Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March…
[Act 1 Scene 2 Julius Caesar. William Shakespeare]
Julius Caesar isn’t the only one who had a bad day at the Forum on the 15th of March, known to the Romans as ‘The Ides of March’. We at Petuaria Players did too because it was exactly one year ago today that we met as a group for the last time. (Well, the 16th actually but it was a Monday and even Bill Shakespeare stretched a few truths.)
We were at the books-down stage in rehearsals for Alan Ayckbourn’s FlatSpin and whilst the first time without scripts in hand is always stressful we were all looking forward to putting on this play, not least new girl Sally who had been preparing for her first stage performance with a mixture of excitement and nervousness.
Of course, it was not to be. That was the night that it had become clear that a performance at the end of April would be impossible and we made the decision that had been hovering over us for a few days to postpone the play.
At the time we wondered if we may be able to reschedule it later as our October 2020 play. Who knew then that even October 2021 would be shrouded with a mixture of optimistic promise and uncertainty. We shall see…..
“Is there no play, To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?”
[William Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act V, sc I]
Was it really August since our last article was posted on here? When time should be dragging it seems to be rushing. Once again we have a flashback to 2008 to another Alan Ayckbourn play, one which kept everyone on their toes with numerous parts and characters to cope with.
Yes, remember 2008? The year of the financial crisis and start of a decade of waiting for recovery – and where are we today? On the other hand Obama became President of the USA with the promise of a great future. And where are we today? And Lewis Hamilton became F1 World Champion for the first time and…. well at least some things never change!
And in November of that year we took on the challenge of Confusions. This consists of five one act plays all loosely linked by either a character moving from one play to another, or the same location. But the themes of obsession, isolation and companionship appear in comedy form.
Richard Bateman produced the play and, by necessity, acted in it too.
Confusions by Alan Ayckbourn – a comedy in five acts, performed in November 2008
Act 1 – Mother Figure A mother (Lucy) unable to escape from from her children bound existence treats her concerned neighbours as children…
Act 2 – Drinking Companion Lucy’s errant husband Harry is away overnight on business and at his hotel desperately flirts with and attempts to seduce the attractive saleswoman also staying there…
Act 3 – Between Mouthfuls The waiter at the hotel in Act 2 finds himself serving in the restaurant there, where two couples at separate tables find they have an unwelcome common bond…
Act 4 – Gosforth’s Fête In this the most chaotic and farcical act, we find Councillor Mrs. Pearce (previously seen at dinner in Act 3) invited to open Gosforth’s village fete. But when one of the ladies’ personal news is accidentally broadcast over the site PA, a catalogue of disasters and embarrassments are revealed…
Act 5 – A Talk in The Park In the same park where the Fete took place, sit five strangers on separate park benches, each with their own troubles. When Arthur sits next to Beryl to relate his story an uncomfortable Beryl eventually escapes and joins the person at the next bench – where she now relates her own feelings – and so it continues as each one moves to the next bench…. .
Going back to 2008 and the very mention of ‘Improbable Fiction’ brings wry smiles to the cast as they think ‘costumes’. More of that shortly.
Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Improbable Fiction’ was the final play of the season before our summer break that year. It had read well and we all found it hilarious and zany and we looked forward to rehearsals. Janet Drewery took on the responsibility for producing and directing this ambitious production.
It is a light hearted play that centres around Arnold, who runs the Pendon Writers Circle, a group of not particularly talented, unexciting, amateur, aspirational wannabe authors. Arnold himself is a writer of instruction manuals – which gives you an idea of the level of his creative imagination. With his unseen bedridden mother upstairs they meet regularly in his front room. Act One amusingly shows one of these meetings and reveals the characters and their planned novels.
Improbable Fiction by Alan Ayckbourn, performed in 2008
Where the whole play bursts into farcical dream-like fantasy is act two where by some mysterious means the ever sensible and boring Arnold finds himself living in those novels brought vividly to life. However, all five novels and genres become entwined in a comic saga of mayhem that leaves poor Arnold in a very confused state.
Now let me say up front that this was a successful and fun play to do, a production we are proud of. I say all this because behind the scenes we also have fond and amusing memories where things didn’t always quite go to plan……..
When I said earlier ‘costumes’ comes to mind that was related to the ambitious second act. Act one was normality for us. But I doubt the audience were ready for the zany antics of act two. Neither were we really. With no scene changes, just continuous action throughout the whole play, we knew that we were coming off and on stage as different characters with different costumes as we swapped continually between the interwoven five storylines of the writers’ imagination.
Slideshow: Act One
Only when we all went to a Leeds costumiers to select what turned out to be our largest collection of costumes for a single play and possibly our largest hire bill did we begin to realise what we had in store. It was only when the hire costumes arrived – in time for the tech and dress rehearsals – that the practicalities of everyone actually getting into various costumes at speed, to go on for a few lines, and then off and into another, did we realise the challenges we had. Rehearsals had involved no costume changes other than in our imagination. Reality, we discovered, took ten times as long.
The audience was subjected to such a frenzied fast moving confusion of zany characters and plots that they could never have known the tension, stress and sweat backstage, with just seconds to change; the shouts backstage of “which ******* character am I now?” and “Which ***** outfit am I supposed to be in?” We were very afraid of turning up for a three minute scene in the wrong costume. Indeed even our lines had us confused as we announced ourselves with wrong names…. It was, however, all in keeping with the manic plot and unless your name was Alan Ayckbourn the audience could never have known.
Slideshow: Act Two
And who can forget Dianne’s stunning portrayal of a squirrel. Our fondest memory, and hers, was the night she seemed to be wandering around the stage in a drunken fashion, seemingly having lost all sense of direction and had also forgotten to put on her squirrel paws. It turned out that in her frantic rush to change into the squirrel outfit backstage and rush back on in time for her entrance, she realised, too late, that she had thrown the paws into the squirrel head at her last costume change. As she dashed onto stage ramming the head into place the paws slid forward inside and over the eye sockets leaving her stumbling around blind. More suppressed laughter on stage.
As if this mix of characters and plot genres wasn’t enough – a children’s story, a romance, science fiction, crime detection and… a musical – we had to blast our way through a song and choreographed dance routine every night. The song and dance “There’ll be light at the end of the tunnel” took on a new meaning one night when the lighting cable suddenly disconnected plunging the stage into darkness. With a frantic and stressed Richard scrabbling and cursing in the pitch black under the mixer desk amidst a spaghetti bunch of cables we valiantly carried on in true showmanship fashion, our costume glitter sparkling in the pale green hue of the emergency lights. As full light was restored moments later to the line ‘There’ll be light….” the audience was no doubt impressed with our stunning and creative lighting design.
But as I said, despite these humorous memories, we put on a great production and the audience only saw performances they thoroughly enjoyed.
More memories soon!
Keep following us or register your email on this website to keep up to date with future posts and news, when it comes, of when we can resume our productions. Fingers crossed!
As the lockdown lifts and lowers, starts, stops, re-starts and hesitates our drama productions remain somewhere in the hazy and uncertain future. Which means enjoying the summer where we can and once again taking a look in the other direction – to the past and 2008.
Today we remember one of our favourites – Amanda Whittington’s Ladies Day. This was a play originally commissioned by Hull Truck and followed the exploits of four Hull ladies working in a fish processing factory who are determined to get themselves to the ladies day event in the year that Royal Ascot took place at York – an event where their relationships are tested and their fortunes change.
The original Hull Truck production was directed by Gareth Tudor Price who also took it on a twelve week tour of the UK.
Our own version, just three years later, and suggested to us by Gareth was produced by Richard Bateman and was an opportunity to create a modern minimalist set which quickly moved from a fish plant to various areas of the racecourse.
LADIES DAY by Amanda Whittington, performed in early 2008
The only negative about this wonderful production was that we had issues with getting our traditional dress rehearsal photographs taken. We did manage to grab a few and they are shown in the following slideshow – simply scroll through them to view.
The four ladies, played by Barbara, Jayne, Nic and Janet remained in character and the occasional various male roles were shared between Rob and Steve.
I remember a brief discussion – very brief – with the Producer about whether we should obtain real fish for the production line scene. Whilst the audience would have the convincing sensorial special effect of wet fish aroma drifting to the front rows, it would have been less convincing for the Royal Ascot at York scenes. And by the last night this would be enhanced. Uncomfortably so. And the subsequent users of the Village Hall in the following week or two would be asking questions…
The other challenges that come to my mind certainly, was having to learn the bookies tic-tac sign language and run it without thinking and watching Rob in his jockey silks riding his imaginary horse to an Irish accented monologue.
It was such a refreshing play with so many laughs and poignant moments. We already knew of the sequel – Ladies Down Under – and were eager for it to be licensed for release for a future production.