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!

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.