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Tour Memories #17 - Philipstown House

It's hard to quite put into words what good hospitality does for a tired theatre company. By this point in the tour we are at our penultimate performance, we know the show inside out and we are cherishing every moment we have left performing it. And we have performed it in all conditions, as you will have read by now. That takes its toll on actors and crew, even if they are doing what they love to do. By this point in tour all we want is a warm welcome, some good food, an appreciative and generous audience (and a warm summer's evening). Well, Philipstown is the place for all of those things (and most of the years we've been, the warm summer's evening, too!) Our hosts are some of the most generous we have across our entire touring run, who are genuinely so, so passionate to see the show go well and to get the crowds in. Year after year we have arrived at Philipstown to find that food stalls, chutney and jam stalls, even craft stalls, have already set up, creating a fayre-like atmosphere of which we are the main attraction. It's a great feeling. Read some more about our memories of it below (as well as one very odd memory of a past venue not too far away):

Connor W - Around the World in 80 Days

"I think I laughed the most at any moment I've ever witnessed on stage, watching Tomo, Nick and Grace try to get through their opening scene of the second act of Around the World in 80 Days at Philipstown. I don't know if it was Tomo's ad libs (never!), Nick trying so, so hard not to laugh, or the moment he got completely pulled over an inflatable by Tomo, but I could not control myself. It wasn't ideal, as I was on in the following scene and I barely had time to compose myself and wipe the tears from my eyes before I got on."

* Words can't do it justice, so we've included the scene below!

Ciara D - Sinbad

"I remember performing Sinbad at Philipstown, and as we were reaching the end of the play the heavens opened tremendously. We, as you tend to do in those situations, sped up the last few scenes, but we weren't quick enough. By the last scene the rain was torrential. Connor, playing Myesha, couldn't put the dress on, which was formed out of a sheet that had been on stage throughout, so just looked like a man in a headscarf. Adam, who suffers with poor eyesight anyway, actually couldn't see a thing in the rain, so Pete had to guide him everywhere on stage. At one point he shouted 'I can't see!' to Pete's Sinbad character, and it wasn't really acting.

After the show the whole cast put in an incredible effort to get the show packed down and keep everything protected in what must have been record time. By the time we'd got things packed down everyone was drenched through. We all had food that we'd been waiting to eat that was also now quite wet. I remember Ben had somehow lost his t-shirt too, so was topless throughout until Kath lent him her transparent mac, which was now clinging to his naked body like some strange fetish outfit.

The owners let us into the house to dry off, eat, chat, warm up and play with the dogs. They were so, so generous and sympathetic. We had hot soup, and delicious cheeses, before our long drive to where we were staying that night. I genuinely don't know what we would have done without Robert and Annabel that night!"

Ellie H - The Musketeers

"When Tomo popped the bean bag..."

Dan M - Various

"For the first couple of years at Philipstown there was a chip van for the audience at the interval. Unfortunately, he couldn’t come the third year but was still willing to provide refreshments.How best to organise this then? I have never been at a show, though I think it should be common practice, where the venue owner stands up at the beginning, welcomes the company and the audience, then gets a pad out and takes a chippy order before the play starts. I want that to catch on."

Connor W - Unknown

"I'll never forget immediately before we went on to open a show at Philipstown, I forget which one, Tomo and I had been chatting to a very thickly accented, elderly Irish gent. Whether he was slightly tipsy or just happy to be there I'm not sure, but some very excited chatter was going on as the rest of the cast were getting to their starting positions. Just as Tomo and I insisted he should now take his seat and we should be on stage, he cracked a joke along the lines of 'how can you tell a baby from a man? The baby has hair on its head, but the man...', at which point he rubbed Tomo's head (not a whole lot of hair there) and wandered off without another word to find his seat. We struggled through that opening for trying not to laugh."

Ciara D - Around the World in 80 Days

"We often film the shows at Philipstown, it's got a lovely backdrop, the stage is compact enough to ensure the camera gets everything, and the cast are so, so familiar with the show it is usually as professional a performance as they come. That should imply that nothing goes wrong. It should.

When we were filming Around the World in 80 Days there, there was a moment when Alice and I had to leapfrog over each other across the stage at the opening of the second act. It just so happened to be right in front of where the camera was placed and focused on us. We'd got it right every single time in rehearsals, and for 17 shows to this point. On this night she jumped straight on my back like a piggy back, I wasn't expecting it and we both completely crumpled into the grass. Good job there's no video evidence of it, that would be embarrassing..."

* Video below, obviously!

Tomo - Jason & the Argonauts

"'Where the f**k is my skeleton morph suit!?'"

Connor W - Jason & the Argonauts

"Hahaha, a priceless DJ moment. I think the skeleton morph suits came up in yesterday's blog too. It was always a pretty close shave of a quick change, which meant the skeleton actors had become very precious about where their particular morph suit was set pre-show. DJ's had gone missing at some point, and he didn't handle not being able to find it particularly well, saying he simply couldn't go on stage for the scene. Tomo quickly pointed out that he had a pretty crucial role in the final fights, so that wasn't an option - I can't remember if he came on as a skeleton that night, or just as a mutinous Argonaut."

Ciara D - Sinbad

"Si got his massage table out at this venue. Good God, there was such a queue to get some help with aching bodies, we all needed it that day."

Connor W - Sinbad

"I did not need what Si did to my knees."

Ben B - Jason & the Argonauts

"Kieran was testing food from the Harpy’s table in Jason. For the previous couple of shows, Joe had been getting away with ad-libbing something like ‘he must be a vegetarian’ as Kieran was sniffing around the various dishes. Not wanting to be outdone, Kieran whips around on cue and says he is in fact a pescatarian - genius. Only thing is, he makes himself corpse, and then he’s stood there giggling like a wally while the audience is waiting for something to happen. Was a beautiful thing to behold."

Tomo - Jason & the Argonauts

"I remember Iona Farley and I going out to visit the new ground at Philipstown before we arrived later that year with our show. I always find it exciting to go over to Ireland and check out new potential venues. When we arrived we were greeted very warmly and invited in to the house for a cuppa and a chat about how we would arrive and set up and a little bit about what the company is about etc. It all went really well and later that year we arrived with Jason & The Argonauts. This was the year Dan had off - his first in about 20 back-to-back years - and the artistic responsibility was given to me. Robert, who had organised the event, and whose grounds it was, was always really personable, warm and welcoming. I remember his children doing a massive tea and coffee order for the whole cast, he tried to create a real community feel for the shows and the first year there were so many arts & crafts stalls, food vans & a jam and curd man who got a bit grumpy from time to time...

The show was a real success and I remember the nights had started to draw in as they tend to do in the last week of shows, and the hydra monster puppet that we had made in Liverpool, that needed to be operated by 7 actors, wowed the kids and adults alike, and looked truly scary for Jason as you could see its eyes lit up in the dark! Then after the show we all ate together, there's something special about communal moments like these that we don't get in throughout the year, and ones I really savour whilst being away on tour. Robert is ex-army, I think, and one of his army pals comes and helps set up the ground before the show. I was stood with them both at the end as we ate our food, and they were laughing at the situation they found themselves in - hosting a theatre company while living on the boundary of Northern Ireland and the Republic - and then Robert's friend goes "well this is a bit different to the night we were eating in Iraq with bombs going off over our heads!"

It really is a funny old thing, making and touring theatre..."

Dan M - Robin Hood & the Golden Arrow of Doom

"We had possibly our strangest ever night on tour not too far from Philipstown. I say “not too far” but this venue was actually nowhere near anywhere. I presume that if you go past the middle of nowhere then you start heading towards somewhere again but it definitely felt like we’d left nowhere, got to the middle, then wandered into a whole new realm of never before and possibly no way out. I won’t mention the venue in case it's all a figment of our collective imaginations.

The ownership of the house was slightly in question. Our contact, I’ll call her Mary to try and normalise her a little, was in situe but was divorced from the owner and had now returned to the house after his death. She was quite mad. And drunk for most of the time we were there.

We arrived at the back of the house because you can’t drive round the front. Whether they forgot to put a road in or decided roads were a modern gimmick that were never going to catch on wasn’t quite clear. Half of us were ushered into a kitchen full of people making fruit pies and having a decent stab at becoming inebriated reasonably early in the day. We were invited to sit down on whatever space was available and, as one of the cast went to sit on the chair at the end of the table, a huge cry of, “NOOOO!” Went through the room. “That is Arthur’s seat.” Arthur, it turned out, was the dead husband and his place at the table was to be maintained despite his imminent return seeming unlikely. At that point three girls dressed in identical Irish dancing costumes came in and one of them came directly up to me and, staring straight at me asked, “Would you like a glass of homemade lemonade?” There was nothing in those eyes. I wondered if anyone else could see the girls and squinted to see if Arthur was indeed slumped in his seat.

After initial pleasantries, and I’m using that word quite wrongly, we were taken on a tour of the house. Outside of the kitchen it smelled of damp and was very unloved and unlived in. We were warned in no uncertain terms not to turn left into the East wing as the floor was liable to collapse. That part of the building had been destroyed 30 years ago, and not repaired, when the children tried to put out a campfire they had started in the hallway (as you do) with a bottle of kerosene. By the pointless front door, on a display table which no-one ever saw, there was a picture of some of the family with Saddam Hussein.

It won’t come as a huge surprise that the organisation of the show was, to put it mildly, chaotic. I’m not sure they knew what a play was or what people were meant to do with one. There was an attempt at a carnival feel in front of the house with a bird display, or a bird anyway, and some children’s games with accompanying screaming children. Apparently some local, recently arrived refugees had been invited which translated as a rather bemused looking lady in a fantastically coloured dress rotating in the middle of a field trying to work out if she was meant to be somewhere. It should be noted that all of these people left a good couple of hours before the show was due to begin. Someone drove into the field and pointed their car vaguely towards where we were going to perform and right in the middle of where we were setting up. We went over to see if we could help at which point the driver rolled down the window just a tiny amount, an amount that made it very clear that she didn’t trust us, pointed at her companion and shouted, “She’s a cripple.” We were good with this new concept of drive-in, accessible theatre but I still don’t understand why they left when it started raining. Maybe the windscreen wipers didn’t work.

The venue had built a stage for us to perform on but as only three or four people could fit on it and when on it, it was so slippy that three or four people couldn’t stand up, we chose not to use it. This turned out to be a fortuitous decisions as a local pensioner in a high-vis jacket decided it was the best place to watch the show from, despite it being behind our stage and in full view of the audience, and he watched our backs for a good hour or so while smoking a seemingly endless supply of rollies. We also had a donkey in the audience. The donkey was, in many respects, an excellent audience member, except he did try and join in whenever I started trying to sing (and I use the word trying quite accurately). I swear, no-one else - my voice and my voice alone did something to that donkey, and I can’t say whether it was good or bad, but he left at the interval.

Halfway through the first half a band started setting up right next to our stage. They looked most put out when we asked them to stop but explained they could finish in the interval. The interval seemed to be a surprise to most of the audience who had no idea what they should do and why the story had finished in the middle. We kept it short.

By the end of the night Tomo had fallen into the hole in the middle of the stage (the one he had warned us all about) several times, the audience seemed to have got the gist of what was going on, and were all ready to collapse. But no. As soon as we had done, the band got on with their set up. I thought I should show willing and thank our hosts so went back to the kitchen, avoiding the collapsing floors. I’m not sure anyone in the kitchen had left the kitchen except to find extra bottles of wine. Apple pie was immediately thrust at me and the dead, dancing children poured a drink of who knows what and then… then led me to sit in the dead man’s chair. I knew I had to make a run for it at this point.

When I got outside the band, now with huge amps and full light show, were performing for us, and only us as, the rest of the audience had gone. The cast had moved our props tent next to the stage and had created our own VIP area where they were thoroughly enjoying a private gig.

That morning I had woken up in my own bed.

Tomo, whose first tour it was, walked past, paused then asked, “Is this normal?”

“I think so,” I replied.

It was the first of many times we’ve had that short conversation.

It is still such a relief to have the 'normality' of Philipstown, after that night."

For your enjoyment, we present with absolutely no context. Act 2, scene 1 of Around the World in 80 Days.

1 Comment

robert bell
robert bell
Apr 23, 2021

Just read this again - how we miss you all. Hopefully we can see you all again soon! Robert B.

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