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Tour Memories #11 - Lisnavagh House

Well, here we are. We would have arrived in Ireland yesterday, and today would mark our first 2020 show of the Irish leg of our tour. As the cast spend 24 hours a day with one another for the full duration of this part of the tour, you can probably safely expect the memories to ramp up a bit over the coming days.

Lisnavagh House is, with no hint of exaggeration, one of OTG's favourite places on the planet. The audience we have there is consistently fantastic and incredibly supportive. The venue owners are truly one-of-a-kind, in both their generosity and their hospitality. The nights we spend there post-show are legendary. Find out a little bit more of what's gone on in previous years below:

Andy B - Swing in the Willows

"An amazing venue set amidst gorgeous scenery and one of the favoured playing fields for the Off the Ground Invitational XI cricket team to get their yearly knock about.

The welcome at Lisnavagh is as warm as the Irish coffees that were served at the interval. Only cast members who weren’t doing any sword fighting or dangerous hijinks in the second act could have one. The welcome continued after the performance where friends and family of the house joined the cast for singing and stories until the wee small hours before heading back to the tents.

Swing In The Willows tour, 2003, was a real stand out show from the years. As a retelling of Wind In The Willows with swing and jazz music, a lot of the cast got to wear suits and dress like 1920s gangsters so not only did we all feel sharp we also, and arguably more importantly when you’re doing outdoor theatre, would be dry and warm should the weather turn nasty. While indulging in my half time Irish coffee (playing Ratty, there was no sword play for me, hurrah!) we got chatting to an audience member who mentioned he’d travelled to the evening’s performance in an automobile Mr Toad himself would have been happy to own. Sure enough, parked in front of the house was the most beautiful classic car you could imagine. After patiently letting most of the cast get a picture in the driver’s seat, the chap very kindly asked if we’d like the car to feature in the show. Taking no convincing at all we agreed and several of us were lucky enough to pile into the car for the show’s final musical number, speeding down the carriage sweep with Daniel G crooning his heart out on the microphone before spilling onto the stage to mark one of the coolest entrances you could imagine.

Later that evening, Jon and I were last ones up and enjoying a final tot of whiskey and the display the stars were putting on. Our host, William, suddenly appears and asks to join us. After sharing our drink William insists we share some of his and runs round to the front of the house and out of sight. 20 minutes later we were wondering where he’s got to when suddenly one of the ground floor windows shoots up and William clambers his way out, navigating successfully through a flower bed, while holding a decanter of the good stuff in one hand and three glasses with ice in the other. Didn’t spill a drop. Legend!"

Connor W - Various

"The shows are just fantastic, whether we are in a wedding marquee because of the rain or out on the pristine lawn in front of a great crowd.

The music after the show is where I first met Colm, and first truly fell in love with Irish music."

Jordan C - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"Ahhh yes, going to sleep then getting back up to sing 2 songs, one of them being Forever Autumn. Made a few tears, but that's why I love Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds. And what a crowd for the show too."

Daniel G - Various

"I have many lovely memories of the Irish tour venues from back in the day…

I always really looked forward to the shows at Lisnavagh House because they welcomed us so warmly, and because the audience was so full and friendly. We’d start the day by pitching tents and setting up the stage, then a game of cricket on the lawn (if it was dry enough). I think we only ever got rained off once at Lisnavagh in my time, leading to a bizarre Cyrano de Bergerac in the library with hastily re-choregraphed and severely curtailed sword fights! Best of all about Lisnavagh were the after-show parties in the barn. We’d sit in around with a drink, a fire and Colm with assorted small instruments, whiling away the evening with the Noble Call - lots of singing; Chris M’s stand-up; occasional poetry and maybe a bit of dancing. On one occasion we drifted into a beautiful moment of melancholy and self-reflection as Colm played a very sweet air on his whistle. As he played softly and hardened tourers wept into their vino, Andy and I, mis-reading the tone completely, snuck away and stripped off behind the van. As the last lovely notes faded and the company sighed, the aching beauty of the tune heavy on their hearts, Andy and I scampered into view and ruined the moment completely by performing what can only be described as a Gangly Jig.

In that same barn on a different occasion a more traumatic event is also rooted in my memory. The barn was originally used for repairing farm vehicles and was fitted with a repair pit and a false wooden floor. We were dancing, I think. Or playing a stupid drama game. Either of those two acts of enforced organised fun would have made me cross and I can’t remember which it was, only the fact that I was grumpy. As if sensing my mood the barn then conspired to compound my misery with injury and humiliation. As we danced or jumped or whatever it was we were doing the wooden floor gave way and I dropped into the pit below. I managed to catch myself, keeping one foot on the side and grabbing the edges with my hands. It was pretty terrifying for a moment, I pulled a muscle in my groin, and looked up at the rest of the cast, their faces set in a picture of shock and concern...for about 3 seconds, before breaking into uncontrollable laughter."

Tomo - Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow of Doom

"Lisnavagh for me, as I'm sure for many OTG tourers, is an absolute high light. For many reasons, great audiences, fantastic late nights round the fire, Stew's BBQ, great hosts, Colm's whistle and pipes, that drum... I could go on. But for me I will always remember it on my first tour. Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow of DOOOOOOOM. Everything was new to me and each new turn held a new sight or thing to do. It was also the first job I had done as I graduated that summer. I have many memories to choose from but I will honour one that forged a friendship for years to come. Mr Peter D and I shared our first tour that year and many more to come. He was a fresh 17 year old beardless joy. We had many stage fights during that production and I remember the weather hadn't been great (understatement as it was only bettered the following year when we performed nearly every show in the wet) - I digress, Pete had to clear the stage and also collect some of the weaponry. At this point he collected the two swords and started to make his exit stage left, unfortunately his show shoes had seen better days, and as his grip subsided and his traction waned he knew he was heading to meet ground zero with his face. Like the pro he was trying to be, and to not fail on his duties, and more likely than not, I reckon, to not impale himself, Pete adopted the star fish approach, arms stretched out, holding both swords out and hit the deck face first! Bravo Pete.... the company looked on and with a sigh of relief."

Rob K - Unknown

"Brendan McCoy requesting his own dressing tent at Lisnavagh because he wasn’t wearing any underwear."

Eleanor M - Treasure Island

"I remember during Treasure Island having to guard the swords, as a couple of the kids in the audience kept trying to fight with them, I seem to remember Brenny being very good at scaring them off!"

Eleanor M - Cyrano de Bergerac

"I'll always remember Cyrano, when we had to perform in the library!"

Andy B - Cyrano de Bergerac

"Hahaha wow! I forgot we went inside for Cyrano! Such a tiny space. How did we build a barricade in there?"

Eleanor M - Cyrano de Bergerac

"Can't remember, I mainly remember the big basket getting stuck in one of the entrances! There was a lot of surreptitious gestures and looks to get people to go offstage the other way."

Joey W - Cyrano de Bergerac

"Hahahaha! Here comes Lise Raganau, with her hamper of baps. I got wedged in between the door and had to send the cast around the other way across the stage. My baps were too massive for that library! Ah, my beige buffet hamper; I was so pleased with that prop. So many sausage rolls. So many soggy, slightly van-smelling sausage rolls."

Colm M - Cyrano de Bergerac

"The library show was a particular highlight for the 30 or so gently steaming audience members who turned up in the rain. As one of that audience I didn't have to give a fiddlers about the logistics, but it turned out to be the perfect show for an old, wood-lined library, the intimate setting adding to the intensity of the drama. I do remember Eric, who had obviously seen the play dozens of times by then, with tears in his eyes at Tomo's sublime performance. And, no, for a change, not because Tomo was upstaging everyone or milking a tiny part for comedic glory!"

Daniel C - Cyrano de Bergerac

"I loved that library. Not the fighting, obvo, that was weird"

Eleanor M - Cyrano de Bergerac

"That show definitely worked better indoors. I remember seeing it with new eyes (not literally obvs)."

Dan M - Cyrano de Bergerac

"I remember, just before picking Bill up, looking off SR to see Dan J, Eleanor, and I think Sam desperately gesturing for me to come over. I surreptitiously meandered to the door where they explained the problem. I then had to wander (with meaning) behind Bill’s other bearers just whispering, “off stage right”. Everyone gave that resigned look of, "oh there’s another problem." It was that kind of tour."

Andy B - Various.

"Listening to Colm, occasionally getting naked for no reason."

Eleanor M - Many.

"Stew trying to clap and whistle at the same time."

Tom M - Peter Pan

"Standing in for Bryony as “Sea Legs Susan” in a tent after El broke her ankle, and Bill’s pirate developing feelings for Susan, stood in a tiny gazebo holding hands in a yoga costume with an illiterate pirate. Good times. Except for the broken ankle bit, obviously."

Andy B - Cyrano de Bergerac

"We had a photo shoot at Lisnavagh for the local press and they only wanted to use the actors in the main role. As the lines in this show were heavily weighted towards a few of the cast (Tomo especially) all the other none importants had to unpack the van. This photo shows our enthusiasm."

* Photo below!

Joey W - Cyrano de Bergerac

"Team 10 Lines Or Less!"

Chloe H - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"So this is where I totally forgot my lines and to this day blame Dan V to make myself feel better about the fact it was my first tour, first show in Ireland and I totally blanked out hahaha. Of course it wasn’t him and we carried on to smash the show."

Tom M - Unknown

"One more - it’s a sweet one. Sat around the fire at in the garden at Lisnavagh and everyone coming up with puns around “food films.” Highlights included Inglorious Pastas, Pietanic and Soy Story. Was a lovely night. Love to all."

Matty G - Around the World in 80 Days

"Aaron becoming tour superhero when he put on those Avenger’s sunnies."

Chloe H - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"And Colm whipped out some instruments I had never seen before which blew my mind."

Bryony T - Various

"the post show music was always a real treat. Also remember Andy B and several others chasing Sarah H around whilst pretending to be velociraptors (Andy makes the noise very well if you've never heard it before, and the actions too!) and her being genuinely terrified and screaming herself silly."

Dan M - Various

"We first went to Lisnavagh after two years at Altamont. Altamont was an amazing venue near to Lisnavagh owned by the redoubtable Mrs North. When we first arrived we were greeted by Mrs North who informed us in a loud voice that she had “moved the cows out of the field and if we needed any water, there is the trough.” Luckily Colm, who was helping to manage the estate for Mrs North, was stood behind her mouthing at us not to worry.

Colm had given us a list of things that Mrs North would not stand for, the principle ones being shirtless males and swearing. After the first show there we were invited to an audience with Mrs North in the drawing room. Colm sat next to me whispering in glorious profanities how he couldn’t believe how we’d be invited in after one show as it had been seven years on the estate before he’d had an invite in there. He continued to swear quietly throughout the night - I knew we’d get on.

One of my favourite stories that Mrs North told was about how she had foiled burglars in the house and why one of her small dogs had started barking (she had two small dogs and two massive Irish wolfhounds as I remember.) “He didn’t make a single noise before that night.” (In my mind she sounds like a no-nonsense pillar of the empire - afraid of and shocked by nothing). In the library there is a door painted to look like a bookshelf and an office behind it. Quite late one evening, Mrs North was in the office when she heard a noise in the library. She realised she had a burglar and, in her own words, “thought I’d better do something about it or I could lose everything.” She was well into her sixties at this point. “I grabbed a poker and then burst into the library with the dogs behind me and the little one started yapping at that point. Hasn’t bloody stopped since. The burglars just ran away.” She paused, obviously considering the strange case of the dog barking. Someone commented on the possible danger of confronting burglars, which, it seemed, hadn’t occurred to her before. “Yes,” she said as an afterthought, “It was pitch black in the library and there’s a bright light in the office. I suppose the silhouette of a mad old woman brandishing a metal bar, surrounded by barking hounds, suddenly appearing out of what they thought was a wall must have been quite shocking to them.”

After two very happy years visiting Altamont Mrs North, who had become a great supporter of ours, sadly passed away. And we weren’t able to visit the venue again. Colm was insistent that we should keep visiting the area though and introduced us to Lisnavagh, where we still see him every year. I knew Lisnavagh was going to be a keeper when I first met Lord and Lady Rathdonnell. Lord Rathdonnell was fixing some lights onto the top of the stables so the audience could see their way out and Lady Rathdonnell was gardening. “Hello, I’m Ben,” came the call from above, “If anyone needs me I’ll be frigging about on the roof.” “And I’m Jessica.” Then in apology for not being able to shake my hand due to them being full of garden produce, “I’ve got herbs.”

We’ve been back every year since."

Colm M - Various

"When Corona North, who had welcomed OTG to Altamont, sadly passed away in 1999, we tried to continue hosting the summer tour there. However, as Dan will corroborate, we'd never had to negotiate with a Poisoned Dwarf™ before. We bent over backwards (well, she was very short *boom boom*) to accommodate all her mad requirements — extra stewards, erecting lights in the car park, etc., — but had to accept that she was taking the piss (pun intended) when, after we'd agreed to everything else, she insisted that Off the Ground bring their own toilets!

There really isn't enough praise for William and all the Bunbury family who so kindly stepped in to host the play in 1999 and have continued to do so ever since. At a time when Lisnavagh was more or less completely closed to the public, and knowing that they would make very little money out of it, they still agreed to give it a go.

I passed on all the dodgy lights and cable I had for the Altamont shows and William put in an enormous amount of work to make the show happen and bring an audience in to see it, even arranging to have Irish coffee sold for charity on the night. The Bunburys, and William in particular, have also been the most wonderful hosts every year, making the Lisnavagh shows a particular highlight of the Irish tours.

I don't know if William realises how many wonderful and lasting memories he has made for everyone involved. Personally, it was at Lisnavagh that I got to hear music I'd written for some of the shows being used and performed which, difficult as it may be to understand, is a particularly surreal experience. Like seeing a fully-grown unicorn appear and proceed to put on a 3-act-play.

William has also been my musical foil through the years, with so many amazing friendships formed over 'The House of the Rising Sun' and 'Go Lassie Go'. I will never be able to adequately express (and certainly not in writing, as you can see) to William and Off the Ground how special and sublime those evenings over the past 20 years have been and how lucky I feel to have been a part of them.

Special mention must go to Stew - half man, half charcoal - for his consistent and generous bbq expertise, another act of selfless, uncomplaining generosity. He truly is a giant of a man.

Thank you Lisnavagh. Thank you Off the Ground."


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