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Tour Memories #18 - Killyleagh Castle

Well, here we are. Tonight would have been our last night of another year of summer touring. We'd have spent the day in equal parts excited to get back on stage and enjoy the performance one more time, but also hoping that the 'set up' time and subsequently show time never arrives, so we don't have to face the prospect of doing each scene, playing each moment, for the last time.

As last venues go, there aren't many places you could ask for better than Killyleagh Castle. If you close your eyes right now and imagine a Disney castle, but one with enclosing walls around a perfect, Alice in Wonderland style croquet lawn, that's Killyleagh Castle. Closed to the public year round, as it is actually the private residence of our wonderful host and hostess, once a year they open it up to allow us to perform on the lawn with the most spectacular, turreted backdrop, and our audience get to cure their curiosity as to getting a taste of what it's like to live in a castle.

It being our last night, it naturally brings about a lot of memories for our casts, read about them below:

Andy B - Various

"During my time of touring, Killyleagh was the last show of the run. All shows were important but this venue was your last chance to give your all to the show you had fallen in love with over the summer.

There was always a warm welcome at the castle as well as at the Dufferin Arms where we laughed, drank, danced and sung our socks off after the last night of the show and for the cast party the evening before we caught the ferry home. After the As You Like It tour of 2010 this was also the company’s introduction to the sport of Flaming Hockey, which is now fixed firmly in our hearts, singed into our clothing and continues to fuse our shattered bones together.

The front lawn of Killyleagh Castle has many benefits for open air theatre. Firstly, it was famed amongst the cast for being flat and well kept. Not only was this a favourite for the Off the Ground Invitational XI cricket team to get a few overs in on our last day off but it also offered a comfy and safe landing ground for tired bodies who had been dancing or fighting on stage all summer and didn’t want their last show to be a bed of gravel. Obviously, you are also performing in front of a stunning castle so your performance is helped by the backdrop. You could stand there and recite the bus timetable and still get a 5* review!

However, one night sticks in memory when, while closing the Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow of Doom tour of 2007, the heavens opened with an almighty downpour and we had to quickly relocate inside. Cast and audience alike were grabbing chairs, blankets, lighting stands and costumes and it was an incredible act of camaraderie to get everyone inside and for the show to resume without losing too much time. In order to fit the large crowd inside, to say it was snug was an understatement. But it’s moments like these which make live theatre so magical and that make open air performances in particular so special. When people buy a ticket for an Off the Ground show, we know people aren’t there to just let the evening wash over them. Proper theatre audiences want to be involved, to be wrapped up in the evening as a whole, to laugh, to cheer, to chat with friends and if, on occasion, they find themselves carrying a speaker system into a castle with someone wearing a bear costume to escape the rain, then so be it."

Connor W - Various

"What a way to end a tour Killyleagh is. Our hosts, Polly and Gawn, are so generous, they've become true friends of the company, and any tour without a visit to Killyleagh, or to see them, just wouldn't feel like tour at all.

The audience numbers have occasionally been up and down, but in the past year or two we hit upon a real winning formula. There is no better feeling than ending a tour that you've put your all into, with one last performance, in the stunning surroundings of the castle grounds, with 300+ people all there laughing and cheering you on. It's a magical place to visit, I can only imagine what it must be like to live there. We are all very jealous of Polly and Gawn, but count ourselves incredibly lucky that we get to visit them and enjoy their and the family's company each year."

Eleanor M - Robin Hood & the Golden Arrow of Doom

"Me and Bethan running around trying to buy alternative props for the show as we managed to leave the props box behind at Killygar!"

Andy B - Unknown

"Having to stop the show because an orange march was going through the town. Didn't make myself many friends that day, as my character was a Catholic Priest."

Lily A - Sinbad

"My memory is from Killyleagh Castle in Northern Ireland!

It was the last show of the Sinbad tour. The show was jam packed with stunts and physical scores and after landing awkwardly after a stunt I found myself with a pulled groin just before the interval. Si to the rescue. He worked his magic and had me standing and back in the game ready for the second half to begin. However in the commotion of the interval, and myself being very dramatic about the situation, I had taken off my saddle bag containing "precious Gems" which were ESSENTIAL for the the first scene of the second half.

The second half began, and with the only thing on my mind being that I was able to put weight on my leg again, I bounced onto stage WITHOUT THE SADDLE BAG CONTAINING THE ESSENTIAL GEMS FOR THE OPENING SCENE.

Obviously, it was too late when I realised I wasn't wearing the bag. I actually didn't realise until I was told in the script to hand over the precious gems. The funniest thing was that I don't think anyone else on stage realised I had forgotten the bag either. So the scene went on with a lot of suspicious looks and me trying to subtly signal to the other actors my current situation. After massive stray from the script and my fellow actors being absolutely amazing and on the ball, the talented Nick C