Seeing Hull

When you come to a city the first challenge is finding your way around. We were lucky when we visited Kingston-upon-Hull recently to be part of a group of fellow tourists and friendly locals who went on a walking tour of part of this lovely city.
We met up in Queen’s Gardens, leaving unneeded possessions for safekeeping and from there we all walked through to the Rosebowl fountain.
“It looks like a ship’s wheel”, we were told.
Then we marched up Alfred Gelder Street to Lowgate.
“What’s this big building?” asked one person*.
“It’s the Guildhall” the locals helpfully replied.
From there we walked towards the old town and up to the Scale Lane Bridge; notable for being the only bridge where pedestrians can stay on it while it opens. We were a large group but some of us were fortunate enough to be able to make our way on to the far end of the bridge and how kind of them to open it especially for us.
Our tour then done we made our way back to Queen’s Gardens to collect bags before heading back to our hotel for a shower and then searching out some breakfast.

...leave nothing but footprints (in B3 paint).

…leave nothing but footprints (in B3 paint).

Perhaps I forgot to mention though, that this tour started at four o’clock in the morning and we were naked and painted a rather fetching shade of turquoise (in our case ‘B3’) throughout; for we were part of the “Sea of Hull”. A nude art installation by photographer and artist Spencer Tunick commissioned for Hull as part of the UK city of culture 2017. The largest so far in the UK, with 3,200 participants.

I know there are lots of pictures on the internet, so many accounts already describing how it felt. So how did it feel for me? I hadn’t worried about getting naked but I had worried (laugh if you know me) about my lack of worry. I wondered if I’d find I’d misjudged myself when it came to it. It turns out I hadn’t.

I wasn’t oblivious to the careful way the whole thing was set up either. We were repeatedly asked not to get naked until told to. Partly I’m sure in order to avoid public order offences, however also it meant that once final instructions on painting ourselves had been given and we’d been given clear instructions to be as quick as possible, when the order to strip came there was a mass scramble to get out of our clothes. We were given no time to think about what we were doing. By the time we had leisure to look round we were part of a sea of naked blue people filling the park.
It felt perfectly normal to be honest. For once I felt completely at home in a crowd, accepted, we were all together. Even leading the march down Alfred Gelder street chatting to Spencer’s assistant Steve (“Steeeve”) was surreally normal.

It was a truly fantastic experience; to be part of something amazing, beautiful and so, so much fun. I’m glad to have discovered a wonderful city, full of friendly people. I certainly learned some new things too. For instance:

  • Hull has some fantastic city clocks (and when nobody is wearing a watch they are the only way to keep any sense of time).
  • Penguin huddles work to keep people warm too.
  • Body paint is surprisingly hard to remove from some places (but coconut oil helps).
  • Also, if you ever wondered what it felt like to be the little mermaid then try walking barefoot on the Scale Lane Bridge. Ouch.

We’ll be back of course, when the art gallery reopens to see the art we helped create. Until then…

We are #SeaOfHull

Embed from Getty Images

*that was Spencer Tunick of course. He was giving us directions relative to it.


Bilbao (with Tram)

In our recent visit to Spain we decided to drive out to Bilbao to have a look around. I always enjoy a chance to see a new city and to ride on a new tram and this was a decidedly modern tram.


From Depart To Arrive Route
Uribitarte 18:09 Arriaga 18:15 A

Plus of course there were lots of things to see.

Donostia – Day and Night

Donostia - DayWe went to Spain, for the second time driving (yes, all the way) to San Sebastián (or Donostia depending on your affiliation). With an apartment on the ninth floor of the building, overlooking the river, there was the chance to get a couple of nice photographs of the view.

Donostia - Night

Hay Fever – Show Roundup

It’s such a fearful play.
– It’s a marvellous part.

While I have mentioned this show already, it certainly deserves a post to itself.

It was suggested* to me that I go to the audition for this, which was being put on by a group I knew nothing of but was reasonably nearby.

To my amazement I walked away with a part, playing ‘Sorel’ the daughter of the retired actress (Deja vu anyone)?

What a lovely opportunity to work with the most friendly and welcoming people, to improve my Parisian geography (the Rue Saint-Honoré does not lead into the Place de la Concorde) and to have the fun of being a stroppy and rather sarcastic teenager every night.

The set was wobbly but functional (and importantly the staircase was rock solid) and looked great. The costumes were lovely (I had two beautiful dresses and got to wear my silky pyjamas in act three) and thankfully there was a lovely makeup lady to make sure we all looked great.

Thanks too, to the Stage Manager, particularly for their liberal use of white gaffer tape and ever entertaining dressing room calls. It was all much appreciated.

What fun then to act in such a wonderful play.
Of course, while the cast were wonderful and the audience clearly appreciative they reserved the biggest laugh every night for the comedy moment with the barometer, a feat of comedic timing performed by the youngest member of the crew (who may just happen to be my daughter).

So what a wonderful time, putting on a great play, and how lovely to make new friends, who were so welcoming to the very shy newcomer to the group.

©Michael Pitt-Payne

©Michael Pitt-Payne

*Insisted is far more accurate. But James dragged me to the auditions and got made Stage Manager for his trouble, so that seems fair. 😉


A Tale of Two Sets

See How They Run

See How They Run

Have you seen the one about the retired actress, with the French doors and the staircase?

I was recently asked to do props for a delightful farce featuring a retired actress, several members of the clergy and an escaped German soldier. The play (See How They Run) features a charming set comprising of a living room with French doors, a staircase and doors on each side.
The show was fantastic, funny and great fun to work on. I’d never done props before but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the cast were all great to work with.

While all this was going on I was simultaneously rehearsing for another play. This one featuring a retired actress, her family and their several houseguests. The play (Hay Fever) features a startlingly similar set.

Hay Fever

Hay Fever

The deja vu was heightened by the appearance of a barometer on each set, and the astonishingly similar sounding door bell (blame the sound engineer/stage manager respectively).

Further parallels within each play include the rehearsal of part of another play within it, the mention of “If” and…well I could go on.

Double the fun for a busy but satisfying month.

The Power Of Sound Effects

There's a Triffid behind you...

There’s a Triffid behind you…

In any show sound effects are important. They can set the scene, provide atmosphere and cue the action. Getting that just right can make a huge impact; as I was reminded recently.

If you are of a certain age (and a sufficiently geeky mindset) then there is one sound effect that will be instantly recognisable to you, the menacing rattle of a triffid. I’m sufficiently geeky to currently have it as my text message tone*.

So imagine the scene: a family day out at the Living Rainforest, walking along shaded jungle paths, when apparently out of nowhere comes that deadly rattle. The young woman standing next to us looks round in alarm.
“What on earth was that?” she exclaims.
With a straight face, I reply “a Triffid” and stroll away; leaving her obviously none the wiser and not at all reassured. Round the corner there is laughter and high-fiving with the family, including of course the person who has been conveniently texting me at irregular intervals hoping for just this result.

Still, it just shows how effective that sound effect is. Even out of context it is scary and organic, even more so when watching the show. Sound engineers are often under appreciated, but listen out because what they do is important. Even that telephone doesn’t just ring itself you know!

*Thanks to my favourite sound engineer who gave it to me.

Permission To Direct

Everybody has weak moments. One of mine was at an after show party when somebody (you know who you are, James) twisted my arm into agreeing to direct a “Green Room”.

In our little theatre group a “green room” is a one-act play put on, for one night only, for the members as a social occasion and as an audition piece, as it were, to be considered able to direct a full show. In this instance there were two of us, potential directors, and we agreed to put our plays on together.

I won’t bore you with tales of the stress of trying to organise everything, cast the show, actually directing and working backstage (in my case lighting) that went into making the evening happen.
I will tell you it was a fascinating challenge and an awful lot of fun, that we had wonderful cast and crew who made it possible and that the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I will also tell you that all production meetings should also involve ice cream sundaes.

So, whatever the official verdict (and I’m still waiting for that) I think we did ourselves proud.

Why am I telling you this now you ask. Because somebody (you know who you are, James) gave me a very special Christmas present; a framed copy of our programme. And it turns out, just for a moment, I felt like a real director.
Front Cover

A Room With A View, or In Fact Seven Of Them

I find going on holiday very exciting and my most recent trip was no exception. We went to the airport and had all the fun of catching a flight. On our arrival in the evening there was a coach to take us to our destination. Then we settled into our room, unpacked everything and went to enjoy our first night’s dinner.  Since it was dark there wasn’t much to see out of the window in our room but the next morning there was a view…and the next…and the next; for this was a river boat cruising up (and then back down) the Danube. Taking us through locks (who knew the Danube had locks) and past beautiful scenery and to a variety of exciting places.

So here, as a tiny taster, are the views I woke up to each morning:


The Taming of the Shrew – Show Roundup

Taming of the Shrew was always going to be a challenging show to put on but we were fortunate to have a great team to do it with. Our leading protagonists were fantastic, our technical team likewise. The cast were all enthusiastic and involved, and the costumes were amazing.

We were fortunate too, to have a professional actor come and run some acting workshops with us including working on specific scenes.

As a servant (Curtis) I had little to do other than one gloriously slapstick scene however any thoughts of putting my feet up in the dressing room for the rest of the night were scuppered when (to my delight) I was asked to help with scene changes along with another of the servants (Biondello).

The set was minimal, although one set of those of shutters actually opens. My job was largely to move chairs, tables and the occasional signpost (which way is Pisa)?

Thus my evenings were full from walking on in the opening number to the final bows.

Yes, I did say “opening number”. To replace the original framing which sets the piece as a play within a play we opened with “Another Op’nin’ Another Show” from Kiss Me Kate. Thus as a troupe of travelling players we put on a show.

Singing, dancing, acting, crewing; I had a little bit of everything to do and what fun it was.

©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Come and Sing – Elijah

I knew I wanted to attend another “Come and Sing” day, so discovering that The Bach Choir were holding one in the Royal Festival Hall (as part of the Southbank Centre‘s Chorus Fest) was perfect.

The music was Elijah; a piece I knew not at all, but the story I knew and loved and the Mendelssohn I knew generally seemed rousing and enjoyable. With that information I decided to go for it and bought the score and a copy of the music to listen to. Just a brief look at the score revealed how tricky it would be. Lots of passages with every voice part singing something different. Lots of repetition of words yet changing either the tune or the rhythm. The challenge seemed huge.

Still, I had help from my singing teacher, who went through some of it with me. I also used the CyberBass tracks to help pick out the Alto line and I made the problem smaller by asking for the list of cuts in advance (it’s a big piece, a day wouldn’t be enough for it all).
I also bought myself a folder to put the score in. Putting it in there was also a challenge(!) but it made holding and following an otherwise very floppy book a lot easier.

Thus prepared we* arrived at the Southbank Centre full of excitement. As part of the many events of the festival there was a vocal warm up that morning so we joined in for a fun physical and vocal warm up that ended leaving me feeling relaxed and ready for anything.

Next I trooped up the stairs to the Royal Festival Hall and I took my seat in the choir. Another (more technical) warm up and we were off, starting at the beginning and working on way through under the direction of our conductor. By lunchtime I felt exhausted, but the morning had gone well and I was pleased that we had spent longest working on the movements I’d had most trouble with at home.

Refueled by a wonderful hog roast (it’s all in the sort of bread, in this case a large ciabatta roll) we reconvened to continue our work through the afternoon. As with the previous “Come and Sing” day I had attended, the Bach Choir members were scattered among us, and I had made sure that I was next to one to give me a strong voice to listen to (she was a very lovely lady too). This plan faltered when for one movement the Bach Choir members were given a different part to sing to us ordinary mortals. Yet another challenge, to keep singing without that support and hope I ended up in the right place at roughly the right time (I did).

Photos ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Photos ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Finally after a brief break we reconvened for the concert. Our audience began to fill the stalls. A quick count suggested about two hundred people. Then the lights came up on us and we began. Again, it went by far too fast (as all shows do) until the final note and the applause.
Then we managed to take time to relax, to take in the day, I felt happy, triumphant and amazed. I have actually performed in the Royal Festival Hall – that makes for a very special day.

Photos ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

Photos ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)

*I brought James for moral support (and therefore at least one audience member) with me.