Bad Co UK Tour – a producers tour diary (2008)

In 2008, with the hig-res-1-e-mail-versionsupport of an Arts Council GFA, I produced a tour of BADco (a kind of Forced Entertainment from Croatia).  The company played two shows Deleted Messages and Memories and Made of This.  Tour dates are available here.

What follows is my blog diary from the tour:-

Nov 8th

So November 7th comes around, the moment of truth (otherwise known as the arrival of BADco ). I’d spent the night with my cousin in Earlsfield – ostensibly to avoid the 7am train from Wivenhoe- but seemed to spend most of the night preventing him from approaching the Stanford String Qtet (who had just performed a Janacek in a night club) and telling them that Stanford must be chuffed to bits. After a few pints this cricket related gag was high in the frivolity stakes – its only in the re telling it lacks something!!

 Clutching my BADco flier I wait at international arrivals all sorts of questions going through my mind – will we get on?  Will they get through customs?  Have I got everything under control?  Will it work?

After what seems an age those electric doors swing open and the company emerge.  Warm hand shakes all round, polite conversation – so far so good.  The plan is to do a lot of this tour by train and we head off for the train to Victoria – complete with baggage in every conceivably shape, size, colour and container.  The porter (easily the most jovial member of staff Ive ever come across employed by Network Rail) does an extraordinary job getting the kit down to the platform and deserves every penny of his tip –(and me a Yorkshire man who hates tipping!)

BADco’s first experience of British Rail though is not so good – practically standing all the way to Victoria whilst an oversize dog snoozes in first class.  Talking of first class our baggage practically blocked the door at the front of the train – but even that didn’t stop one superior customer who forced his way through to take his superior class seat…and all for the five minute journey from Clapham Junction to Victoria.

Our hotel is the budget Chelsea Lodge – its not the grandest of establishments but the company are putting a brave face on it.  It is however convenient for the theatre and the staff are friendly – even if they did manage to loose one of the bookings!  Mind they were better than Exeter Great Western who had completely lost the booking – note to self theres never any harm in double checking!

Then its onto the theatre where we are given the warmest of welcomes by Francis Alexander and his team.  Francis builds up an immediate rapport with the company – exchanging stories of European travel, directors and work.  Chelsea Theatre is an extra ordinary beacon for live art – whilst its wider environment is the jet set of high street ken its immediate environment is an affordable housing scheme!.

Marty and Alan are quietly beavering away in the space which will be the smallest on the whole tour.  Its not long before we have to make a call into Stage Electrics – the tables wont double as the practicable (known over here as staging/steel deck) and running the lighting desk from the stage will require a longer lx cable.  But then the bomb shell hits – we have the wrong sort of table – not only in Chelsea but in every venue on the tour so far.  Marty and I hit the phones…

…a solution is beginning to emerge.  A vehicle is hired (until tomorrow we’re not quite sure what type of vehicle – hopefully a people carrier) that will stay with us all tour.  Tomorrow we head off to IKEA to buy some trestle like tables – but importantly – with removable table tops!!  Lovro will have his first experience of UK driving and hopefully by mid day tomorrow we will be back on track…all be it with a significant hole in the budget!!

zrinka-and-anaNov 10th

One performance down, nine of the company on the train to Bath, the other three en route via a van with the tables and all the kit..but more of that later.

So we successfully opened last night at Chelsea Theatre to a small (ish) but responsive crowd.  The show went without a hitch and seemed to be warmly received.  Memories veers – alarmingly at time – from intense intimacy to ironic humour.  Its confusing, challenging, entertaining – but above all reiveting.  Your eye doesn’t know where to look and your brain (or at least mine) struggles to keepup.

But the successful performance ‘hid’ a somewhat stress full and difficult day.  It didn’t start well when the people carrier promised us by hertz  wasn’t forthcoming (I later found out they had still charged me for it!), plan B was invoked.  Plan B involved a courier taking the tables from IKEA to the venue so we had a solution for London – but the problem with Plan B  no means of transporting them from London to the other venues.  A car was secured  – but by the time I got to Ikea  I quickly realised that no car was going to accommodate the table tops.  Still at least  we have a show in London.

Back at base (an hour late and a change of courier later) we switch the car for a van, but we cant pick it up until tomorrow.  That in itself quickly becomes a problem as the venue can’t open on Sunday so where do we leave the tables? and the first solution involves leaving them locked outside – fine if it wasn’t pouring it down with rain.  But then another panic phone call!

We have a performer stuck at Heathrow.  Not just any old performer but a key member of the BADco crowd who has had to arrive late after premiering his own new show the previous night.  As I quickly learn he’s not the happiest of travellers – and as the problem develops I hear more and more amusing / horrific tales of his travel exploits.  Frantic phone calls are made to S who is picking him up.. but there is no answer, and no answer again, again and again.  Finally I cave in – get him in a cab!  Moments later my phone goes again – its S from a pay phone.  She’s been at Heathrow all the time but they’ve managed to miss each other and in the rush to leave S has left  her mobile at home.

Cheese on toast – courtesy of Francis Alexander,AD at Chelsea, in the near by Café Roma has never –ever – tasted so good.  Its been my first food since a snatched piece of toast at breakfast and I wont eat again until a sandwhich at 1am.  Not that I’m hungry.

Still – we have a theatre, all of a company, an audience, the right equipment and the show does go on.  And suddenly it all seems worthwhile – and you remember why you are doing this.  I even start to enjoy it.

And then – at the stroke of midnight – the Chelsea Theatre team manage to open an external cupboard.  We have somewhere to store the trestles which is dry.  All venues should have one of these!  I collapse into bed at 1am – knowing it’s a seven am start.  We’re off and running!

Nov 11th

Monday (midnight)

Why do British Rail have to let you down just when it matters?  So far BADco’s travelling experience on the UK railway system has included an overcrowded train from Gatwick to London, a rail replacement bus service and – now – just when it mattered most the late, slow, train to Exeter from Bath is thirty minutes late.  The company deal with it well, dancing on the platform in the cold to the tinny sounds of Alan (technical manager) mobile phone but underneath they are all really tired and just want to sleep.

The tour is up and running now.  We had a slow – but effective – day at the University Theatre, Bath (Spa).  Our technicians laid back style didn’t quite compliment the young crew who probably needed more direction.  As a result long delays as we waited for projectors, remote controls, curtain rails and so on.  But we were always going to be up on time so there was never any stress.

We had to order in company pizza as the University canteen shut down at 2- but the venue bought us beer and food for our journey which was much appreciated.  When your tired little things like that make a real difference.

The performance was extra ordinary and so different from Chelsea.  For a start the audience was small – about 30 ish which was disappointing and all young students.  You could feel the tension in the air right from the very start as the students struggled to come to grip with the work and the aesthetic of BADco.  All the humour the audience found in London was now replaced by a sense of danger and tension.  Even in the ‘guided tour’ section the student audience didn’t know when to laugh at the blatent lies told by the company.  So it was no real surprise that the audience found the ‘table section’ of Memories more menacing than intimate.  On my table one student had to leave (feeling claustrophobic) another , at the end ‘was too scared to move’.  And all this from Pravden’s table which at Chelsea had been the source of much hilarity.

For me too the performance was very different.  On edge from the start as I sensed the audience’s un ease I saw a totally different performance.  Instead of having an overview of the performance today I was in one corner – less easily distracted – and effectively chained to Pravden and Damir’s performances.  Today the film commentary which I had so enjoyed at Chelsea was an irrelevance, something that happened far away at the other side of the room.  Much more important was Damir’s scary, mad man.  It had seemed a caricature, a strange intervention on Saturday but today it was weirdly hypnotic (I was in spitting distance of the performer) and visably scaring the living daylights out of the audience.  At Chelsea I hadn’t even noticed an audience member being ‘removed’ today it took on an eery relevance as you could see her colleagues both excited and worried by her absence.

Several wonderful moments – Pravden to the table ‘do you know what I mean’, student 1 ‘ No’ – student 2 pipes up ‘no, but I do’.  Just a shame that level of interaction didn’t carry on.  Later as Damir’s mad man re appeared walking to the centre an audience number nudged another as if to say ‘o my god, look whats coming’.  (It’s one of the brilliant moments in the show – you expect the character to explode at any moment – instead he just makes a stately walk across the stage [a walk that is both beautiful and menacing]  – the image of a man who is the faded, beaten echo of a former self).  And then after the show ended – and the curtain call had been taken – the level of noise in the room as the audience broke into loud conversation about the show.  O and the head banging and the Croatian swearing (understood every word…honest)  was quite good too!

Interesting taxi journey back to the station – where I had to explain to the cabbie what Memories was all about.  No easy task but I reckon I made a fair attempt!  So much so that the cabbie said ‘so its psycho analytical then’ – which amused the company for a moment!

So now we’re on the late train heading to Exeter for tomorrow’s performance at the Phoenix.  Well perhaps heading is far too energetic a word…we are currently stationary for no reason.  Days are beginning to go to plan (well except for good old BR). Sure there is a looming problems over Deleted Messages and another over the van.  And yes  I’ve  been charged twice on my credit card for a hotel room and for a car hire booking (see above) that hertz could not deliver – and as a result my card keeps being declined when it shouldn’t be.  Ok the budget is shot to bits (leaking in all kinds of strange places) but at least I’ve converted several of the company to the joys of real ale – for sergej real ale is ‘second only to Belgian ale’.   And the work is really good – and isn’t that what matters?

Nov 12th

final-food

Exeter Phoenix came and went – a curious performance to a lively audience but it lacked some of the edge of both Bath and London.  Not quite sure why – perhaps a mid tour blip, or maybe I am just getting used to the material.

I’m still finding links and ways into the performance and what makes that so exciting is that the performance absolutely stands up to repeat viewing.  At each table the experience is different – and though some elements are beginning to feel as comfortable as a well worn glove I’m still being surprised and challenged.  In no way could I explain the whole show – but in a way that’s not the point – what I take is the ‘memories’ and ‘traces’  that connect with me each night.

A fascinating post show conversation.   A colleague struggled through the performance – but as an academic – became much more intrigued having read the text provided by BADco – the very same text that we had had to adapt for marketing material and venue promotion.  What that led to was a discussion about who the audience is for BADco work.  We came up with three key areas – drama students (who can take from the BADco techniques), the (small) Live Art audience and a wider academic community who would respond to the use of text and the philosophy in the performance. That in itself led to a discussion about whether a public facing arts centre tour was necessarily the best option for the company – or rather perhaps a more mixed programme – some public performances, daytime performances for students, conference appearances etc together with workshops and after show discussions.

One other thing that is quite clear is our schedule is too packed.  Given the constraints of the tour and the finance available it had to be like that, but the downside is a company  who are quite likely to be exhausted by the time we finish at Lincoln.  But in the current climate how would you put together a tour that financially made sense, didn’t exhaust the company but had a kind of mixed programme which maximised the impact of the company.  Answers on a post card please..

 The thinking wasn’t quite joined up last night – but I’m sure its some thoughts that will return.

So its travel day to day.  The van has left for a workshop in Leicester, and Sergej and Pravdan are en route to London for a workshop in Roehampton.  In a little over 20 minutes the rest of the company and I head over to the station for the train ride to Lincoln.

Nov 13th

Its amazing how the several bottles of wine and good food consumed on Wednesday night (at the Laughing Budda, Lincoln) eased away the stress of a long travel day.

With all the company safely arrived Thursday morning saw us set to work on the final performance (on the tour) of Memories.  LPAC is a new venue – predominantly designed as an end on space it has the flexibility to be turned into an open space.  We are the first company to use it in this way and as such benefit from the technical teams enthusiasm for trying things new as well as the occasional frustration.  Given our need to fire proof the fuselin material for Deleted Messages we are also trying to get ahead with the set up for DM.

Being in Lincoln for a few days has clearly helped and the company are a little more relaxed.  Our guest houses are offering a different, more personal accommodation option to the anonymity of hotels .  One – the Saville Guest House – has been described as both Fawlty Towers and quintessentially English!  Not sure what that says about the English!  However the breakfasts are universally praised!!

It’s our busiest audience of the tour to date – about 60 people who quickly fill the space.  I’m in one corner so it’s difficult to get a feel for the audience reaction though I can see one or two audience members really getting into it (one of whom came along on spec having read about it in the Guardian).  I hear one of the students to my left whisper ‘I’m lost’ and I’m dying to say ‘it doesn’t matter – just let it wash over you and take what you want from it’ – but I don’t.

Mid way through the performance – along with our Guardian reader I’m taken out by Kresimir (who as well as being one of the voices in the Croatian Shrek 2 is also the face of beer in Croatioa!). Hidden behind a black curtain we have to repeat a text fed to us via head phones.  It’s the first time Kresimir has taken two people out and so a dialogue and inter action develops between Guardian man and myself. ‘This is very strange’ we say, ‘ we might never get out of here’…

The venue Director and Head of School is effusive after the performance and generous with his time as he joins the company for food and drink in the green room.  The performance reminds him of the early work of Robert Wilson (specifically Einstein on the Beech – with composer Philip Glass).  Later in search of a pub we could only find a Lloyds.  We quickly used up £5 worth of real ale vouchers and half the company danced the night away.   Rather unfortunately BADco have only seen the UK through the prisms of theatres, trains, hotels and the occasional bar/cafe. 

NOv 14th

Tired company, venue getting used to playing as an empty space (so everything is in the wrong place), little time, a company technician and performer all new to the show…we’re fighting against the clock to get Deleted Messages onto stage tonight….

But we made it…at five past eight Deleted Messages was performed in the Uk for the very first time.   Talk about cutting it fine – we were still ironing the floor and sound checking microphones with moments to spare.  But as the old adage goes – the show must go on…

Nov 24th

So the tour is now a week behind me – and sleep patterns have somewhat returned to normal.

The show is a curious study of rules, evolution, quarantine , imprisonment and – slightly bizzarely – freedom.  It’s the audience who are free – free to engage with the show as they see fit.  Where you look, what you do, how you engage is completely up to you.  In a curious way the sharp white scenography suggesting control and imprisonment makes  you feel part of a modern day Dickens story of debt, illness, and suffering – with the occasional moments of happiness and delight. By the end it is the audience who are performing – as the actors and dancers sit and watch.

As you might expect with this type of show it takes time for the audience to ‘get’ their role.  Indeed the evening feels like one of those perfect diagonal lines on an x/y graph.  At first its all 100% performance from BADco but gradually the audience takes more and more of a role.

Like Memories the show leaves you with a series of fragments and images – as well as a sense of terror.  But its also strangely uplifting and playful – as you realise how much you can control both what you see and how the show develops.

So at just after 9pm the non existent curtain came down on BADco’s first UK tour. There was a collective sense of relief and exhaustion as we shared pizza , beer and wine in the green room.  But just when we thought it was all over there was one more shock to come!  Two things happened at ten thirty – the taxi arrived to take the company to heathrow and one of the company realised they had mislaid their passport.

Much panic, and some frantic phone calls later, we managed to get a resolution and the company finally leave Lincoln.  The following day I’m wandering round Lincoln like a zombie when a text comes through ‘we’re home, safe and sound’ – followed minutes later by a phone call ‘Hi Matthew, It’s Jon from Exeter – Ive found a passport in the dressing room…..’

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