A web-site in support of the play which celebrates the extraordinary achievements both of the fine fellow Mr. Mandeville himself, and the parallel dimension from which he visited our world.
Stoke Mandeville - Home
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2002 Edinburgh Fringe
Alas, the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe run of this play has now ended. What follows below is the wording that heralded that run, and is here preserved as an historical document.
Performances of this magnificent play will take place at Augustine's Studio, 41 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, which is venue number 152. Performances start at ten to nine in the evening, and occur on Tuesday the thirteenth of August and every day thereafter except Monday the nineteenth, until the final performance on Monday the twenty-sixth of August.
A entrance fee of six pounds and fifty new pence shall be levied for each member of the audience for each performance. A concessionary rate of four pounds and fifty pence is offered to those on the parish, students, and lower-ranking servants. Tickets are available by contacting the excelling folk of Paradise Green Promotions, who manage the venue. This can be done by calling in person to the venue, or by telephoning (0131) 225 6575. Alternatively, one might buy them from the Edinburgh Fringe Office, by clicking HERE.
Since the earlier performances afford a much greater opportunity to come a second time, and to recommend to one's fellows to attend, it is predicted that these will be the nights to sell out first, so members of Her Majesty's public are advised to be swift in booking for these particular performances.
N.B. The Management wishes to assure all patrons that under no circumstances shall persons of a French nature be admitted to the auditorium.
Terribly Long Account of the Production (illustrated)
Lloyd, producer of the show, has for reasons as yet unaccounted for, written this tale of his producing The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman. Readers are recommended to instruct their manservants to provide a glass or two of port to act as a fortifying aid, while they work their way manfully down the multitudinous paragraphs.
Stoke Mandeville Sighted at The Fringe
This account is really terribly long, and so I have put in loads of sub-headings so that you might more efficiently skip through it.
The Newcastle Premiere
I have been to the Fringe as a punter several times, and each time thought that it would be a fabulous thing to be there as a performer and be part of it all. The buzz in the city is palpable. I had seen enough Fringe shows to know that I was quite capable of staging something up to standard. With my colleague Fraser Charlton, I adapted our radio series The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman to the stage. We wrote it to be performable in an hour and ten minutes, this being a suitable length for the Fringe, and by just five people, since a large cast is a large expense.
The play was ready at the start of 2001, but I didn't get my act together for taking it to the Fringe. I didn't have the money, and without the money, proceeding seemed folly. Instead, we put on just three performances at the Newcastle Arts Centre. We advertised locally and nationally for cast, and I was amazed by how many dizzy actresses telephoned me from London to ask me about the show, and after a long talk asked me where Newcastle is. At the auditions, I was amazed at how bad some actors who have agents and impressive CVs are. Nevertheless, we cast three very good people, and each played one role ourselves.
Fraser and I share an attitude towards acting: one walks onto the stage, speaks the words correctly, and then walks off again. During the rehearsal period, one learns the words so that come the performances, one doesn't need to carry a script. Neither of us has been trained, you see. For the trained actor, the rehearsal period is one in which one experiments at random with ways of playing the part. This is followed by a period of panic-stricken line learning, and then during the performances themselves one continues the randomness and confusion by doing things differently every night, which apparently is what live theatre is all about. I have to confess that, untrained ignoramus that I am, I still prefer our method.
Putting the show on in Newcastle was even more work than I thought it would be. Promoting it was a particular chore: putting up countless posters, and distributing fliers, and contacting all the local press and pertinent people. I had hopes of getting booked for the Newcastle Comedy Festival, which was due two months after our run.
Rehearsals were fun, and we had reason to believe that the show would be a good one. The trained ones amongst us were fearful that we were under-rehearsed, but no matter, we went ahead.
We played to audiences of about thirty-five, almost all of whom were friends and family of someone involved. No press turned up. More annoying still, no producers turned up, nor anyone from the local theatres, nor even the people from the Comedy Festival, whose office was just over the road, and who had been given free tickets. Those who saw us loved us, and we had two curtain calls every night.
Our success led to near enough nothing. We had lost about seventy pounds, which is a small loss, considering. It was great to receive e-mails from people I didn't know, praising the show, asking for the script, or a tape of the soundtrack, or even the rights to do a comic strip version of it. No one who might put money into the show saw it, though, which was a frustration considering how we knew that we had a script with a great potential future.
Preparations for The Fringe
Next year, the Fringe. I still didn't have the money, nor any way of knowing whether I would get any, but I took the plunge and committed myself to doing it anyway. I looked for a venue. Almost immediately I was offered a slot at Augustine's Studio by a company called Paradise Green Promotions for £2,335. I didn't accept straight away. I applied to several other venues, including some of the big names like The Pleasance, The Gilded Balloon, Rocket, C, and The Underbelly. I also considered The Carlton Centre - a church hall away from the centre of things that I could have for a small fraction of the cost of the other places. I would have the whole place to myself, but I would have to do everything myself: get in lights, a box office, a sound system, and I would have to show in my own audience, and sell my own tickets. Also, I would not be part of the main thrust of the Fringe, and I would have trouble getting audiences to walk out of the city centre. Tempting though the cheapness of it was, I resisted.
Almost all the approaches I got came in a sudden burst - right around the time of most venues' deadlines, but they weren't all actual specific offers. The Gilded Balloon kept promising me a decision tomorrow, but that decision never came. The Pleasance eventually said that they were considering me only for a lunch time slot, and rightly or wrongly, I decided that a good slot at a lesser venue would be better than a lesser slot at a greater venue. Rocket gave me a decent offer, but I was a bit put off by the fact that they were run from the USA, and I felt some mild loyalty to the people who had expressed the faith in me to make an early offer. The e-mails I got from C were astoundingly rude, and consistently so. When eventually I was a little bit sarcastic in one of my replies, I two minutes later received an e-mail saying that they were no longer considering me. I couldn't resist the temptation to write back saying, "Now THAT'S comedy timing!" The offer from the Underbelly came after I had accepted Augustine's. I paid my first instalment of three to my venue, and the Fringe fee of £379.64, so now I was committed.
I wrote to everyone listed in the directories of sponsors I found in my local library, and to a fair few large local companies. Not a sausage. I approached various grant and loan giving bodies for this sort of this. Sausageless. I went to Northern Arts, having already been told that under no circumstances would they help finance a show being performed outside the region. I just thought that they might be able to help me find someone who would. They literally laughed at me. I would have to finance the thing some other way.
My parents stuck in a grand, as did my co-writer Fraser, and I used the existing funds of Mandeville Enterprises (about £850) and braced myself for a hideous overdraft. I had faith in this show, even if no institutions did. My parents had seen the September production in Newcastle and liked it, and Fraser had the faith of a co-writer.
I wrote the entry for the Fringe programme. They allow you 40 words, including the title of your show. I remain quite pleased with it. It went:
The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman. In the steam-powered utopia of a parallel dimension, our pipe-smoking hero battles dastardly French agents to save The Empire. A comedy of impeccable manners, swooning ladies, and magnificently rigid upper lips. www.stoke-mandeville.com
On occasion, I would be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead, but I got on with it. I organised the props, the costumes, the design of the fliers, I sent out press releases, and I started casting again. Fraser's wife had just had a baby, and he was still admiring the newcomer's perfect little hands too much to be in Edinburgh for a fortnight's run. The girl in the cast dropped out too. She was good, but never really shared the piece's humour, and preferred not to be in it again. I managed to find a guy to replace Fraser fairly quickly, but replacing the girl proved a great deal harder. There are far more wannabe actresses out there than actors, but far fewer good actresses than good actors. There are even fewer women who can do a range of accents, and hardly any who are funny. I was amazed at how actresses would lie about their abilities and age in order to get an audition. Did they think that I wouldn't spot the deceit? I was beginning to despair, and time was running short, but then I remembered a girl I used to salsa dance with who was a drama teacher at Northumbria University. Did she know anyone? She knew one - ONE - who might fit the bill. Fortunately for me, she did fit.
Finding a flat wasn't easy. Actually, that's not true, finding a flat was very easy - there are countless flats being offered eagerly. No, the tricky part was finding one that was anywhere near affordable. In the end I found one advertised privately on the internet for £750 + £250 deposit. It was in Leith - a bus ride away from the centre.
My new lead actor had moved to the Lake District, which made travel to auditions problematic and expensive. No matter. We had a few rehearsals which went fine, and off I went to Sweden to Lindy hop, and then I returned for a week's intensive rehearsal. The week was plagued with delays and double-bookings and in the end we got more like two and half day's rehearsals in. No matter.
Choosing an insurance company wasn't easy. Quotes varied from £55 to £258 for apparently the same cover. Some policies insured me against claims made against me by my actors. The basic minimum requirement was public liability insurance. Some of the forms asked many questions about Americans. Was I an American? Did I have any Americans in my cast? Did any Americans put money into the show? Did I own any property in America? Was my venue run by Americans? Clearly, these insurance companies were terrified that I might trip over and fall on an American. In the end I chose the cheapest, and am glad I did so, because nothing happened to make a claim for. The policy itself arrived on the day of the first performance - just as well given that we weren't allowed to perform without it. Interestingly, the document suggested that the insured thing was the entire Fringe Festival. I knew I drove a hard bargain, but £55 to insure 1600 shows struck me as quite a coup.
Arrival in Edinburgh
Two of my cast ended up being busy on the day we were due to drive up, so they came the next day. Three of us drove up with half the clobber and had a line test on the way up. Even at this stage (and right through to the end of the run) I was having to explain to my actors why certain lines were funny. We found the flat, and it looked great, but it had precisely the wrong number of rooms. There were five of us, and four rooms. If we all had to share, then there would have been no complaints. Which three of us would get our own room? The smoker should get one for being the only smoker; the girl should get one for being the only girl; the snorer should get one for being the one who'd keep the others awake; the oldest of us should get one for being the oldest and tidiest. I couldn't help feel that the guy who was actually PAYING for the flat should get his own room, but this argument seemed to carry no weight.
I shopped at the local ScotMid Co-op supermarket (twice the price of Asda, and half as good), and bought proper food to cook for evening meals. I ate none of it, living instead on breakfast cereal and sandwiches carried in with me and eaten in town.
I tried to sort out as much as I could that day, a Sunday, which wasn't much. I went to see a show at Greyfriars Kirk House, a venue also run by Paradise Green Promotions, which meant that I could see it for free as part of a reciprocal deal: the performers from the other companies at PGP venues could come and see me for free too. I thought that I might see as many as thirty shows this way. In the event, I saw half this. Many clashed with my show, many were on too early in the morning, and others I just didn't fancy seeing. The show I saw that night was an amiable way to pass the time, watching two chaps muck around for while.
The next day was the day of the dress rehearsal. It took over an hour to drive in from Leith. We could have walked it quicker. There was so much to do: so many last minute things to buy; so many things about the venue to check; so many forms to fill in. The staff at the venue was rather officious and unsmiling, and I was somewhat stressed, as I still didn't have a complete cast. I have never owned a mobile 'phone, and am trying to delay the day when I have to. The youth of today takes them for granted and seems to think that the possession of a mobile 'phone means that he never has to organise anything in advance. Stopping outside the venue was a nightmare, but so was having to ferry all the props and costumes and furniture from a distant parking place. My two missing cast members reached the venue, and then went straight past it. After several attempts to repeat this feat, but adding a stop, they managed instead to approach the venue from the opposite direction, and then swoop alarmingly across the four-lane road to alight in front of the theatre. We unloaded in record time.
We only had a short slot in which to do our dress rehearsal, and I had to train our techie to run the lights and sound in this time. I had decided that it would cheaper to hire a techie in Edinburgh, rather than to take someone up from Newcastle and accommodate him. I might have been right, but then again I was probably wrong. The venue found for me a Canadian girl with blue hair who looked about twelve. She would have to do, so she was hired. She turned out to be a pleasant and conscientious techie, who always stayed around after every show for a debrief and further tips on how to improve her job.
Everyone was feeling a bit stressed. We knew that we only had one shot at a rehearsal in the venue, and our show was not a simple one. It involved an awful lot of entrances and exits, and a lot of costume changes and props. Worse still, one side of the stage led to a cul-de-sac, so if the correct prop or costume had not been set in that space, there was no way of getting to it other than by walking across the stage. We knew about this before we went up, but still the idea of a mistake's being uncorrectable unnerved us. Some things were easier than we had feared. the step up onto the stage either side was little obstacle, and the doors either side were tall enough so that even with the raised stage, a tall man wearing a hat could exit without having to stoop.
The dress rehearsal was a shambles. True, dress rehearsals are traditionally a shambles, but a shambolic rehearsal still never encourages me. We still hadn't managed to buy the last few things for the show. Never mind, we still had the following day.
Next day, we had to be ready for our first show. The Edinburgh Evening News was to be there. A good review early in the run was absolutely essential for success. A poor review or a good one too late for audiences to act on it would be no good. We all had something to buy that day. People were despatched to charity shops and cloth shops. I had lots of tasks to do that only I could do: dealing with the Fringe Office, and sorting out finances. We had to be handing out fliers too, to let the public know we were here. We fliered, but I don't think efficiently. We gave anyone stupid enough to take one from us a flier, and I'm sure than most of those fliers were binned by non-theatre-goers within yards of the hand-over point.
Mobile 'phone credit was running out. Did they have the black cloth for the table yet? No. Hell - the shops would be shutting soon. Where sells cloth? Jenners, the most expensive department store on Earth, sold cloth, I was reliably informed. "Get to Jenners!" I managed to say before the credit ran out. I heard no reply. I ran there just in case. I was informed with that haughtiness unique to British shop assistants that Jenners in fact does not sell cloth. I ran the length of Princes Street visiting all purveyors of cloth and bed linen. No luck in any of them. Every one suggested I try Jenners. Yes, said the man at the door of Debenham's , they do sell cloth, but they are just cashing up now, so I will have to try elsewhere.
I couldn't believe it. Five people with a whole day to buy some black cloth and we somehow failed. The cloth was needed to cover a table behind which people had to be invisible to the audience. I calmed myself and worked out alternative ways of staging things. Everything would be fine. At the venue I was offered a piece of red velvety cloth, which happened to fit the table perfectly. It wasn't fireproofed, so strictly speaking I shouldn't have used it, but just for this one night it would be okay. Someone managed to find a sheet of card for making the flipchart for a mere £4, but it was okay because they got a receipt. I sprayed the flipchart with flame-proofing liquid and it crinkled up, never to recover. Heigh ho.
A miraculous stroke of luck! We had hired a slot for our show that gave us a twenty-minute 'get-in' time, during which in theory we would build our set, install our techie, get into costume, set out all our props, and get our audience in. We would never have managed this that first night. However, the show before us cancelled, leaving a free slot before us, so we took advantage of this. Later we got into trouble for starting our get-in early without permission from the house manager, but relations were soon restored.
We start. I leap on to the stage and start roaring my way through the first scene. Scott enters as the villain Braithwaite and we do a bit of slapstick. Hardly a titter from the audience. There are very few people in. I go behind the curtain on stage and wait for my next entrance. The second scene plays to absolute silence. This is going to be a tough night. The panty-liner gag in the next scene gets a moderate laugh. The audience is alive after all.
I make my next entrance. My cravat gag gets a laugh. Things start to pick up. Pretty soon, the audience is with us, and the laughs come more and more easily. Some people are so into the story and situation, that they start laughing ahead of the joke - anticipating what is to come. A few scenes later, I can hear people whispering the next punchline to each other - they're loving it! We botch a few lines, and the lights and sound aren't perfect, but we get a hearty clap at the end, and leave the show feeling tolerably pleased with ourselves, but not enough to relax.
That night, we had 20 people in. This breaks down as follows: three who paid full price; one who paid a concession price; one press man (Edinburgh Evening News) with a free ticket; thirteen people who got in free on the reciprocal deal; two people who booked through the Fringe office (which takes commission, and pays towards my Performing Rights Society fee for the music I was using). The venue pays me a grand total of £24.
Back at the flat, relief has set in all too much, and my younger members of the cast are drinking heavily. I don't see this as a great sign. The words "Don't worry Lloyd" have no reassuring affect whatsoever; quite the reverse.
Second Night Jitters
The next day I buy some red velvet cloth, since the stuff we used last night looked better than the usual plain black stuff that modern theatre companies usually use. I spray it with smelly flame-proofer, and now the safety officer is content. I neglect to mention that I haven't sprayed the deck chairs.
In the venue, I am now greeted with smiles wherever I go. Half a dozen of the venue staff saw the show last night, and have passed the word around that our show is a goodie. The smiles increase as the run goes by, and by the end of the run I am getting goodbye hugs. It is definitely a good thing to have the venue staff on one's side. Customers asking for a comedy are recommended my show.
The second night does not start well. The techie arrives out of breath and ten minutes late. She can't find her script anywhere - the one marked up carefully with every sound and lighting cue. "I have never fucked up so badly in all my life!" she insists, apparently distraught. "You can sack me if you want to." There is no time to mark up a new script, and we have no other techie, so unremarkably I do not sack her. We are all amazingly nice to her, and she goes on and does her best from memory, which isn't perfect, but is a lot better than nothing.
The star of the show is having an odd night. He is sweating rather a lot, and speaking ever more and more loudly. By the later scenes he is bellowing. I am sweating quite a bit too. It turns out that the air-conditioning is not switched on. Technical mistakes put us off our stride, and second-night complacency has its usual effect. We make more and more fluffs. The audience, much larger than the previous night, loves us. They laugh at every single line, right from the start. The worse we get, the more they love us. Big applause at the end. My star later admits to having had a couple of drinks before the show.
Finding Our Feet
A few days later, some people are encountered in the street who saw our show on the second night. We say that that was the night when everything went wrong. They reply that they loved that sort of pantomime mucking around. There's no accounting for it.
The next night, I find that my shirt, drenched from sweat from the previous night, stinks. I didn't think it would need a wash after just two hours of wear. I was very wrong. Still, it's odour has a reassuringly theatrical feel to it. Dressing rooms in theatres always reek of sweaty clothes.
I am having problems with my face. Seeing it as likely that we would run out of spirit gum for applying false whiskers, I went to the same shop that I bought the first lot from, and bought a second big bottle of the stuff. It doesn't come off. I return to the flat having peeled off my whiskers, my face feeling very strange. In places it glistens, in others it looks as though I have horrendous peeling skin. The gum attracts dirt and soon I appear to have a very serious black scaley skin complaint. I manage to get rid of most of it with a chisel, but my face will not stand two weeks of this. I study the two bottles. There is one tiny difference in the appearance of the bottles. In very small writing on one it says "water soluble", and the other has a tiny "non" as well. I continue using the stuff, because I have to have a lot of whiskers on for the whole show, and have to shout and sweat and be slapped in the face, and this stuff is strong, unlike the wimpy water soluble stuff. As time goes by, I get better at removing it. I buy a bottle of powerful solvent that stings and chokes, and has the effect of turning the dried glue back into glue. Having liquid soap, very hot water, and an abrasive towel immediately to hand and working quickly on a small area at a time proves to be the trick. The act of shaving is the final gum-removing stage. I explain to attractive women I meet before I have removed the gum what it is on my face. I yearn for the day when I can regrow my beard, since shaving is clearly the invention of the Devil. I do not miss the irony that a man with a real beard has to shave it off in order to wear a false one. Unaccustomed to shaving, I get a fair bit better at it by the end of the run, and even manage to shave my Adam's apple a couple of times without lacerating it.
We get a mention in Three Weeks, it reads:
"Because no decent person should ever miss an opportunity to laugh at the French." producers of "The Adventures of Stoke
Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman".)" Producers of 'The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville… at Augustines
Well, at least it's a mention, even if the type-setter and proof-reader were having a fight at some point.
The third night comes, and the audience is larger still. Word seems to be getting around. I get a bit hopeful. I need to have about seventy-five paying audience to break even. This night earns me £154 from the venue. The upward trend proves to be inconsistent, though, and we have a few inexplicable slumps. The high is reached on the Sunday, second from last performance, with a total audience of 87. The show is a particular hit with the venue staff and performers from other PGP shows, however, and one night 27 people got in free. I am flattered that many of these people see our show twice, and a fair few three times, but this doesn't earn me any money.
I hear some horror stories about Fringe audiences. Some get no one turning up. A fair few shows get cancelled for lack of audience. I hear about a comedy one-man show that gets an audience of one, and that the man is a friend of the comedian. The worst is the tale of a dance show that gets one man turning up to see it. The dancers think to themselves 'Never mind, we'll dance for this one man.' Half way through, he walks out, leaving the dancers uncertain how to behave.
We await our first review with confidence that it will be good, but fear that it will not be in time. The Evening News never does review us. Our first is in the specialist Fringe review paper called Three Weeks, and it reads as follows:
The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman
Newcastle lawyer Graham suddenly finds himself in an alternate dimension alongside heroic agent Stoke Mandeville; together, they must foil a dastardly French plot whose tendrils extend right to the engineering wonder of the British Empire. Obviously owing a debt to 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen', 'The Goon Show' and anything by Jules Verne, the play creates a steampunk world with stereotypical Victorianisms which are marvellously parodied for ever-increasing laughs. Nikolas Lloyd revels in the role of the gentleman adventurer Mandeville, every inch the comic mythic hero and Richard Llewellyn displays great derring-do and versatility, while the charming Sarah Cleeve provides an effective foil for the pair's proto-macho banter. Fellow supporting players Scott Hutchinson and David Redcliff contribute a wide range of characters to the adventure, each funnier than the last. The script is rich with detail and dialogue, including a perfect 'Blues Brothers' parody. Pithy lines and pith helmets, steam-powered stellar carriages and stiff upper lips; marvellous! "Brace yourself!" Augustine's, 13-26 (not 19), 9.50 pm (11pm), £6.50 (£4.50), fpp 108. * * * *
Given how praising the text is, one wonders why we only got four, not the maximum five, stars, but no matter, this is a great review. I correct 'alternate' to alternative, and the misspelling of Sarah Cleeves's name, add a comma, and get this printed out in large type and laminated. I append the result to my placard - a broom handle with one of our posters on a bit of card gaffer-taped to it, and go out fliering. A couple of days later I pass a comic shop and see in the window a copy of a comic called 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen', to which I apparently owe a great debt. I had never heard of it before, and it was written years after we wrote Stoke Mandeville. I should have guessed that the review writer was a comic reader, because of his use of the term 'steampunk'.
The show actually started at 8.50 p.m. and ended at 10 p.m. The mistake benefits the show starting after mine.
The cast is pleased with its individual mentions, even if no-one knows what a foil for proto-macho banter actually is. Richard is of course delighted with 'derring-do', as he is a fight arranger, and wannabe swash-buckling matinee idol. We tease him for being praised for versatility, since he is the only one of us who plays just the one character. I flier people in the street saying, "Flier for this four-star show, sir?" It probably does me little good.
Some excerpts of stuff I wrote a while back in an e-mail appear in a paper in an article about first-time writers. The mention earns me a short plug. It gets printed as "It's seventy-two thousand leagues to the Earth, we've got half a tank of water, a full coal scuttle and we're smoking pipes." The actual quote is "…it's dark, [note the comma] and we're smoking pipes." The missed-out words make the difference between the sentence's being not funny, and funny. This is part of a pattern. All our funny lines get misquoted in the press to appear not funny.
"… a plot to blow up the King's favourite pony…" is printed instead of, "… a plot to blow up the King's favourite polo pony".
"… for all the family except women," is not very funny, whereas "… for all the family except ladies" gets a laugh every time.
Journalists, it seems, have an unerring instinct to destroy comic timing and nuance by clumsy misquotation.
Fraser, my co-writer, and someone who foolishly sunk a thousand pounds into the production, turns up with his brand new video camera to record the first Saturday night show. He can't fit us in full length when near the front, and the only other place the power cable will reach is right at the back, where the pillars down the central aisle interfere with vision. Saturday is the worst night yet. The audience is tiny, and though it is enjoying the show, it is not doing so noisily. The audience is following everything we say, with big grins, but only laughs at the obvious laugh-now moments. We fluff loads of lines. If only he videod another night. This is important, because we may need to show this video to someone considering booking us. It is not Fraser's fault, of course, and I do trump him later by making an audio recording of the very worst night.
A short while later, we get a second review, on a website called The Edinburgh Guide. I hadn't been expecting this. It reads as follows:
Madcap wild script - imagine Dick Barton, Spike Milligan, The Goons, The Goodies, Vivian Stanshall, and… Brace Yourself! Played in a tight, high-spirited style Writers Nikolas Lloyd and Fraser Charlton have created a wonderful, whacky play where a parallel universe collides with ours and two men switch places with results for all.
Plain, rather dull lawyer Graham Pennyworth, Richard Llewellyn, is returning from a lunch with a pushier lawyer Rachel when a traffic accident takes him a way into the company of Stoke Mandeville, Nikolas Lloyd (Gentleman Extraordinare) and his steam powered astral carriage which can navigate to the planets as well as crash land in Newcastle. Resembling Mandeville's fellow adventurer Carstairs, Pennyworth soon finds himself using more than Carstairs' name and is off on an adventure via Jupiter and other part of The Empire. The other actors David Redcliff, Scott Hutchison and Sarah Cleves provide support with variety of accents and personas, the only feature I didn't like was the persistent and not funny, fake laugh Cleve's characters all shared.
Full of lots of cunning jokes poking digs at today and our glorious British past, it's top quality in the writing. I recommend their excellent websites for a good, rollicking browse too, best one of the Fringe.
Thelma Good 15 August 2002.
A favourable review, I think you'll agree. The punctuation is bizarre, and the spelling a bit wayward, but this (with the middle paragraph cut out) went up on the placard too. I didn't want to put one dram on the placard, so translated this to four stars. The Edinburgh Guide has a unique way of rating shows. It goes from no drams (perfection) to five drams (unwatchably awful, and therefore you'll need five drams of whisky to last through it), giving a range of six possible scores. A one dram review is therefore I think equal to a four and a quarter stars out of five review, and I conservatively put four stars on the placard.
Throughout the run, the website got about two hundred hits, and I suspect that most of these were from people who had already seen the show, and wanted to prolong their enjoyment of it, rather than from people deciding what to see. Still, nice that a reviewer rated it so highly. I did it myself, and it was a technically very simple site, but the writing made it fun. Each page had a fair amount of text on it, and included many jokes not to be found in the play itself.
In response to this review Sarah Cleeves actually did more laughing, not less, and did get some laughs from this. Good for her.
It was also satisfying to read that the script was good. Many people commented on the quality of the writing, which of course is particularly satisfying for me because I was one of the writers. Perhaps the show will become a hit not as this production, but as a script for other productions. Already I have had a few enquiries about whether the script will be available, and two student groups have expressed a strong desire to perform the piece. For me, the pleasure of hearing an audience laughing and keenly following the show, came not from the sound itself, but from the revealed knowledge that I had done my job as writer and director well.
It was also nice, but mildly surprising, to read that we performed in a 'tight' manner. I don't know which night she saw exactly, but none of the possible nights was in our opinion 'tight'. As the run goes on, we get tighter. For my own performance, I am not at all nervous, but I continue to worry about the many things outside my control that can go wrong.
Public Reaction and Producers' Absence
The praise I encounter in the street is actually quite great. Every day I meet a few people who take the trouble to come up to me and say that they enjoyed the show a lot. Some describe it as the funniest thing they have seen at the Fringe, others as the highlight of their Fringe. One lady says that it was the best thing she has seen in years, and asks is there anything she can buy. One Spanish family says that it enjoyed the show. I don't talk to them for long, but get the impression that not all of them spoke very good English, which I'd have thought would have made enjoying the show very difficult. Performers from other shows seem particularly enthusiastic, especially if of student age. Students from Warwick and Cambridge universities want to do the show. Good stuff.
This praise, though, is not worth much, if no producers pick up the show. I become increasingly worried that no producers or tour promoters seem to be seeing us. When it becomes clear that we are not going to be selling out for the second week (necessary to break even), I go to the Fringe Office to see the people responsible for that sort of thing. The result is an annoying conversation. Here follows a paraphrased and much shortened version of it.
Lloyd: It seems that the movers and shakers are not coming to my show. I would like your help in getting them to come.
Fringe Office: Well, the computer says that one tour promoter is due to see you on Sunday night. Unfortunately, that's after the promoters' meeting on Sunday morning. Lloyd: Well, there are still a few performances to go. Could you not tip off the people on your lists that there is a show wanting promoters to come and see it? F.O.: [laughs] We should have been having this conversation two weeks ago. It's a bit late now. My job gets harder as the Fringe goes on. Most promoters have seen everything they're going to see by now. Lloyd: I have been in e-mail correspondence with you for some while. I ticked the box on the form to say that I wanted my details passed on to promoters, and in e-mails to me you said that you would let the promoters know that I wanted them to come to my show. F.O.: [gets out big reference works] You should have done your homework, you needed to look up all these people and contacted them yourself. Lloyd: [notes names of reference works] Perhaps, but I had been led to understand that this is what you do, and that these people would already have been tipped off. Surely that is the whole point in having a centralised data base and an officer in charge of it here. F.O.: Well, like I said, we should have had this conversation two weeks ago. Lloyd: Ah. Will you be at the promoters' meeting on Sunday morning?
F.O.: Yes of course I will.
Lloyd: Right, so you could tell the promoters at that meeting that there's a show that wants them to come and see it.
F.O.: Oh no - I can't sell your show.
Lloyd: Okay, then I'll come along to the meeting and sell the show myself. F.O.: No, you have to be invited to the meeting. You can't just turn up. Lloyd: So, invite me to the meeting. F.O.: No, you have to be invited by a promoter. Lloyd: So ask one to invite me. F.O.: I can't do that. They don't know you. Lloyd: Well, give me some names, and numbers to ring, and I'll talk to them. F.O.: No, I don't give out their names and numbers. Besides, they have to have seen your show before they can invite you. Lloyd: Right. Let's see if I've got this straight: I have to get a tour promoter to see my show before Sunday morning, because otherwise I can't get invited to the meeting then, and I'm not allowed to know who these people are, and you won't give me their numbers, and I can't go to the meeting, and you won't tell them about me at the meeting either. To get invited to a meeting I didn't know about I have to get someone I don't know to see a show he hasn't heard of, and you won't help me find him, nor him find me. F.O.: Like I said, we should have had this conversation two weeks ago. The Fringe is winding down now, and people are busy going to parties and won't be seeing many more shows. Lloyd: Thank you. It's been an education.
From this lesson in how laughably insignificant I was, I rushed around to find producers of comedy. I looked for the big obvious names that cropped up in the Fringe programme a lot: Karushi, Fat Bloke, Off the Kerb. I tracked down two of them by going to The Pleasance courtyard and nabbing people with these logos on their T-shirts and asking to speak to their bosses. These were polite, but clearly intent on going to parties in the evenings, and not seeing any more shows. "All my bookers have gone home," said one. Why had they gone home, with so many hundreds of shows unseen, I wondered, and why couldn't some other senior person in their company see a show on their behalf? I didn't know what or where any of these parties were, and I certainly wasn't getting invited to any.
The Gilded Balloon wouldn't give out numbers, and suggested that I e-mail London offices. I was in too much of a hurry for that. Eventually I got two mobile 'phone numbers and rang them. One was an answerphone, on which I left a plea to see my show. The other was a human who said that she was too busy going to parties to see anything now. The answerphone guy came back to me, though, and said convincingly that he would see my show before the end of the run.
The Scotsman booked a press ticket for the first Sunday for its reviewer. That night we were slick, the lights came on cue, and the audience was a good size and it loved us. They roared with laughter all the way through, and the bigger punch-lines towards the end got rounds of applause. Two curtain calls, and big cheers at the end. My cast was delighted. "If the Scotsman came tonight, they can only give us a great review," said one, as he came off the stage for the last time. A few people had told me that a good review in Three Weeks precedes a bad one in The Scotsman, but I attached little weight to this.
The Scotsman had a piece about us in it. We missed it because it was not in the reviews section. A day late, we read the piece, by Robert McNeil. It read:
Robert McNeil: My Festival
Mayhem on the streets, so it's refreshing to find a show celebrating old fashioned values
I HAVE been out. In the evening. Oh yes. Taking my courage and some comforting fruit in both hands, I left the safety of Wit's End, ma hoose, and headed up town.
Riot and hullabaloo: not a firm of criminal solicitors but the scene that greeted me on the High Street. On one corner, atavistic clansmen in ochre cloaks and ragged plaid honked on bagpipes and banged faux-ancient drums in a malodorous dancing frenzy.
I'd last seen them, or similar buffoons, performing dervish-style for 10,000 right-wing Englishmen on a Countryside Alliance march through Scotland's capital. So embarrassing.
On another corner, an arguably stupid man was holding forth about "the poverty of atheism". A wide-eyed heckler shouted: "What about all these priests - buggering people up the arse?"
"I'm not listening to such language," said the preacher.
"Up the arse," added the man, for confirmation.
"Not listening," said the preacher, turning away with a set mouth.
This was madness. With the aid of a stout blackthorn stick, I bludgeoned my way through the ovine masses to see a show. Since nearly everything on the Fringe is a one-bird production about wimmin driven to breakdown by household chores, I was delighted to find something called The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman.
Billed as being "for all the family, except women", this sounded just the thing for the rigid-lipped chap feebly groping for a way out of this infernal post-feminist crisis.
And so it proved. In a parallel universe, where the British Empire holds sway (on Mars), a curious lack of morale has developed, one of the symptoms being that men are "confiding in each other". The French, with whom we are at war, are blamed. Some of their master-spies have even mastered whimsy.
Our cravat-wearing hero, S Mandeville Esq, is dispatched to sort it out, asking first of the audience: "Is there anyone here who speaks British?"
Such a bracing production. It invites us into an idyllic world where food is properly boiled, people waving their arms extravagantly are shot, and an invigorating shag refers to strong tobacco.
Playing Edinburgh, it could have done with a token Scotsman, drunk or otherwise. Nevertheless, we are happy to award it an official Hootsmon quote for use on posters, fliers etc: "At no point in the entire show did my pipe go out." (Scotsman)
Terrific! The only snag was that it didn't have a number of stars for us to put on the placard. I resolved to telephone the writer the next day for permission to attach a number of stars to my placard. The next day, I got into the venue and the press officer there told me that we had a review in The Scotsman. 'Excellent,' I thought, but it was not. Two stars. Nobody at the venue could believe it. Here is that review:
The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman * *
THEATRE: Augustine's (venue 152)
THE Victorian age is ripe for plundering, whether you paint it as an age of doubt dominated by Darwin and Nietzsche or an age of Empire featuring some stiff sabres and even stiffer upper lips.
Mandeville Enterprises takes the latter view in this fun but flawed production that sees a downtrodden lawyer's life transformed when a cosmonaut from a parallel universe mistakes him for his sidekick and whips him off to Mars to foil a dastardly French plot.
The production borrows heavily from Michael Palin's Ripping Yarns and Fraser's Flashman novels. But despite some entertaining moments, this mix of irony and nostalgia ends up being, in the end, largely forgettable.James Smart
10.50pm, today. Runs until 26 August.
Clearly this reviewer considered himself quite superior to the audience members around him that were loudly loving the show. They didn't know how to spell Nietzsche, you see. I get the impression that this reviewer considered nostalgia to be a fault of right-wing political thinking, and that the Victorian British were evil for being so successful. Perhaps he had seen five dreadful productions earlier that day, and was in too foul a mood to try to enjoy our show. Perhaps he had a quota of bad reviews to fill. It is interesting to learn that we borrowed heavily from a television series that I have never seen, and that Macdonald Fraser's Flashman novels were such an influence, given that I can't think of a single thing we took from any of them. Thelma Good successfully spotted that Vivian Stanshall was an influence (though, I'd say, a very minor one), but otherwise our reviewers have done fairly badly in the spot-the-influence competition. This is especially odd, given that the biggest single influence - The Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy - is openly acknowledged in the show.
Time having passed, I have now revised my opinion of this review. My current belief is that the reviewer never actually saw the show. The first paragraph has nothing to do with the show at all. Never does the review mention any detail that couldn't be found in the press release or on the web-site. The only comments, like "fun but flawed" are vague and not backed up with specific criticisms. I see no evidence in this review that the reviewer was there in the flesh. This would explain how he managed to ignore a cheering audience. I'm sure that this must be fraud, and that I have grounds to sue.
It was nonetheless tempting to quote from this review on the placard. I could quite legitimately have written:
"Ripe for plundering"
"Featuring some stiff sabres and even stiffer upper lips"
"Mandeville Enterprises… fun"
"A parallel universe" "Irony and nostalgia" "A dastardly French plot."
"Ripping Yarns and… Flashman"
"Entertaining" (The Scotsman)
But I didn't.
The press continued its conspiracy against the timing of our show, you might notice. The Scotsman said we started two hours after we in fact did. I noticed that in The Metro, we were not mentioned in the listings, having apparently been cancelled. I 'phoned them up. They insisted that this was what the Fringe Office told them. I went to the Fringe Office, and, as ever, got sent to five people in two different buildings before being sent to the right one. She checked her data base; the one that they sent to The Metro and people like them. It had many columns, fields, each production having one line on the screen. The information was too much to be displayed on the screen all at once, so in the field for the name of our show it just said, "The Adventures of-". It turned out that the other show starting with the same words, The Adventures of a Photographer, had been cancelled, and that this was the source of the confusion. The last printings of the listings had all gone to press, and it was too late to do anything about it. How unlucky was that?
Reviews are largely a lottery. One show came to the same venue as us and got in the Scotsman immediately. One show I was considering going to see got a five star review in one paper and a one star review in another. One show I did see and which was staggeringly abysmal - possibly the worst thing I have ever seen on a stage - got two one-star slatings, and then a moderate three-star review. The moderate review could have been written by a journalist who had read the press release but not by one who had seen the show.
Since the show was put on, three people have sent in reviews to EdFringe.com. Anyone can do this, and so it was tempting to send in glowing reviews myself, but I don't like to cheat. Here are the three reviews kindly sent in by genuine strangers.
***** Best Thing I saw at the Fringe 02 Sep 2002reviewer: Angela Mott country: UK
Wow, this was a fast paced and energetic performance and if there was any such thing as a festival God I'd be pretty cross with it; The Original wit contained within is obviously not 'fasionable' enough with the media reviewers because this show deserves a much bigger audience than it got.
I was only down at the fringe a couple of days so didn't think tickets out ahead. This fortuitous gem made the whole thing worthwile. Well-done, I hope they'll be second helpings with lashings of custard!
**** Huzzah! 02 Sep 2002reviewer: Michael Hall country: UK
Loved it. A fantastically imaginitive script, and really funny performances. Only the second time I saw it (with the surprise appearance of some French infiltrators in the audience) did I start to notice any flaws - even though the performances were much more assured. The plot is not very focused, and we never get much of an idea of the full machinations of the promised French super spy. But with exchanges like: "Nothing can go faster than the speed of light." "Yes, I remember some chap from Berlin going on about that. But he didn't take into account good British engineering." I can forgive any loss of narrative focus. I hope this is not the last the Fringe will see of Stoke and Graham. Brace yourself!
I'm glad this chap liked the play, but feel that in our defence I should state that in fact the play tells the audience very precisely what the French super-agent was up to. I can't comment on narrative focus, because I don't know what it is.
***** "Brace yerselves!" 27 Aug 2002reviewer: James Tarbit country: England
This was BRILLIANT. I didn't really know what to expect (I had been prompted to see the show by both my friends, and the sight of a man in full khaki attire wandering down the Mile wearing a BIG beard, and smoking a pipe), but whatever my expectations were, they were exceeded!
The show is essentially a big homage to good old English values, and ya boo sucks to the Frenchies. It was sterling, stirring stuff with laughs aplenty, and even random people with accordions being show by members of the audience! (Something which, I learned afterwards, the cast had expected about as much as me! Ah, directorial jokes...) I think the highlight had to be when Stoke managed to convince us that the yard was the centre of the universe - pop up formula and all, or when he won a slanging match against one of the ubiquitous (if the plot is to be believed) Gallic spies by yelling "Yeah?..Well at least I'm not French!" This show deserves to be performed again and again. There really is something for everyone.
I suppose I should explain that on one night I arranged a little surprise for the rest of my cast. I had seen a show earlier that day that included an accordion player. He had seen our show and liked it, and we hatched a plot. He would start playing his accordion at a moment specified by me, and then colleagues of his would chase him out of the theatre. In the event, they did this with great gusto and hugely enjoyed themselves, wearing bad false moustaches, and shouting "French scum!" Scott, who was arriving on stage to do his narration while this was going on, rose to the occasion magnificently, made understated reference to this "little interlude", and carried on. "Lloyd!" he said, on coming off the stage, "You're a bastard!". We did try to arrange to hand Richard a lit tobacco-filled pipe in the scene where he has to smoke furiously, but this never came off.
One night, I went to see Luma, a glow-in-the-dark juggling show. The twist is that all the jugglers are clad in black and perform without lighting against a black background, with glowing juggling equipment. At the start, the producer asks the audience to show hands if they learned about the show from one source or another. Almost everyone had learned about the show from a flier or word of mouth. No one claimed to have come because of a poster, and only one because of a critic's write up. This accords with my feelings about publicising Fringe shows. Posters are near useless, and are expensive. If you do a Fringe show, do few posters and many fliers. I had 10,000 fliers printed, and handed almost all of them out. The guy to my right said that Luma was the best thing he had ever seen. I wouldn't go nearly so far, but I liked it. The Scotsman gave it one star and put it on the 'page of shame'. That paper likes to savage shows, and this is not good.
Fliers and Fliering
We battle on. On the streets, my fliering technique is improving. For the last few days I flier for about six hours a day. 'To flier' may not be a proper verb, but all of us are using it a lot that way anyway. It becomes a mode of movement, as in, "I plan to flier my way over the Assembly Rooms." A high proportion of people will not take fliers. Though this can at first be dispiriting, I quickly get used to it, and take comfort from the thought that the sort of person who refuses to take a flier in the first place, is unlikely to be the sort of person who'd respond to the information on the flier anyway. Some people take a flier from me just to get me to go away, and then immediately scrunch it up as soon as I turn my back. Americans are very flier-resistant, and middle-aged American couples are almost flier-proof. They charge past me with a determined set of the jaw. Perhaps they fear anthrax contamination. One common but always perplexing response to an attempted flier hand-over is, "I live here." These people clearly believe, quite wrongly, that no one who actually lives in Edinburgh is interested in theatre. By the end, I am clad in pith helmet and have a pipe between my teeth, and a three-review placard in my hand, and give almost everyone I hand a flier to a short speech selling the show. I get a lot of laughs, and I feel that this is enormously more effective than just putting bits of paper into peoples' hands. I get a lot of praise for my flier design. This is interesting, given that it is probably the cheapest flier at The Fringe. All the others are on card and in colour, and most are double-sided. Mine is single sided, monochrome, designed by me on my home PC, and on fluttery paper, but people enjoy reading it, especially the last line: "The management wishes to assure patrons that under no circumstances shall persons of a French nature be admitted to the auditorium." Perhaps in response to this, we did get some French coming to see the show. Two, I'm told, walked out - the show not being quite to their tastes.
Fliering the queue outside the Fringe ticket office is meant to be a good tactic. There at least, the people are all theatre-goers. Alas, the Fringe ticket office has improved immensely in efficiency and this queue is never very long. One thing I do that goes down well in queues is hand out a flier with a different bit of patter for every person: "Something to read while you're waiting, sir? A handy bookmark for your festival programme madam? Another flier for another show, only the show's better. Are there enough small pieces of paper in your life sir? Room for one more? I know - choosing a show can be difficult - perhaps this flier will help you come to a decision. Read all about it: Stoke Mandeville sighted in Edinburgh. Pipe smoking and pugilism, madam - you'll love it. An exciting tale for all the family except ladies sir - just the thing. May I interest you in seeing a show tonight, sir? I see you're looking for a comedy show - look no further. Handy flier - could save your life under admittedly rather unusual circumstances... "
Fliering in the Royal Mile can at times turn into an exercise of swapping fliers with other people who are fliering. Several minutes can go by as I walk up and down before I spot an actual member of Her Majesty's general public. No one else has a placard like mine, which strikes me as odd since it seems so obvious an idea. Many are in costume. Many are in teams. Many get up on the small temporary stages and perform, and most in my opinion make themselves look bad. Only the best most powerful singers sound good with no amplification in the middle of a crowded street, and only the most confident dancers look slick and vigorous. I avoid the stages.
Celebrity fliering: While on the Royal Mile fliering, I heard someone remark, "That's Ian McKellen!" I overtook the person so recognised, and offered him a flier. He grunted and grasped the flier in a manner suggesting that he was unlikely to read it. It was him, in theatrical jacket and broad brimmed hat, and alarmingly orange face. I saw John Hegley come out of a shop a fair way from the centre, and asked him by name whether he'd like a flier. He took one and looked mildly interested for a moment. I was fliering the queue to the Fringe ticket office when Eddie Izzard came by. I offered him a flier and he waved it away, making drunken noises. I tried to flier a couple who were quite flier-resistant. They claimed that they were leaving soon thereafter and wouldn't be able to see my show. I was in combative mood and didn't take this rebuttal as the end of matters. Eventually she took a flier from me. She was wearing large fairly dark glasses. She might have been Jane Asher. The hair and voice and what I could see of the face all matched.
Towards the end of the afternoon, coaches turn up from around the nation, and start to line George IV Bridge in a continuous wall of single-decker transport facility. This is The Tattoo audience's arrival. When I first saw these masses of people, I thought that I was witnessing a great fliering opportunity. Not so. Tattoo audiences turn up, see The Tattoo, then leave, and care little for Fringe artists and their Fringe ways.
I telephone the producer who said he'd come to see us. I don't want to hassle him, but want to know if he has, and to remind him in case he hasn't. He hasn't. There are only two nights to go. The next night is a stormer - loads of huge laughs and rounds of applause for the big gags, and big cheers at the end. The final night, Bank Holiday Monday, is a damp squib. We have a tiny audience, and the techie completely arses up the start of the show for us. Half-way through the all-action start to the show, he turns the lights out early and knocks out the sound effects. In the darkness and silence of the stage, I say the last lines of the scene, expecting to be rescued by the music that is meant to thunder in at this point, while I can make a clean exit, and the stage can be reset for the second scene. Silence. We look like idiots, and the pace of the show is completely lost. It is uphill work to regain the audience's trust from this point. The first techie we had did just five nights, and the remaining eight were done by another. This second techie turns up every day at the last minute, and leaves straight afterwards. Never does he get the music right. There are only two music cues in the whole show, but they are very important. If they come in late or too quiet then the oomph of the show is lost. If they are left up too loud, then the narrators have to bellow above them to be heard. Blackouts also prove to be a problem. Several of them require comic timing. When the blackouts come sharply in the right place, we get laughs. When they are fades or come a second late, we get nothing. We need a techie with comic timing.
Near the end of the last night, a couple of our absolutely guaranteed-big-laugh-moments come and go without a titter. What the hell is wrong with this audience? Twelve nights on the trot of big laughs and now this. "Always good to end with a good one," says Scott. This anti-climax does much to dampen our spirits. In every run of every show I've ever done, I've always remembered the bad nights more than the good ones. Overall, we had had warm audiences. We had one complete standing ovation, a few partial ones, one triple curtain-call night, and several double ones. Pretty much every night the big gags got rounds of applause. Four nights in a row we had spontaneous hip-hip-huzzas breaking out in the crowd. Audiences like this show.
The exact quality of the laughter is important. The audiences that laughed the most often did not always laugh the loudest. Some audiences would be too shy to laugh at every little funny bit, and so would grin until there came along a gag that was sure to get a big laugh, and then the audience would feel confident to laugh all at once. Sometimes, one could feel the balloon of mirth filling up near to bursting point, and then hear it burst loudly when the big gag came along. One night, my friend Patrick came along. I was pleased at this, because Patrick is an excellent laugher. Sure enough, he laughed all the way through, but he alone was not enough to carry the whole audience with him. I concluded that for an audience that size, about three good consistent laughers were needed to make everyone feel confident that they would not be laughing alone. One laugher could be a weirdo one would not wish to emulate, but three laughers sitting far apart can't be wrong. I think that the most satisfying laugher was the man who when things got very funny would hoot, then lapse into silence, then be heard some while later hooting again in a manner making it clear that he had been in a fit of silent laughter in between.
I worried about the producer who was to come. Did he see the stormer on Sunday, or the squib on Monday? Did he come at all? I heard nothing from him, despite several tries to get him on the 'phone. Eventually after two weeks, I get to speak to him. He didn't see it. Perhaps I could send him a video. The tour promoter who was due to come on the Sunday did indeed come, but again, I heard nothing for a fortnight. When eventually I tracked him down, he said that the script needed "rounding out", that we had to think about the production values of what was actually on stage, and that his theatre was closing for two years anyway. I can't help but feel that the first two statements were just to excuse his taking things no further. Production values are easy to improve if one has money. I've been given the impression that people are looking for one or two man shows to tour, but that five is considered a large cast.
I decided to make an audio recording of the last night. Bad decision. Apparently the last Monday is often poorly attended by tired audiences. Great. I have recordings of the show's lowest two moments.
So would I do things any differently? Would I do it again? Well, I think that my cast had a good time, but I was in charge, and being in charge is not generally a great deal of fun, especially when one has no actual authority, just responsibility and financial worry. What I really want is a producer and backers. With those, I'd be happy to go again. The Fringe is almost entirely in the hands of professionals, and I want some of those behind me. I am too skint to take this show back to Edinburgh. The total cost was about four and a half grand, perhaps five, and I got half that back from ticket sales. One big decision was how long a run to do. I decided that a one-week run would be too short for word to get around, and for an unknown show by an unknown company, I maintain that this is true. Two weeks is only just long enough, however, and I might have done better with three, but I thought that three weeks would be too expensive. I wish it were true that I got kicks out of hearing an audience laugh and cheer, but actually I don't. I get kicks out of knowing that I've done a good job, and the cheering is just a clue about that. I did half a good job. I entertained the people who came to see my show, but I didn't make money and I didn't get noticed by the professionals. I have never had any interest in money, and never enjoyed producing, so the day that someone can take that part of the job off my hands will be a happy one for me.
THE CAMBRIDGE PERFORMANCES
Mandeville Enterprises was delighted to learn that the good stout folk of Cambridge had taken up the cause, and were labouring in rehearsal, to perfect their own staging of this magnificent play. Performances took place at The Fitzpatrick Theatre, Queens' College, Cambridge, on Wednesday February 26th to Saturday March 1st 2003, at 11 p.m.
The all-new cast was as follows:
Mr MATTHEW STEVENS ... Stoke Mandeville
Mr ROBIN HOLDEN ... Graham Pennyworth
Mr OWEN MONIE ... Braithwaite etcetera
Miss HANNAH MEYER ... Rachel etcetera
Mr RICHARD ROBERTS ... The King etcetera
Mr Edward Segal (email@example.com) was the director. See also the BATS website.
Should patrons find the Fitzpatrick Theatre convenient and congenial, then they may like to know that there are other plays to be staged there in the near future, by other playwrights whom Mandeville Enterprises wishes to encourage. These are The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Lysistrata by Aristophanes, and The Three Sisters by Anton Chekov.
Here follow some snapshots taken by Mr Nikolas Lloyd on his new-fangled digital camera, on the occassion of the last night of the run. To avoid using flash-lighting, he opted to employ a very slow shutter speed, which explains both the blurred nature of some of the shots, and the smallness of these pictures, which is an attempt to hide that blurredness.
"We are proud to present The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman, a tale of science and heroism for all the family, except ladies. Brace yourselves!"
"Ow! You hit me!"
"Ah - sorry about that old chap, but you were starting to babble. Had to lay you out for your own good. You do understand."
"What problems have you noticed?"
"Rugby scores are down. There seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for manly injury. There was even a rumour that someone had confided in someone about something."
"A standard third edition Ministry of Manners manual, I think you'll find."
"Could they have been tampered with, do you think?"
"I mean I am the equivalent of Carstairs, but from my dimension. In your world, my mother called me Carstairs, and I met you, and I did lots of great things."
"Careful: don't get above yourself."
"Sorry. But in my dimension I was called Graham, and I became a lawyer, and my life's a mess."
"Bit much to blame on a choice of name, don't you think? More tea?"
"Lucifer's lorgnette's! That's no yard!"
"Have you no eyes in you head, man? It's a ..."
"Sorry to drop by unannounced like this. I'm afraid we need to inspect your workings."
"Oh, so you're not the tea tanker, then?"
"'Oo is 'ee, then?"
"I dunno. I didn't fink to ask."
"Didn't fink to ask? That's no very polite is it? 'As 'ee got any biscuits?"
"Tell you what, I'll just pop this on the revolvulator."
"What do you fink of that, Arthur? Stoke Mandeville, come to visit us!"
"'As 'ee got any biscuits?"
"I picked up this little device while travelling in the foothills of Kajagoogoo-Ah-Ha."
"This beer is contaminated with LAGER!"
"Cor. What a gentleman!"
"And us wiv no biscuits to offer 'im."
"Stoke now executes a perfect landing in his astral carriage, thanks to years of heroic experience, and stout pluck."
"But what you never told me was how you managed to smuggle those seventeen Gurkhas packed in a tea chest out of that Swiss finishing school- Ah, here's my Queen."
"It seemed a poor stroke to me."
"No, I was referring to his attempt at the double one-handed hat doff with self-effacing smile. Got the facial to a tee, but the little finger on the second doff didn't quite have the follow-through."
"You'll never get away with this, Pooter. I'll track you down, even if I have to go to the depths of darkest Provence!"
"You are a puffed-up pompous poltrooooooon!"
"Perhaps, but at least I'm not French."
"Still had his gun, then?"
"Seemed unsporting not to let him keep it."
"The day is won, and The Empire safe. Once again, our heroes have proven themselves more than equal to the machinations of the snail-chewing scoundrels from the land of garlic."
"The Channel Tunnel is still there? Hold this, I'll explain on the way!"
The second curtain call. Those of a nervous disposition shielded their ears from the thunderous applause.
Backstage, after the last night. A ll but the goateed director seem pretty pleased with the way things have gone.
Laura Davies, wrote the following revue of the Cambridge Production in the The Cambridge Student, on 27th February 2003.
In a world where the Conservatives have actually managed to organise themselves an election victory, Lenin was but a goateed enthusiast and not only Italy and Spain, but also our moderate friends over the Atlantic have voluntarily joined the British Empire, two gentlemen set about defending the realm against "the perils of the French menace". Stoke Mandeville (Matt Stevens) and Carstairs Macdonald (Robin Holden) are the men for the job.
Trouble is, in this parallel universe, old Blighty has gone and colonised the solar system by means of an ingenious system of steam powered space travel, the mole francais has infiltrated the Ministry of Manners and Carstairs isn't Carstairs at all, but rather one Graham Pennyworth, lawyer and one time diner in what seemed a perfectly safe French restaurant in Liverpool. On this important mission they plan to achieve victory by means only of "pipe smoking, pugilism and properly boiled food".
Owen Monie, Hannah Meyer and Richard Roberts work hard, each playing at least two roles. Meyer in particular must be congratulated for her chameleon-like transformations from tough-talking lawyer to obeisant servant all the way to cockney workman and then marble-mouthed narrator.
Thanks to their skill and the jocular camaraderie between Stevens and Holden, the pace doesn't falter and our attention doesn't wander. Fraser Charlton and Nikolas Lloyd based their script on the 1880 discovery of the Isambard Kingdom Brunel notebooks and his ideas for a space-craft, and it is excellent. Well-crafted comically and subtle in its detail, the banter is sustained and also boasts some truly inspired moments; most notably perhaps, the cricket game commentary concerned only with the level of hat doffing skill on display and the revelation that the sixth moon of Jupiter is in fact named New Basingstoke.
There are times when one feels the sound effects would be more appropriate to an aerobics class, and the stage feels a little under-used because of the sparse set and the frequent scene changes. But the fabulous spacecraft control panel, complete with blinking lights and moving dials, more than makes up for these details. Quite frankly, given the subject-matter, the more that is left to the imagination the better. Supported by wonderfully melodramatic lighting and some witty props, the cast is able to evoke an extraterrestrial gentlemen's club with the same ease as a Liverpool office or an alternative cricket pitch. Even the notion of a tea tanker seems momentarily probable. This comedy handful is ideal as a late show, and despite the prohibition of "ladies" and "persons of a French nature" on their publicity, it is eminently suitable for all the family. Have a few drinks first though, and don't expect high art.
The march of progress is unstoppable, and each production of the play acts as kindling and sparks to spread the light of truth. A new torch of hope and virtue has been lit in Surrey, as a new production of the play was staged. The University of Surrey Music & Drama Society, under the leadership of the producer Mr Steven Steer, performed the piece to sell-out audiences.
Here you may regard the doughty and resolute faces of the new cast members, each eager to play a part in the widening of human understanding and excellence.
The performers were: Matt Goodwin, Michael Shah, Emily Quinton-Zorn, Waylon Ma, Nick Williams, Maria Ioannidou, and Shweta Tanna. The director was Amanda Page.
Such was the success of the work, that it was voted the best student event of the year.
This page was kindly sponsored by the generosity of the makers of
Mandeville Enterprises is delighted to include mention of another stage production of Stoke's adventures. The performances took place in Adelaide Australia as part of the Fringe Festival there, on March 4th, 5th and 6th, 2009, at the Union Cinema, L4 Union House, Adelaide University. Our antipodean cousins rose to the occasion and shone the light of decency in that region, bringing hope and good moustache styling tips to all.
Here you may regard how the importance of tradition has been assimilated, and witness the skill and dedication to detail that has gone in to this recreation of the correct Mandevelian stance.
The director, Mr Christian Reynolds, while travelling in Singapore, came across a manuscript describing Stoke Mandeville and his achievements. Such was the profound effect that this manuscript had on Mr Reynolds, that he immediately sought out and purchased a pith helmet.
The cast included Matthew Taylor, James Moffatt, Katherine Edmond and Christian Reynolds, as well as other prominent theatrical board-treaders of South Australia.
The production was reviewed as follows:
From Rip It Up Magazine:
Cricket, space machines, spies, empires and anything else you can throw in will ensure you have a deep belly laugh. Brace yourself as you're taken to a whole new dimension. This is a parallel universe where the British Empire conquers the galaxy (sound familiar?). Stoke and his fellow Castersen [Carstairs, I think the reviewer means - Ed.], by default, are steaming their way through time and space, meeting, greeting, and conquering all who get in their way. Graham really has no idea. A lowly lawyer, shy and reserved, he is suddenly taken by Stoke Mandeville to this parallel universe where he is Castersen and is the envy of all; a legend. Graham is so adaptable to his new alter ego! French spies infiltrate the mechanism of the Empire. Stoke will catch these dastardly spies by showing them up; weed them out and those who can't play cricket must be the French spies. Who do you think showed up whom? Funny and witty. Edel Perth & Kathryn Barclay
From dB Magazine ("S.A.'s Street Press Since 1990"):
If I could sum up 'The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville' in one word it would be: ambitious. The writers of this whimsical little play present their audience with an entirely different parallel universe packed with outlandish science fiction concepts in a mere hour and a half. It's a challenge the cast mostly live up to, and it does make for a refreshingly unusual experience.
Despite the title, the hero of the piece is lawyer Graham Pennyworth, a meek doormat of a man who is accidentally dragged into the steam-driven, space-faring Victorian Empire of Stoke Mandeville, a pompous, bellowing adventurer who mistakes Graham for his trusty partner Carsters. Together, they must uncover a dastardly French plot to imitate British manners and infiltrate the Empire.
The early part of the play, which involves a great deal of exposition, struggles to raise much laughter, and the cast, for all their enthusiasm, seem to be trying too hard. But once the story picks up steam (pardon the pun), the wit starts to shine through, the performances hit their stride, and there is a great deal of fun to be had. Graham's transformation into a man of action is amusing as well as narratively satisfying. And the whole thing looks great as well, with no effort spared in terms of costumes and props.
Although it feels at times like it would do better as a comic novel in the vein of Douglas Adams (who gets a name-check in one scene) than a play, and Stoke's bluster is a tad overdone, the true joy of this production is its sheer originality and sense of fun. 'The Adventures Of Stoke Mandeville' is exactly the sort of thing the Fringe should be all about.
From The New Adelaide Theatre Guide:
Review by Michael Feast
This is the story of a man time-travelling [an interesting mistake by the reviewer here - no time travel is involved in this play - Ed.] to stop the French from taking over the Empire, all the while keeping a stiff upper lip. Look out Doctor Who! It's the Adventures of Stoke Mandeville – Astronaut and Gentleman.
Graham Pennyworth (James Moffatt) finds himself in a parallel dimension. He is joined by the eccentric, pipe-smoking Stoke Mandeville (played with gusto by Matthew Taylor). Pennyworth is seen by Stoke as Carstairs MacDonald, a right hand man equal to the task of saving Victorian England [no, not Victorian England, but the contemporary British Empire of a parallel dimension - Ed.] when the Empire is thrown into a state of panic by French spies. From royalty to convicts, Stoke is able to take it all in his stride to demonstrate the perfect example of manhood as only a good Englishman can.
Director Christian Reynolds has done well with the casting, but a snappier pace would be welcome.
Mateo Szlapek-Sewillo and Simon Walsh were delightful as Bruce and Bruce, employing authentic "convict" accents. Christian Reynolds, Sam Tully, Stacey Goodwin, Christopher Kemp and Katherine Edmond ably performed various supporting roles.
The strong script is by Nikolas Lloyd and Fraser Charlton.
This play is a must for any science fiction fan, particularly 'Doctor Who' lovers. With the current talk of David Tennant's replacement, this reviewer would suggest Stoke Mandeville – Astronaut and Gentleman. A good debut performance from Adelaide University Fringe Club.
From Festival Freak:
The title The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman should impart a pretty good idea as to the intent of this production; you should be thinking tally-ho, stiff-upper-lip, I say! Graham Pennyworth, a somewhat wussy chap in modern-day England, suddenly finds himself in a Victorian-era-esque parallel universe, where he is the spitting image of Stoke Mandeville's offsider, Carstairs. They engage in wacky adventures, seeking out their villainous French nemesis (using a carefully devised game of cricket, no less), before returning the invigorated Pennyworth to his rightful dimension.
Errrm… yes. That just about covers it.
In terms of performance, Matthew Taylor is simply superb as Stoke - his ample frame and booming voice dominates proceedings, with a fair dollop of dry humour thrown in for good measure. A s the other leading man, James Moffatt's Pennyworth is initially unconvincing, but gets better as he adopts more of Carstairs personality later in the piece. The Narrators are also ace, propelling the story along with aplomb - albeit skipping humourously over the exciting bits - but I can't help but think that there hasn't been enough rehearsal time allowed: the dialogue is a litany of lost lines and plump pauses. There's also the amateurish handling of scene changes, with ramshackle shuffling of props on- and off-stage - but even that finds a way to seem endearing.
It's not quite the two hours suggested in the Guide - a tight 80 minutes, starting late - but the Uni Fringe Club's maiden voyage should be considered a reasonable success. Entertaining? Yes. Quality theatre? Not really - it's decidedly amateur. Worthwhile? Hmmmmm… with so much else on, the jury's still out… but you'll note that I didn't chuck it on the Must-See List. Bit of a hint there, I reckon.
From the Fringe Forum Website:
I had a wonderful time at Stoke Mandeville tonight, the humour is very British and whilst it is an amateur performance it is was an enjoyable night.
What a very funny show, a very British (but still funny) show. The plot is that a lawyer is kidnapped to an alternative dimension alongside heroic agent Stoke Mandeville. After a stiff talking-to they get on with the job of 'saving the Empire'. This is Douglas Adams crossed with "Ripping Yarns". Lots of laughts at the French. Go if your don't mind a laugh at the British or French and understand it is a Uni production. A true Fringe show.
Gadzooks and Huzza! A fine show indeed. A bit slow paced occasionally, but the characters had you believing and chuckling in the right places. On a bit early in the evening (6.30), but great to set you up for the rest of the night. Worth a look and to laugh at some outrageous overacting (intentional) and great one-liners. Be quick, only on for two more nights (Thurs 5 Fri 6). God save the King!
The show had me laughing from the beginning to end. This is a show for those who enjoy a good hard laugh. Comedy at its best!
From Five Kinds of Awesome:
The past couple of nights I've been enjoying some things on offer at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. On Thursday night I went to see the Adelaide University Fringe Club production of the Adventures of Stoke Mandeville.
This was a very entertaining and funny play about a hopeless guy who is taken on a trip to an alternate dimension with Victorian gentleman and steam-powered space travel. The main actors were great and managed to get plenty of laughs. The person playing the role of Stoke is also the president of the Adelaide Uni Clubs Association and the Roleplaying Club. I was impressed with the way he was able to do a loud British gentleman's voice for the whole play. The play was a lot of fun and made me think I should see plays more often.
From Nellie Elephant (a blog):
The Adventures of Stoke Mandeville, Astronaut and Gentleman. It's set in a parallel steam-punk world, full of Victorian values and British stiff-upper-lip-edness. (And dastardly Frenchman!) It was brilliant and very fun.
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