The little play that could…
Waiting For Gateaux, which makes a long-awaited return to the Customs House this week, is a play that has punched above its weight many times since its original production 10 years ago.
It was the first of our plays to sell out completely, 10 weeks before its opening night which left many people disappointed, including one very well-known star, of which more anon. It was the first of our plays to take us to the other side of the world when it made its New Zealand debut in Dunedin just a year later. It was the first of our plays to be used in schools – several students have used bits of it as their performance piece in drama exams. In short, like all good plays it’s taken us on an unexpected journey.
Not bad for a play whose genesis was a drunken conversation in a taxi between Trevor and Dennis Jobling, the director of our first play, Good To Firm on their way home to Newcastle after the final night of that play. Dennis, who’d clearly had a few, was explaining how he wanted to stage a production of Waiting For Godot, starring the dynamic duo of the Customs House, Ray Spencer and Bob Stott. All of which was way too serious for Trevor, who no-one has ever accused of being deep. ‘You’d be better off staging it outside a cake shop and calling it Waiting For Gateaux’ he replied. The next day, despite the hangover, the idea remained and a new play was born.
The play pretty much wrote itself and was quickly added to the programme for the Customs House the following year. To generate interest and to see if we could involve some new talent Ed came up with the idea of arranging an open audition for the character of Raven, a young Goth. Even he, in his most optimistic frame of mind couldn’t have imagined how many would turn up. Our director, Jackie Fielding – whose recent tragic death makes this week’s re-staging almost unbearably poignant – was both horrified and typically professional. She made sure that every single one of the fifty-plus auditionees got a fair hearing, with the help of the selfless Chris Connel, who patiently sat and performed alongside each hopeful, some of whom had obviously never acted in their lives. Many, however, were great, including the eventual Raven, Viktoria Kay who has since become a stalwart of many of our shows. Another auditionee who made the short list that night was a young hopeful, Charlotte Riley, who is now, not only a star in her own right, with leading roles in World Without End, Peaky Blinders and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, but also known as Mrs Tom Hardy. The tendrils of WFG can even reach Hollywood!
For the opening production Jackie recruited a fantastic cast with not only Viktoria but Angela Szalay, who’d also been in Good To Firm, Dave Whittaker, Heather Phoenix and Tracy Whitwell, who Ed and Trevor had lured back to her native North East after working with her on a TV pilot of their sitcom The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Tracy’s partner at the time, and still, was Don Gilet who was then filming 55 Degrees North in the area, which helped us lure Tracy back. Don was filming during the run and thought he wouldn’t be able to see the show but a late change to his schedule meant he could suddenly fit in the closing night. He dashed across to South Shields, arriving just as the curtain went up only to find he couldn’t get in, there wasn’t an empty seat in the place! When we came out at the interval he was sitting in the café, bemoaning the fact that he wasn’t the kind of guy to try the ‘don’t you know who I am’ line.
Since that opening run WFG has gone from strength to strength. Because of its sell-out performance it returned to the Customs House a few months after its opening and sold out again. It then headed off to New Zealand where it opened at the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin before touring the South Island. The production was sponsored by the local Cadbury’s factory and, thanks to the support of some funding from the Chamber of Commerce, Ed and Trevor were in the audience for the opening night, which was an absolute hoot. A great deal of chocolate ended up in our luggage on the way home.
And it didn’t stop there. Not long after that WFG started a short tour of Number 1 theatres in England, culminating in another sell-out at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle and then several other tours of the UK, one of which starred the lovely Lisa Riley, who is as delightful in real life as she is on the telly. In her recent autobiography she said that WFG was ‘a wonderfully clever play’ and she remains a friend now. She recently came over to Newcastle to talk about working on a new Waugh and Wood play so watch this space.
And now it’s back. Given its track record of turning up surprises who knows what will happen next. Why not go along and find out?
Waiting For Gateaux is at the Customs House from Wednesday June 10 until Saturday June 13, curtain up at 7.30 with matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm. It stars Paul Dunn, Laura Lonsdale, Phillippa Lyall, Sarah Boulter and Christina Berriman Dawson.