FIELDS On the Road Again.
Saturday 11 May 1996
There are five of us in the Mediterranean Mercedes van. Also sandwiches, Real McCoy crisps and the touring set from hell. There's not much you can't tell us now about Allen keys or Ref 22s, scaff clamps or gobos, Green King or backache. Nick Murray Brown. He's the tall one, looks like Oscar Wilde, playing conservationist Matt. Wields a Manfrotto lighting tower with the expertise of a caber-tosser at the Galashiels Games. Quiet. Makes his own bread.
Kate Romney. Strong, red-headed, ex-Rose Bruford. She played the harridan Nurse Ratchett there in a student production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Used to be an SRN herself, once upon a life. Plays single mum Christine. Since Paul left all those years ago there's been no-one else in Chris's bedroom.
Leanne Hailwood. One of Mike Kwasniak's production pics lifts here straight out of Tennessee Williams' Deep South. Blonde (at the moment), young, ingenuous. Plays Chris's ostensibly wayward daughter Jenny. Complete natural. Makes acting look simpler than smiling.
Me. I'm the one wearing the Supermarket Sweep sweatshirt. Learned the ABC of touring theatre in the Derbyshire Peaks more than twenty years ago when A was for Ashbourne, B was for Bakewell and C was for Crich. My co-start was a four-foot teddy bear called Wag. There would be no place now for Wag in these madly PC times.
Penny Griffin. Stage Manager to the world. She's extraordinary. Emblazons these flat lands from Wickham Skeith to Wells with the van legend: Eastern Angles Theatre Company. Going Places!
I've always been more than a tad evangelical about live theatre. It's a little disturbing to discover that assuming the missionary position is probably genetic. If they won't hail you in the green room comfort of a backstage bar then you must find them.
Ivan Cutting's Eastern Angles have been doing just that for fourteen years, gently nudging the organisation into the enviable position of being one of the country's most successful touring companies. They were the first to put Graham Swift's Waterland in front of an audience long before the celluloid version did for the Fens what Roseanne Barr did for tap-dancing.
Spring awakening means the village hall tour. Tweaking the faithful out of their Country Living conversions, prising a fiver out of them and slapping them with a wodge of high-octane theatre. There's no chance of smugness, though: rural audiences don't give a hoot for some stonkingly good reviews. For them it's a home match. You're only as good as they say you are.
Ralph was spellbound. He sat with his dad on the front row at our very first gig east of Ipswich. He was ten; certainly no more. Now that's young for a two-hour drama that encompasses death, drugs and rock ‘n' roll. Surely his boredom threshold wouldn't survive the interval? That comfortable first half seat would drive him to an uneasy restlessness. We were, to a man, worried.
The dénouement of Fields contains more than a touch of Konstantin-Gavrilovich-has-shot-himself-ness and it would be cheap sensationalism to give the game away here. Out it poured to Ralph and the rest, but as the stage lights dimmed and the applause began to spatter the auditorium we heard his whisper rise above it all with all the clarity of a lark. "What does that mean?" he breathed.
That night the envangelist earned his point.