Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A Place Called Dacorum

It was a couple of months ago that Ben, our booker, emailed me to ask whether we'd like to do the show in Dacorum. To me this just read as if he was asking us to do the show, but with improved manners. It was only after some research that I discovered that Dacorum Town Hall is, in fact, in Hemel Hempstead.

I gave up geography at 14. It's not that I wasn't interested, I just have no capacity whatsoever for

1. drawing
2. remembering proper nouns.

These defecits have held me back in various ways throughout my life - I also gave up art when I was 14 and am utterly against the fashion for pub quizes on principal – but for geography these two factors created a perfect storm... in my head.

Two weeks into our relationship at university my ex turned to me and said, “I've got something to tell you.” Here it comes, I thought. It's been a good two weeks, I have to view it as positive... “There may be times,” he continued, “when I forget your name, but you mustn't think it means anything. I'm just... very bad with names.”

In so many ways I had met my soulmate. We rubbed along for years forgetting proper nouns left right and centre, aware that it would not disturb the other one in the slightest.

Me: “Have I seen that film?”
Me: “Yes! I was with someone!”
Him: “Yes, me.”
Me: “Oh yes, you were there.... Did I like it?”

When we split up, my knowledge of what films I had seen and, more importantly, whether I had liked them was gone. I am inclined to remember that I had strong feelings about a given film, but not the feeling itself. And so, as with the name of someone I've worked with for eight years, under pressure the information does not come to me. Worse, erroneous information presents itself as indesputable and we are off into the realm of my daily horror, the place where my entirely unreliable memory has a hoot dicking about and leaves me high and.... nervously damp.

Having a bad memory for nouns in general, proper nouns in particular, verbs, adjectives and whatever someone has said to me just this minute, is not great... well, for anything really. Sometimes people imply it is because I do not concentrate and while this may be true some of the time, there is no evidence that my memory is better if I am concentrating. In fact, I suspect that if I am under pressure: “This is my new wife, Laura. Please look after her.” “You go right at the lights, past the next set of lights, there's a garage and a little Chinese, no, no, it's a hardware store now, past that and left into the cul-de-sac.” “Look at the card you've chosen. Remember it. Now slip it back into the pack, anywhere, I'll look away...” , if I am under pressure, my memory is far worse. Of course, it could be this belief itself which is causing this, in which case I need to chill out (let's just take it as read that I need to chill out, period) but I only have this belief from years of evidence of living my “life”.

So I do some research into Dacorum, a great deal of which consists of me saying to various people, “Have you heard of Dacorum?” and them responding that they have manners, were brought up proper, what am I implying etc. Of course, Bartelt has never been to Hemel Hempsted or Hemel, as the locals have it, but neither have I. I am delighted to find that it's so easy to get to from London, so easy and so close, in fact, that we will not have to book accommodation. So close that some of my London-based chums might come to the show.

Ever since this show started being... well, mooted, I guess, I have been asked over and over again when we are coming to London. The current answer is, we're not, but the answer we give is that we are working on a London run. This is true. At the moment I cannot see how it will ever work, though. I'm thinking that no London theatre that we will want to go to will want a four-week run of someone talking about their sister's murder, no matter how much Bartelt and I know that this is a piece of theatre and not my grief in a glass cabinet with the legend “Rebecca Peyton c 2011, grieving 1978 – present day” on a yellowish, curling bit of paper.

Maybe that's unfair. Maybe he has the faith. He is a man with more faith than I. He has achieved so much more in his life, which I know requires faith in the utterly unimaginable. Not entirely disimilar to religious faith, the difference being that you are almost certainly going to be proven wrong or right in your own lifetime, unlike religious faith where the reckoning will happen after the show has ended.

We are all beset with doubt, don't go thinking I'm not aware that life is a soup of confusion and we are the... croutons eddying around in it, but Bartelt has his eyes of a prize so distant that he doesn't actually know what it is. Sometimes he does, but a great deal of the time he is heading into the distance, aiming for a few degrees above the horizon. I am like that too sometimes, but my experience of life has taught me that things do not work out. Good things happen, lots of them, but they will never be what I hoped for. Bartelt could have learnt the same thing, but he has some extra reserve or, as I like to think of it, is a better person.

So, in my system, this could be the closest we ever get to London. And so it's lovely that it's a lovely theatre, that Hemel has such fantastic charity shops, that the weather's good, that I manage to stop Bartelt from crashing the photos of a wedding which is happening out the back of Dacorum Town Hall (his arthritic hands will not help him in an all-out fist fight) and that everyone is so lovely at the theatre.

But perhaps my favourite thing, and if you are following this blog you will not be surprised to hear this, is the after-show. A colleague and her partner have come, and employer of mine, a good friend and her relatively new fella. We sit and talk with a woman on her own, my employer and a woman with her 13-year-old daughter. There is so much to say, so much to be heard. The teenager writes the longest feedback form we have ever had – if only we could get more young people into the audience. The opening says it all, though: “It was very interesting. At first I didn't want to go but mum of course didn't tell me until we were in the bar. And this always happens, I complain about going to the 'theatre' (yawn, boring) and I always walk out feeling inspired and interesting and then feel guilty about moaning about it in the car. But this was very interesting.”

The holy grail of twenty-first century theatre producers and makers: temping those illusive audiences into the theatre. And I don't just mean anybody, though it can be a challenge to get anyone to the theatre, teenagers are notoriously hard, but get folk in love with the theatre as kids and you've almost certainly got them for life.

We had some 12/13-year-old students and some 15/16-year-old students come to the show in Edinburgh; they were all very appreciative and interested. And now we have this excellent young person who asks me, and Bartelt, excellently difficult questions, which stretch us and make everyone think.

I get onto a great ride about being an antheist at one point, and as Jenny, my employer for one of my medical role-playing jobs, leaves, she gives me a big hug and whispers into my ear, “I'm an Anglican vicar, you know?” or words to that effect. I didn't know, but I'm happy with that. It has been a humane, instructive, interesting series of chats – the kind of thing the Anglicans like.

They keep the bar open for us, one member of staff gives us a lift to the station to save us the cab fare AND I'm going to get to sleep in my own bed.... well, on my own sofa. Bartelt has the bed when we're in London. Next we're off to Bristol for a week. Five shows there, one in Truro and then it's all over. End of tour. I can't believe it's come so soon.

More than that. I'm hoping that Bartelt is going to get on with Katie, my best friend from 6 – 9 years of age, her husband, their child, the dog, the pygmy goats and the two slightly psychotic cats. We're going to be with them for a week in Bristol. I've decided not to worry about it before now, but tomorrow we travel to Bristol and the truth will be revealed. It is worrying as neither Martin nor Katie suffer fools and they both have quite a broad-sweep of factors which can condemn someone to foolery.... fantastic: at least they have something in common – they are both very intolerant.

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