Since graduating from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in July of 2010 I think I’ve clocked up around 50 weeks on tour in the UK; performing in 27 venues in my first year out of drama school alone. It’s a life not without challenges, of course, but a time that I’ve loved and learnt a lot from and now I’m sat in a creperie in Auckland, New Zealand, 5 weeks international tour behind me and another 15 stretched out ahead of me thinking about how the pros and cons of touring nationally play out on an international terrain.
So how have I ended up here? Well firstly it’s Sunday and it’s raining – our first wet day since leaving the UK – and whether you’re at home in North London or in New Zealand for an International Arts Festival, rainy Sunday afternoons are built for putting on hoodies, eating brunch, drinking coffee and getting square eyes in front of your laptop; but tonight I’ll be performing in the National Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors at the ASB Theatre at The Edge here in Auckland and that’s what this big journey and this little blog is about.
Since late October last year I have been playing Rachel Crabbe for the National all around the UK from Leicester to Belfast to Glasgow to Cardiff and everywhere in between and back again.
This was known territory to me: booking digs (I mean I could do a whole blog about that alone – just the booking of them, not even the living in them part!), the train rides, the weekly techs, the landladies and their cats, the catching-up with friends who you thought you’d never see but are able to because happy happenstance has thrown you in to their city, the exploring of the local galleries, museums, coffee shops and vintage stores; the realisation that all (ok, well most) of the UK’s high streets are identical; the nightly shows, the pubs, the clubs, the hangovers, the late breakfasts and again – more train journeys.
This is by far the biggest show that I’ve ever toured so a lot of the venues have been new and challenging to me. The highlight of the UK tour for me, the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, our largest UK venue; was like a homecoming, it being the first time I’ve returned to perform in Cardiff since graduating from Royal Welsh. I stayed with two of my old flatmates from my time there, who insisted on cooking me dinner and bringing me coffee in bed. To feel ‘at home’ while you are out on tour is invaluable. To me the biggest challenge of touring is that lack of ‘home’. The constant change of scene whilst a godsend for keeping a show fresh and teaching you adaptability as an actor, can wear you out and have your mind spiraling; yearning for some consistency. Having felt this before, on this tour I chose to keep my room back in London as a base and I am so glad I made this choice. On previous tours the sense of having nothing but the show, your cast and your crew out on the road and saying a temporary but firm goodbye to the things of home was liberating but my gut was telling me it was not what I wanted this time. Instead I chose to return to my flat in London once a week between venues, catch up with friends, sleep in my own bed, and be in my own world for a day or two… Like a normal weekend. To have – like people in most other forms of work have – time away from work. It turned out to be a great decision and a hugely important one when a family member was hospitalised. Having a base and a place that was mine kept my head clear: helped me separate my home-life from my work-life, kept me connected to my friends and loved ones and afforded me a weekly haven from the craziness of touring and hectic hilarity of the show. It also meant I only ever had to pack for a week at a time!
After 12 weeks of UK performances and a change of Francis Henshalls (we dropped off the hilarious Rufus Hound at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and picked up the wonderful Welshman Owain Arthur on the way) we set off on the much-anticipated international leg of the tour. Knowing that there would be over four and half months of this job where I absolutely, definitely could not be in my own bed or eat dinner at my best friend’s house or meet a chum for coffee played a big part in my choice to continue those things during the UK tour. So when the time finally came I was ready: I threw some leaving drinks at my local pub one snowy night in February and headed the next day to Heathrow ready and raring to let the adventures begin.
We started off at the Hong Kong Arts Festival for two weeks, then on to Adelaide and now, as I said before, we are farcing it up here in Auckland.
Firstly I must say international touring digs kick national touring digs butt very hard. You don’t have to book them yourself and two of the 3 so far have been lovely hotels with the other being a great serviced apartment. I always argue that the reason I don’t cook is because of the amount of time I’ve spent out on tour away from cooking facilities (it’s not that I’m lazy and simply don’t enjoy doing it, obviously). Well if that’s the case then international touring is conditioning me to expect clean towels and to have my sheets tucked in, the way that only hotels and hospitals do, every day. It’s these little luxuries combined with new exciting cities and cultures and glorious sunshine that have meant these first five weeks away have felt like some very bizarre holiday where I also get to perform in a brilliant show every evening too.
We arrived in Auckland last Monday and the Tuesday was my 24th birthday. I’d been really anxious about spending my birthday over 10,000 miles away from home and 13 hours ahead of everyone in my life; I was sure it’d trigger the homesickness but thanks to the Kiwi sunshine, some beautiful oysters and the friendship of my castmates there wasn’t a moment to feel sad. And thanks to Skype, Facetime, E-cards and good old-fashioned mail my loved-ones didn’t feel as far away as I’d feared and their love and well wishes still reached me. Staying in touch with home is incredibly important and good God do I appreciate social media! Maybe people are sick of all my photographs and status updates but it helps me enjoy my time out here even more if I don’t need to worry about staying connected and in-touch with home.
We’ve been up mountains, down cable cars, inside caves, on junk boats, trams, and ferries, swam in the sea, seen other incredible performances on the international circuit and enjoyed every moment of bringing the good old British humour to an international audience. Our posters say “Funniest show on the planet” and as the touring company it seems to be our job and our privilege to try to prove that review. One night in Adelaide I nabbed rush ticket to see world-renowned ballerina Sylvie Guillem at the Festival Theatre; she was sublime. Her talent blew me away. Realising I was a tiny part of the same festival that she was performing in overwhelmed me. I am very lucky to be doing this job and I want to be grateful every day. To me that means making the most of everything that is available to experience and continuing to give 100% to every performance.
We finish here in Auckland on March 23rd and that somewhat marks the end of another chapter of this tour. Our next stop is Sydney where we have a 7 week run at the Sydney Theatre Company. I’ve never done a 7 week run in one venue anywhere let alone in a brand new city on the other side of the world.
We then also do the same in Melbourne. I can only imagine what new challenges this next stage of the tour will bring. I know I’m going to have the luxury of making a temporary home for myself in these two incredible cities but perhaps the holiday feeling will dwindle away… but perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps this will be the perfect chance to find that balance between the dream job and a normal[ish] life.