We had a technical and dress rehearsal session today in the village hall at Ste-Dode. Tomorrow we open in Panassac at Austins. We are so looking forward to performing the real thing after four weeks of rehearsals. Despite having seen everything many times over the cast and crew are still laughing out loud at some of the on-stage antics. If you are coming to one of our four performances we hope you will enjoy it. If you do, tell your friends as we will be staging another event in the autumn.
Our cast of 14 are having great fun rehearsing Auditions, the one-act play that forms part of our Comedy Theatre Lunches in February. It is a play adapted from an original work by American author Ian MacWethy and is the story of The English Theatre Company's audition sessions for the lead roles of Romeo and Juliet. Most of the auditions hilariously highlight the unsuitability of the actors for the parts they are auditioning for. Divas, dimwits, prima donnas, method actors, hooligans — they all try for parts, but none succeed. The cast keep having to take laughter breaks in rehearsals, so we know our audiences will be in stitches.
We are having fun rehearsing for our Comedy Theatre Lunches that will be performed in February. We have a cast of 14 players all determined to blow away those winter blues and take your minds off Brexit blues.
All venues are new for the English Theatre Company. Our lunches start with performances of Eating Out by Alan Bennett followed by Well I Never Did by Stephen Fry and finishing with a short comedy play called Auditions, specially adapted for the English Theatre Company.
The performances take just over an hour and commence promptly at 12.00 with lunch being served at 1.15.
With just two weeks to go before curtain up — actually we don't use curtains — the ticket sales for both venues are going very well. We are limited to 100 at Sainte-Dode and 60 at Caillavet and expect to sell out soon, so if you have not yet booked please hurry to avoid disappointment.
Our Saturday rehearsal on the Sainte-Dode stage was a mixture of fun and poignancy and the cast and crew are excited with the way our in-house tribute to The Fallen of World War One is capturing the mood of such a sombre period of history.
Rehearsals for Ben's War are now well under way and ticket sales are very healthy. Having put the tickets on sale just one week ago more than half have already been sold.
The story of Ben's War is very personal. The idea came from Nick Ashman and Maggie Crane who wanted to put together a tribute to mark the centenary of the ending of the First World War. Both Nick and Maggie have spent time in the First World War battlefields and attended memorial events. Together they wrote a script describing the wartime experiences of two young people, Ben and Nellie, along with several army volunteers. Woven into the script are poems, real letters from the Front, popular wartime songs and a sprinkling of humour.
The production is being staged twice, firstly on Friday 9th November at Sainte-Dode and then on Saturday 10th November at Caillavet. Song sheets will be provided so that the audience can join in with such favourites as "Tipperary", "Keep the Home Fires Burning", "Pack Up Your Troubles", etc. Rations will be served and there will be a bar.
Come along to this unique event and join the English Theatre Company as they pay their respects to the Fallen of World War One.
The idea was to have a social event for members of the ETC, but to give it some spice 'party pieces' were invited.
So on a Friday afternoon in early July forty or so gathered for a picnic at Au Carrau, Sainte-Dode. A performance space had been created and an audience area established.
More than a dozen performances were given and it has to be said that the standard was high. We began with a monologue from Ian Warwick followed by an animated poem by Jacqueline. David Foster read a humorous poem by e.e.cummings entitled my sweet old etcetera — he explained that cummings did not believe in capital letters or punctuation. Then Sue Seth gave a marvellous rendition of Albert and the Lion.
Gill Foster then astonished us all by reciting a thought-provoking and funny poem that she had written herself. Several members encouraged her to enter her poem in suitable competitions. Dave Braney sang a poignant song by Max Boyce called 'Duw, it's Hard' and managed to get the audience to join in the chorus.
Sandy Notman introduced himself as 'Mr. Shakespeare' and gave a superb rendition of Launce's soliloquy from Two Gentlemen of Verona. This was followed by a piece by Stephen Fry and Hugh Lawrie from the Cambridge Footlights Review called "A Shakespeare Masterclass, An Actor Prepares" where Phil and Jon took to the stage.
Anne Dickens introduced her party piece from the film "The Matrix" with an excellent explanation of the film then recited from memory "Morpheus's Monologue". Maurice Shorter sang "A Hymn to Him", better known as "Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man". Nancy followed up with a hilarious "Blonde's Story". Maggie added more laughs with a rendition of a Pam Ayres poem. Then Sue Seth presented a sequel to Albert and the Lion and finally Ben Brotherton gave us John Betjeman's Inddor Games Near Newbury.
The party pieces were followed by a grand picnic and all agreed the event had been so much fun we would certainly repeat it next summer.
R & G, as we all called it, moved on from Lectoure to Maubourguet. The two theatres are so different. La Salle de la Comèdie in Lectoure has a fully raked auditorium that slopes up from stage level and allows the actors to get up close and personal with the audience. The bijou Sept Chandelles in Maubourguet has a much smaller stage that is raised above the first five rows which gives a different dynamic. Despite the difference in working stage areas, our travelling set looked good at both venues and much praise was received — particularly for the barrels.
Another challenge at Maubourguet was the backstage facility. During the play the very small Green Room had to be in total darkness and under a strict ‘silent running’ routine while accommodating twelve actors, three barrels and two stage crew. At one point there was a loud crash during the Friday night performance as Hamlet leant against a door that was not properly closed and he went flying into a corridor. As it turned out that was good practice for our final night when Hamlet went flying again — this time on stage while dragging Polonia’s dead body! It was difficult for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to keep straight faces, but we managed. Apparently the Green Room was in silent hysterics!
Both Maubourguet performances went well and as a company we have received many warm and generous comments about the play, the performances, the set and, from members of another theatre group, some lovely comments on our envious level of professionalism.
As a member of the acting troupe I felt privileged not only to be part of such a meaningful and challenging play that remains a classic of English theatre, but also to be part of such a closely bonded team of players. It was a delight, for example, to have two French guys as part of the team — they were truly great. Also it was good to see some new faces take to the stage.
There were the usual suspects too. As an actor it is comforting to know you are in safe hands and with two major parts played by Maggie Crane (Rosencrantz) and David Allcock (The Player) I always knew I was part of a thoroughly efficient and talented team. We looked after each other on stage whenever needed. Bravo to our Director, Dave Barney, for trusting us to take on a play that would frighten off most non-professional companies. I learnt a lot of stage art and performance skills under his careful direction.
After the final performance we held an after-show party and Dave and Paula presented a cake decorated with the ‘Touch’ hand that featured so prominently on our posters and flyers.
So there goes another production. . . months and months of effort from countless people that now become memories, but memories that will stay with us for a long time. Well done everyone!
Well, in fact there was no curtain.
For twenty minutes as the audience arrived both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were on stage playing cards, reading books, eating apples, tossing coins and conversing — all the while ignoring the audience. As the start time approached they took their positions and as the house lights dimmed the play began. But it had not been without worry! After weeks and weeks of rehearsals a last-minute hiccup nearly put a spanner in the works when Maggie Crane (Rosencrantz) tore a calf muscle during the technical rehearsal and could not put any weight on her leg, let alone walk. A wheelchair came to the rescue and for both performances at Lectoure she wheeled herself about the stage.
Lines were added or modified to take into account her new-found mode of transport and many of the audience said how they felt the wheelchair had actually added to the performance. Both the Lectoure performances were very well received and we have had so many warm and generous comments, both in individual emails to the Company and as comments on our Facebook page. Two members of the audience had seen the much acclaimed Old Vic production starring Daniel Radcliffe and Josh McGuire and they referred to our performance as more intimate and every bit as entertaining. Humbling praise indeed.
We have two more performances at the bijou Sept Chandelles theatre in Maubourguet this coming weekend and the whole cast and crew are looking forward to putting on a good show again.
The above photograph of the eponymous characters was taken by our friend Matthew Weinreb on the opening night. For more photographs see the Gallery page.
Why did you choose Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead?
Last autumn ETC decided we’d do three different productions in 2018 and I was asked to produce and direct the main play to be staged in May. I chose it because it’s a very funny, entertaining and thought -provoking play. Tom Stoppard has written some great plays, and this was his first that won major awards. It’s very well known and is often performed. And it’s just one of those plays that’s great fun to do, too.
We always want to perform good plays by well-known authors that will appeal to our audience. Other considerations are how to cast it and to give all members of the company a fair share of the acting parts. We try to spread it out over the year, so that if someone has a large part in one production, they play a smaller role in another. There are twelve characters altogether in the play.
R&G is particularly rewarding to direct because I spend a lot of time working in-depth with just three actors who play the main characters. This means that the process is very creative.
What’s the play about?
It’s a comedy about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Hamlet, and what they get up to when they aren’t directly involved in Shakespeare’s action. They are old school friends of Hamlet’s and have been mysteriously summoned to spy on him by his uncle, the King of Denmark. One is amiable and bewildered, the other a brainy clever-clogs. The audience travels with them as they blunder and blend into scenes in the Hamlet story; then come out the other side with a poignant awareness of their own mortality, yet still comically bewildered.
How well do you know the play?
Very well indeed. I played Rosencrantz in a very good production over 40 years ago. I love the play and have seen it several times over the years. I was sorry to miss the recent production at The National Theatre in London with Daniel Radcliffe as Rosencrantz. It had good reviews. I like him as a stage actor and thought he was great in Equus.
Rosencrantz is being played as a woman, why’s that?
Two main reasons. Maggie Crane is ideal for the part: she is a very funny actor and has the skills to do it. Secondly, there’s no reason why Rosencrantz shouldn’t be a woman. She provides a good balance to Guildenstern (played by Phil Faiers) and the Player (David Allcock), and it adds to the relationship between them.
How far into rehearsals are you?
We began working on the production over six months ago because there’s so much planning and preparation to do apart from rehearsing. It’s mid-March now and we’re in week seven of rehearsals. By the time we get to the first performance the cast will have put in over 1300 hours of rehearsal time between them. And that doesn’t include time spent learning lines or travelling to and from the rehearsal hall, which is over an hour away for some people.
How would you sum up what you do?
We try to do everything in the best possible way. It’s a real team effort with very high production values. Everybody works their socks off for months. I think our public get a very good 10 euros’ worth!
After all the preparations, planning and rehearsals it was a worry to wake up on the morning of our first performance to find ourselves under a deep blanket of snow.
We had a cast of fifteen living as much as two hours away from the venue and many were snowed in. However, the weather forecast was for a thaw around lunchtime, so we held our nerve and waited. Posts were put up on Facebook and messages placed on the home page of our website saying a decision would be made before 3pm as to proceed or postpone. All ticket holders were individually emailed keeping them up to date with the situation.
By 1pm the thaw had set in and after a call to the cast members everyone felt they could make it to the venue, so at 2.30 we decided to go ahead — the show must go on.
It meant the time allowed for lighting and sound preparations was condensed, but everything was in place as the first guest arrived. It was heart-warming to see around 100 people turn up despite the earlier atrocious conditions.
The cast of fifteen performed in front of the altar in the warm glow of our own stage lights and brought Dylan Thomas’s poetic masterpiece to life. The performance was a big hit and during the food and wine gathering afterwards there were so many kind and appreciative comments.
One of the reasons for staging the performance in the church at Sainte-Dode was because our Theatre Company is registered as an Association in Sainte-Dode and medieval frescoes had recently been uncovered during a routine restoration project. The significance and importance of the wall paintings dating from around 1450 has meant the commune now needs to complete a much bigger renovation project than originally planned and we felt The English Theatre Company might be able raise some funds to help.
After the performance in the adjacent hall we were able to announce that a retiring collection meant we were able to give €500 to the mayor of Sainte-Dode to swell the restoration fund.
So it is hats off to all the people who attended — especially the four ladies who drove more than two hours from Mézin. Well done too, to the cast and all the various helpers. Between us we managed to provide a cultural event, a social gathering and a worthwhile fund-raiser all in one evening.