It’s the nature of touring that you rarely get to know a city at all, even if you come back year after year. The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton is a regular venue for us: about 2300 strong, it’s a good size and always sells out quickly, despite the huge Bournemouth BIC just down the road where we play later on. As familiar as I am with the brief walk from stage door to the Waterstones in the shopping mall round by John Lewis, I still have no sense of the city. However, I have an inkling of the people.
You can get a sense of a town by two factors on tour: the audience and those people who come to stage door. The sounds and energy of the audience betray the general liveliness of the place (bright, dynamic Bristol goes mental after every routine and roars with approval when the show starts; tranquil Eastbourne sits quietly or coughs), and the amount and style of Twittering in the interval says a lot about them too. Even the local level of intelligence can be broadly gauged by the jokes it laughs most at, and this too varies hugely from city to city.
Stage door is trickier, as it is only the less casual attendees who are prepared to wait around in the cold after the show. Many of these have travelled, but the locals or locally studying are easy enough to spot. Southampton, I think more than any city so far, has provided the loveliest bunch at stage door (competition is high: you’re always very lovely to meet). Only a smallish handful of 20 or so gathered, which is a nice amount of people to take ones time with, and all bubbly, polite, pleasant and relaxed. Some were hugely excited to meet me, but none had the solemn urgency of the too-strongly-fixated; programmes were signed and snapshots snapped in a particularly congenial atmosphere. I was delighted, but not surprised, to hear yesterday from a particularly likeable cabbie (who was rueing the fact that after dropping me off at my remote hotel, he would have to drive back alone through the New Forest in the thick, eldritch mists of midnight) that Southampton has just been voted most friendly city in the UK. (Not ‘in England’ as I tweeted last night, apologies). London, of course, came proudly last.
Tonight is a return night to gorgeous Bristol, and a long day for us all. We must drive to Bristol, the crew must build the show (while I have meetings), run the show, dismantle it and then drive home around midnight. This is the first time back for quite a while, and we get to have a few days off. Tomorrow I’m filming a sketch, and on Sunday night I’m off to the Olivier Awards with my lovely Andy Nyman to lose happily Tom Whitnall’s Morecambe. Back on Monday, in Andy’s home city Leicester, with the silly, upbeat energy that always comes from not having done it for a few days.
Right. Must check the local papers to make sure that the cabbie last night got home safely and was not, as I suggested when leaving the car, slaughtered, bum-raped or both. Hugs.
PS Yes, I know that’s a different Southampton on the map.