When you are touring it is easy for venues and cities to roll into each other. As does time, days and weeks and sometimes dare I say shows. However, there are also venues, shows and cities that do the opposite. Places and performances can take your breath away, make you ask important artistic questions and help prompt conversation and debate. In short, times that keep the show alive. The Lowry, Manchester was one of those glowing and enlightening experiences.
I arrived on the Saturday evening after train journeys had stopped and transferred, been cancelled and missed. Tired I step into a swarm of football fans happily sailing on a air of victory. They help me and my case on and off the metro, which is no mean feet for them or me at 35 weeks pregnant. My achy limbs feel invigorated by a place which feels warm and bright and light and alive even amongst the winters darkness. The long travel day ends and I sleep.
When I wake, I felt slightly nervous, not having seen show since earlier in the month I know the piece will have grown and been shaped by the experiences of the past couple of weeks. As a director, it is something which can delight and surprise - it can open doors and frustrate and you never know what it each performance will bring. It has been handed over to the performers to adapt and react, keeping those young people at its heart. Meeting the company at the space, they are completely in control. I feel like I'm a secret agent, watching, spying, whilst they chat happily to the warm and smiling Front of House Team and share anecdotes with the studio technician.
We gently discuss the skills of adapting to space. This acute rake and requires a more open performance. The numbers attending the first show are large and we talk about framing the story and helping the structure sing. Calmly, quietly everything waits. We do the final 5 minute checks and get ready.
Nipping to the toilet I am stopped in my tracks by a group of 4/5 young girls aged about 11. I move down the stairs and see a scattering of 8-10 year olds and my heart begins to sink. I check a flyer, yes, we say 2-6 year olds. The venue are not at fault at all neither are we. But this is not a piece for an older audience. How do we deal with this?
I return very swiftly to the auditorium and tell the performers. We obviously can not expect these young people, some young adults, to respond in the same way that early years audience do, having made the show in a gentle non verbal way. I ask the cast to do something very different, they need to verbalise more and to physicalise the games. My role seems altered in a moment - I am no longer sitting back I am facilitating a translation of the show in terms off style and delivery.
The house opens. The group of girls I first saw, come in accompanied by their Mum and sit behind me. More and more over sixes enter the space. My temperature rises. I hear the talk sweets and crisp, how they expected a larger space and whether the lady who said hello to them entering the audience was part of the show, and why does the actress already on stage have odd socks on. Words, words, words, words, words.
The show starts. I seem to be not only watching the show but absorbing the reactions of the girls behind me. At times I feel overcome with fear as some of the stillness is replaced by language, then enlightenment as I hear a chuckle from behind or across the room or a wow, next a pump of adrenaline as I see the show become larger and louder and then it changes the piece settles and begins to lift once more I begin to breathe again. Bubbles come out, balloons are next, sparklers and then the fairy lights... Each cause a reaction for confusion or joy. A playful delighted response one might expect from our target audience is present from the group behind me.
There is no doubt that the show is without the space and gentleness we have looked to introduce but we have survived a piece which has had me on the edge of my seat. Surprisingly,there are still plenty of glowing young people wishing to meet the performers after the show. Our usual queue of young people develops, glowing, eager to give their thoughts and let us know what they (unprompted by their adults) take from the performance. They giggle and look in boxes, touch props and ask questions. This is not something which is rushed. We allow them this heighten time away from adults they tell us what they think without being asked to construct a narrative. They are light and joyful.
When the auditorium empties we all come together and reflect. It was a challenging experience rather than trying to spread the gentleness up the rake we adapted to a very different audience who has different needs. Soon, the front of house manager returns beaming and telling us what lovely audience feedback we have. I blink. We all look confused. We talk some more and sharpen the verbal clues for the second show.
On the train home, I reflect on how subtle the work is. The challenges of different audiences. How gentleness feels so natural to us and we have no problems with the space we give the audience to make their own connections. But as we move into the adult world, do we like to be told more. Whilst early years are happy to discover and breathe in the moment, somehow as we age we require a different level of performance.
I am reminded of our time as Leverhulme scholars. Is there a theatre of commonality? Or just a different mindset? But what a golden opportunity- next week we have time to talk about story, situation, character and play what a gift to us this show gave us.