Flying Lovers 2018: UK tour diary

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

In 2016-17 I followed 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips from the Globe in London to St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. It’s always great to get out of London and discover new places & theatres – and once you get the taste for it you can’t look back! So you won’t be surprised to discover that I’m now off on my travels following another Emma Rice show around the country…

A little late to the party, I first saw Flying Lovers last August when it had a short stay at the Bristol Old Vic. I nearly made a desperate trip up to Edinburgh to see it when I thought I’d never get to see it again, but thankfully a tour was announced before I did anything stupid! The show had a bit of a residency at Wilton’s Music Hall at the start of the year, before heading out to LA – but now it’s off on its UK travels, and I’m off with it. I thought it might be a good idea to do a bit of a diary entry for each venue, so you can keep up with my weekly exploits and follow the tour through me.

Leeds 1

West Yorkshire Playhouse – Leeds (2.30pm, 24 March 2018)
Up bright and early for this one! Even though the journey is only a couple of hours long, I simply don’t trust the trains enough to be able to take it easy. There’s no way I’d risk being late and potentially missing out on the show for something like that! It’s been quite a full week of reviews and ‘casual’ theatregoing, so all I wanted to do on the way up to Leeds was stare out of the window while I listened to my music (I’d never seen Ally Pally until our train went right past it – nice little bonus!) and the journey went rather swiftly.

I’ve been to the West Yorkshire Playhouse a few times now, though my previous visits were for shows in the larger space (the Quarry Theatre) – this time I got to see what the smaller Courtyard Theatre was like. Aside from it being a bit creaky as I made my way down into the pit, it was further proof that this really is a fantastic venue. It reminded me a bit of the Dorfman Theatre at the National, with it being a kind of metal box holding a few levels of seating. It was a perfect fit for the lovely set (Sophia Clist), and I ended up in just about the perfect spot in row E; I’ve got a bit preoccupied with sitting in the front row of late, so it’s always nice to take a step back and see the bigger picture every once in a while.

Another bonus of travelling up north is that I have a chance of running into uni friends, so the two-hour wait between the show and my coach home was made a lot more fun this time round when I had a chance to catch up with someone I’ve not seen for about a year and a half! And, aside from it feeling a bit like a greenhouse, I whiled away the hours reading (Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics, if you’re interested) and we even got into Victoria a bit early. A tiring but successful day trip!


Salisbury Playhouse (2.15pm, 31 March 2018)
Not even unreliable Southwestern Railway, RMT strikes or a recent biochemical event could prevent me from heading off to Salisbury for the next leg of the tour. Though of course I still had to travel a bit earlier than strictly necessary! With it being the Easter weekend, I have at least had some free time (our office closes for a couple of extra days), so it doesn’t feel quite as exhausting despite another full week.

I was certain Sandie (of Sunny fame – many of you will remember) would need to see the show a second time after going a few days ago, and I was absolutely right! In spite of a late finish of her own, she was ready & waiting when my train arrived. So two weeks in a row I’ve been lucky enough to couple seeing the show with a lovely catchup – it’s a great bonus to have things like this happen when you plan a solo trip. And the show fitted excellently in Salisbury’s main auditorium; I got to sit pride of place in Sandie’s own seat!

I’m not sure why, but this was a rather emotional one for me… And it’s only the second week! What I’ll be like in May is anyone’s guess. It is great to start seeing the show develop even more, now it’s been going for a few months; being able to drop in at each venue feels like just enough to see it gradually grow. (As well as get even more of the music stuck in your head – side note: please record it.) But my time in Salisbury was rather fleeting, and I found myself back on the train again before I knew it – this week’s reading material being the Girl From The North Country playtext (act one out, act two back), which also almost left me in tears! I planned my train journey so I had the opportunity to see an evening show if I wanted, but sense prevailed for once (despite a thorough browse of TodayTix as we travelled between Woking & Waterloo). Another manic week approaches…

Manchester 3

HOME Manchester (2pm, 7 April 2018)
What an insane one this was. Thanks to my idiocy in initially booking a train up on the Sunday (I’d convinced myself the Saturday was in fact the 8th…), I found myself having to wake up at 5am because the only train I could afford to switch to was at 7.35am. Thankfully I was in first class (there were still advance tickets left, so it was actually cheaper), so that meant access to the lounge at Euston where I could heavily caffeinate myself and take as much free stuff as possible! And then get some more when I was on the train itself… It helped me get a review just about finished, and meant I didn’t feel groggy when I finally arrived in a damp Manchester.

The benefit of being up there nice & early was getting the chance to explore a bit, after practising my dash from the theatre to the bus station (via the canal walkway) as I had a quick turnaround that afternoon! As it wouldn’t stop raining, I decided the best thing to do was to concentrate on doing one thing before the show – so I checked out the art gallery as they have a big collection of Pre Raphaelite work there. Also nice to have a very arty day, though obviously there wasn’t any Chagall on display to really round things off nicely.

HOME was the only stop on the 946 UK tour that I couldn’t make it to, as it clashed with the final week of Sunny Afternoon, so it was nice to finally see what it’s like. Aside from there not really being anywhere for people to sit and wait for their show (or stand and not get in the way) other than the café & restaurant, it’s a really lovely space and a great cultural hub. The theatre itself was a perfect fit for the show – it seemed like there must’ve been fantastic views from pretty much every seat! I can’t believe it’s about halfway through the tour already; I really am loving my adventures with Bella & Marc. No chance encounters with friends this week, but instead a very efficient coach journey awaited me straight after the show, getting back into London 25 minutes early! Exactly what was needed on such an incredibly long & tiring day.

Exeter 2

Exeter Northcott (2.30pm, 14 April 2018)
Probably my favourite stop of the tour so far. And, for once, there was no ridiculously early start involved! As Exeter is only about an hour away from where my family live in Somerset, it seemed only sensible to head back home for an afternoon and then see the show the next day. My parents have been fully inducted into the Emma Rice club now, so they were more than happy to come along too. That at least meant I wasn’t just using the house for free accommodation! Although there was the added bonus of getting free transport down to the theatre, stopping on the way for a lovely pub lunch, in plenty of time for the start of the show.

This was another new theatre for me, so I was pleasantly surprised on entering the auditorium to see that the front row was on the stage itself (like the Quarry Theatre at West Yorkshire Playhouse when I saw 946 there). I’ve been booking a variety of spots over the course of the tour, and also at Wilton’s, so I get to see it from different angles; as much as I love being in the front row, it isn’t always the best idea for this particular show with the set as it is, but when you don’t have a high stage to contend with it doesn’t matter so much. It was a lovely fit for this theatre, and there seemed to be a great atmosphere from the very start.

Afterwards there was time for a leisurely cuppa, before heading into the city centre to catch the coach home – well, I couldn’t go a week without the National Express, could I? Feeling rather awake, I managed to get a fair amount of reading done as well as get a blog post prepared for Monday, all before we got into Victoria bang on time! With the tour now halfway through, I’m at the end of my regular Saturday matinée trips – from now on I’ll be dashing around the country of an evening…

Oxford 3

Oxford Playhouse (8pm, 20 April 2018)
A bit of a rocky start to my non-matinée shows… I work in Paddington, so it was a nice leisurely stroll to Marylebone to catch my train – and thankfully it wasn’t too busy, despite the fact it was a Friday. Everything went rather smoothly, and I was in Oxford in just over an hour! Annoyingly there wasn’t really a lot to do; had it been next week the brilliant Ashmolean would’ve been open late (so I could’ve hung out with a load of Pre-Raphaelite work and ancient historical artefacts, then popped across the road to the theatre). On my wanderings through a ridiculously busy city centre, it became apparent there had been a power outage on the street just around the corner from the theatre – it probably should’ve raised my suspicions, but as it was on a different road…

So after I’d fought my way back through the streets, I headed to the theatre to collect my tickets, only to discover that the power cut had indeed affected Beaumont Street too. I had a moment of relief when the power came back on within a couple of minutes (cue an impromptu rendition of The Show Must Go On from the box office staff) – but then it was off again a few minutes later! In the end, the theatre & company teams did an amazing job and got the show going about seven minutes late (this delay was really down to the slowness of people getting into the auditorium).

It made for not the most relaxed of shows, however. I was quite distracted at the beginning and end, as I was wary of the train I was due to catch to get back to London (originally the show was due to end at 9.30pm and my train was at 10.01pm). It was a rather eventful show onstage too! A rogue candle not wanting to stay in place, Yakov having a bit of an accident, and one of the banners not deploying… But as lovely & enjoyable as ever – and they even managed to shave a couple of minutes off the running time! Given how long it took for me to get out of the auditorium and then past the crowds of people just standing outside the doors (can anyone tell me why people do that?!) I was glad of this bonus time. As it happened, I had a pretty clear run after that and actually made it to the station before my train did! And then a fairly smooth trip back into Paddington, before just sneaking onto the Tube and finally a late train home from Charing Cross. All ready to weep profusely after Emma Rice’s final show at Shakespeare’s Globe!

Northampton 1

Royal & Derngate, Northampton (7.45pm, 28 April 2018)
Interesting combination of activities for me this time. As some of you may remember from my Love Theatre Day post, I work for Imperial College; every year there is a festival held over a weekend to demonstrate ongoing research and spark an interest in science. As a free event, it requires a hefty amount of help from staff & students – so guess who volunteered for the second year running? That’s right. So I spent 4.5 hours outside in the freezing cold during the morning, mostly in the Info Tent but also helping to set up the giant inflatable archway at the main gates. Not the most restful start to the day! But I was able to make my way to Euston in a leisurely fashion afterwards, stopping off at the Wellcome Collection for a coffee on the way, followed by a smooth (if baking hot) train journey up to Northampton and a well-earned Pizza Express before the show.

Royal & Derngate has a great reputation as a terrific regional theatre, and I’ve been meaning to visit for ages – so I was very pleased when this week’s run was added into the tour schedule. It’s actually an incredibly easy place to visit from London for just an evening, with the train journey generally taking an hour and a 10-minute walk from the station to the theatre. This show was in the Royal, which meant heading downstairs. I was back in the front row for this one; unfortunately the set didn’t seem to quite fit in front of the proscenium arch so it all felt very far away to start with. Surprisingly it wasn’t too restrictive, though a little tough on the neck at certain points!

I definitely started to realise how little time I have left with this show now. Usually with shows I’ll either get to see them more than once at a venue on a tour, or be able to visit a significant amount of times if it’s London-based, but all I’ve been able to fit in with this one is a single trip each week – and now I only have two left… So understandably that added to the emotional tug this time. But it was also great fun, as ever, and I especially love how playful it’s getting in musicians’ corner. Another pretty smooth journey back (although I would’ve preferred to sit on the train for 25 minutes rather than wait outside in the cold while we waited for the rest of the carriages to arrive & then safely attach), and a satisfying day all round.

Cheltenham 3

Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham (7.30pm, 1 May 2018)
We’ve reached it: the maddest point yet. My penultimate show of the tour, and I just casually popped over to Cheltenham for the evening – as you do. I was up at 6am as normal to go to work, and had my usual working day (just leaving a smidge early) before dashing round the corner to catch my train to Cheltenham. Just over two hours to get there, plus a 20-minute walk from the station to the town centre, which is fine by me. And, after a couple of weeks of flying solo, I was back to having a bit of company (all the better for what was to come later) as this time Ksenia was getting introduced to the show – at last!

I’m glad that I finally made it to a performance at the start of a residency, as all my previous shows have come at the end of the week (with the majority on Saturday afternoons). Since I last saw them they’ve had a couple of days with no performances, so theoretically they should be feeling a bit refreshed and ready to go with the next run – and it definitely seemed that way from where I was sitting! (Back in the front row, and why not?) It just felt like they were absolutely on top of their game and bristling with energy. The audience, too, was one of the best I’ve been a part of on this whole tour; they seemed very warm & receptive from the word go and that probably spurred on the company to a certain extent as well. It made my favourite part of the show (the wedding & birthday scenes) all the more fun as you could feel the enjoyment all around – but it didn’t stop No One Knows It from breaking my heart for the eleventh time later on in the play.

Not only did I have Ksenia’s company, but I also had the unexpected pleasure of bumping into Kneehigh’s executive producer Ali Robertson – as well as former Sunny favourite (and Daisy’s Promises, Promises co-star) Gabriel Vick! You never can know who you might see when you go on a random trip out to a regional theatre… But it was after the show that our adventure really began. We had booked just about the last train possible, which was due to get us back into London around half midnight (changing at Swindon) – but in the interim, Network Rail had decided to do some engineering work which meant a rail replacement bus from Swindon to Reading, before a second train into Paddington. This added 40 minutes onto our journey, and meant that I had no chance of catching the last Tube home – instead I embarked on my own odyssey of three night buses… Because my first bus was a bit slow, I ended up just missing the next one (and the one after that), eventually getting home at 03:59. A 12-hour round trip and a 22-hour day, all for a 90-minute show. You really can’t make this up.

Brighton 4

Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton Festival (8pm, 11 May 2018)
This is it. The final stop on the UK tour! Those eight weeks really flew by so quickly… Initially I thought I wasn’t going to be able to make it to Brighton, as the tickets had sold out when I went to buy my own – but thankfully I remained vigilant, checking the website on an almost daily basis, and managed to spot that a few had just become available! My original plan had been to do the Saturday matinée, to give me a morning to explore Brighton and then head back to London for the evening, but a Friday evening wasn’t too bad a substitute. I was able to get the afternoon off work, so that meant I was on my way before any potential rush hour Southern Rail disaster, as well as have some time to kill in Brighton itself. The only problem was that I completely forgot to plan anything for those few hours! Bank Holiday weekend had left me a bit strapped for cash, and there weren’t as many free attractions as there are in London… I did start to head to the Booth Museum of Natural History, but my poor legs couldn’t take a mile of steep hills! So in the end I just walked around a lot, checking out the Royal Pavilion (from the outside) and almost getting blown away on the pier.

I made it out to Falmer (the show was being held at the University of Sussex’s Attenborough Centre just out from the city) with yet more time to spare, so rested my legs in the café with a cuppa while I got round to writing a blog post I’ve been meaning to do for some time. The seating was unreserved for this venue, so I know the drill for that by now! Into the queue ready for the doors to open, and I ended up getting pretty much the best spot in the house. A few rows back (so raised up a little) and just off the centre. For my last one I did want to take it all in rather than have anything cut off. I’d forgotten as well that this was a BSL interpreted performance – so through the corner of my eye I could see a little of what was going on at the side of the stage. Given that this is such a visual show, with its dance, elements of mime, and vivid colouring, it definitely seems most appropriate to have a signer there as opposed to captions.

It was the most perfect send-off for me. Everyone seemed incredibly jovial and still full of energy, and yet again I could see a development in how they did or said certain things – remarkable how they manage to keep it fresh for themselves, and the odd repeat attender like me! I felt Daisy was on particularly hilarious form, and Marc’s final scenes were more heartbreaking than ever. I was obviously emotional because it was my last show (a fact that came storming back into my head as I’m Making Believe started, well done to my brain), but there was just that extra little spark of magic going on onstage as well. Definitely the most I’ve openly wept in a theatre for a while. And with that, I had another trek on my hands to get home – easy enough getting back to Victoria (though with the occasional, customary, Southern delay), but I’ve never had such issues with the Night Tube before! It was like they wanted to recreate a rush hour scenario at 1am… A not-so-nice end to my adventure, though the walk back from my night bus gave me time to reflect back on the lovely parts of the day (and these past two months), leaving me wide awake again when I got back at just after 2am. The things I do for theatre, eh?

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The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is on tour throughout the UK until 12 May 2018. Full details of the tour can be found on the official website – tickets are also available from individual box offices.

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