September is touring. Ring took me to Belfast, Cambridge (for the afternoon), Margate, Preston and Bournemouth.
The MAC in Belfast is a superb venue, brutalist like the National, but whereas the RNT seems all about getting lost - no lines of sight, floors that don't meet each other - the MAC is all views: cavernous, deep, well-like and lagoony. It was here I got to put a face to the often-dropped name, Maddy Costa. She writes for the Guardian. This was the third time she'd donned Ring's headphones, and the first time she'd realised she was sometimes listening to a recording. It's funny what people who write about theatre write about. We were lucky enough to be in Belfast for the "Culture Evening". As well as the MAC, there's also a beautiful new museum, and a beautiful new waterfront, and yet - and not necessarily in spite of all this - the city reminded me of a boarding school. Everything seemed to close at six. Something far more tangible than just a shadow of Occupation is here. It clearly doesn't want any trouble. Another thing I noticed: Belfast had the largest proportion of blind people in the audience, by far. Six, against other cities' none or one or two. Two more things: Wandering around Belfast you'd think the Titanic was the Beatles. And the airport's named after George Best.
Margate: I'd seen Nigel and Louise raving about the Tom Thumb Theatre on twitter, and they are right to rave. It has a nice Shunty vibe - by which I mean the vibe Shunt used to have after everyone was kicked out. And by which I also mean kitsch without being ersatz, like a Coney Island seance parlour. Advertised as one of the smallest theatres in the world, hence the name, it's certainly the smallest venue we toured - and carpeted, so I had to keep to the stage to let the audience pick up my foot falls. A great, great bar... I think it might have been the work of Gary Cambpell, Shunt's first barchitect, who also co-founded the Stoke Newington International Airport and did such wonders with the bar at the CPT. Yes, I think it might well have been Gary. Margate too has a brand new Arts Centre. It was closed.
Premiere Inn, Bournemouth
Preston lives. Preston was extraordinary. My acquaintance with the North of England being almost as poor as my acquaintance with Ireland, nothing prepared me for how great I'd feel here. Walking around parts of Preston you'd think you could still take a train south for the day and catch the Great Exhibition. I'm used to thinking of Victorian architecture as Gothic and foreboding, medieval, crinkly - maybe because I'm so used to Westminster. But further north Victorian architecture means Classical, Democratic, Beaming with Pride. Civic Pride, it was called; not all Victorian values are bastards. Things were made here, and not just the Titanic. (I mean, The Titanic?! Belfast, you must have made something that didn't sink, why not celebrate that? I know - Who'd have heard of it - I know.) We performed at the Continental, a room behind a pub. A massive, massive room behind an excellent pub. I took photographs of all it, but something went wrong with the phone. It came back to life in Bournemouth.
A balloon in Bournemouth
Bournemouth was great too...
When I started writing this post it was going to be about Premier Inns and the value of boredom. I'm glad that's not how it turned out. I loved touring. When I got home I moved my bed away from the wall so it would feel more like a hotel... I'll save the Premier Inn stuff for my New Years' Resolution, once 2013 is fully cleared out.
And, in case I haven't mentioned it, Ring visits Aberystwyth next week.
God... I hope I still have these shoes.