Animals and accidents

In one of the radio interviews for ‘Henry and Elizabeth’, the presenter asked me if we’d had any accidents on tour, such as unintentionally walking into cupboards. We didn’t ever quite manage to do that, but there were, as you might imagine, quite a lot of funny incidents. Pets, in particular, provided great entertainment. There were numerous cats who wandered in to have a look at what was going on, especially in the bedroom scenes. We had a whole pack of little dogs in Saltburn-by-the-Sea who collectively decided to have a yapping frenzy during a very quiet, tense scene and then went completely, well, barking, during the party scene (party blowers drive small dogs loopy, we learned).¬† We also had a gorgeous chocolate labrador named Bonnie in Oxford, who, touchingly, came to comfort Henry or Elizabeth when they were having their slightly troubled moments. Another Oxford dog was such a large beast that its owner decided it might be best to keep him out of the play altogether. Boz and Dirk (that’s Philip Bosworth aka Henry and Dirk Hoult our super stage manager) caught a glimpse of him and confirmed that he was indeed the size of a bear. I didn’t see the creature in the flesh, but I did see his dinner bowl which looked more like a washing up basin. And I almost sat in his giant bed in the living room, thinking it was some sort of low sofa.

And then there was the Astonishing Talking Cat. This fine specimen of ginger tomness joined the cast at the home of David Prescott from the Drum Theatre in Plymouth and he was just astounding. I think David had been secretly rehearsing him for weeks. He leapt right into the role of Henry and Elizabeth’s cat, sitting on or beside one or the other of us, joining in with conversations with meows and purrs, and rolling over to be tickled at appropriate moments. An absolutely marvellous feline.

Another of the many things I learned from this tour (Dualit toasters don’t pop up, some fridges have child-locks on them, pepper grinders can be electronic etc) is that touch-sensitive bedside lamps exist. Jeepers. That was a shocker. Especially as sometimes it’s quite tricky to find exactly where you’re supposed to pat them in order to let there be light. There was one particular lamp in Clapton that I patted and prodded and stroked and pleaded with for almost all of our (unextensive) preparation time. I got there in the end, but heck, I think I’m a switch kinda girl at heart.

There was also a minor spot of accidental damage. In the Oxfordshire home of a lady whose fingernails and toenails were painted in rainbow colours, I spied, perched atop the boiler, a pair of pink rubber gloves, trimmed with fur and finished off with a big shiny diamond ring . Clearly, I had no choice but to wear them to do the dishes. So, Elizabeth washed dishes in these fabulous gloves, but when she tried to take them off, every time she pulled a rubber fingertip, the fingertip came off and the rest of the glove stayed on. The rubber had perished! Noooo! Poor gloves! So, lovely Oxfordshire lady with the rainbow nails, should you ever read this, please accept my apologies for destroying your glamorous rubber gloves!

Henry and Elizabeth – coverage round-up

So, here’s a quick round up of our reviews and other coverage, for posterity, the record or something.

Sam Marlowe in The Times

Lyn Gardner in The Guardian

There was a Sunday Times review too, but I’m struggling to get hold of it online, due, I think to the paywall…

The Oxford Mail preview (we had a wonderful time at Angela and Paddy’s home – thank you for having us!) and review.

BBC Devon gave us a smashing preview for our Plymouth run. And Mr and Mrs Meen (who had a glorious collection of animal-shaped doorstops) and their friends were a delightfully warm, high-spirited  audience with whom we had a terrific and memorable night.

We had a sweet mention from Chris Wilkinson on The Guardian’s Noises Off blog (at the bottom of the article, keep scrolling). Chris was in the audience at a show we did in Islington, a show that very much nearly didn’t happen because we couldn’t find the front door to the flat… And for some reason, the tour managed to land repeat mentions in Grazia magazine, which I think is a pretty major achievement in itself.

Claire Burlington and Philip Bosworth as Henry and Elizabeth

Claire Burlington and Philip Bosworth as Henry and Elizabeth

Homes from home (ii)

So, those good intentions of getting multiple posts up in Oxford failed to be made flesh. But we had a splendid time. Oh, we had a splendid time indeed. Oxford’s a terrific place and the shows generally seemed to go with a real swing. One day, whilst waiting to meet my cousin in Summertown, I bumped into two people who’d been at shows and, though I felt slightly guilty at my presence in their real world splintering their world of the play, it was really lovely to hear what they had thought of the night.

Now, with a week and a half left to go, I feel I can confidently state that this is the most exhausting play I’ve ever done. Though it’s more about ‘being’ a person than ‘performing’ anything, it’s far more knackering than hours of high energy singing and dancing. There’s the same oomph kicking about inside you but it doesn’t ever get to shoot out of the end of your fingertips, and this appears to result in an overwhelming need for at least 10 hours sleep every night. Though incredibly time-consuming, this isn’t a bad thing.

After these weeks of being amid the audience (six inches away, a lot of the time), it’s going to be odd going back to a stage and lights and other dividing apparatus. I’ve always been a fan of direct address and love seeing who you’re talking to and this show really allows you to ‘share’. When you spend a night gazing into the eyes of strangers, they end up feeling like friends, like you know them in some way, like you’ve made a connection. Not always and not with everyone, but often. That sounds bonkers, but it really does feel like that. You can see people laughing, smiling, thinking, remembering and well, you don’t do that with strangers.

Toaster update: the Dualit dominance has disappeared. For some reason, this makes me happy.

Homes from home (i)

o, we’re halfway through ‘Henry and Elizabeth’. I’ve been having some difficulties keeping in touch with the online world whilst on tour, largely due to my astounding ability to forget passwords… And, somehow, during the two weeks I’ve just spent chez moi back in the big smoke, when I wasn’t doing a show I seemed to be, almost exclusively, stuck on a bus. Ah, the joys of living in uncentral London. Anyway. Passwords, computer and internet access are all, at this moment, present and correct and so here I am, courtesy of the Oxford Playhouse’s wonderful wifi connection.

The past month has been, all things considered, darned marvellous. I am thoroughly enjoying being Elizabeth in a different home every night. Press night was slightly tricky, partly because we were in a rather shiny and beautiful bachelor pad and partly because, well, because it was press night and so therefore must be at least 30% below par. Nonetheless, we had decent, fair reviews, and, naturally, once the bizarre event of a press night was out of the way and we’d become embroiled in the far more normal activity of turning up at strangers’ houses and pretending to live there, the play began to work much more happily. There have been some lovely, gentle, fun nights, some tense, sweaty nights, and some nights where the dogs got a bit overexcited. More about the actual experience of performing (though this is not quite the right word, more anon) in this way later, but first – the homes!

Oh, we have seen such lovely homes! Shiny new Truman Show style houses in Milton Keynes, rambling country houses in the wilds of Teeside, chi-chi north London pads, cosy terraces in Northamptonshire. It’s fascinating being allowed a glimpse into people’s lives like this. Letting a theatre company into your own home is really quite brave – I mean, none of the hosts of ‘Henry and Elizabeth’ knows quite what we’re going to do, but they give us carte blanche to do it. It’s a very generous act, and I’m absolutely loving being allowed to spend evenings in the heart of other people’s lives like this. Every home is so different and yet, there are some similarities. Having to very quickly get the measure of how a particular home works is part of the fun of this show, and I appear to have developed a sixth sense for locating cutlery drawers, and built-in dishwashers can be identified at 12 paces. Still haven’t quite got the hang of Dualit toasters though. (And here’s an interesting fact for you: Dualit toaster ownership seems to be running at about 70% among those people who book theatre companies for home performance – so far. I’ll report back on this astounding statistic at the end of the tour).

We’re in Oxford now, for two weeks, so I’m rather hoping to get a few posts up over the coming days. I’ve not spent much time in this beautiful city before, but so far I’m loving it. (Gosh, I sound like a stuck record with all this exuberant enjoying of everything, but, hey, it’s not such a bad groove to be in). This may well offend all manner of people, but being here is a bit like being in Cambridge, but without the feelings of nostalgia. Very excited about the open-air swimming pool which is just down the road from my digs. Aiming to actually get in it tomorrow morning.

And now my battery’s about to give up, so I shall take my leave and go and get ready for tonight’s show.

Coming soon, to a sitting room near you…

This summer, I’m off on a tour of the nation’s sitting rooms, kitchens and bedrooms.

The play is Henry and Elizabeth written and directed by the marvellous Chris Goode (he wot brought us, among many other unforgettable events, Hippo World Guest Book, a piece of theatre so unbearably funny and sad and magic that when I saw it I actually spent the whole time pretty much unstoppably snorting pure laughter and grief out of my nostrils in liquid form) and performed by the splendid Philip Bosworth and, um, me. And, potential comedy snot aside, one of the rather splendid things about Henry and Elizabeth is that it takes place in your own home. We’re touring the country – Northampton, London, Plymouth, Oxford, Stockton and environs, so if you fancy a Goode experience in your house, invite your friends and have a theatre party – up to 12 is fine if you have the space, and that works out at just a tenner a head. If you’re in London, then Chrisis the chap to contact, otherwise, booking is via The Royal and Derngate in Northampton, Plymouth Theatre Royal, Oxford Playhouse and The Arc, Stockton.

Frankly, hurrah!

Here’s the official blurb:
HandE1 A classic tale of love gone wonky, Henry & Elizabeth is a new production by home-performance pioneers Signal to Noise.

When hapless Henry is defeated by a simple repair job, and long-suffering Elizabeth finally snaps, it seems as though it might jeopardise their whole relationship. But are they really trapped in an endless circle of co-dependence and tit-for-tat niggling? Or can they find their way out of the loop to a happier and more magical future together? Henry & Elizabeth is a bittersweet, captivating comedy with a surprise up its sleeve.

It costs £120 to book a performance Рget your guests to contribute, or invite them for free if you want to! Maximum audience size is 12, but only if your rooms are big enough, otherwise as many as will comfortably fit.