I've mentioned before that one of the joys of touring is getting to explore new places that you may ordinarily never visit otherwise. The flip-side is that you also get to return to the venues and cities that you know and love well. You look forward to the familiar territory, however briefly you are able to tread it as it makes life on the road seem, well, less on-the-road!
This week has been another of my Old Familiar weeks. We're in Liverpool at the incredible Empire theatre and whilst I've not played this venue before I am familiar with the city, having most recently played the Arena with Michael Ball in 2009. Like Edinburgh, Liverpool was on my university shortlist and my love affair with Merseyside sprung up around that time when I was attempting to fill in my university application forms. I was 17 and although I was in the middle of my A-levels, I was given 4 months out of school to make a movie with Steve Coogan called The Parole Officer. The film was predominantly shot in Manchester, where it was also set, but one particular sequence proved impossible to do there.
The movie revolves around a bank heist, during which the motley crew of perpetrators (myself included) have to access the bank by zip-lining from an adjacent, higher building. There were no feasible locations in Manchester so instead the entire film crew and cast packed up and moved over to Liverpool for four days, where we filmed the scenes whilst desperately trying not to show the Liver Birds in the background! Due to the petrol crisis at the time we ended up staying in the city rather than commuting, so in between pulling enormous piggy banks around dressed as a schoolgirl and sliding through ventilation shafts in a ladybird mask (as you do) I had the brief opportunity to visit some of the many tourist attractions that Liverpool has to offer.
Now Liverpool is well-regarded for its welcoming atmosphere but the Empire is a big old house to fill. After the packed out (comparatively) tiny theatre of Malvern I think we were all a little reticent about how it would feel to be back in a vast space with an orchestra pit void again. We needn't have worried. The Liverpool audiences have been the most engaged and vocal so far! Standing ovations, cheering, whistles and a lot of laughter! A perfect antidote to the sudden downpours that have tried to dampen our moods.
Yet it's still all-guns-blazing-busy in the Annie Get Your Gun camp. This week we met Michael Starke who will be joining our little company to play Buffalo Bill in Blackpool and Torquay, once Norman Pace has departed for all things One Man, Two Guvnors. Joining us for the delectable Hannah Grace's birthday tea, he clearly fit right in whilst we were treated to the sight of a Double Bill-feature (Sorry, terrible joke). Company sight-seeing trips aside, our wonderful understudies have also finished their rehearsals with a full run through this past Friday.
Understudy runs are always a slightly bizarre affair because the cast is somewhat depleted, particularly on this show with such a small, hard-working company. Ste was apparently especially funny as he covers so many roles that he was swapping characters with aplomb to make the most of it. He's like a one-man Wild West production all by himself! The fact that we also move a lot of the set boxes and barrels around also made for some set change chaos, so when they do the next cover run in a few weeks' time, I think the rest of us will be volunteering to help. I'm personally looking forward to breaking out my chaps for My Defences Are Down!
Our next stop is the New Victoria theatre in Woking, with a brief detour via Wimbledon for some of us in order to do a bit of pre-production press there. After that we'll be hitting the beaches on the south coast for some sun, sea, sand and ice cream... oh and a show or two! With only 8 weeks left to go on the Annie Get Your Gun tour after Liverpool, it feels everything is moving far too fast. I'm not ready for this production to finish as I'm loving it far too much, and as the local lads here said... all you need is Love.