Performance at Kensal Rise Library

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And so the day arrived.  Not that it began well.  I have been aware for some time that the biggest stress for me involved with the performance was not the performance itself, but the logistics involved with getting everyone in the right place.  So when the satnav, indicating traffic problems on the M40, sent us on a tortuous journey through Buckinghamshire, and most especially and frustratingly the endless traffic lights of Wycombe, it did not make for the calmest of starts.  Still, somewhat to our surprise, we arrived at West Ruislip station in time for the train, and so arrived at the designated meeting point, Wembley Central, just a minute or two late.  Of course, it was still some time before the rest of the group assembled, but now at last I felt able to relax.  Tickets were bought, and we travelled the four stops to Kensal Green, then the short walk to the library.

A dress rehearsal had been scheduled, and after I had been through the technical requirements with Oscar, Matilda’s son, who was operating the sound for us, we started.  I had been very relaxed about the performance itself, but actually my own complacency was obviously contagious, for the performance that came was very shoddy indeed, with people finding themselves on the wrong side of stage, missing cues, and making a right mess of both Tick-Tock and the Two Queues.  But it was probably necessary to jerk us into some focus and concentration.  As the old saying goes (actually a quote from “Musical”, Thame Youth Theatre’s first ever show): “Dress rehearsals is supposed to go wrong.  That’s what makes for a great performance!”  So I gave them a bit of a rocket, agreed with Carla that Hamed would re-take his place in “Tick Tock”, and prepared ourselves for the show.

With ten minutes to go, I was a little concerned about the size of the audience; there weren’t all that many chairs, and quite a few of them were empty.  But people continued to arrive, even after we had begun with the introductory comments, and in fact by the time the actual play began, every seat was taken.  We even had celebrity guests, in the person of the Mayor and the leader of the council.  The Mayor had warned us she would have to leave before the actual performance, but in fact she stayed – I did tell everyone in my introduction that it was a short play.

And the performance itself was very good.  It was true that The Two Queues, the one sketch new to the performance, and hence the one we were least confident of, was once again a dreadful mess, but actually it scarcely mattered.  As I told the cast before we started, no-one knows what i8s supposed to be happening, so provided you keep going with confidence, it will be fine.  And it was.

There was a discussion with the audience after the show, which began a little awkwardly, but warmed up when three of our actors took the opportunity to express their own thoughts and feelings, as well as strong contributions from other guests, including Mr Butt, the leader of the Council.  He appeared to have been quite moved by the performance (though Hamed was convinced that this was political posturing) and in general the performance was extremely well-received.

Which only left what was almost my favourite part of the day, the journey back to Wembley.  Everyone was in a good mood, joking, laughing, clowning… and, of course, relaxed.  It is a pleasure and a privilege to be involved with them all.

One week (well, five days) to go

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Our final rehearsal before the day itself, but this will be a short entry.  Partly because, in my regular lack of taking a photo, I had no way of illustrating it.  So it is being written late (post-performance indeed), so apologies.  It was good that we had a good turn-out, with the return of Carla – she is a strong addition to the group.  We had hoped that she would be able to slot into Tick-Tock, to make it an all-female group once again, but she did find it a struggle.  It really is a complicated little scene, and has to be understood internally, as there is no script as such.

The day proved to be something of a trial, as we first ran through the technicalities of how to enter and exit, before having a full run-through.  And that went reasonably smoothly.  I have not been worried about getting the show ready, as it is very much a case of remembering what went on before, but I suppose I am a little disappointed that it has been hard to replicate what I have one before with revived shows, which is to add an extra veneer of quality.

Not that this is particularly relevant to the rehearsal process, but I had another nightmare journey returning to Oxford, when, at West Ruislip, where I need to catch a connecting train, the incoming train was so busy that it was completely impossible to squeeze inside.  Which meant that it departed, leaving me and a few other souls on the platform.  I was just about preparing myself for the hour wait before the  next train, when one of my fellow disappointees asked whether I was going to Wycombe, and would I like a ride in his uber.  I was, and I did – and my benefactor would not even accept any money – so at least the day ended on a slightly more positive note.

Two weeks to go

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Attendance was good this week, and even punctuality – long a bugbear – was also much improved.  But it was disappointing that Carla, who had been so promising last week, was not able to attend, with another appointment getting in the way.  There is very little time, but I still hope she will come next week, so that she can be involved in the performance.

Ali turned up a little late, but seemed distracted, and in the end just left.  On occasion he can be very temperamental – I think it I frustration at his lack of English as much as anything – and ultimately it was difficult to know whether or not he would still be a part of the performance.  It is one of the frustrations of working with this group, of course, but also just adds to its unique quality.  At times I feel I am not so much running a Drama class as operating a drop-in centre (equally valuable, of course, perhaps even more so.)  Which does make it difficult to put together work which builds from session to session.  Like a performance, for example.

I did go through a couple of ideas to improve the detail in the group scenes, but then we ran through the show.  Virtually all of the scripted duologues which punctuate the play were pretty ropey, but this was probably just as well, to remind people they needed to do some work on them.  And we recruited Alem to be a stand-in Ali if necessary.

In some ways, the group is stronger than it has ever been.  Numbers are good, and there are some most talented individuals.  But maintaining attendance, commitment, etc are real challenges, especially when the circumstances of the participants are so uncertain.  It is clear that, at some time in the near future, the whole hotel for asylum-seekers programme is likely to be wound up.  And at that point, either Zhvan too will come to a close, or it will evolve.  Interesting times.

Three weeks to go

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Last week had been, more or less, a disaster, when for the first time ever not enough people turned up to enable any practical Drama.  As it happened, I was not as upset as I might have been; to some extent we are marking time until the performance, wo provided we generate a bit of momentum from here on in, it should be all right.

But I was pleased when Yasser was the first to come through the door.  He had missed last week, ha messaged me later to say that he was feeling down, but I offered what encouragement I could.  And then Alem turned up as well – he had joined immediately after the Beck performance, but seemed to have become a little disillusioned by the lack of commitment shown by the rest of the group since then.  So, again, especially pleasing (one stray sheep, and all that.)

And then, amid the general arrivals, a newcomer: a young lady from Mexico, called Carla.  She was bubbly, cheerful, with excellent English, and had done a little Drama before, she told us.  It showed.  After a warm-up (which I can manage when I am feeling positive) we tried some spontaneous improvisation, in the form of my old friend “Crossing the Circle”.  The whole exercise was a great success, but Carla was remarkable, immediately creating a vibrant character.  And she seems keen to be involved in the show, despite the lack of time – a real bonus.

We then went through our usual practice of working our way through the show.  Actually, there were some important absences.  Thomas was missing again, which is concerning; apart from any other consideration, he is a superb performer.  But Dasha was also absent, first texting to say she would be late, and then that she was held up in some sort of important bureaucracy, so would not be able to come at all.  Ali never appeared at all today, and Abdulaziz appeared briefly, then told me he had to go.  So we missed out on various scenes.  But Frishta was there, for the first time in ages, so we were able to hear her song.

Even so, it was a good session.  The improv had really engaged everyone, with some excellent ideas, much appreciated by the audience (aka the rest of the group.)  And we did have the chance to take everyone, including the relative newcomers, through the group scenes.  So provided we can get a bigger group next week, we have a good chance of making it work, and putting on a good performance.

70th Birthday Party

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We had been planning my more or less usual party for birthdays ending in zero for quite some time, but some weeks before I had had both the idea of inviting the Wembley Drama group, and a scheme to get them both to and from Ickford, using guests who were coming out from West London to ferry them, as well as Matilda, who is rapidly becoming indispensable. Fortunately, these plans very nearly worked perfectly, the only glitch being that Thomas, who was supposed to be coming out with Dave and Laraine, old travelling pals, failed to make the meeting place.  A real shame, as I like him a great deal, and I am sure he would have very much enjoyed it.

The party was a relatively grand event, with 120 guests, a marquee, a ceilidh, plenty of drink, organised by my son Joe and his friend Dan, and excellent food supplied from the Damascus Rose, a collective formed by Syrian refugees, and operating out of the Old Fire Station in Oxford.  This had been Lucy’s idea, and proved to be ab excellent one.  They served Syrian vegetarian food, which was hugely enjoyed by just about everyone (except for Val, who only just got there to eat anything, and me, who was far too busy and nervous to be able to sit down to enjoy it.)

The party was a huge success, perhaps even greater than the previous ones, and Zhvan certainly contributed to this success, as well as thoroughly enjoying themselves.  Several of them were on the dance floor a great deal – in fact Tulsi could scarcely be persuaded to do anything else, dancing just about every dance.  And they did seem to mix with lots of people – so many of our other guests told me they had chatted with them, and very much enjoyed their company.

And, it has to be said, I had a good time too, even though maybe not so much at the time, but with a real sense of pleasure and satisfaction that so many people had enjoyed themselves.  There were, of course, lots of old people there – this was a 70th birthday party after all, so many of my friends are my age – but there were also all ages represented, with lots of Youth Theatre graduates; all of  both families (mine and Val’s); and lots of children, who also seemed to be having a ball.

My song went down well – “Shotgun”, the George Ezra number – and we also gave out copies of Innocence Abroad, the first volume of my book about our travels.  And at about 6, as suggested but not enforced, people drifted away, leaving lots of warm words.  And happy memories.  Especially important, of course, for my international guests.