Rob Phillips says the forthcoming Highbury Little Theatre production of The Lady in the Van was in danger of becoming The Lady on a Bike.
It’s his way of summing up the sweat, the swearing and the frustrations that went into the very vital task of getting the shell of a Transit van from Rugby to Sutton Coldfield in readiness for the Highbury version of the Alan Bennett comedy that starred Dame Maggie Smith when it opened in 1999.
He is directing the play that is due to open next month and he was one of several Highbury members who saw Rugby Theatre’s production in May. Having no idea what he was taking on, Rob obtained the Rugby director’s permission to remove the battered vehicle to Sutton when it was over.
“It was on little castors and it took us ages to get it off the stage and to the front of the theatre. We then held up the traffic and pedestrians while we got the van across to our trailer, which we had had to park a few streets away, so four of us had to push it 200 yards. Then we found it was an inch too big for the trailer, so we got it off again and pushed it another 50 yards onto a solicitors’ car park.”
Eventually, and after the solicitors had registered a degree of unhappiness about the sudden blight on their car park, they got it to Highbury on a trailer that cost them £200 to hire and just about managed to fit into the narrow drive leading to the workshop at the back of the theatre.
The saga resumed two weeks ago when about 20 members pushed and cursed for two hours before abandoning their efforts to get it onto the Highbury stage on realising that the van’s sliding doors would have to be taken off and that things would be slightly easier if the seats were taken out and the wheels were removed.
It was three days ago, on Sunday morning, that the battle was finally won, to heartfelt cheers, after two and a half hours, with the van on stage and in position for the Highbury weekly working party to re-assemble in time for the first stage rehearsal on September 2.
No one is more relieved than Rob Phillips. He says, “We were thinking of asking Good Hope Hospital if it could let us have our own ward for 20 hernias.”
The audience won’t suspect a thing when the show opens on September 23. That’s showbusiness.
* In conjunction with Dick Barton, Special Agent, the first production of its forthcoming season, which opens on Saturday, September 13, Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre is holding a meet-the-cast party two nights later for invited guests.
Keith Harris, who describes the show as “slick and wicked”, is designing the sets and the graphics-based background for the show, as well as directing.
It is something of a reunion for Keith, his wife Annie, and four other husband-and-wife members of the cast and backstage crew – Tony and Angie Daniels and Alan and Jeanette Marshall. They all worked together 25 years ago on Chicago and this is the first production since then that has found them all involved.
Dick Barton runs from September 13-20.
* Members of Great Witley Operatic Society will be at the Swan Theatre, Worcester, on Sunday, September 14, in support of the splendidly-named Operettcetera, a professional group, in The Gilbert and Sullivan Gossip Column.
Meanwhile, the fixture list for amateur theatre in these parts is looking distinctly sparse – but don’t be fooled: things are not as quiet as they appear. There is much simmering under the surface because it is round about now that groups are beginning their preparations for pantomime.
For many of them, this is the biggest money-spinner of the year – which makes it all the more puzzling that so many of them don’t take it seriously enough to make any obvious attempt to put on a good show.
* Kidderminster’s Rose Theatre will be throwing open its doors on Saturday next week when its resident company, The Nonentities, sets out to show the world the way it works.
Between 10am and 4pm, visitors will be able to see and join in with technical demonstrations of sound and lighting, watch the set being built for Joe Orton’s Loot, the first play of the new season and take part in voice-testing and fun auditions.
Admission is free – and for anybody who needs an additional bribe there will be free coffee, tea and biscuits available throughout.
* Clearly, I don’t need to rely on the theatre to provide me with excitement, mystery or disbelief.
I returned home from buying two bottles of milk and my wife invited me to take a look in the wheelie bin. She had just found that it was three-parts full of somebody else’s well-filled plastic rubbish bag.
While I was out the previous evening – seeking excitement, mystery and disbelief – she heard a noise outside. She went out but could see nothing untoward.
Moral: if you happen to have two cars and one is away being serviced, don’t go out in the other and prompt the passing intelligentsia to think that nobody’s at home.
* Meanwhile, the date today is 20.08.2008. Not that it matters, of course. Just thought I’d mention it.