I was 18, and I’d just got back from the most creatively inspirational gap year making theatre in North Carolina. I’d flown back to the UK to earn some money for Drama School in September so I got a summer job. In Morisson’s.
Scanning barcodes and offering cashback drove me near insane but I needed the money; I knew student life was going to be tough and I’d not saved a penny on my trip to the States. But as the days ticked past – trapped behind my till in a clip-on tie – I felt every shred of creativity slowly drain away with every bleeping bleep.
I thought “nah, this is silly. I can’t go to drama school off the back of this. I need to be inspired again”.
So. I booked a ticket to Edinburgh, a room in a cheap hostel and ordered a copy of the Fringe Guide for a fiver from the festival website. I handed in my notice early and spent two weeks in the staff canteen thumbing through the theatre listings and putting a big red circle around anything and everything that tickled my fancy, feeling quite the rebel as Brian (43) from warehouse and Sue (55) from the fish counter sat flirting in a corner.
When I got off the train in Edinburgh, I walked straight up the Royal Mile and I was in heaven. After five minutes my hands were full of flyers and I couldn’t stop grinning. So much choice, so little time. I headed straight for the Fringe Box Office to book some of the shows I’d already pencilled in as must-sees. I had my first taste of THE FRINGE WAY when I was chatting to a middle aged American lady in the queue. “Oh no, that’s awful, we saw it last week didnt we, Mary-Ann?”. Mary-Ann nodded mutely as I scratched the offending article out of my now well-fingered guide and replaced it with the five “much, much better” suggestions she “just had” to recommend.
For a week and a half I flitted, flurried and fled from one show to the next. I saw some of the most inspiring, incredible shows I’d ever seen. Of course, I also saw some of biggest piles of wank I could have dared to dream existed. I fell in love with puppets, saw lots of tits and bums, laughed a lot, cried twice and only left midway through one performance: It was the last day of my visit, it had gone up an hour late, and I desperately wanted to see the show about the flourescant prostitute robot which was on in the venue next door. God knows why. It was diabolical.
I got back home to my quiet life in the Forest of Dean still shaking. I felt like a recovering alcoholic. I was piss-poor, but happy; I’d spent all my savings from the Morisson’s job but I felt the most enormous sense of achievement. I was buzzing again, ready to go off to Cardiff and learn how to act. Job done.
It wasn’t until my third year of drama school that I happened to go back. My brother was doing a show up there and Mum and Dad had decided to drive up in the car to see it. It took us hours and hours, but being in the back seat of the car only added to the rising anticipation I was feeling. What could be in store this time? Are we there yet?
I didn’t see quite so much this time. Perhaps I’d become jaded by the ghosts of bad theatre. Perhaps three years of drama training had left me harder to please. Or perhaps I was just a little distracted – after all, I DID spend most of my time falling in love with my (now) fiance. But that’s a whole different story.
Despite the distractions, there were some glorious highlights. The Q Bros with their Shakespeare slash hip-hop production of Funk it Up About Nothin’ was hugely entertaining and Gomito had a new show which plucked my heart strings (I’d remembered them from the visit before, where their Little Red Things had been simply magical). I left thinking “right, thats enough of that, next time I want to be doing a show myself”.
And look where we are? Four years have passed and finally I’m here again and I’m in a play. It’s a comedy two-hander, it’s calledThe Night Porters and it’s jolly good fun. Of course, it’s a far stretch from the Hull Truck tour that started my year with such a bang, but I’m here and I’m doing it. Just like I said I would.
So here it is: A backstage blog from “the greatest show on Earth”.