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First Few Days

By • Scotland
What a strange week it has been. I arrived at 2am Tuesday morning, having driven up from London in our 1980s campervan, running my script with my ever-patient girlfriend the entire way – which, for reasons of finance and fuel economy took about 11 hours. 11 hours of panicking that I essentially knew only about 30% of the script to any degree of satisfaction, and 11 hours of extensive rewriting whilst sputtering up the M6. We arrived in Edinburgh with a much tighter show, thank goodness, and I’ve also learnt that an excellent way of staying alert on an 11 hour drive is to run through a show that you barely know which opens in two days.

Tuesday was spent rehearsing up the new (and much of the old) material, before teching my own show for three hours, and then dashing over to the other side of town for a six-hour tech rehearsal of the other show that I’m in, Frances Ruffelle’s Beneath the Dress. The two tech runs couldn’t really have been more different. The projector that I use in my show hadn’t arrived, and nor had the drapes in my venue, and the sound equipment in the venue initially struggled to handle my somewhat elaborate sound setup (recreating the entire history of pop music with just a trumpet requires rather a lot of tech gizmos…) so by the time we got that working, I only had time to run about two of my tech-heavy bits before dashing over to tech Frances’ show.

Beneath the Dress is in the very grand new Pleasance venue, Ghillie Dhu - which will be the subject of a future blog – and there’s a seven-piece band, elaborate lighting and a large production team by fringe standards. Like any tech, there were plenty of problems to overcome, but it went relatively smoothly, albeit with some inevitable moaning from us hungry musicians before the pizzas arrived.

Wednesday was spent locked in the house working on my show. Unfortunately, the nature of my somewhat confusing double life as a writer-performer and musician means that the summer is an extremely busy time for me, so the weeks leading up to the beginning of August were spent frantically juggling existing performance commitments which would help fund my Edinburgh odyssey, with a heavy performance schedule at the Latitude festival, the launch of the Hackney Colliery Band’s debut single (I co-run the band), rehearsals for Frances’ show and trying to finish writing and rehearsing my own show. It’s a tricky balance, and I simply didn’t have the time to do as many previews of my own show as I’d have liked, meaning that the Edinburgh run was beginning to feel quite intimidating.

Frances’ first show went very well on Wednesday night and seemed to be nicely received too, which was a great start. I’m playing trumpet in the show, and it must be said that my trumpet playing was a little better than my on-stage costume mistressing; all was thrown into confusion when I took back a crucial piece of costume to my seat rather than help her to put it on…

My first preview on Thursday afternoon, however, was somewhat less slick. Because of the lack of tech time it was inevitably beset by tech problems, though going up 15 minutes late ensured that it was the on-stage editing of the script that I had only just (almost) learnt that was the biggest headache. Still, all that aside, it was good to get it on its feet and the tiny audience were very appreciative. It was also a really great chance to work on my improv skills, which is a nice way of saying that instead of the carefully-planned ending, the first preview ended with me playing ‘Under Pressure’ on a toy electronic trumpet.

More editing and more rehearsing made for a really great second preview. Because I’ve not felt that the show was ready, I’d not been putting my usual effort into the publicity drive, so it was quite gratifying to see about 20 people in the audience – that may not seem like a lot, but it’s only a 40-seater room, and by Edinburgh standards, 20 is pretty good. They were a really great crowd and it finally felt like I had a proper show.

Which was great: I was feeling ready to leave the ‘oh well it’s just a preview’ excuses that occasionally snuck into my routine for the first couple of afternoons behind and get on with the show proper. So this morning, I got up early, went into the venue to rehearse some of the more fiddly tech bits, speed-ran the show, warmed up, got to the venue in plenty of time, did the requisite bit of last-minute marketing, set up my props and tech setup in record time…only to be told 34 seconds before the house opened that the show was going to have to be cancelled. There was some sort of issue with electricity bills not being paid apparently, so whilst my room had power, the others in the venue didn’t, so they had to clear the building while they sorted it. So my long-suffering tech bloke and I then had to strike all the equipment and I tried to find a way of diffusing the nervous energy that I’d built up in readiness for the show. So I had a beer. So goes the fringe. Still, I’m writing this after a cracking show with Frances (apparently Rowan Atikinson was in, though I didn’t spot him), and 15 minutes before we play for the press launch of the Ghillie Dhu; ticket sales are looking respectable enough for tomorrow; and I’ve finally had some food (still almost nothing green, mind), so things are looking up.


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