After a whirlwind few days, a somewhat wobbly dress rehearsal and more technical tweaking, we boldly hurtled towards opening night. It's been a tense time and all praise goes to our director/producer Alastair, the technical team and indeed the cast for their hard work and dedication in making it happen. As Alastair writes in the programme notes, Art really does reflect Life and just as Our Country's Good shines a light on the social significance of theatre and importance of fighting for the arts, few watching the show will realise the financial struggles Alastair faced in getting this show on the road. The state of our Arts funding in the the UK right now is at a depressing low and my heartfelt admiration goes out to Original Theatre Company who, as yet without any state subsidy whatsoever, continue to strive tirelessly to create diverse, engaging and challenging theatre for everyone across the country and beyond.
I'm pleased to say the show opened to a packed house at The Haymarket this week and we're already receiving fantastic feedback from the audiences so far. It's been satisfying to perform to a diverse crowd in Basingstoke that has included young students as well as the more usual older crowd who tend to be drawn to the theatre. And, who thank god for us, keep theatre in the regions alive. The response on opening night was wonderfully vocal reminding us that despite the grit and despair, this play is really rather funny too and has some gorgeous moments of light relief. Comedy can come from the bleakest situations and as a company so seriously engrossed in creating a truthful production you can quickly forget about the funny bits that we all laughed at on the first day. Our audiences certainly gave us a welcome reminder about the wonderful gallows humour that Timberlake gives us in this play.
There's a long standing tradition in the theatre of actors giving each other good luck cards or small momento's on the first night - a chance to reach out in acknowledgement of each other's hard work and make an occasion of communally taking the plunge together. I'd like to share with you my first night gift from Emma Gregory (the actress playing Liz Morden) - a scroll containing the following quote from English writer and free-thinking philosopher William Hazlitt:
- In Defence of Actors.
Actors have been accused, as a profession, of being extravagant and dissipated. While they are said to be so as a piece of common cant, they are likely to continue so. With respect to the extravagance of actors, as a traditional character, it is not to be wondered at. They live from hand to mouth: they plunge from want into luxury; they have no means of making money breed, and all professions that do not live by turning money into money, or have not a certainty of accumulating it in the end by parsimony, spend it. Uncertain of the future, they make sure of the present moment. This is not unwise. Chilled with poverty, steeped in contempt, they sometimes pass into the sunshine of fortune, and are lifted to the very pinnacle of public favour; yet even there cannot calculate on the continuance of success; but are, "like the giddy sailor on the mast, ready with every blast to topple down into the fatal bowels of the deep!" With respect to the habit of convivial indulgence, an actor, to be a good one, must have a great spirit of enjoyment in himself, strong impulses, strong passions, and a strong sense of pleasure: for it is his business to imitate the passions, and to communicate pleasure to others. A man of genius is not a machine. The neglected actor may be excused if he drinks oblivion of his disappointments; the successful one if he quaffs the applause of the world, and enjoys the friendship of those who are the friends of the favourites of fortune, in draughts of nectar. There is no path so steep as that of fame: no labour so hard as the pursuit of excellence. If there is any tendency to dissipation beyond this in the profession of a player, it is owing to the prejudices entertained against them, to that cant of criticism, which slurs over their characters, while living, with a half-witted jest. Players are not only so respectful as a profession as they might be, because their profession is not respected as it ought to be.
William Hazlitt 1778-1830
- In Defence of Actors.
I'm really looking forward to our next stop, The Rose Theatre in Kingston. I know a few actors who have performed there and I think it's going to be rather a unique space to work in. It's a new, purpose built theatre only opening in 2008 and the auditorium is based on the original Elizabethan Rose Theatre on the Southbank of London. There's even a 'pit' where the audience can chose to get up close to the action by siting on cushions right at the foot of the stage. It's going to be real joy to have such close interaction. A warts and all performance. No hiding! Erected in 1587, the original Bankside Rose Theatre eventually fell out of use and by 1606 was abandoned. Shame. I'm sure Sideway would have loved it.
Finally, in this rather brief post (I hope you'll forgive me, it's been a hell of a week!) I'd like to leave you with some more images of the production with thanks to our fantastic photographer Jack Ladenburg. I hope this whets the appetite.
It's still early days and in each show I feel like we grow in confidence and become a tighter ensemble working together to tell a timeless story of humanity. A story based on an incredible part of our history.
|Sheun Shote as The Aborigine|
|Inside the Officers' Mess|
|Jenny Ogilvie and Phil Whitchurch: Harry and Duckling Go Rowing|
Stay tuned next week where I'll be beginning a new feature of interviews with the cast!