First night nerves kick in

Posted on: May 6th, 2011 by Trevor | No Comments

As the opening night of the London run of The Revengers nears, Ed is writing a blog for the Sunderland Echo. Here’s the full version:

Very few events beat the excitement, nervousness and expectation of an opening night.

More than 1200 people saw The Revengers over four days at the Customs House and The Tribune newspaper called the Chesterfield production “an example of great theatre”, but no matter how confident we are that The Revengers will rock in the capital, opening nights are always an adrenaline pumping time, hoping the actors remember their lines and that people get our sense of humour.

It’s a familiar sensation because we’ve had eight full plays produced since Good To Firm premiered at the Customs House in June 2002 but we take nothing for granted.

Fortunately all of our plays (except our most recent, Photo Finish for obvious reasons) have gone on to have at least one other production either locally, nationally or internationally and we have attended premieres in New Zealand, Ireland and the UK but we are particularly excited about returning to London following Maggie’s End in May 2009.

Maggie’s End (in which we killed off Margaret Thatcher) was the official focal point of the 25th anniversary of the miners strike and played for two weeks at the 500-seat “off-West End” Shaw Theatre in Kings Cross, London. The show was seen by 2,000 people and went down a storm. We had a great time. Among the cast was the brilliant Sunderland lass Melanie Hill as well as The Bill and Eastenders stars Mark Wingett and Russell Floyd, all of which we’ve gone on to further work with.

One of the cast of Maggie’s End was Simon Nader, whom we admired as an actor and, like the aforementioned, established a friendship with. Last year, over a pint, we were telling Simon about The Revengers, which features a washed up former all-action television star whose marriage is on the rocks and whose life is turned upside down when a sinister but charming loan shark enters her life.

The Revengers, like Maggie’s End and our, as yet, unpremiered play God Only Knows (which is about teaching creationism in science in state schools), is markedly different from our out-and-out comedies (Dirty Dusting, Waiting For Gateaux, Good To Firm etc).

While still funny in places, The Revengers is darker and we wrote it as a three hander (three characters) so that it could be played in small venues to a more intimate audience.

When Simon read the script he really liked it. He wanted to play the loan shark and asked if he could direct the show at his local venue, which is the Barons Court theatre. It’s a cracking venue, below a real ale pub and the intimacy of the place will suit the piece perfectly. How could we refuse!

We’ve gone into the run with more than 300 tickets sold (which, we are told, for a London fringe venue is excellent pre sales), so we are confident that, after opening night, word of mouth and the reviews will kick in and The Revengers will quickly be playing to full houses.

It’s also noticeable how much easier it is in London to access the media and theatre’s movers and shakers. Unless you are a predominantly state subsidised theatre in the north east, the London-centric media don’t want to know. It’s crass really and reflects how out of touch many of these influential people are with grass roots theatre.

Our shows play to packed houses at the 440-seat Customs House and the 500-seat Gala theatre in Durham and Newcastle’s 1200-seat Theatre Royal and yet we can’t get theatre reviewers from the capital to travel three hours by train to see our work. However, they happily turn up to theatres in London that hold fewer than 100 people (and are normally less than half full). The idea that plays in London are somehow better than in the provinces is a complete misnomer.

It used to annoy me. It doesn’t now.  I read their glowing reviews of some dreadful national touring plays I’ve seen in the region and realise we have little in common when it comes to theatre. Hence the reason Trevor and I started writing back in 2002.

The Revengers is being funded by a profit share, which means the cast and technical staff only get paid once its outlay has been covered. Thankfully it’s already into profit, which bodes well for a future tour. Only one in ten London shows turn in a profit which is why so many theatres and theatre companies are dependent on state subsidies.

There’s something inside me that says it’s important to subsidise some theatres and theatre companies but there’s also something else that nags away: why should the taxpayer have to subsidise the middle classes to indulge in Shakespeare and other “classic” revivals while new, more innovative, writing is reduced to a minimum? Surely if these ancient plays were good enough they would appeal to people anyway! What I do know is that equal subsidies (or no state handouts at all) would revolutionise theatre and force producers to make the subject matter of plays more relevant to the lives of ordinary working people, most of whom only attend the theatre to see pantomimes or musicals.

Either way, we are always grateful first and foremost to everyone who buys tickets for our shows with their hard-earned money.

Theatre is a fantastic experience and we are proud that so many people come along to see our plays.  For as long as people want to see our work Trevor and I will keep writing. I just hope I can say that after The Revengers’ London jaunt.

The Revengers opens at the London fringe venue Barons Court theatre in West Kensington, on Monday, May 9, and runs until Saturday, May 21. Click here for further details.

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