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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 Crosby noticed my squirming and ran off stage to retrieve the gems. Thankfully the show went on perfectly despite the hiccup and we had a fantastic ending to a phenomenal tour."

Andy B - Robin Hood & the Golden Arrow of Doom

"Absolutely tipped it down and we moved the whole show into the front room of the castle. No time for reblocking, everyone wet through, lots of pointy swords going close to the front row, finding a secret entrance to burst in out of. Ridiculous scenes!"

Tomo - Robin Hood & the Golden Arrow of Doom

"Robin Hood performed indoors at the castle and finding a great place up stage by the open fire to deliver my lines from."

Chloe H - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"Daniel V getting so drunk at the end of this show from the audience piling us with ale throughout the show. Spraying me with man's deodorant constantly, picking me up, trying to fit me into a costume box and just being genuinely hilarious."

DJ J - Various

"Fire Hockey at Killyleagh - bones breaking, fire raging, Stew running around taking pictures of the carnage."

Andy B - Various

"And of course, Flaming Hockey. So many injuries.

The elation of winning and the relief that the ordeal was over. I don’t think anyone suggested we needed shirts vs skins to differentiate the teams that evening. It just felt natural.

DJ J - As You Like It

"Isn’t this the game where you broke a finger and I broke a foot? I believe the last ever game...?

I just remember Stew running amongst the darkness and fire, trying to take action pictures and avoid Bob “The Juggernaut” Kav."

Connor W - Alice in Wonderland

"The last year was the year you got injured DJ, and Rich hurt his back, same night Mat dislocated his shoulder trying to bench press Bren."

Joey W - As You Like It

"That was one of the greatest tour nights I think I’ve ever had!"

Connor W - Alice in Wonderland

"What a game Flaming Hockey is. If you've never played, it's essentially the most dangerous sport on the planet. Played in the pitch black, it's hockey, on a set of tennis courts with the nets removed, with tea light candles in jars as goal posts, and an oil-soaked rag wrapped around chicken wire, set on fire, as the ball. Grab a stick and off you go! Anything that's on fire counts as a ball. I only ever got to play once, and to be honest, that was quite enough. Mat played hockey at county level prior to this tour, so we knew, being teamed up, that we had an advantage. 'Stay out on your best wing and shout whenever I do, I'll find you' he said. That's exactly what I did. Scored a hat trick and we won 4-3. It's still probably the best I've ever performed in a sporting outing, and it was entirely thanks to Mat."

Tomo - Various

"I wasn't there for flaming hockey years - and for once I'm not sad about missing out!"

Andy B - Various

"One of my fave parts of tour was that whenever you bring a cast of 15-20 thirsty actors to any pub, you are basically starting a party that the pub didn’t know they were hosting. The Dufferin was always one of our favourite spots. Finishing the tour in the castle was always a bitter sweet moment, you were gutted it was all nearly over but so happy it happened and that you’d still have the cast party left. After the show you’d pack up, say goodbye to your damp costume that was falling to bits, run to the Duff, pop System of a Down on the jukebox and let the theatre carry you through. Here’s a nice moment captured in time of a few of us asking Rich to trust in our 'self righteous suicide.'"

Tomo - Robin Hood & the Golden Arrow of Doom

"2007 - Hey Dan... I've left my poles for my tent at home."

Andy B - Unknown

"Of course there was that time Dan fell from the sky and landed in the swimming pool.

Tomo - N/A

"Getting a text from Dan when he'd locked himself in the bathroom, when we spent a night at the castle out of season with Gawn."

Dan M - N/A

"I wasn’t actually locked in though, was I? Just pushing the door when I should have pulled it. We may have had a drink."

Tomo - Cyrano de Bergerac

"Before the luxuries of the turrets, it was a joy to camp in the shadow of that magnificent castle - apart from in 2008, when it rained so bad my tent flooded, and I awoke surrounded by a moat around my sleeping bag. The same night Dan J slept in his tent with is umbrella up."

Andy B - Cyrano de Bergerac

"Daniel J having to sleep in a tent with a fully extended umbrella is the perfect representation of that tour."

Dan M - Unknown

"Polly and Gawn came down to our camp one year with some local poteen and were very impressed with the size of our tent. Mid-flow about how many chairs you could fit in, we had to remind them they had a castle just up the hill that was considerably bigger!"

Tomo - Comedy of Errors

"The year we couldn't stay at the castle at all, we had a night in the most haunted house in the town. We arrived, were shown where we could pitch our tents - wild, overgrown and totally unsuitable - some cast members entered the unoccupied property, which was utterly terrifying, to find a corner in which to set up, we performed the show and headed back to our 'digs', my instinct kicked in and I thought 'what do the team need?' A massive fire! It was a glorious night in the end, and we defied the scariness by staying up till dawn, drinking an incredible amount, talking to the cows and then Dan and I having to move the mini bus and van to allow the man to get his tractor out... what could possibly go wrong?!"

Tom M - Comedy of Errors

"‘Twas a silly night."

Dan M - Comedy of Errors

"I woke up surrounded by cows."

Tomo - Comedy of Errors

"Connor came back from drinking whisky with Stew some where and was so smashed he was just drooling..."

Joey W - Comedy of Errors

"One way to combat fear - get absolutely sloshed and conduct your own ghost tours!

Followed by a little farmer flirt and a tractor trip. Standard!"

Tomo - Comedy of Errrors

"That's it Joey, distract the man!"

Dan M - Peter Pan

"We were woken up by Gawn one morning, very politely asking us to take down the Jolly Roger flag we’d hung on the gatehouse’s flag pole. Apparently they were filming establishing shots for Dani’s Castle and a Jolly Roger wasn’t deemed appropriate."

Connor W - Peter Pan

"I don't know who could have done such a thing..."

Tomo - Various

"Ellie H making bacon sandwiches! I mean, she didn't have to, but I was always glad she did!"

Tom M - Unknown

"I’m sure this was Stew leading Young New Mexican Puppeteer in the Duff?"

Tomo - Various

"No better place to see the sunrise than with a single malt and that view from atop the turret!"

Connor W - Various

"Speaking of amazing views from the turret, we invented a game from up there. We called it 'Eye of Sauron', in which you took a powerful torch, and narrowed the focus to a very tight beam. Participants started at one end of the field, near the castle itself, and had to reach the gatehouse without being spotted in the the searching torchlight. If found, a dramatic fall had to ensue. We enthusiastically told some of the younger members of the castle family about it the following day, only for them to tell us they'd been playing it for years under a different name..."

Tom M - Comedy of Errors

"One of my favourite tour jokes of that year was Clive’s high-vis jacket, and “Connor Clive Wray Security, where we like to live life behind the yellow line.” Still makes me chortle."

Tomo - A Midsummer Night's Dream

"Oh my days... how do i forget Harrison and his peacock, and what ever else he was! A joyous, quivering bird!"

Eleanor M - Various

"Little shout out to Picnic, the cafe/deli that makes the best sandwiches, cakes, smoothies etc. Bloody beautiful!"

Ellie H - Various

"Panini and smoothie on a hangover was the best! Even whilst being in a cage of wasps."

Connor W - Zorro

"I remember when Tomo, pre-show, in the pouring rain, threw his 'rave' set out, and the whole cast came out dancing, one by one, from the castle. Because well, why not? I'd been a right wind up all tour that summer, and mid-dance, somebody cable-tied my legs together. Then another cast member did my hands. By that point the whole cast were joining in, and I ended up gaffer taped inside a set of bin bags on the field. I totally deserved it, to be honest."

Tomo - Always.

"When the van isn't limited like minibus is and you get to the duff first!"

Connor W - The Musketeers

"I remember it was absolutely chucking it down all day that year at Killyleagh. So much so we had to decide fairly early on to move the show indoors (you never want to cancel any show, but especially the last one). We were able to secure the church hall at the far end of town, and Stew ferried our audience who had braved the rain down there in the cast minibus (it had been cleaned). The cast sat at the back of the room and just joined the audience whenever they weren't on stage. It was a mad way to end a tour, but it was such a riotous good night in such a compact space."

Tomo - Zorro

"During Zorro I had a lovely little cameo as Dan and Eleanor's manservant, with the odd line here and there... perfect! I always like to find a little scene in which to have a bit of fun with, as I may have alluded to earlier in these blog posts. This one came in the form of carrying the dead body of John off. The stage was clear and I had the green light from the directors (I just so happened to be one of the directors) to have fun with the scene. As it turned out it became quite a turn and received a warm response of laughter and, as it happened, applause each night, which I hadn't clocked (I had totally clocked it). It was only at Killyleagh did the pressure come when Eric rocked up beside me and said, 'think you'll make it 19/19 shows for applause?' .... Well..... the old boy knew how to throw the spanner in the works. I stood in the wings (basically just off at the side) waiting for my cue. As it came I entered the stage and for the first time looked up and the whole cast were watching, John added a few surprises in from a dead body, which is impressive in of itself, but we stayed on target, pulled off the clowning routine and for the first time i was truly thankful people laughed and applauded my buffoonery, and Eric gave me a knowing wink and a smile. Thank you OTG for allowing my indulgences!"

Colm M - Various

"That 'turn' and your tuna man in '80 Days' were two of the funniest performances I've ever seen on stage, only beaten by Stew clapping and whistling off stage!"

Connor W - Various

"One of my favourite memories of Killyleagh has come in the most recent years. Gawn has, for the last few years, organised a festival-type event on the day of, or the day before, our show. Graciously, we have often been pushed as the sort of 'headline' event of the festival, and have been able to do some really good promo at the festival. One part of this promo, starting with Around the World in 80 Days, and growing into a real tour tradition (actors are competitive beings) is the tug-o-war competition that takes place with the local townsfolk. There's a fair few teams that enter, and there is a knockout tournament to decide the winners. On our first attempt, we only entered as an 'exhibition' team, partly to maintain our pride for when we thought we would inevitably lose, and mostly as some really good promo for the show, by making ourselves look silly in front of everyone then handing out flyers. We ended up winning that match. Of course, the next year, we were determined to enter properly (competitive, I told you) and we ended up winning the entire tournament... I think by that point it had gone beyond promo for the show, but I got to do the 'Henderson shuffle' as I collected the bottle of whiskey which formed the prize, so I didn't much care, to be honest!"


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