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Tour Memories #16 - Killruddery House

Tonight's show would have put us on the home stretch for 2020's touring run of Love's Labour's Lost. We would be turning thoughts to home (but not too much), making the most of our time together (probably a bit too much) and soaking up every second of the experience of the show we'd come to know so well.

When it comes to appreciating moments of a performance, there is no space that lends itself quite as well to this as Killruddery House does. The house and gardens themselves are beautiful beyond words, with so much to see and explore around the expanses of grass and hedgerows, concealing mysterious pond/sculpture gardens or sweeping, uniform lakes. OTG retain the incredible privilege to date of being allowed to perform in the Sylvan Theatre, which dates back hundreds of years. In this magical space, large hedgerows encircle grass, tiered seating for the audience, around a circle stage. The only entrance and exit is through magnificent, statue-lined gates. As you step out into the lights of the stage and through that gate to a full audience, you cannot help but be acutely aware of every gorgeous moment that comes with performing there.

Read some memories from our previous casts below:

Andy B - Various

"By the time you get to Killruddery we are usually about half way through the Irish leg of the tour and so you know the show inside out. However, Killruddery’s stage within a hedged wall is so special that it requires some re-blocking of dances and fight routines. This was always a great moment for the cast to group together and show real team work. It also caused hilarious moments of great desperation – Dan Meigh famously trying to keep it together while screaming “Propellers!” at a cast who had gone beyond choreography and were now fully in giggles.

Before my first show at Killruddery in 2002 I remember asking someone how many people could fit on the sloped verges inside the hedged wall. I was given the straightforward answer of “it depends how close they sit!” We’d seen people arriving at a steady pace from when the gates opened so I knew we’d have a good crowd but people just kept coming. The line of people walking in stretched as far as we could see. When the time came to walk into the space, it was rammed! People were packed in Colosseum style. Kids were sat on parents knees, beaming at the action on stage and picnic hampers had to be left outside the theatre as there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone to get in otherwise. The atmosphere was absolutely electric and at the end the whole audience got up and surged onto the stage for the final dance of Everybody Needs Somebody. Unbeknownst to us, we had been watched that evening by film actor Dennis Hopper, who had popped along for some fun as he’d been filming nearby. I can now say I’ve shared a stage with a Hollywood great!"

Daniel G - Various

"I always found Killruddery to be a little otherworldly. Like stepping back in time. The amphitheatre there, full of people on picnic blankets, is still one of my all-time favourite venues to perform. I suppose it helps that my first show there, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was a sellout and included the sight of Bren dressed as Elvis and dancing with Dennis Hopper. My best and worst memory of the venue, though, is from playing in the Orangery because of the rain. The Orangery is lovely, and one of the best alternate rain-venues we could be offered. It was during a biblical downpour, the show was Cyrano de Bergerac. It started badly when I slipped climbing out of the van and fell flat out in the mud, straining my back and smashing my phone screen. During the full run of that tour I had one line I kept getting stuck on. I missed a cue on probably 80% of the shows. Tomo was doing a speech and from the background I had to say “100 men ‘gainst one!” I just kept forgetting - I was too busy looking interested and doing some pretty sterling and focused background acting with my face (or something). As a solution, Andy said he would squeeze me surreptitiously on the shoulder when my cue was approaching. I think I was already in a weird mood - the rain, the fall, the venue change - but he didn’t just squeeze my shoulder. He approached, staring me directly in the eyes, a funny look on his face and squeezed. As he squeezed he did a little curtsey and said something under his breath which I can’t repeat here. It completely set me off - I managed to get the line out in a strained squeaky voice and then totally corpsed. I was laughing so hard, and trying so hard not to, that it hurt. I had to turn round because the audience were already looking at me questioningly after I delivered my line with a grin on my face and a squeaky voice. I laughed so hard I was doubled over at the back of the stage, tears running down my cheeks, other cast members trying to hide me from view. I couldn’t get off fast enough. That is hands down the most unprofessional I have ever been in a show. Sorry Killruddery."

Andy B - Cyrano de Bergerac

"Performing in The Orangery was one of the strangest experiences. Having been the room where Lord and Lady Meath (plus the Dowager) would serve us tea and sandwiches, it was naturally the place to perform the show on the Cyrano tour, because the god of weather decided to hate open-air theatre that year."

Connor W -

"You cannot beat a good night at Killruddery. It's the venue that gets talked most about with our casts in terms of a magical performance, particularly for those who are yet to experience it. We've had a few really wet nights there, in fact the first 4/5 shows I did with OTG were consistently wet. I'll explain a bit below how that creates a different kind of experience. I remember the first dry show I got though, with a packed out audience on a gorgeous summer night. What an experience. Nothing prepares you for the buzz you get playing in that space to an eager crowd. The fact that the whole show has to shift slightly to accommodate a thrust stage means you find yourself paying real attention to all the tiny details of your performance again, which is enlightening 14 or so shows into a tour. You find things in the show, because of that space, that you have never found before."

Chloe H - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"Killruddery 2019 - Everything about this day and this show was unreal to me. As it got darker and we switched the lights on everything felt perfect. We managed to get the dancing right at the end, even though the change of formation totally made my head fall off. The audience were amazing who we danced with at the end and said our goodbyes to. I’ll never forget it!"

Andy B - Treasure Island

"On our Treasure Island tour of 2004 I was playing Ben Gunn, the marooned pirate who had lost his mind and was left dreaming of a piece of cheese. At one point during my (self-proclaimed) heart-wrenching 'Who is Ben Gunn?' speech about having dreamt of cheddar for ten years while being alone on the island, a small lad on the front row tapped my leg and offered me some cheese from his hamper. Before you could say “gorgonzola” all professionalism left my body, my mind went blank, I nearly blubbed at this boy’s kindness, gabbled a few phrases that weren’t my actual lines and ran off stage. Luckily my character was quite mad so I don’t think anyone noticed."

Connor W - Jason & the Argonauts

"I actually still have a scar from a performance at Killruddery. Doing Jason & the Argonauts, the end fight was Jason and select crew against hordes of skeletons, complete with full-body skeleton morph suits. These were hard to see out of at the best of times, but I think the depth of the stage at Killruddery made it even harder on that night. The fights were all done with broad swords, so it was a recipe for disaster! I remember finding my feet for the fight with Joel, and suddenly being aware that I couldn't see where he was, or more importantly, where his sword was going to be. Muscle memory kicked in and I put the block up above my head as I was meant to. It was just as well I did. Joel had made the right attack, to find the block, but we were slightly off position, so his sword slid down off mine, and scraped down my face, leaving a nasty cut on my lip (Lord knows what damage it would have done if it had missed the block entirely.) The rest of the fight went alright, once we'd found that initial contact, funnily enough, but I remember coming offstage, getting through the quick change for the final scene and DJ's jaw dropping as he saw the state of my lip. It must have been quite the dramatic look, post-battle, for the audience, as one Argonaut was gushing blood from the mouth."

Matty G - Zorro

"Si Large dropping the keys down a drain and then retrieving them, at the swimming pool.

Also the screaming chicken."

Connor W - Zorro

"This is one of the most bizarre memories I think I have of all tours. As a cast, we'd taken a trip out to the local leisure centre to make use of their many shower facilities - there'd been none available at venue that year. We were already on fairly strict time constraints, as we were due in the performance space to begin reblocking the show in about an hour. John was last out the van, and threw the keys across the car park to Si. They hit his hand and came out and fell directly down a grid. I've never seen such a display of cast teamwork and bonding to problem solve. It was like a work facilitation exercise in real life. People chewed full packs of gum while others found sticks of apt length and width to fit through the grid. Si and I spoke to locksmiths in Dublin, while also discussing how best to inform senior management (the only people not present - our decision was 'don't'). By some feat of teamwork, we managed to get the keys out of the grid. Without missing a beat, everyone then went and showered with military efficiency and we were still back in time for the reblock - and nobody breathed a word of it to senior management, really quite impressive camaraderie.

I can give no context for the screaming chicken, however, as there is no empirical evidence that it was ever touched."

Aimee M - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"Is that the pig sty where I went full DIVA?"

Chloe H - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"The. Pig. Sty.

That is my comment."

Aimee M - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"“Where is the nearest hotel?! I am going!”"

Chloe H - A Midsummer Night's Dream


Aimee M - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"This contributed to my “Fear Factor Award”, I think? Frogs hopping round in the jungle that we were trying to pitch up in - no thank you."

Chloe H - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"Phil shouting at me to move my tent back onto a literal snapped TREE."

Aimee M - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"On reflection... Genuinely one the prettiest venues though."

Elissa C - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"Oh my God, I was not okay in that field, I found a frog under my tent! But the venue was beautiful, I remember during our rehearsal all those kids who were running around screaming, one by one sitting right in front of us in complete silence to watch us, the parents were in complete awe."

Eleanor M - The Musketeers

"Who remembers Eric's strop when putting the tents up? I remember helping by throwing apples at him!"

Connor W - Various

"We have camped out in various places at Killruddery over the years. It is a working estate that is also open to the public, so there aren't many places that can accommodate a cast of our size, with the amount of tents and vehicles we arrive with. The venue have always been very helpful in doing their best to find a suitable spot, however, and in recent years that has been the field in which the pigs usually live (the pigs are taken out first). In the past it has been the orchard, in with the chicken coops. Killruddery is such that it comes at just that point in the tour when tiredness is becoming a real factor for people, and you can see how hard people are having to push through it. Sometimes they deal with it well, sometimes less well. There have been some spectacular meltdowns at Killruddery while setting up camp in the past. Aimee, Chloe and Liss' comments above were actually on an occasion when, overall, they dealt really well with the situation, compared to some! Eric, however, did not. On discovering we were camping in the orchard, Eric lost it, I believe he told Tomo it was 'his best idea ever'. It didn't help that El and I kept throwing apples at him, and it really didn't help that Pete and Tomo were winding him up incessantly throughout - I think that was the night that Eric went to bed to find that Pete had 'hidden' his camping stove in his pillow - you'd think you might notice something like that before laying down, but the loud clunk that came from his pod suggested otherwise."

Ellie H - Zorro

"The wettest show ever with all the ponchos! It was so wet we took our ponchos off and gave them to the audience and we were DRENCHED but had the best show and audience reaction ever."

DJ J - Peter Pan

"Torrential rain, a surprisingly big audience under a sea of umbrellas, a show with most of the cast in T-shirt’s and shorts. Ripping off the the ponchos half way through the second scene and with 100% effort just drenching ourselves in rain and mud."

Tomo - Peter Pan

"Hands up who doesn’t want to do the show tonight?"

Connor W - Peter Pan

"This was another incredible display of cast unity (except for Tomo, but not really). It had been tipping it down all day, and we were all aware of how miserable the show could be in the rain. By an absolute stroke of luck, the 'multi-national classical crossover vocal group' (as they call themselves) Il Divo, were performing in the field over the way from our stage. They had brought along a whole set of massive stippled wooden boards to help them transport their various bits of equipment to the field. We borrowed some of these boards and used them to the same effect. While we were reblocking, we also had to use them to completely carpet the stage, as it was quickly becoming a quick-sinking mud pit. While we were in the dressing room getting changed to do the show, it was still undecided whether we would be rained off or not. Dan came into the dressing room, looking an odd mixture of amazed, miffed and contrite. He explained to us that, in spite of the torrential downpour, over 100 people had come out to see the show and were sat waiting for us in the bushes, ponchoed up and ready to brave the evening. Dan said that, with conditions as they were, he was happy to call the show off if the majority of the cast didn't want to do it, but reminded us of the people outside, the effort they'd made, and also what it would mean financially to cancel the show. When it came time to vote, only Tomo raised his hand to not perform, which sounds like he was being obstinate, but it wasn't that. He very much was just willing to say what we were all thinking, as nobody really wanted to go out there.

As it happened the show went off that night. The audience loved it, shouted along with us to make themselves heard as we were doing. They joined in, they laughed even louder. When things went wrong (and by Jesus did they go wrong that night) they played along with us and made a joke out of everything. On nights like that, when both audience and entertainers are getting drenched, it creates a real sense of togetherness between cast and audience. You are quite literally all in it together, and it can create a cracking atmosphere.

At the end of the show we made an effort to thank each person individually for coming out, drenched as we were. I asked one member of the audience why they'd bothered, and got the immortal reply 'it's Ireland, if we didn't come out when it's raining, we'd never leave the house.'

Tomo was the MVP when it came to the pack down, too."

Tom M - Peter Pan

"The night during Peter Pan when the entire cast had an injury/illness! The weather was absolutely terrible. Joel slipped, I believe, Mat wasn’t well, several people seemed to get hypothermia from the cold, El was still on crutches. The get-out was left to Tomo and I as all the cast had an ailment, and it was like a scene from a Vietnam War film. At Killruderry, to get to the power supply, you have to crawl on your belly through the bushes, as many of you know, and once I’d carried the plug through the entire thing, I found Tomo simply winding up the extension. Genius. I’m an idiot.

Dribs and drabs of the cast started re-emerging and getting various bits out in this absolutely torrential downpour. By now the stage was flooded, but more significantly, the van and minibus were stuck. The solution? Using bits of staging to release the wheels, and once the van had gone over that piece of staging, moving that staging to back in front of the van. A feat of engineering. Once we had made it out alive, everyone was sodden wet and a rousing rendition of “The Young New Mexican Puppeteer,” kept our spirits up.

I was techie on that tour and to see the actors face the challenge with such gusto, navigating through the excessively flooded stage was an absolute privilege. No matter the issue, injury or difficult entrance, the actors met it head on, and to be sat with the (insane) audience and laughing, cheering and hollering in that shared space was really special. It was one of the best nights of my life and exactly what theatre is all about.

I love that space!"

Bryony T - Peter Pan

"I love performing at Killruddery. It's such a rare treat to play in the round. For me it will always be the venue where a member of the audience, when asked why they had come out in such torrential rain, replied with "well, we're Irish, if we didn't come out in the rain, we'd never come out!" Also where Mat, Jay and a few others broke bones, I dislocated my shoulder and I'm pretty sure Joey got hypothermia. Oh I miss it!"

DJ J - Peter Pan

"I still tell people about the Killruddery Peter Pan night; one of my favourite ever performances. Such a broken and drenched cast, rallied together and pulled off an incredible show. I remember a few minutes in to the first big Lost Boys' scene, all in our ponchos, covered in mud (inside and out) from crawling under and behind the stage - then some unified, unspoken decision rippling through us and just ripping them off mid-scene and throwing them away and embracing it all. Such an amazing, dedicated audience that night - they deserved the best show we could possibly give them (without literally dying)."

Eleanor M - Robin Hood & the Golden Arrow of Doom

"I think Peter Pan was the 2nd wettest year at Killruddery. Robin Hood was insane!"

Andy B -

"I love that each year there would be a photo of the cast reblocking the dances/fights while in ponchos. Robin Hood was one of the most physical shows we did, this day was hard but the show was amazing!"

* Photos below! Including one of a 'kick ass shot of a Matrix moment in one of the fights.'

DJ J - Alice in Wonderland

"Celebrating A level results by the mini buses at Killruddery with champagne for all."

Connor W - Around the World in 80 Days

"Dan and I had talked at length, prior to this show at Killruddery, about how much fun it is to play a character that has long monologues at the venue, because of the intimacy it lends with the audience, and the energy that gives the performance. Dan had been fortunate enough to play Benedict there, and I had never yet experienced it, but I knew it was coming with Passepartout in Around the World. It was just as amazing as I'd hoped, if not more so. My only regret is that the increased energy and audience reaction made me absolutely blitz through the speeches, I wish I'd taken the time to sit in them a bit longer, but then that might have just been indulgent."

Andy B - Treasure Island

"Treasure Island, 2004. Jon had come down with mega lurgy so Martin stepped up to play Jon's role of Blind Pew, the visually impaired sword fighter extraordinaire who gives Billy Bones the Black Spot (spoiler, sorry!). Martin was amazing and learned all the lines in the car park of Dunne's Store in Dublin, and Tim and I (who shared the scene with him) went over everything to make sure he was comfortable. Martin was such a pro that he wanted to go on stage with the thin mesh blindfold that Jon wore over his eyes. You could see out of it, but it looked like it was solid material so the effect was brill. That evening at Killruddery during the bar brawl, everything was ready for Blind Pew to attack Tim and I when it became apparent the fight sequence had escaped Martin. He was standing there ready to fight but very much looked like a man in a blindfold who didn't know what was going on. What do you do in this situation? I remember making a few noisy swats with my sword to let Martin know where I was and yet still he didn't attack. I thought the best thing to do was just charge at him (what a brainiac!), Martin put out his sword and I fended it off in the manner the fight was due to begin and it was like a switch clicked. Everything came back to him and everyone was none the wiser!"

Connor W - Various

"If it's your first time at Killruddery, you'll remember the feeling of exactly this...

You've set up, and you're outside the hedges waiting for your first entrance. You can't see anything for the first time all tour, so there isn't much to do but stand around in the dark and listen out for your cue. As the first actors either enter or leave a scene, or the scene before yours, they get the biggest cheer/round of applause that any audience has given all tour. There's a mixture of excitement and suddenly that rush of nerves that you haven't felt since day one. You already know it's going to be a special performance, and you haven't even made it on for your first scene yet."

Eleanor M - Twelfth Night

"I have particularly loved performing the Shakespeare plays in this venue. It is always such a joy to be in that space. As Viola in Twelfth Night I had so much fun interacting with the audience, who were always amazing and so up for it. Killruddery has always been my favourite venue to perform in."

Dan M -

"Killruddery is, without a shadow of doubt, my favourite venue to perform in. It turns out they really knew how to build theatres in the 17th century. Something about the audience being able to see each other and about being so close to them gives it a feel like no other place. You can chat with the audience, joke with them, speak directly to them and, most years, nick their food and drink. Even when the weather is terrible, which it has been on many occasions, you are all aware that you are together having a unique experience.

Killruddery is also great fun for film and TV nerds as it's often used as a shooting location. We have played at being in The Tudors, messed around in a forest clearing in Camelot and galloped down the magnificent canals at the back of the house pretending to be The Count of Monte Cristo. (We didn’t have horses, obviously, but that hasn’t stopped us from having several very competitive races which I still insist that Stuie and I definitely won.)

Completely out of the blue, I bumped into a stuntman friend who was working on Into the Badlands, and we apparently caused Anne Hathaway and James McEvoy to have an unexpected day off while we performed in the Sylvan Theatre. Our best film story though, is undoubtedly our visit from Dennis Hopper. He had been filming nearby and had stayed on a week so that he could see a show in the theatre. We were performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream (60s version) and none of us noticed Dennis (as I like to call him), only realising who he was after someone casually mentioned to Iona (Titania) that she’d be dancing with him for about five minutes. We hadn’t managed to do a bow that night as at the end of the show the audience had stood up en masse and joined us on stage for the last two numbers and Dennis was giving it his best, resplendent in a bright yellow anorak. Brendan (playing Theseus as Elvis) suddenly remembered that he’d been chatting to Dennis in his best Elvis voice throughout the interval (he was being told it was a good accent) and not realised he was speaking to one of his heroes, and my favourite comment of the night came from Stew who had been looking after box office. 'So you mean that small, American fella who bought his own ticket and looked a bit like Dennis Hopper was DENNIS HOPPER.'"


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