective.

Even in those days, the Sudan was a politically fragile place and the Higher Teachers’ Training Institute, where I was supposed to be teaching, was on strike more often than it was working. This was bad news, because, as a VSO volunteer, your sole raison d’etre for being in a far-flung place, earning nothing, is the fact that you think you are making some kind of contribution to people’s development. With the Institute barricaded shut half the time, there was nothing to do. Not a happy situation.

Fortunately, amongst the English-speaking expatriates in Khartoum there was a drama club that occasionally put on plays, so I saw my chance! Having more spare time than I could handle, I offered to produce a play and guess what? The play I chose was She Stoops to Conquer for reasons that I honestly cannot now remember, but having cast the Head of the British Council and his deputy in two of the leading roles and drawing on talent from several other embassies we managed to put on a pretty decent show. It was certainly the best live theatre that anyone had seen in Khartoum that year. (Uncharitable persons might point out that it was in fact the only theatrical performance to be seen in Khartoum that year, but that would be unkind.)

Fast-forward 45 years and there I am in Brighton faced with an audition notice for the Brighton Little Theatre’s forthcoming production of She Stoops to Conquer. What could I do? The Fates were clearly conspiring. I auditioned for the part of Mr Hardcastle, a country squire living in straitened circumstances and, somewhat to my surprise, got it.

So now I have the small matter of pages and pages of lines to learn and in July, if I am spared, I shall be treading the boards of the Brighton Little Theatre in my powdered wig and best northern accent. Clearly a cultural event not to be missed!

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