Everyone says the karma from this show has been good from the outset. Yesterday my brother Peter and his wife Jan insisted on driving down from Yorkshire to see it. On the way back Jan put £2 in a fruit machine while they were getting some petrol . It promptly dropped £400 into their laps. They had to buy a bucket to take it all home.
Today will see the final performance of Bentwater Roads. I was there yesterday evening in a full house to see it for the last time. It was comfortably the best run of the show I’ve attended. Actors and chorus have settled into their roles and it showed. They played with a sense of freedom and security that had the audience nailed to their seats. At the emotional climax I looked round and there wasn’t a flicker of movement among the 200 people concentrating on the action in front of them. There were tears in front of us and behind us. Charlie and her dad had them riveted.
It’s easy to say these things in the warm afterglow of a good run, but I mean it when I say we’ve been incredibly fortunate with the company we assembled for this show. The cast have done more than just play their roles. Their talent and generosity created an atmosphere where something special could take place. So to everyone: Alex, Caitlin, Dan, Mark, Nadia, Pam, Peter, Richard and Sally I have to say a big thank you. The same must be said for the splendid chorus of Ancient Britons. And as ever the Eastern Angles team led by Ivan have done an astonishing job of keeping everything on an even keel and proving once again that great professionalism and relaxed good humour working together can move mountains.
We finished last night with a barbecue and celebratory chocolate cake sitting under the huge sky outside the Hush House. About midnight in a wonderful echo of the play a classic coach, its empty interior brilliantly lit, sailed out if the night and disappeared into the darkness like a ghost from the 1950s. It was late by the time we said our goodbyes.
Driving home I was left with one extraordinary image from the evening. After the final curtain call and the house lights came up something strange happened. Usually at this point the audience file out chatting about the play and getting ready to go home or head off in search of a drink. But not on Saturday. People seemed unwilling to leave. Instead I watched close on 200 of them flood onto the set and into the tunnel that had been our centrepiece. They wanted to touch to walls, to walk the long dark space where characters had emerged from another time zone. I like to think they were claiming the space as their own. And why not? It was their story after all.
A good start to the day. Woke up to find we’d got a 4 Star review in the Times. I could provide a link but there’s not much point as you come up against the Times’ new paywall and have to subscribe to see it.
More photographs from the production on the Eastern Angles site here.
The sun shone and as we rolled into Bentwater Parks little knots of Ancient Britons were already making their way across the wide open spaces towards the Hush House. The sight of a procession of ungainly figures in hemp robes against the hard landscaping of the airbase was just the first of the timescale clashes that were going to fill the evening. Outside the venue Charlie’s van was parked facing the doors, the bar was open, people were spread out on the grass with picnics and drinks. At about 7.15 the huge hangar doors did their wonderful trick and offered up the cavernous dark interior of the Hush House and the first brave souls started to venture inside.
Soon with all 200 spectators in their seats the doors were sliding shut again and suddenly Roger’s music was echoing round the walls. A Priestly procession appeared out of the murk of the tunnel, a video occupied the whole of the end wall with Charlie on her way to Suffolk and a smartly dressed estate agent was introducing the new development of Swallow’s Drift… We were on our way. Were we going to keep the audience with us? Were they going to be able to follow four stories at the same time? Could they cope with the range of people – alive and dead – filling the stage in front of them? Would the community chorus blend seamlessly with the primary actors? Would all the technical challenges dissolve as the show unfolded?
I needn’t have worried. By the half time break I was fully engaged in the story and could sense that the audience was too. There were tears by the end at the emotional climax delivered with great effect from the dark recesses of the Hush House tunnel.
And to cap it all when the performance was over the doors opened again to reveal a stunning sunset across the airfield.
In the days to come the show will get tighter, faster and more secure as the actors settle into the rhythm of the piece but to Ivan and the company’s great credit Bentwater Roads is up and running and I couldn’t be happier.
Over to the Hush House yesterday to watch some of the technical rehearsal and a first run of the play in full costume. This is always a heart-stopping time with actors coming to grips with fast costume changes, the sound, video and lighting cues being fed into the mix, winches lowering lights from the ceiling, and of course the community chorus flexing their acting muscles as a group of ancient Britons. Tony’s replacement, Peter, is all but up to speed and starting to inhabit the roles of Mal and the Commander. I saw some of the video footage for the first time and loved the way it was used. And I watched the tunnel produce some moments of real theatrical magic just as we hoped it would. One particularly telling entrance left me watching the next scene through tears before anyone had said a word. We’ll run the show a few times to get things up to speed. And then it’s time to look out the tux for tonight’s Preview. (Not that I’ve got a tux of course.) It’s going to be a full house. So instead of yesterday’s scant audience of the writer, director and lighting designer, and associated tecchies our cast is going to find itself exposed to the glare of 200 people eager for a story. On today’s showing we won’t be sending them home disappointed.
Things have moved up a gear. The seats have gone into the Hush House. You can watch all 200 set up in just over a minute here. There are other blogs running as we get closer. Alex D’Andrea, who plays our American pilot, is writing an account of things from the actors’ perspective. And Jon Tavener, Theater and Outreach Manager is doing the same for the backroom side.
Counselling has also begun for the cast following events in South Africa on Sunday afternoon.