Alright, confession time – I wasn’t actually sent… I was invited. But as “sent” makes for a significantly more eye catching title, that’s what I thought I’d go for! It was the day of the final post for my Notes From The Bottom blog, bringing to a conclusion a piece of writing which had taken 18 months to complete and which went into “some detail” about the whole experience of playing Bottom for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2016 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation.
Naturally enough the conclusion of this particular project and the winding down of the blog was making me feel a little melancholy so a trip out was just the thing to keep the blues at bay. I had been asked to go to Coventry to talk at the NODA summer school – something which was going to keep the Dream alive for just a little bit longer. Realising that Coventry was not a place that I had had a really good look round, I decided to get there well ahead of the evening start time in order to have a root round. I’d found a walking tour online which I planned to follow but as I left the train the brooding skies looked foreboding. Sure enough within a couple of minutes the heavens opened and that was pretty much the picture for the rest of the afternoon with intermittent heavy showers and a level of humidity which might best be described as the wrong side of oppressive.
Maybe it was the weather but I can’t say I was particularly enamoured of the city. There were building developments and roadworks everywhere which made following the proposed route almost impossible. The shopping centre might have been anywhere else in the UK with identical-to-everywhere-else chain stores and somewhat mournful looking people. Spon Street, a preserved row of medieval houses, was interesting architecturally but looked a little seedy and neglected. But then as it had originally been the centre of the city’s dyeing trade, and therefore presumably reeked of the urine the dyers used in their craft, maybe it had always been that way. References to Lady Godiva and her famed bareback ride – and barefront and baresides – were plentiful.
Several frustrating detours later I found myself in the coffee bar of the Belgrade Theatre, so called because of a donation of timber from the former Yugoslav capital which had been used in the building’s construction. There appeared to be no shows booked in there for August and the rest of the year looked to be dominated by a ratherb tawdry collection of tribute acts, minor league touring shows and undemanding fodder. I suppose the theatre is catering to what the public wants (or is it?) but where was the vibrancy, the innovation…the joyfulness? However, I have to say they do serve a very nice cup of tea – and that, of course, is the main thing.
The rain had temporarily eased but was clearly due for an early return so I decided to abandon the tour and head straight for the number one Coventry attraction – the cathedral. The shell of the old bombed out cathedral and the new building standing next to it provided a stark contrast both to each other and the rest of the city. I wish I could have said more but the new cathedral wasn’t open at that particular time (it was one of those days!) so all I could do was admire Basil Spence’s structure from the outside and hurry for shelter as another downpour took place.
Cutting my losses I jumped in a taxi to Warwick University (not really in Warwick…or Coventry for that matter) to join the NODA summer school for the evening. If you don’t know about this event and are interested in amdram then you really should consider it. Here’s a short video which includes my good friend Jacquie extolling its virtues:
A bit late for this year, admittedly but they are already planning 2017’s event.
Our session involved a small team of us (David and Patrick from Stratford, Becky and Tom from Nottingham and myself) from the Dream project which had been gathered together to talk about our experience and answer questions from the assembled delegates. There were plenty of looks of amazement as we described the mega-opportunity with which we had been presented and some generous comments made by people who had been in some of the audiences up and down the country. It had been three weeks since seeing any of my fellow Dreamers but it was very clear that the experience still loomed large with all of us – I think it will ever be thus. The session was chaired by RSC producer Ian Wainwright who hinted that other ideas were being explored to capitalise on the lessons learned through the innovative project – intriguing and tantalising in equal measure. If I hear more, dear reader, you will be the first to know.
PS – I’ve finally got round to starting an Instagram account and there are some more photos of Coventry to be found there; bet you can’t wait.