946: “Tickety-boo!”

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Adam Sopp and Katy Owen in 946
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

Monday 25 July will be etched in my memory for a while. It was an incredibly bizarre day, but in the best way possible. That morning I almost applied to review 946, but decided not to, went out for a walk in the sunshine – then quite by chance got home just in time to see the Globe’s casting announcement. And promptly went a little bit crazy! (I think I was entitled to, after about 10 months of waiting.) Oddly enough, a few days before that I’d finally got a new job myself so the timing couldn’t have been much better, or spookier.

So, obviously, one of my favourite things about the show (and the reason I went to see it in the first place) was Adam being cast, and in a lead role too. That accounted for the three tickets (as well as the press application) on the day of the announcement. But as for the 18 other tickets I bought over the past three months…

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The cast of 946
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

Let’s start with the music. (I want a cast recording.) This year I’ve definitely fallen in love with Stu Barker’s compositions thanks to this & Dream – it was great to hear more from him at the study day about his work. His original songs in 946 are based around recurring themes, meaning they are built upon as the show progresses. From a personal point of view it was fantastic to hear Adam sing, particularly with the lovely Tickety-Boo in the first act. It starts off a little bittersweet, but grows into a song of resilience & hope.

There are also some jazz standards & other songs included in the show. It was definitely a great idea to have pre-show & interval sets, to get the audience warmed up & ready for what each act has in store for them. One of my favourite parts of the entire show has to be Jack, You’re Dead, where the American soldiers introduce themselves with an energetic routine that involves everyone – either onstage or in the band.

What I really love about the band is the freedom with which they play, and the fact that they weren’t afraid to keep changing their performances from venue to venue; I always found myself wondering what tweak had been made each time! This kind of thing was something I always picked up on with Adam when he was in Sunny (I am a drum nerd, so of course I notice different fills), so I just loved getting that again with this show – and tuning into the entire band doing that too. Pat is a brilliant MD, and I am obsessed with Seamas’ accordion playing!

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I have definitely grown to love the entire cast over the past three months – all extremely talented individuals, but also very lovely people.

Emma never failed to make me cry at her violin solo at the end of the first act. A single instrument having that sort of effect is a very special thing indeed, even if it does leave you weeping in the front row. On a similar note, I almost couldn’t bear to look at Ncuti in Adi’s final scenes during my final few shows – he absolutely broke my heart, as did Nandi when she started to sing (right in front of me for my last two shows). Over the three months there have been two actors playing the Blues Man; Adebayo & Akpore brought something different to their portrayals, from their singing to their interaction with the other characters.

Mike as Grandma became so normal for me that I got confused as to why people laughed in the opening scene… (For one thing he has large tattoos on his arm & leg.) Whereas Ewan just got more & more ridiculous, which I obviously loved – Mrs Turner was absolutely insatiable! Chris was another newbie to the show, who’s hilarious & brilliant in each of his many roles, and obviously too talented for his own good (learning every single instrument just for the show). Kyla is an absolute hoot to watch, and I always appreciated her variety in guessing what Lily’s dream was about! Katy is clearly some sort of acting goddess, being the best adult 12-year-old girl I’ve ever seen – hilarious, engaging, and also capable of moments of great poignancy. And then there’s Adam. I’ve been blown away by his performances, entertaining & moving me whilst also being treated to his musicianship.

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Katy Owen, Adam Sopp and Ncuti Gatwa in 946
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

One of the elements of the show is a feeling of displacement, people of all backgrounds having to leave their homes. The brilliant Kneehigh have drawn on this to help with charitable efforts to help in the ongoing refugee crisis. After many of the tour shows the theatre front-of-house staff and the cast have sold ‘lucky buttons’ for £1, which were all made by hand by local volunteers, to go towards Help Refugees UK. It’s evidently something that’s very close to Mike Shepherd’s heart, judging by his impassioned speeches at the end of shows when the lucky buttons have been onsale. I applaud Kneehigh for their work, and hope the money raised does a bit to help.

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The story was something I could definitely relate to on a deeply personal level. A few weeks before I saw the show my grandad died – like Boowie in the show, we were very close when I was a child, so that early scene felt very familiar to me. He developed Alzheimer’s later on in life so wasn’t always himself, meaning I understood Grandma’s pragmatism in 946. Not Gone (just gone away) resonates every time I hear it.

That feeling of trying to find somewhere you belong also hits home hard for me. I’ve only rarely had the sense that I’m where I’m supposed to be: when I went to uni I instantly knew Newcastle was the place for me, of everywhere in London I feel more at home in the north, but I’ve most felt a feeling of belonging when I last went to Paris (very briefly) in 2010. Obviously I’m in none of those places right now, so I know what it’s like to have to find a way to make do.

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Adebayo Bolaji and Katy Owen in 946
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

One thing that I’ve really loved with the tour is being sat in audiences of families & school groups. They’ve been some of the most respectful & enthusiastic crowds that I’ve been part of this year, which goes against most people’s preconceptions about children at the theatre. With it being a show for all ages, there is something for everyone to appreciate. Children sit rapt, or ready to clap along to the songs, and adults relish the opportunity to rediscover their childhood mindset!

I’ve loved getting the chance to go to some new theatres too. Whilst it’s obviously a bit of an expense to travel, it’s definitely been worth it to see some wonderful places. And, actually, the whole three months of watching the show hasn’t been particularly costly – at least this show hasn’t charged a fortune for tickets, unlike the Sunny tour… Birmingham Rep was a great place to start (it also helped to get £5 preview show tickets), West Yorkshire Playhouse was a brilliant next stop (& definitely my favourite venue), Warwick Arts Centre was a bit smaller but nice & intimate, and Bristol Old Vic was a really lovely traditional space to finish the tour. And also the place where Adam trained, which is a bit of a nerdy point for me and a nice experience for him.

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I’ve managed quite a few press nights over the past couple of years, but the one for 946 at the Globe this summer is definitely the best. Not only was it a fantastic show, but both me and my plus one were given programmes – and got treated to a drink & a buffet before curtain up. Some wonderful food courtesy of the Swan restaurant next door.

And it was almost like they knew exactly who they were looking after: my seat had the most perfect view of the gallery, so for the first time I got to see Adam drumming during the show (he was too far back to see from the front of the yard). I enjoyed it so much up there that I even paid for a seat in a very similar place a few weeks later!

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Ncuti Gatwa and Nandi Bhebhe in 946
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

As I was there for the very first performance, it’s only right that I was there for the very last – at the Globe, and on the UK tour too. The final show at the Globe happened to be in the afternoon before the last Dream in the evening, so a lot of standing for me that day… But it was an unforgettable experience. It was a bit of a dramatic day, with delays & an extra interval (a key cast member was quite late!), but once it got into full flow it was like none of that had happened. Seeing Emma Rice joining in with the final dance in the background was absolutely wonderful – and having a rose thrown straight to me as the cast took their final bows just topped the whole thing off.

A slightly different feel last week, what with it being the final UK date. I had an emotional time, but it was totally worth it! It’s come such a long way since 11 August.

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So now they’re off to America. It does feel really strange that I don’t have some random theatre to travel to every weekend in pursuit of the show, but I suppose I’ll get used to it. And I now have another bunch of people to follow to new shows in the near future!

All the best to my Kneehigh 946ers – thank you for the show, and see you all soon.

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