Tour Memories #8 - Plas Newydd
Tonight would have seen us make a return to a very special venue for OTG. Plas Newydd in Llangollen is the only surviving venue on our current tour that we have visited every single year since the company first began touring back in 1995. It's historic setting and expansive, picture-postcard grounds are truly beautiful. The staff at Plas Newydd have always been so incredibly supportive of Off the Ground and we can not begin to thank them enough for their help over the years.
For tonight's blog, have a read of some of our casts favourite memories from past shows at this Welsh beauty spot:
Connor W - The Musketeers
"Touring with OTG has produced a whole set of wonderfully weird, bizarre moments that I will remember for the rest of my life, or stories that one can tell in new company that, unless you could show picture evidence or call someone to back you up, people would never believe them to be true. One such story came the day of our Musketeers show at Plas Newydd. We'd been advised that the local tourist centre, who have always been very helpful, had arranged for a sort of 'walk through' the town centre for some of our cast, on the day of the performance, to help sell the show. We had been advised to come along in costume, perhaps with a prepared fight or scene or something to draw a crowd. This was actually all fairly commonplace, and has happened at various venues over the years - it usually works quite well too. On the day before we arrived, however, we were told that the town crier for Llangollen would also be joining us. Traditional Town Crier, that is. Tunic, tricorn hat, bell for bellringing, deep booming voice, leather boots. The absolute works. I was playing an Italian cardinal on that tour, with an enormous golden staff with a cross at the top and a dodgy accent. Tomo and I suddenly became aware of just how mad a day it had turned out to be when our two marauding lead characters were acrobatically doing fights across the Llangollen high street, followed closely by an Italian cardinal in full traditional dress, followed by another Italian cardinal in the flounciest red gown you've ever seen, all being announced by a real-life town crier. I can't be sure if it worked, but it felt like it did."
Ciara D - Around the World in 80 Days
"Plas Newydd is a beautiful venue, one of my favourites I think. I do remember, however, doing a lot more dramatic hand acting on that night in Wales, because of the amount of mosquitoes that were buzzing around the stage. Just about every word, action and line was punctuated with a sweeping arm to keep them away!"
Andy B - A Midsummer Night's Dream (2002)
"I began a decade of tours with Off the Ground in 2002 and Plas Newydd was our first show, so this venue always holds a special place for me. Preparations for tour would always begin a few weeks before hand with a few of us squeezing into a car and driving to North Wales to put up posters, talk to local businesses about the show and generally let people know we were on our way. Each year I went, Llangollen’s busy high street was always full of people and we’d always be met with smiles by shop owners who would often comment they’d been waiting to hear what show we were doing this year.
Each venue has something to set itself aside from the others. Plas Newydd has two. Not only do we perform in front of the beautiful house and stunning garden with many an impressive bush, we also have the incredibly large boulders dotted around the lawn that the actors would claim as their backstage (only if it wasn’t raining!)
It was behind one of those impressive bushes that I remember standing on opening night dressed in just a sarong, waistcoat and bandana waiting for the opening bars of Suspicious Minds to blare out of the speakers, that would then summon my fellow fairies and I to mark the start of the company’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. You can rehearse all you like, but nothing quite prepares you for that moment where there is no going back. I genuinely couldn’t go back because Tim N was behind me (sporting an even snazzier waistcoat) so my escape route was blocked. And so, with the sun still hot in the summer’s sky, we sidestepped our way onto stage and that was the first of many happy memories of touring."
Rob K - A Midsummer Night's Dream (2002)
"Pre-show set up done, chippy tea done, cast getting ready. 45mins till the start, audience arriving. You know the score. One cast member yet to arrive, however. Most unusual. Stew gets a call from a relieved Rick K to say he’s so sorry he’s late but he’d just arrived In Llandudno town centre and could he get directions to the venue. I think Stew did his quiet crossed voice when telling him we was in the wrong 'Llan', and that he was about an hour away. He was also in the first scene. I seem to remember we were a bit late finishing that night. He also got the first round in after the show."
Connor W - Around the World in 80 Days
"Plas Newydd was the venue where one reviewer described my Passepartout as 'fruitier than a ripe camembert', still my best ever review."
Andy B - A Midsummer Night's Dream (2002)
"I also nearly didn’t make it on stage for my first night at Plas Newydd for Midsummers 2002. I was running, in costume, off for a PSP (pre-show pee) and, full of the joys of theatre, I jumped in the air to tap a branch of an over head tree. Lightly tap, you understand, I’m not a barbarian. Either way, as I landed my foot got stuck in my sarong, my face hurtled towards my knees as I crumpled like a sack of spuds and I only managed to save a bloody shnozz by doing what I thought was a very stylish ninja roll out of it. Dusted myself off and thought I’d got away with it only to hear Stew call out, asking if I was ok, having obviously witnessed a grown fairy nearly smash his own face in by needlessly getting tangled in his own overly long sarong and teddy bear rolling to safety."
Ciara D - Various
"Plas Newydd is a venue where, as a cast, we are usually treated to pizza or a chippy tea (perks of a Friday venue, I guess!) It's another one of those moments that bring a cast together, and make you appreciate the little things while you're away.
Another of those, post-show, is our annual visit to Gale's Wine Bar. The family are longstanding friends of OTG and have often been known to give us a free round of drinks after the show, and everybody sticks around for a chat, a yearly catchup and all round merriment. It's a beautiful reminder of how touring with OTG is part of a much bigger thing, one that has seen so many people pass through and has made so many friends over the years. It feels like a real privilege to be a part of."
Mat O - Jason & the Argonauts
"Do I really have to tell this one? Are you really going to make me relive this, Clive? Does anyone even remember Dappy? Fine.
We were doing Jason and the Argonauts at Plas Newydd, an amazing show, full of energy and new ways of storytelling, etc. One of these interesting ways of storytelling involved me pulling a microphone out of nowhere on stage, donning a bandana and a pair of sunglasses, and rapping a section of narration, while the rest of the company turned into a weird cross between sailors and hype men. Hypelers? Shype men? It doesn't work. Anyway, Tomo, our director, would flick the switch so the mic went full volume and the rest was up to me, to hype our audience up for whatever came next. Only this particular night. This particular night. Tomo was sat next to our dressing room when the moment arrived. I saw he was there and did that thing actors do when they try to subtly-not-so-subtly attract the attention of someone off stage. Tomo didn't notice. Not until I'd picked up the mic, it wasn't switched on, and I'd started at a bemused audience (they were bemused at the best of times with this section, but even more so this night). Tomo realised at this bit, and made a sort of half effort to get to the tech desk, before realising the damage was done (SO I GUESS I'LL BE LEAVING) and it was too late. You'd think that was the end of it, the end of the embarrassment for that night. Oh no, you'd be quite mistaken. Part of the rap involved a call and response section with the audience - 'when I say golden you say fleece', etc. One of these, my own addition, if I may say so, was a throwback to one of mine and Clive's pop icons - 'when I say na na, you say naiiii', Dappy style, stupid hat and all. For this particular callout, I'd usually target a particular audience member. I thought I'd picked well at Plas. There he was, in his chair, hat on, blanket up to his middle - he'd laughed at all the right bits and was perfectly placed, front row. I went at him - 'when I say na na you say naii!', 'Na na...', The perfect beat of timing. 'No.' His response. Na na no. It's not often I get shut down like that, as many people will tell you. But yeah. Well done that man.
Are you happy now Clive? Is that what you wanted?"
Connor W - Alice in Wonderland
"I remember Plas Newydd being the first venue, on my first ever tour, that really took my breath away. I loved every bit of that day; the travelling out there, it feeling like properly being on the road, the games we played with the cast, wandering around the grounds and being absolutely stunned by the history and picturesque nature of the venue, the audience and performance itself and then the free drink afterwards! It was just fantastic, and the moment I knew I wanted to do this year on year."
Stew J - A Midsummer Night's Dream (2002)
"For many years at Plas Newydd we had a member of the public who would turn up to our performances who, it appeared, was blind, or visually impaired. That is, he wore sunglasses and carried a white cane, and so we assumed. On the night of the performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, he was at the venue again, wandering around the topiary at the back of where our stage was. Our sets back then were quite minimal, and this time around it was just a bench. You can imagine my surprise when, just at the moment we were all ready to begin the performance and the actors were waiting in the 'wings' (boulders), there should already be someone on stage. The man had chosen the bench as his seat for the night. We weren't sure if he knew or not, and so I politely had to go and inform him he was sat in front of our sizeable audience, and we were waiting to start the show. He was, predictably, quite unaware of this, and as he wandered off quickly, he managed to trip over a low hedgerow behind the stage."
Dan M - Twelfth Night (1996)
"The night before the show in Llangollen we were staying at the campsite next to Valle Crucis Abbey and there was the most impressive thunderstorm I’ve ever seen. The lightning flashed for hours, the rain felt properly foreign in its ferocity and the thunder stayed loud and exciting throughout the night. Exploring the Abbey in the dark (not sure we were meant to do that) felt like being in a Hammer horror film or particularly class A inspired 80s pop video (yes, I am thinking of Bonnie Tyler and Total Eclipse of the Heart).
The next day, the weather remained fairly wet and none of us were desperately keen to do a show. Mike, playing Sir Toby, was particularly not keen and when it had been decided we were definitely doing it came out with the phrase, “Well then, I’ll pull a shit’un,” - a glorious choice of words that have stayed with me since then and which I have muttered under my breath on numerous occasions!
He didn’t pull a shit’un, of course. In fact the sun came out for the show and I remember sitting watching it, with the medieval Dinas Bran castle in the background and Plas Newydd looking exactly like the sort of country house that Countess Olivia or Duke Orsino would definitely have lived in. It was the perfect venue.
That was the first ever tour and it has continued to be a perfect venue ever since. It is the only venue that we have never missed a show at and it feels very wrong not having our annual trip to one of my favourite places. All things being right we’ll be there again next summer, if not before."