Sat in our Swansea hotel, on the morning of this tour’s first show. Last night we had a tech run of the show, and all was good, save a couple of issues relating to the few bits we’ve tinkered with. Today we’ll get them ironed out before the performance.
Our crew are all very excited to be back on the road. It’s been seven months or so since we closed in the West End with this show, but once we’re all hanging about in the very familiar backstage area of a theatre, that gap closes rapidly. We have a new member of the group – Jonas – whom we all like very much indeed. And we’re missing Andy, last year’s tech genius, who isn’t with us this time. This year we also have the pleasure of a driver and huge lorry to haul our set and props from venue to venue, which takes much of the strain off our team. On previous years, Simon (our stage manager), Coops, Jennie and Iain have had to arrive in the morning, unload the set from the vans, build the show, set up the lighting and sound, then in the case of a one-nighter, dismantle the whole thing and then heave it all into tiny vans afterwards before driving it to the next venue for early morning. It’s gruelling. This year has very few one-night shows, and the job of unloading, loading and driving is left to a nice man with a big truck. Get in. And get out.
We are a tight-knit family. Coops, of course, is my much-treasured PA the rest of the year, and Jennie and Iain have the more delicate jobs of being my make-up and co-writer friends respectively when we’re not on the road. Touring with such close friends is a huge treat. And we all adore Simon, our touring stage manager, who feels like the grown-up of the group.
There is also, of course, the immense pleasure of performing the show. Each of the four shows has had its own flavour, and have felt different to do. Enigma and Evening of Wonders have been particular pleasures, but I think the current one just takes the lead for me. It’s enormous fun to do. For those that wonder how repeating the same two hours night after night can possibly be so enjoyable, I see your point. But as a performer, if I may appear so revolting, my job is to try to re-create it rather than repeat it: the difference being that I must be sure to remain ‘present’ and ‘in’ it and so on, from moment to moment, so that I am always interested in and engaged with what I’m doing. On a few occasions I have found myself distracted and realised that I have switched to auto-pilot, which is a terrible thing: the equivalent of reading pages of a book without taking anything in. It can also lead to problems: if you are simply saying script without feeling it, it’s all too easy to miss out a chunk or worse, repeat yourself. So each night it feels fresh and fun for me, and the idea is that this affects the way that the show communicates to the audience.
Also, I get to enjoy several months – five this time! – without the constant frustrations of television imposing. My yearly television output takes eight months to conceive, write, film and edit, with all those elements overlapping each other. Budgets are understandably never high enough, and ideas are constantly having to be compromised, or new ones found before horrendous deadlines. The initial joy that comes from finding the ‘hook’ of the show is too often drained by these unavoidable concerns as the months roll on. With the touring, however, we have only the pressure to write and rehearse the show in time, and then ten days or so of of letting it settle in and making any major changes. After that, there is only the pleasure of finding, night after night, little improvements to include for the next show. No demands are made, no pressures added: all the work is done.
There is still much to do: in the days I am finishing a book on which I have been working piecemeal for some time, and on my days off there is TV writing and filming to be done. But having the afternoons free to quietly book edit (or noisily, sat in some cafe) is the one of the greatest pleasures I can think of, and somehow the tour experience – despite it being physically tiring and relentless – feels like enough of a holiday to refresh me enough for the other bits of work.
It’s also always fun to say hello to some of you after the show who are kind enough to wait around in often hugely unfavourable conditions. Forgive me in advance when time permits only a very rushed greeting or, on very rare occasions, no hello at all, but I shall always do my best. Above all, thank you for coming, booking tickets, giving them as gifts, dressing up, travelling some distance to see the show, or doing any one of a number of very flattering things on my account.
Right. Must see what this place does for lunch, and get on top of a few lines for tonight. Eek!