fEAST Theatre reflects on life during lockdown

fEAST

It’s not been the easiest times for the theatre-makers. Happily, we’ve a fEAST of shows – see what I did there – coming over the summer, autumn and beyond. Robin McLoughlin, one of the theatre company’s associate directors, celebrates the return of live theatre.

By the time this blog goes live we at fEAST Theatre will be nervously getting ready for the first night of our new show, Dulcie and Walter at Wells Maltings.

The cast will doubtless be pacing and stretching and doing vocal exercises while Dawn Finnerty, the director, deals with an errant prop. But that can only mean one thing – live theatre.

After more than a year of great uncertainty, it feels great to be getting a show out on the road again. fEAST are really looking forward to bringing it to The Garage (30 June to 1 July), where we spent the first week of our rehearsal process.

We only wish that we could show it to more people, because it’s a play of which we’re really proud.

Dulcie and Walter is a wonderful show, a portrait of an older couple approaching the end of their lives in a remote Norfolk farmhouse in the early 1970s. If that makes it sound depressing, it really isn’t.

The dialogue is, at times, properly laugh-out-loud funny and drips with sardonic Norfolk wit. There’s even a bit of action. No spoilers, but we’ve had a fight director joining us via Zoom this week.

The play was originally submitted to fEAST as a shorter play to be performed as part of a double-bill. The complications of having a larger cast on the road during the pandemic caused a rethink and it has now been extended to a longer play.

Necessity being the mother of invention has been a bit of an unexpected boon for us, because the play is much richer and filled-out now. It provides great insight into the lives of its characters and people like them, dealing with rural isolation in their later years.

As I write this, the play is about to enter its final week of rehearsal. The cast of Dulcie and Walter has been a joy to work with. Catherine Herman, who also wrote the play, and Barbara Horne each bringing something unique to the role of Dulcie.

David Redgrave and Rachael Cummings find different things to play off and support our Dulcies brilliantly.

Depending on when you come, you’ll see different takes on Dulcie’s character and her relationship with Walter and Mary which are both equally compelling.

The set design, by Fern Blevins, is our best yet, with beautifully rendered flint walls and a wonderful melding of the interior and exterior spaces.

The sound and music, by Mark Fawcett, is subtle and affecting with stringed instruments echoing and responding to sounds of the natural world.

The aforementioned fight director is Charlotte Price, who memorably played Susan in Into Thin Air back in 2018 and has been great at helping our actors work safely, choreography of these sorts of sequences being doubly difficult in the midst of the pandemic.

Our director, Dawn, has gained a bit of experience running Covid-safe rehearsal rooms as, despite everything that has happened since last March, fEAST Theatre has not let the grass grow under our feet. Whenever we’ve had the chance we’ve been out making theatre in Norfolk.

When the first lock-down was announced we were just about to open the first play of our tenth anniversary season, a revival of The Canada Boys (coming to The Garage 18 February 2022).

We had no idea how long restrictions were going to last so we tried to keep the play fresh with Zoom read-throughs and garden read-throughs when it was allowed.

The tour, and the ones following it, were re-booked and re-booked again. It became uncertain whether we’d ever get out and perform again.

In the autumn we were invited to participate in the Signal Fires scheme of outdoor performances organised by Headlong and Kneehigh. We were able to do one – fairly emotional – performance in Wells before the November lockdown was announced.

At Christmas, with restrictions once more being eased, fEAST struck upon the idea of remotely rehearsing some seasonally-themed monologues to be performed in the run-up to the holiday. Luckily, we managed to perform the full run of these before the next lockdown was announced.

These went down a storm with the restricted audiences who were able to see them, with excellent performances from Dawn, Sam Thompson and Owen Evans. We hope to turn this show, Merrily On High, into an annual event.

 

Having already paid out for all the pre-production and rehearsal costs for The Canada Boys tour, fEAST were left severely out of pocket.

We get about half of our running costs from National Lottery project grants and half from box-office. Being ineligible for direct help from the Cultural Recovery Fund – though some of it has trickled down to us through our partner-theatres – we decided to set up a fundraiser.

We recorded an audio version of The Canada Boys that audiences could download for the price of a (cheap) theatre ticket.

Our aim was to claw back a bit of what we’d already spent and maybe cover some of the costs of having restricted audiences for – at least – the current tour. The actors donated their time and the play was beautifully made with new, specially recorded, music by Mark Fawcett at Fish Need Snorkels.

It is available here to download.

If anyone reading this would like their own copy of this brilliant play to own it would go some way towards securing the company’s financial future. Because the company will have a future.

Beyond Dulcie and WalterfEAST will be out on the road again with Rob John’s hilarious Brexit play, Rosa Mendoza, in the autumn (coming to The Garage 20 October).

This will be followed by – finally, only two years after it was planned – The Canada Boys in early 2022.

After that we have two great new plays in the pipeline – The Peggottys by me and Elephant by Jeremy Page. We are looking forward to sharing them with you.

And so, back to rehearsals for Dulcie and Walter. Here’s to seeing you at a show soon, here’s to a more certain future, and, above all else, Here’s to live theatre.

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