Alasdair Satchel: ‘Accidental Death of An Accordionist’ Tour Blog

17 Sep 2008 in Argyll & the Islands, Dance & Drama

In summer 2008, ALASDAIR SATCHEL of Mull Theatre starred in Euan Martin and Dave Smith’s The Accidental Death of An Accordionist. We follow the production through rehearsals, Edinburgh Fringe residency, and tour of the Highlands and Islands.

Brian Smith and Alasdair Satchel as Cammy and the Laird of Glengirnie

Brian Smith and Alasdair Satchel as Cammy and the Laird of Glengirnie

MY NAME is Alasdair Satchel. I’m the education officer with Mull Theatre. From July until late September I’m playing the part of the Laird of Glengirnie in Euan Martin and Dave Smith’s The Accidental Death of An Accordionist, a co-production by Right Lines and Mull Theatre.

In this blog I’m going to try to give you a rough guide to the life of a theatre company as we embark on a Highland tour (with a stop off in Edinburgh for the Fringe). The Accidental Death of An Accordionist (ADOA from now on) is a murder mystery ceildih play. A fusion of many things. It’s really rather silly and a whole lot of fun. I think it’s one of the largest casts I’ve ever been involved with as an actor. Other actors are Helen Mackay, Annie Grace, Ed Corrie, Brian Smith, Alasdair Hawthorne, Barrie Hunter and Sandy Brechin. Our director is Mark Saunders and our stage manager Brian Gorman. We’re rehearsing at Mull Theatre’s swanky new production centre at Druimfin, outside of Tobermory.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

Cast & crew meet and costumes and props are distributed. My God, what a lot of tartan! My God, what a lot of tartan Barrie is wearing… It’s a tartan atrocity! My costume is yer classic kilt and dress jacket combo. I know that I’m going to sweat a lot on this tour already. It seems that there’s more tweed in this show than the House of Lords. No wax jackets spotted yet, though.

We have some publicity photos taken – that’s me with Brian who plays Cammy, my faithful manservant. We read through the script and that goes well. We all laugh. In the right places too, which is reassuring.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

I like warm ups – exercises and games to get yourself ready for a day’s acting. Such a lovely way to start the day. We spend a bit of time warming up and then get stuck straight in to blocking the first act. Blocking is where you look at who’s going to come in where, and when and what you do and all that sort of malarky, before you start to make your character come to life. It’s already quite funny. The characters are really clear on the page, so they peel off well in to rehearsals.

Thursday 3 July 2008

Act 2 blocking. Getting things straight and narrow. Sorting out business and allowing the story to do its thing. Incredibly, by the end of the day the whole show is blocked, and we can start to get in to finer details here and there. Ed, Alasdair H. and I have a go at working on a wee piece of choreography to back Annie (who plays Jean, a dour tweedie wee wifie) as she sings ‘Only You’ to Brian. Sandy, Mark & Annie give us a bit of help with the harmonies. I’m the squeaky tenor. At night we revel outside the new harbour building in Tobermory as it celebrates its opening by having a concert. That building likes to boogie! The Red Hot Chilli Pipers play, as do the Sorren MacLean band, who really get the crowd moving.

The strange claw-like grip that afflicts members of the cast

The strange claw-like grip that afflicts members of the cast

Friday 4 July 2008

The Claw! The Claw has overtaken the rehearsal room. Not the villain from the children’s TV show Inspector Gadget, but a strange claw-like grip that afflicts members of the cast – leading to strange chuckling noises by others. The claw can appear at any point – it can pop out behind the head of a random actor, or in the lap of guitarist. It’s a very strange thing indeed.

Mr Barrie Hunter – who plays MC John Angus – is one of the finest perpetrators of “Clawinism”. Swift in his clawing, you don’t realise he’s there until it’s too late, and you’re already halfway through a speech about the merits of a Bourbon vs. Rich Tea when you burst into laughter.

Saturday 5 July 2008

Rehearsals are going well. I’m very pleased. Our show is now blocked, in that we know what our entrances, exits are and where we stand when we act. We’ve now started to come “off the book”, or to act without the scripts in our hands. Naturally we’re going to stumble along like this for a few days as we get all of our lines in the right place, but it’ll be good when the lines really go in – and stay in.

Monday 7 July 2008

There’s a surfeit of cheese and crackers in the rehearsal room because I was given loads of cheese by two of the students from my Argyll College acting course for a party we were having. So we’re all quite happy about that. And now that some old cheese from the previous Mull Theatre tour Swindle & Death has been removed from the fridge, all is well.

It’ll be all right on the night! L-R Mark the director, Annie and Barrie Hunter (Jean and John Angus) – and far too much tartan!

It’ll be all right on the night! L-R Mark the director, Annie and Barrie Hunter (Jean and John Angus) – and far too much tartan!

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Scripts are now starting to be put down as we stumble around the stage trying to avoid falling into the scenery – particularly the black-out curtains. Yesterday we spent the morning looking at our characters and how we can develop them.

For a large chunk of the play, particularly at the beginning, we interact with the audience without a script to support us, so it’s handy to know who we are. We took turns at coming into the room in character and sitting in a chair in front of the rest of the cast, who were all in a row. Mark, our director and the rest of the cast then asked questions of the actor, who had to respond in character.

We found out some very interesting things. For example, Helen Mackay, as Lucy, was orphaned when her father was shot in a freak stalking accident. Sandy Brechin, as Aly the accordionist, told us the reason behind his wife’s mysterious Edinburgh tattoo. We tried to delve into the mysterious past of Alasdair H as Mr McCrindle, but he was so elusive that he headed us off at each pass. Perhaps he has a murky past in some sort of interrogative field? And now we’re off to the land of runs… Running and running the show over and over again until it’s as smooth as the pampered posterior of a member of the House of Lords.

The famous Glengirnie onions are among the tempting raffle prizes at the ceilidh…

The famous Glengirnie onions are among the tempting raffle prizes at the ceilidh…

Friday 11 July 2008

I must admit I’m really pleased. I think the show is in good shape already, and now we’ve just got to settle in to trying to control all the chaos. The show does need an element of chaos to make it seem true to life, but we need to be on top of it, just to make sure it’s really smooth running.

Our “newsletter” has arrived. It’s called the Glengirnie Gazette and it’s full of useful information on life in Glengirnie, the village where our ceilidh is set. We’ve chortled a lot already at the content, but have absolutely no idea how to complete the crossword….

Life outside the rehearsal room continues too. Many of the cast are enjoying the pleasures of local Tobermory restaurant, Cafe Fish, which as you might guess, specialises in seafood. Barrie who plays John Angus in the play says it’s one of the best meals he’s ever had. Some of us also took a trip out to the beautiful white beach at Calgary, at the north end of Mull, where some red-throated divers were spotted. It’s lovely rehearsing on Mull. I’m going to miss it when we go out on the road, but I can’t wait to get stuck in to touring round our rather lovely green country.

The cast of Accidental Death of An Accordionist

The cast of Accidental Death of An Accordionist

Monday 14 July 2008

The weekend has been and gone, we are all refreshed and fresh faced. Honest. Many of the cast decided to stay in Tobermory to enjoy the delights on offer at the Macdonald Arms, the Mishnish and so on. Others dared to brave it off the island, and return to the larger cities of our dear green nation. Apparently they have something there called mobile phone reception…

Last night a few of us gathered round at my place to tuck in to a local venison chilli and watch “Everything Is Illuminated”. A rather good film, the screen is stolen by the older man who plays the grandfather in the piece. He’s one of those amazing actors who you watch and entirely forget that they’re acting.

This morning we went straight in to a line run, or a speed run – where you say your lines as fast as you can in sequence. It’s a very good way of reinforcing the text and the order of the show in your mind. The second time that we did a line run we threw a ball about as well. If you were speaking you had the right to hold the ball, if you weren’t you didn’t. I always like these kind of exercises as it opens up what you’re doing as an actor. For instance, how you interact with the ball can tie in to what you’re trying to do with your character in that section, in relation to another. So if your character is trying not to let another person talk you can try to keep the ball out of their hands while they struggle to wrestle it from your grip. It’s a really good way to physically see the relationships that the characters have in another light. All these things you do as you build up to a putting on a show. Only four days to go before we open. It’s all going to be fine. It’s all going to be fine. That’ll be my mantra for the week.

As long as you can see the whites of the other actor’s eyes you’ll be fine…

The long arm of the law - Sandy Brechin impersonating a police officer in Tobermory

The long arm of the law - Sandy Brechin impersonating a police officer in Tobermory

Thursday 17 July 2008

TENSIONS are building, like the top end notes on a glockenspiel, as we head towards our first night. Wednesday was a lot of fun. Mark, our director, asked us to go down town in Tobermory in character. What a laugh we had. People just didn’t know quite what to make of it all. Helen and Ed as Lucy and Julian strapped themselves to the trees across the road from the Co-op and shouted slogans against my character, Sir Alex. Annie, as Jean, went around and badgered lots of people into buying her newsletter, and even managed to get the entire Chocolate Shop to sing happy birthday to a wee boy.

Barrie, as John Angus, in full tartan regalia, nipped up the hill and put his washing out, which I think was very keeping in character. The special award for the day, though, goes to Sandy Brechin, not in his first character Aly the accordionist, but as a policeman. Sandy had a big adventure… In full police uniform he strolled around the town asking odd questions of people, nipped into shops to get a wee ice cream here and there, told people that they couldn’t build sandcastles on the beach as it was a site of specific scientific interest, and that they should repair to the rocky beach on the other side of the pier. Oh, and he also nipped into the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust to report that one of their whales was missing. So as the bold Sandy swayed along the road, high visibility tabard over one shoulder, ice cream in hand, he was surprised to see a police van appear in front of him. The gnarly finger of the local constabulary beckoned him over. They were not amused. Sandy was last seen rolling up the road in the van calmly licking a raspberry ice in the front seat.

We had the dress rehearsal tonight, with an invited audience of people who were involved in the building of our production centre at Druimfin. It went well, and we were all happy with the result. Some of the key props weren’t in place, but we got there in the end. It was lovely to have an audience in. We could actually dance with people! I think this run is going to be a whole lot of fun.

And now for the first night… Leg breakage all round.

Alasdair Satchel as the Laird with Mr McCrindle and Julian, providing backing vocals on the opening night

Alasdair Satchel as the Laird with Mr McCrindle and Julian, providing backing vocals on the opening night

Monday 21 July 2008

Our first night’s been and gone. All went well. Thank goodness. We had a special preview on Thursday for the builders who worked on Mull Theatre’s new production centre, which was rather enjoyable. Some of them were a bit timid when it came to the interactive scene with the phone and they passed it around from person to person. Which was not ideal, as you shall see when – or if – you make it along to see the show. Only one person answering the phone at a time, please!

The actual first night itself went very well. We were all pleased. All the key props and lines were in place at the right time, so what more could you ask for? For me I now want to find out how I can pad my character out a little bit more, how can I fill him out to just the right side of pomposity. The best way to do this is to interact with people in the theatre environment. It’s a very subtle thing as you don’t want to go too far overboard so that the audience are turned off by your presence. You just have to get it so that they are curious about how odd you are, and want to know more. It’ll take time, but I’m sure I’ll get there. One of the more tricky things is maintaining the character in different circumstances. At the beginning of the show, we’re interacting and improvising outside with the public as they enter and then, when they’re in the space, we’re playing the script that Euan and Dave wrote. So you’ve got to play the character at the same level all the way through the performance, both inside and out, or else the audience will notice, and possibly assume that you’re another character, or a cruddy actor. (One of which may be true…) This is a problem that Helen and Ed, as Lucy and Julian the eco warriors, have been finding. Children seem to congregate around them outside, and really identify with their characters, but whilst inside, in the world of the scripted part of the play, the characters are really quite unlikeable. Both Helen and Ed are great actors and have the situation well in hand, though.

So it’s now time for the tour! Yippee!!!! Invergarry here we come!

As we’re tootling along the road we’re going to play a few travelling games to while away the hours. My personal favourite is “Dutch Car!” where you try to spot a Dutch car before the others in your vehicle. This is worth 5 points. Yellow cars are worth 2, Eddie Stobart lorries are worth 2. If you shout “Dutch car!” and you get it wrong, it’s not a Dutch car, your points go back to 0. Oh it’s mean, but I love it! We’ll also be playing the one-word-letter game from “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue”, where you take turns to provide one word in a letter between two people. That’s very silly indeed. Car registration plates also do a good turn, if you try to come up with phrases that start with the first letter of the last three letters of a car registration plate. For instance, YKN, might be Your Knotted Nose, Young Knight’s Nocturnes, or something more puerile and rude, as is often the case. So if you’ve got any ideas for games we might play on the road, please do send me an email and let me know. I’ll keep you up to date with how we get on as we progress along the highways and byways of Scotia.

Putting their best feet forward - can you tell who's who by their shoes?

Putting their best feet forward - can you tell who's who by their shoes?

Thursday 24 July 2008

Every day a new hall and a new audience. I rather like touring. So far we’ve taken in Invergarry Hall, Lochinver Hall and now the Macphail centre in Ullapool. Our journey on the first day took us from Tobermory in the morning (many thanks to Georgia, my girlfriend, for helping to clean my house at a ridiculous time of day!), to Fort William for a quick “sangdwidge” and various salads at the local supermarket, and then on to Invergarry. Ed got a sandwich that was about two foot long. It was incredible. Somehow he managed to eat it all, and not get it all down his front. A special award for food-based skill goes to he.

The show in Invergarry was a roaster. My goodness, it was so hot the sweat was lashing in to my eyes. Very good baking there. Helen Mackay (who plays Lucy) loves a good bit of home baking. She was coveting a chocolate marzipan bomb thing that they had there, and I managed to procure one for her at the end of the evening. On another note, I must say that their shortbread was excellent. I think we must have a shortbread award for the tour. Invergarry was certainly a very good opening gambit. People had come from miles around to see the show in Invergarry, I met a couple who had come from Broadford on Skye. Funnily enough, their daughter lives in Tobermory.

The next day featured a very long drive, from Loch Ness side to Lochinver. What stunning scenery. It really is a pleasure to tour around when it’s as lovely as this. Thankfully the weather has been superb. It was roasting yesterday, George and the two Brians got thoroughly basted in the van, while we cruised in air-conditioned splendour in the people carrier. It was great to see Suilven again, the sugar loaf hill near Lochinver. These are the haunts of my childhood holidays, and it does feel just like being a small boy again. Which is rather nice, as I was a fairly happy – if rotund – child. 130 folk came to see the show in Lochinver. They were crammed in to the gunnels. I hope they all managed to see the action. The road back to Ullapool from Lochinver was very pleasant. Ross & Cromarty has put up some really rather good signs about local geology at all the major viewpoints, which is of interest to me, as I do like a bit of geology now and again. Thanks to Mr Livingston, my old geography teacher for introducing me to the delights of lateral and terminal moraines, to say nothing of isostatic rebound.

The get-in (where we set up the hall with all that’s needed for the show) for Ullapool was easy enough, and left us with enough time to enjoy the afternoon in our own way. Alasdair H, Helen, Ed and I headed for the local pool to try to swim a bit, and mostly succeeded, despite the best intentions of a local group of playfully aquatic youths. The show went down well in Ullapool, with many people taking to the floor for the dancing. Which is ideal, as people really get in to the action of the piece.

I’m slowly finding new things with the laird, which is good. Every performance you do has to be very similar to the previous, so that every one knows what they’re doing, but you have to find ways to keep it fresh for yourself, so that you don’t get bored with it. It’s too early in the run to get bored with the play, but it’s really good to keep yourself active and interested in it all.

And now to bed. It’s 23.40pm and I’m utterly pooped. If it’s Friday tomorrow, it must be Carrbridge…

The Edinburgh taxidermy...

The Edinburgh taxidermy...

Saturday 26 July 2008

What fantastic weather to tour the Highlands. It’s been just stunning all week. Only as we head down the A9 to Carrbridge does the weather start to appear a wee bit hazy. It’s still bloomin’ warm, though.

Carrbridge is the ideal hall for Accidental Death of An Accordionist. It’s a nice size, and is suitably late 19th/early 20th century in its design and look. The more credible the venue, the more believable the show is, it seems to me. The company now have midge hats en masse to repel the repellent Highland midge. It’s quite a sight as a whole squad of people are to be seen lugging bits of scenery and propage across various car parks, decked out in anti-midge clothing. Remember that scene with the scientists and the plastic tunnel in ET? Well, we’ve made the theatrical equivalent.

Our accommodation in Carrbridge was fantastic. If ever you’re passing through, or even just visiting The Landmark Centre in Carrbridge itself, you must treat yourself to a night at Melon Patch Guest House. The proprietors were in domestic service across in America, and boy do they look after you. The best porridge I’ve had on tour so far – and we even saw two red squirrels prancing around on the trees outside the breakfast room, like tiny spaniel puppies in delirium.

Sunday 27 July 2008

From Carrbridge it was on to Birnam. Home of yon wood that Bill Wigglestick mentions in yon Scottish play. All that remains of the wood now is one or two giant oaks. So needless to say I was straight out there with my camera taking photos for the Macbeth education pack that I’m in the process of developing for Mull T’s next production. Birnam’s an odd place. It’s very nice, but it seems that all the shops there bear very little relation to anything you’d actually ever need in everyday life.

Birnam Arts Centre was an interesting show, as it’s not really the ideal space for performing a piece such as ours, but we managed to pull it off, thanks to a very enthusiastic audience (and one man in tartan troos that were way too short for his legs!). Birnam was the scene of a remarkable incident involving Mr Sandy B. Reekin (please look away now if you’re easily offended). After having emitted several noxious odours in our cramped, dark dressing room, Sandy decided to disperse the aroma by the application of a home-made flame thrower: there was a blast of light, followed by a hint of Lynx where once there had been ignoble gas, and then Mr B. Reekin’ was gone with a “Right lads, see youse upstairs.” Needless to say we were floored with the giggles.

In a bar in Birnam a very nice man bought us all a round of drinks, as he had enjoyed the show so much! That hasn’t happened to me in a long time. We were all delighted and very merry indeed.

Monday 28 July 2008

From the delights of Birnam to the splendour of our Georgian lodgings in the new town of Edinburgh. I’ve never before had a house with taxidermy. We have three very nice birds: a jay, a Lady Amhurst’s Pheasant and a tawny owl, who we’ve placed by the window, looking longingly out to the streets below.

Today we’re off out to Glenkinchie Distillery to meet up with Mark, our director, and have a wee re-rehearsal for the Fringe version of the production, and then we’ve got several hours to set up and prepare before we spend a week out there doing the show. I’m really looking forward to this one, as my pal Adrian reckons it’s the best distillery tour he’s been on. I believe they have a working model of the distillery that makes real whisky, which was originally displayed at the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace a hundred and more odd years ago. Of course, I’ll have to sample the delights some time after the show has come down. I’m looking forward to that.

My fiddle - last night when I got in from the bar, Annie and I had a nice wee session, herself on pipes, me on fiddle. Great stuff.

My fiddle - last night when I got in from the bar, Annie and I had a nice wee session, herself on pipes, me on fiddle. Great stuff.

Friday 1 August 2008

So here we are in Edinburgh, all settled in to our swanky Georgian apartment. The weather has been very clammy the last few days, by jingo it’s just been a bit sweaty. It’s got so hot that I’m sleeping above the covers on a nightly basis.

The show is getting into its flow at Glenkinchie Distillery. We’re playing in an old garage off to the side of the main distillery. Surprisingly it’s one of the sweatier venues that we’ve encountered. The dancing has been popular here, and we’ve often ended up with a bit of a scrum on the dance floor, which makes for good fun. Our venue also has the added thrill of a frog infestation. Which I quite like. Lovely little hoppy things, so they are.

One member of the cast, who shall remain nameless, has a pathological fear of all things raninidean, and so when she, sorry, they, were about to make an entrance from our one off-stage entrance, and the other cast member placed a little froggy on top of their hat, she (they – sorry Helen, nearly gave it away!) had to restrain their screams as hard as they could. Especially when it leaped off in to the darkness… It could have ended up anywhere. Poor wee frog.

When we get back to Edinburgh from the distillery, it’s more often than not quite late, what with the parking restrictions in this part of the world. So we’ve been retreating to the safety of the League Of Gentlemen series two of an evening. “Scoobee, has anybaden got any bodle of owangejoos?” is usually the cry. And so onwards to the Fringe.

A wee dram of 12-year-old Glenkinchie

A wee dram of 12-year-old Glenkinchie

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Our week at Glenkinchie ended very well, with lots of happy faces in the audience. I really enjoyed playing there, the dancing, particularly, seemed to be really popular. It was a really happy environment in which to perform. We were made very welcome by the staff, so much so that when we left at the end, each of us were given a bottle of 12-year-old Glenkinchie! So thank you so much!

Saturday night was a good laugh. Everyone was in the mood for hi-jinks after our week in East Lothian, and so we roister-doistered until the crack of dawn. Needless to say, Dawn wasn’t too happy about it… Sunday was our day off. Needless to say no one was up particularly early. So we lounged around in the flat watching Battlestar Galactica until the rain stopped. Which it didn’t, so we watched more.

The day was rounded off for Mr Hawthorne, Annie and myself with a bout of Scotch and Rye. Not the alcoholic type, but the Rikki Fulton type. It was just lovely to see Scotch and Rye again. For me it was New Year, round at my Gran’s with my cousins and family. It was a real treat to get to see it then, and now, too. Some of the sketches are remarkably un-PC, such as the alien called Kweeah, who Super Cop stops in the street, and some of them are just timeless, brilliant performances. ‘Late Call’ with the increasingly drunk vicar stands the test of time. “Lovely water. Hik, Baaaaarp” Fantastic. And so to the Fringe. We’re on at St Brides every day, except Sundays, at 10.45 in the evening. This means that by the time we get out the venue it’s 12.45 or 1-ish. Oh my goodness, this is going to take some getting used to. Last night we ended up going to bed about 4.00. And in our bodies it felt like just around midnight. So for the purposes of the Fringe I’m going to be working in Azerbaijani time. Our first house was a kick in the pants off being sold out, which is an awesome start. St Brides is an unusual space to play in the round theatre, but it kind of works. We’ll learn a lot from playing here, I think it’ll be quite different from the other venues we’ve played. With fond regards from Edinburgh, in the suburbs of Baku.

Writer Euan Martin (centre) and Mark Saunders (far right) being interviewed at the Fringe

Writer Euan Martin (centre) and Mark Saunders (far right) being interviewed at the Fringe

Saturday 9 August 2008

The fringe. It’s a funny beast. After having a nearly full house on our first night, our second show was cancelled due to low audience figures. Not ideal, by any means, but that’s what happens. So a night off was had. In actual fact, I think we were all pretty glad of a night off. It was early to bed for me, and as I lay there listening to the rain, I was kept gently teetering on the verge of consciousness by the seagulls nesting in the chimney pot. The chimney seems to work like an ear trumpet, amplifying all that is said into it at the top. So I now have a certain fluency in seagull. I wasn’t aware that they made so many calls. Mostly long distance calls over very poor lines, judging by the volume. Last night’s theatrical offering at Dionysus’ font went down well. Our audience, around 30 of them, seemed to enjoy the show a lot, so you can’t ask for more than that. I do enjoy the dancing in the show. It’s rather ripping fun. It’s very odd in St Bride’s as our technical crew, Brian and George, are miles away from us way up at the top of the extendible seating, deep in the far darkness. You’re conscious that they’re there, but all you can see is gentle scrambling around several thousand feet above your head. I went to see Dogstar’s The Tailor of Inverness yesterday. It was really very good. Written and performed by Matthew Zajak, with Gavin Marwick on fiddle, it deals with Matthew’s father’s life during the 2nd world war, and Matthew’s quest to find out the various truths of his father’s travels. Although I liked it, I feel it will be even better when it goes out on tour in the Highlands next year and plays in various village halls and theatres around and about. It will seem more impressive in such a situation, and have even more of an impact than it does in a room at the Assembly Rooms in the Fringe. I think this is a show that people will be talking about for a long time to come. I found it very heartening to see a show dealing with our diverse population in this country, but more so a show that implicitly deals with consequence of actions, without shoving it down your throat. It’s your call on what you make of Mr Zajak senior at the end of the piece. But no matter what you’re guaranteed a good night out. Press coverage of the show is going well too. We had 3 Weeks in last night doing a wee interview with Euan, one of the writers, and Mark, our director, while we lugged our set around in the get-out, as we packed our materials away for the next show. Euan and Dave – Right Lines Productions have two shows on at the Fringe, Accidental Death of an Accordionist, and their musical with Jim Brice, Whisky Kisses. I noticed in the interview with them on this very site that it’s reckoned that they are the first Highland company to have two shows on at the Fringe at the same time. Sorry to be an egregious boor, but… back in 2005, my company Perhilion Theatre Co did both One Man Rant and Two Man Rumble at the same time. That is one fine way to loose weight, two of the sweatiest shows you can imagine, but back to back. On that lovely image, I leave you to your day.

Sandy Brechin takes the onion challenge

Sandy Brechin takes the onion challenge

Monday 11 August 2008

It’s been a merry old week. Much roister-doistering has been had. As you can see from the photo above, Mr Brechin has been very silly yet again, and after tucking in to a whole lime, with skin intact (for a £1 bet), he decided to gobble up the best part of an onion. After that he quietly went through to the fridge and took a bite out of pretty much everything in there – including my nan bread, which I was going to have for my dinner the next night. He’s a very silly man. As he bit into a Tunnocks Tea Cake, including foil, he said, and I quote here, m’lud: “It’s like a pinball machine,” as the foil ran over his fillings. Oh jings. Saturday night’s audience was particularly lovely. There were lots of folk in and we had a very merry time. I think it’s longest strip the willow I’ve seen in quite some time. On Saturday I had the chance to go and see one of my all-time heroes, Nola Rae, performing her solo clown show, Exit Napoleon, Pursued by Rabbits. Mr Alasdair Hawthorne, our McCrindle in the play, came along with me, and though originally sceptical was a complete convert to the cause of Rae after a few moments. The basic idea is that a random cook stumbles upon Napoleon’s tent in the middle of a storm, and after trying to find something to eat, and mostly failing, tries on some of the Corsican’s clothes, and becomes overtaken, bit by bit, by an incredible sense of self importance and grandeur. By incorporating the audience into the performance in very simple ways, we totally enter into the folly of the piece, as the cook grows from small-time bossy-boots to globe-crushing dictator. It’s an incredible piece of work, and deeply moving. What is so particularly wonderful about it is that children are completely enthralled by the work, as well as adults. Nola is everything I aspire to as a performer – not to be a toadying wee sycophant, but, frankly, she’s as good as it gets. The show runs until the 15 August at Footsbarn’s Tent on the Calton Hill. If you can get along please do, as it’s a very, very special show. Last night George “Hieronymous” Fagan and my self went out to see Bert Jansch in concert at the Acoustic Music Centre. Thanks to my mates Jonathan and Euan, I’ve been a fan for quite a few years, so I was really looking forward to it. Sadly it wasn’t the best gig I’ve been to, and I’m sure not his best of late. But on the bright side, I can hang around backstage as we prepare to go on, while he plays, as we’re the act directly following on from him the following nights. So we’ll see. Here’s hoping John Renbourne later in the month will be better. George and I have a cunning plan on how to avoid late, late nights. Book early shows, and pay for them before you go along. So we’ll be seeing as much as we can about midday in the following weeks, including Involution, On the Waterfront, and hopefully a play about the late, great, Ian Dury (another of my heroes). I finally gave in today and went flyering for our show out on the Royal Mile (handing out leaflets to publicise the show). It’s a tough thing to do. There’s so many people out there, being deeply insincere and shouting and whoring their wares, in the most crass and gross of ways, so I try to be as sincere as possible when approaching people with a flyer. Most of the time it works, but, oh goodness, when it doesn’t you feel like a boob and a half. Hopefully this will have an impact on our audience figures. Fingers crossed.

Flight Lieutenant Algernon Smythe, pratting about in Armstrongs fancy dress parlor in the Grassmarket

Flight Lieutenant Algernon Smythe, pratting about in Armstrongs fancy dress parlor in the Grassmarket

Thursday 14 August 2008

To be honest, playing and selling a show at the Fringe is a hard thing to do. We’re trying lots of ploys, but it just takes time. We’ve been flyering for the show on the Royal Mile every day, but that’s really quite tricky, as every other show in the world’s largest arts festival is out there trying to sell themselves too. People can be very odd to you on that street. It’s a bit like hawking your wares… Perhaps I just need to dig out my old bloomers and see what happens – actually, no, with this moustache, that’s not a good idea. “Good afternoon officer. Me? Oh, well… erm… nothing… RUN!” What’s lovely about this time in Edinburgh is that although our audiences are small, they seem to be very happy. The best way to judge this is by the number of people who get up to dance, and we’ve had nights where everyone has been on the floor – so much so that it leaves me without a partner sometimes. So I just stand in the corner and throw shapes silently up to the technicians box, like a white-gloved dancer at a 90′s rave party, occasionally emitting a “heuch!” for good measure. After seeing Bert Jansch on stage last Sunday, I got a chance to meet him backstage a couple of times, and was really chuffed to enter in to a casual acquaintance with him. It was great to be backstage, changing and hear his sets. I wish I’d gone along on one of the other nights instead of the Sunday now. But, oh well. Mr Hawthorne, Ed, George and I all went to see On The Waterfront yesterday afternoon. Oh dear me. What a lot of self-important twaddle. I’ve been a huge fan of Steven Berkoff, the director, for many years, but oh goodness, was this dull. The poor man has been churning out the same thing year after year for over 30 years now. I think this, sadly, was the last step for me. His signature directing style just killed the piece totally. What a real shame. Surely you should be confident enough as a director with so many years of experience under your belt to try something new and different once in a while? George has been whiling away his afternoons in the company of the new Battlestar Galactica series. He’s getting very excited about it as he comes towards the end of the second series… Who are the final six cylons? I know, but I’m sure not going to tell him. Last night some of the boys got together around here to watch the film In Bruges by Martin McDonagh. What a movie, it really is something else. A few years ago, long before I joined the company, Mull Theatre did McDonagh’s Leenane trilogy. It’s such a good film, I really want to go back in time and see how Mull Theatre went about performing them on the island. If you get a chance to watch it, please do, but be warned, if you’re easily offended, perhaps you should give it a miss. Well, more late nights of revelry and mid-days of sore heads await us in the coming days, I’m sure.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Our gobble rate of consuming other shows, in the flat, has been rather good of late. I think that between us we might very well have taken in a huge wodge of the festival, both the International and Fringe festivals. For me the highlight was the Steve Reich Evening at the Festival Theatre. It was amazing. I know I’m starting to sound toadying, again, but it really bowled me over. I’ve never seen dancers with such personality. Very often when you see a dancer move on stage they are just choreographed individuals, following the line of the choreographer, without any hint of their own personality. That can be really interesting, and I do love the regimented feel of such work, having recently been introduced to the work of Bob Fosse by Messers Hawthorne and Hunter. The choreographer, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, made her name working with the music of Steve Reich over 25 years ago, and this piece was a retrospective of her work with his music. It was simply awesome, both Mr Captain “Obadiah” Fagan and I were incredibly taken with the work. Saturday night was a great success at St Bride’s, we had 120 in the audience, and what fun we had with them. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we ended up having a wee ceilidh back at our palace until nearly 6 in the morning! Miss Annie Grace and my friend, the very talented Aly Macrae, provided the cornerstone of the ceilidh. What a talented rotter Aly is. A very fine fiddle player, remarkable songwriter, great actor and thoroughly lovely chap. What a rotter. Sunday took us out to visit Mark, our director’s house, outside Edinburgh. What a lovely situation he lives in. Most of the cast made it along and we consumed barbecued meats and Pims a-plenty, then went for a wee stroll along the beach. It was a lovely, lovely afternoon, and I can’t tell you how good it felt to see trees and fields again. I can feel the itch to get out of town soon. This afternoon sees us going to John Lewis’ window to advertise the show… I think we’re going to have some silly fun.

Over the sea to Easdale...

Over the sea to Easdale...

Tuesday 2 September 2008

The Fringe being well and truly over, and we find ourselves back on the road once more. Getting an audience at the Fringe wasn’t easy, and I think we should be very proud of the numbers that we pulled in. We ended up doing some very strange things to market the show, prime amongst which was our wee publicity slot in John Lewis’ store, down from Princes St. Whilst Sandy and Annie played away inside the window (not too loudly, though, as “people couldn’t hear themselves ordering carpet”) we, the cast, touted the show to passers-by, or more appropriately, those sheltering from the elements with us under the Lewis’s awning. A very strange experience indeed. Our venue was great, and made us feel so welcome. Special thanks to Faith, Josiah, John, Martin & Patrick for helping us along and entering into the spirit of things so fully. There’s even a teddy bear up on a ledge somewhere in St Brides that has a wee banner declaiming “Save The Trees!”. Sorry not to have been blogging much recently, but I’ve just been really busy getting things in to shape for our Macbeth education pack [technical difficulties with e-mail and the Editor’s holidays – ironically on Mull – have also slowed down the appearance of Alasdair’s missives. Our apologies. Ed].

The “Scottish Play” is our sister show, and out on the road as we speak. If you fancy a copy of the education pack do drop us a line at the theatre and we can sort you out with one for the princely sum of £3. Our first show after the fringe was at Strachur, near Dunoon, where I grew up. It was great to play so close to home, especially as it was my birthday! The cast very kindly got me a present or two of Maw Broon’s Cook Book (great tablet recipe in there) and a hip flask with a fine peaty Islay miniature. I was well chuffed! From Strachur we went on to Easdale, the slate island off of Seil, another slate island. What a trip! We had a lot of fun getting ourselves out there. Everything had to be transported out to the island on a dinghy. So two trips took the set and cast across. What a smashing wee island it is. You can easily walk around it in half an hour. The audience was just brilliant, we had a lot of hooting and guffawing. Just what you want. Then it was on to Carradale, down on the Mull of Kintyre. A very sweaty show ensued, with a slippy dancefloor to boot, but we survived it. It was an eventful night, and we all really enjoyed the slow, long, winding drive back up the road to the Craignish Village Hall at Ardfern the next day. Honest.

Our accommodation in Ardfern was astonishing, something truly special – we were booked in to a massive 15th century castle! It had a games room, massive trampoline in the grounds, several kitchens and lounges at our disposal, and lovely big bed rooms with huge baths. My bath was so big I almost cooked myself in it.

The show went well, but we were all ganting to get back to the accommodation to start our weekend and play around in the castle. Which we did till around three in the morning. At which point I decided to go off to bed. Only to find that there was a bat in my room, which wouldn’t go out, no matter how much I tried to reason with it. So Ed, Barrie and myself then tried to make a corridor of towels to guide it out of the window. Which didn’t work even remotely. In the end I shared a room with Helen Mackay, who had a twin room near by. So thank you Helen, again! And then it was back to Tobermory for me, and a weekend with my girlfriend. I finally feel like I’ve had a day or two off, as it was so good to get back to Tob. Tonight finds us in Benderloch, near Oban (where most of the cast spent the weekend), so I type this in my B&B in Oban town. Next stop Mull for three nights! Bunessan and Tobermory. I can’t wait to get back. Avanti!

Before the odyssey began - rehearsing the show at Druimfin

Before the odyssey began - rehearsing the show at Druimfin

Thursday 11 September 2008

We had a return trip to Mull last week. It was absolutely brilliant to be back on the island, preforming in Bunessan and at Druimfin, our new space outside of Tobermory. I got to go home and do my washing, eat my own food, and sit on my own couch and sleep in my own bed. How fantastic!

The shows in Tobermory went very well, and we were all pleased with the audience response. It was, in actual fact, a bit strange to come back to where we had rehearsed the show. The show has grown since we first played Druimfin. We’ve all fleshed out our characters a lot more, and have found a lot of things to play with, since our first days at Druimfin.

From Tobermory we headed down to Cove, via the Fishnish – Lochaline ferry, where many of us took up the opportunity to consume snacks at the Fishnish-side café. You cannae beat a square sausage and tattie scone roll of a morning, I say. The road down to Cove was incredibly windy, and we were all very glad when we arrived at the hall. Cove is a fine venue, and the audience responded brilliantly to the show. I even met (sadly in character at the time, so I couldn’t interact with her as a normal person) a lady who had a necklace made of Scottish silver and gold, with a small piece of the Stone of Destiny in it! From what I can gather her father had been a stonemason with Caskie’s lot, who abducted the stone some decades ago. She wouldn’t tell me if the one in Edinburgh Castle is the real one or not… I do like a good mystery.

From Cove we had a weekend off, so while the cast and crew headed home to Glasgow and beyond, Sandy B, George ‘Bongo’ Fagan and I stayed over in Rosneath in a very fancy B&B, and then got a run from Sandy to the wee ferry that connects with the Calmac in the morning, to then eventually get across to Dunoon, where we were going to get back to stay with our families. Two days off ensued, more or less, and now I find myself in a B&B in Aberdeenshire, Old Deer, to precise, scribbling a blog, while the Gorillaz new album squeaks away on my speakers. I think it’s the best Gorillaz album yet. It’s well worth a listen if you like something a little bit on the different side. Tonight we play New Deer, and I’ve yet to figure out where and when I can get something to eat before the show. Fingers crossed that I find something. A whole day sat in the people carrier does tend to grow a hunger…

Stag Head

Stag Head

Wednesday 17 September 2008

I’ve never really been to Aberdeenshire before. As a child we used to take holidays in Peterhead, at my Uncle Robert’s, but I can’t say I recall too much about the scenery around the town at all. What a lovely, lovely county it is. It’s very green and agrarian. The last few days have seen us in various towns and villages, plying our merry trade of nonsense.

In Keith, we stayed in one of the finest B&B’s I’ve ever seen, which was truly awesome. The Loft in Keith is a very good space, too, and our show fitted in there just fine. It’s an initiative run for young people, along with Craighurst’s restaurant, where young people who may not have many options in life are given training in catering and service work. We ate like kings in Craighurst, and if ever you get a chance to go there, I do recommend it very strongly! All is well now that we’ve had a couple of days off in Inverness, after our jaunt through Moray, which we’ll be returning to later in the week. I’ve enjoyed being in Inverness, and I think we’ve all sated some capitalist urges that were brewing for a long time. Hootananny’s, the folk pub/Thai restaurant in Inverness has had a roaring trade from us these last few days, and now I think I’ll run off to get myself some good, clean, spicy food to see if I can sweat this cold I’ve been suffering out of my system.

© Alasdair Satchel, 2008

Links