A page from the original Tower Theatre web site, created by Jonathan Norris and Ruth Sanderson in the 1990s.
There have also been seven visits to the open-air theatre in the Jardin Shakespeare in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris. This year The Winter's Tale made its appearance.
The collective noisy trip on Eurostar had fellow travellers wondering what on earth this motley crew had in common and what was their ultimate destination. As it transpired, many adventures were to befall them before they were even to reach it. Among them I count a body on the Metro line and navigation through the larger part of the Bois de Boulogne on foot (thanks to an errant bus) as tastes.
As we straggled into the theatre only an hour and a half for the first rehearsal I was struck by how magical it was. The stage is gravelled, with an artificial hill behind it through which a network of tunnels leads from backstage to three entrances. The stage was so large; the auditorium so open; the noise of the birds so deafening; the sun so hot; how would we manage?.
Rabbits scooted across the scenery and I saw a little thing, russet coloured, with pointed ears, trotting into a bush. A midget fox? I'd never seen anything like it before. Perhaps it was left over from a previous production.
We had just finished re-blocking our entrances and exits when the stage was repossessed by the Marivaux play which precede us. We were then free until rehearsal at 10:30 the following morning, which turned out to be quite tiring because of getting used to the different acoustics.
The temptation is to shout, and that way lies a sore throat, but as those of us discovered hwo stayed to watch the highly professional lst performance of the Marivaux that afternoon; with care, there should not be a problem with the acoustics. However, I found I had to keep moving to keep out of the sun.
We had a full dress rehearsal in the evening which was much easier, vocally, than the earlier rehearsal. It was 10:30 before we left the theatre, and those unfortunates without a lift had a somewhat dangerous and hilariously undignified climb over a gate followed by a twenty-five-minute walk through the transvestite-scattered Bois to the nearest Metro station. The romance of strolling players?
We opened at noon on the Tuesday. There were 237 schoolchildren in the booked in. They took time to settle but we were only 15 minutes late for curtain-up and were greeted with the sound of 237 crisp-packets being plundered and 237 soft-drink cans being popped.
We rightly took this as a challenge and raised our performance until the chomping subsided. The children were largely English-speaking and had been well briefed so the reception was enthusiastic. The same was true for the Wednesday matinée. On Wednesday evening we had an extra performance for the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce who served champagne and sandwiches for the fleet of foot after the show.
More challenges lay ahead. Thursday night it rained, not hard but continuously. As long as we stayed centre stage we were in the shelter of a big tree, but the poor audience got it solidly. They made a courageous little band crouched under umbrellas, rainproofs and black bin bags handed out by stage management.
Predictably Peter Novis, making his brief visit on stage as a mariner with the line "the skies look grimly and threaten blusters", caused a minor sensation. Both cast and audience thoroughly deserved the round of applause that each gave the other for staying the distance.
Then there was the evening of the Renault international salesmen's meeting at the Pré Catalan restaurant next door to the theatre, culminating in an auction which ended with something or other being sold for 173 milliard francs, as relayed over their very efficient PA system, hooked up to enormous outside speakers. Emmeline Winterbotham and Terry Mathews (plus pipe) were dispatched to negotiate, quite successfully.
The next evening we faced a deeper challenge - same venue but this time a society reception complete with jazz band, fox-trots and fireworks thoughtfully timed to coincide with the statue scene next door...
The reflex is to raise one's voice to cut it out and help one's own attention to hold firm. But in the end I decided that it was better to try to articulate even more clearly and help the audience to concentrate.
It turned out that we had little problem communicating with the audiences. John Edmunds' adaptation told the story very clearly and he had got us speaking the verse naturally. Friends in the audience reported tears and giggles at most of the appropriate moments even with the native French.
On the Saturday afternoon we had had very few bookings. The sun was shining and the Bois ws littered with picnickers so some enterprising person had the idea of sending the bear out to recruit the audience. Penny Tuerk, who had popped over from London to give moral support, volunteered to don the bear's costume and was led around the surrounding park by 10-year-old Héloïse Winterbotham (Mamillius).
This was a great success from a couple of points of view. To start with it attracted a horde of disaffected kids. One three-year-old French boy, almost liquid with excitement, told me earnestly "you don't have to be frightened of it, because it talks". Wise beyond his years.
Penny chatted away in French, as bears do in the Bois, and Héloïse handed out leaflets, and they managed to attract a very respectable audience. The downside was that we had to mount a tunnel guard for the whole of the performance to keep small boys from infiltrating the stage.
Sunday afternoon we had clouds, the odd light shower, a period of swirling wind which nearly took the pavilion away, and some periods of sunshine, including the final statue scene at the end of the very last performance of the play. Then we had the sad task of taking down the pavilion, the lights, stacking the chairs, packing the costumes, cleaning the dressing rooms and taking the last walk and the last bus-ride.
The first night back in London I dreamed the play. I woke up during the interval and thought, just a couple more scenes to go, and went back to sleep to dream them. The next night I dreamed the interval! Starting with the exit from the trial scene at the end of Part I, I went through the tunnel, picking up my water bottle, to the back gate.
Walking slowly, and winding down emotionally, seeing Héloïse teasing John Stivey (the bumpkin), getting a cup of tea from the women's dressing room, sitting in a chair in the sunshine and relaxing, hearing Penny's bilingual announcement calling the audience back to their seats. Watching Terry put down his pipe, pick up the baby and stroll over to make his entrance.