Sunday, 29 July 2012

Farewell, Maria

Well, that's done. Yesterday saw the final two performances of When We Are Married - a matinee and an evening performance.

The audiences for the ten shows were, mostly, wonderful: vocal and warm in their appreciation, treating us to plenty of laughter and the occasional 'ripple' (which I'm reliably informed is the technical term for applause mid-scene after a particularly impressive speech or exit). The only exception to this was, curiously, the second Friday night, where many reliable laugh-cues went past without a murmur, and the cast began to wonder what they were doing wrong. However, we were assured by those who remained in the bar to see us afterwards that everybody was smiling broadly and enjoying it... Don't get me wrong - we loved them just the same - but unfortunately, in a dark theatre, the performers can't see smiles! [Interestingly, my husband went to watch our friends at the Sewell Barn performing The Comedy of Errors, and they experienced the exact same Friday-night-phenomenon.]

Be that as it may, the majority of audience reactions across the run were wonderful and gratifying for all the hard work put in by cast, crew and director. We were slightly apprehensive about the final two shows: matinees are notorious for being downbeat, and for reasons we still don't understand, the sales for the last night were well down on the rest of the run.

However, our fears proved unfounded. Firstly, the matinee audience turned out to be both numerous and wonderfully responsive; and there was a sudden surge in ticket purchases during the day, plus quite a number of on-the-door sales, so in the event, we had a very healthy-sized audience in the evening - who also proved to be a generously vocal and appreciative bunch. (I was especially pleased to receive a 'ripple' of my own, for the first time this show, on my 'I'll be in Blackpool' exit.) Laughter and reactions were warm and easy, and we brought our little theatrical craft safely into harbour for the last time.

I added some backstage photographs to the relevant album, which I think accurately sum up the atmosphere of our last day in the theatre. Cards and gifts were given, with love and gratitude, to members of our crew and support team, and we don't forget all the others who worked in the background too (you can see the full list here).

Finally, you might enjoy my own whimsical contribution (at the end of this post): cartoon versions of the cast. I've created these for a few other shows I've taken part in, and they're particularly enjoyable to draw when the characters are so distinctly identifiable by costume features. I printed a copy for each member of the cast as a memento of our very happy family for the last eight weeks (is that really all it's been?). (Click on the image to display a larger sized version.)

I have personally learned a great deal from the simple discipline of recording our progress, and the process, and it's highlighted to me that - never mind the fact that I first 'trod the boards' nearly forty years ago - I continue to learn with every new show. My fellow performers and our backstage crew have given mighty amounts of support, education and fun. Most especially, I want to applaud in the loudest possible terms our delightful, talented and lovely director, Genevieve, whose vision, intelligence, enthusiasm and care made this such a wonderful experience.

May I conclude this journey with a heartfelt personal plea?

Please continue to support not only the Maddermarket Theatre, but also the many other 'amateur' (and I use the word in its literal sense: lover of) theatrical enterprises that we're so fortunate to have within easy reach of Norwich. Here are just a few examples.

The Sewell Barn and the Great Hall work in very different spaces and cover a huge range of styles of entertainment. There are superb choirs (Keswick Hall, Jay Singers). There are wonderful concert-style shows (The Upper Octave). There are youth theatres (Mad Red). There are musical theatre companies (Norfolk & Norwich). Many local performers also become involved in small offshoot groups, either regularly or for one-off performances. All work hard to produce theatre and music of a consistently high standard, and all do it for love. Please stay in touch with these groups through the web and social media, watch out for them in local press and posters, and support them whenever you can.

Ladies and gentlemen: thank you for joining Maria and her colleagues. I'm delighted to see that this blog has had over 2,400 visitors since I started. I hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as I've enjoyed writing about it; and that you will share more such joyful journeys in the future.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Laughter in unexpected places

Today is our day off. Not halfway through the run (we've only done three performances out of the ten), but being Sunday there is no show. Time to pause and reflect.

We've had three truly magnificent audiences so far. The opening night, as already mentioned, was virtually full, and redolent with enthusiastic warmth and great waves of affection. We knew that many of our theatrical colleagues were in cheering us on, which is always lovely to know.

Friday and Saturday, while not quite as full, were still satisfyingly stocked with smiling - and laughing - faces. In both cases, we started by thinking 'oh, they're a bit quiet'; but it didn't take long before the laughter grew louder (and yes, that was before they got to the interval drinks).

It also became clear (as with every show, of course) just how many differences there are in audience reaction. Lines that in rehearsal didn't even seem especially funny are greeting with generous guffaws; localised rounds of applause are granted to special moments. We weren't too surprised when Mrs Northrop's speech, informing the wives (with great glee) of their situation, and punctuated with the slamming of the door, receives well-deserved applause - it's a splendid moment, and performed with great aplomb.

However, without giving 'spoilers' for anybody who hasn't yet seen the show, there were fabulous moments of appreciation, for example, for Soppitt and Ormonroyd - which, until the audience were in, we didn't see coming at all. Likewise, one audience will do no more than chuckle at a particular moment, whereas the next will hold up the action (delightfully) for fifteen seconds. The timing is occasionally a challenge - but one we're very happy to accept.

NB: apparently tickets are going very well. As such, if you think you might want to see the show and haven't booked yet - please do so in advance to avoid disappointment.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

First night

What a night that was. We know that, by tradition, first night is well-populated with colleagues in the local theatre fraternity (we won't mention that members get reduced-price tickets on that occasion); but it was such an encouragement to see a virtually full theatre, and to be met with such warmth and appreciation. The new challenges of timing lines against laughs can't be rehearsed, of course; that's one thing that has to wait until it's done for real. The bells rang on time, Ormonroyd's flashgun went off as intended, entrances were timely...

Well, actually, one entrance very nearly wasn't. My first entrance in Act III is made with basket over arm, hat on head and shawl around shoulders ("I'm going back to my mother"). I stood there in the wings waiting for my entrance, complete with basket - and realised, with about sixty seconds to go, that I'd totally forgotten to add the hat and shawl. I flew back to the dressing-room, grabbed the shawl (no time for the hat, of course) and made it back to the stage with seconds to spare.

When I related this story after curtain-down, Penny said "Oh - I thought you were just making Maria more distressed than you had before..." No - I was actually severely out of breath.

Maria blushes and knows it's a mistake she won't make again.

Thank you to our wonderful first-night audience, to the cast and crew for their focus and talent, to Genevieve for our single red roses. Now to focus on maintaining, and improving, the excitement and pace of that first fine, careless rapture.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A roll of drums - and a rumble of thunder

Well, well, well. Unbelievably, it's the final dress rehearsal. Even more extraordinary is the realisation that our very first rehearsal - the read-through - took place just six weeks ago. It's been quite an incredible journey.

Over the two nights of dress rehearsals - yesterday and today - we've had the inevitable blips. It's not always easy to hear cues from behind closed doors, for example, so we're getting used to using the visual cues available from the backstage monitors wherever the audible version proves a challenge. The husbands have rather a lot to deal with, prop-wise: they need to manipulate glasses of 'whisky', an oil lamp, and even cigars (and yes, there is smoking taking place on stage in this production). Matches, of course, never light when you want them to. Robin (Councillor Parker) found himself delivering a line with cigar in mouth, but we reassured him that the effect was actually much funnier that way!

About halfway through this evening's dress rehearsal, the cast was intrigued by what sounded like furniture being dragged around, or scenery threatening to collapse (in manner of Michael Green's Art of Coarse Acting). However, as the noise continued, it became clear that we were, in fact, in the middle of the most spectacular thunderstorm seen in Norwich for quite some time. We'll take that as a roll of drums from nature to announce the arrival of the show.

Director Genevieve delivered her final notes (photo below). Our photographer, Peter Marsh, captured the final performance for front-of-house images and cast memorabilia, as well as some 'mug-shots' for FOH. Wardrobe mistress Amanda and her team of dressers checked final details, made last-minute adjustments, provided assistance with corsetry and coiffures. Rhett talked us through safety procedures and backstage housekeeping. Rosey provided the beautifully calm and efficient support she's been appreciated for throughout the rehearsal period. Lights and music appeared on cue. The team is an amazing and delightful one. Thank you, all.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: When We Are Married.  As one of our lines (nearly) says, with glasses in hand: "Here's to us - and here's to you!"

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Radio stars

A fun experience this afternoon. Genevieve asked Helen (Ruby) and myself to go into the studios of Radio Norfolk and broadcast a discussion on Stephen Bumfrey's show to publicise our production. We both much enjoyed the opportunity! We chatted about the way that the show, and its situation, continues to resonate today; the different dynamic brought to the stage by each character; and the re-evaluation of relationships for each of us.

For the next seven days, you can hear the interview here on BBC Listen Again - scroll through to 3:22:50.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Cackle and crash: part two

This is what technical rehearsals are for.

Mrs Northrop (a superb character of Dickensian proportions) has two bottles in her bag. Not, as Maria infers, something she's pilfered from the household, but a couple of stout empties which she's taking back (recycling isn't as new as we think).

Jude produced the two bottles from her bag, and clanked them together (not particularly hard) to audibly punctuate the point. Unfortunately, one of said bottles simply smashed in spectacular fashion. Rehearsal pauses while the indispensable Rhett gets down on hands and knees with a dustpan-and-brush...

Ah, the dangers of working in the theatre.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Tech-tock, tech-tock

Ah, the delights of the technical rehearsal. The stop-and-start rehearsal where, unavoidably, the performers are caught out two ways: either we are poised for the next entrance which doesn't then happen for the next ten minutes (as the techies are adjusting the lights), or we sit down in the Green Room assuming that nothing will happen for ages - and then the cry goes up over the tannoy, calling your character urgently to the stage...

We work through the first act and just make it into the second. Rosey's superb arrangement of props - marked out backstage in labelled areas of masking tape - is of great reassurance (my sovereign coin, used for paying Mrs Northrop, has its own inked place on the shelf). Some scenes are dispensed with quickly and easily, others take fairly long periods of adjustment. The 'crockery box' (dropped backstage) is dropped rather too enthusiastically on the first occasion, with the result that bits of china spill out backstage. The negotiating of the garden wall proves interesting for the lovely Becca, who needs to retain at least some dignity in her long skirt. The practicalities of pouring out drinks, without spilling them, within the span of the allotted lines, cause some difficulties; and the inevitable spills and damp wine stems (happily only tinted water) are alarming when wearing pastel colours. Bells and telephones ring (sometimes). The lights come and go in an experimental and slightly bewildering fashion. 

On top of this, we have full costume for the first time. Including, in some cases, wigs. Kiera's beautiful long hair is easily adapted to an Edwardian style, but Julie and myself sport very twenty-first century short cuts in real life. Happily, we have professionally styled, hired wigs, which are truly a thing of beauty. I change my Facebook profile picture, in time-honoured fashion, and an old friend comments "I take it this is your Mrs Merton period?". Oh, it's such a long way from playing Rosalind... I have now irreversibly crossed the generational divide, methinks. It's middle-aged ladies all the way from now on.