When I was younger, I had a big crush on Gary Oldman and his acting skills and I tried to watch as many movies with him as I could. I still like him, despite the ups and downs in his career, but that’s another story.
To me his performance as Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears is still the best one. When I saw the movie for the first time (I don’t remember the year), I was amazed and it made me want to know more about the writer. I was making my first steps towards the Gay Culture then, so I went to the library of my city and took his biography home. Perhaps I would change my mind reading it today that I’m older, but at the time I didn’t like the man, for his misogyny and other aspects of his nature that came out from the reading. I had a better opinion on him seeing the movie, so I was disappointed. I think I could like him more now if I try to see his life through his eyes and not from outside. Anyway, he must have been a fascinating man to the people around him and certainly he was for his younger sister Leonie, who had always worshipped him.
I hadn’t the chance to see a play by Orton until this year, despite in my research I find out What The Butler Saw was performed in some theatres of Italy on tour in 2012.
When, unexpectedly, one day the actor Jack Holden wrote a tweet that made me happy: “What The Butler Saw. This is the next play I’m doing. Filthy, frantic, frisky farce.” twitter.com/1JackHolden
The city of Leicester was going to celebrate its national treasure Joe Orton on the 50th anniversary of his tragic death, with a play the playwright wasn’t even able to see staged!
I love celebrations and to be in a certain place in years when events happen. Like last year with Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary in Stratford-Upon-Avon! I couldn’t miss this one neither!
This was going to be a triple occasion: to see a play by Orton in its original language (a challenge to me, to see if I could like his work), to visit Leicester for the first time and, last but not least, to see Holden on stage again. The cast announced was an extra bonus.
I booked immediately everything for my holiday in Leicester, also involving my friend Laura, who will join me in London next May as well. We were both excited, despite we could book for just a short holiday on Thursday 16 and Friday 17 March! In fact, last December I had booked for Ballet Boyz‘s Life on Saturday 18 night in Ravenna and I had to be back in time, while my friend had to work along the week. It’s a pity that the events overlap, or we would have booked for Butler last day, too.
My following step was going back to the library after ages to take a book I remembered I had seen, that collects together three Orton’s plays, included What The Butler Saw, out of print for years here. It’s translated in Italian, but it helped me to understand the story.
I also found a TV movie filmed by the BBC in 1987 imdb.com/title/tt0166875/?ref_=fn_al_tt_6 on YouTube, and watched it in original, despite now I much prefer it performed live. Theatre got a different rhythm when it’s performed for TV or maybe it was how they used to film stage works in the ‘80s, who knows…
I go on with the things I remember, because this time I didn’t write any note, like I use to do. Time was tight.
On Thursday 16 at very early morning, Laura and me were flying to Stansted via Bologna and later we took two trains plus the tube to Leicester. Going there is quite easy, so I’ll certainly will go back there for more theatre. We arrived on the early afternoon.
I couldn’t wait to visit Leicester also because it got another UK national treasure, Richard III, a historical character I have always found fascinating, for better or for worse. I read the news about the discovering of the king’s grave on the web and I wanted to visit it. I found very effective the way the Almeida Theatre inserted the discovery of the bones at the beginning and at the end of their production of Shakespeare’s Richard III starring Ralph Fiennes, a screening I was lucky to see in my city thanks to Nexo Digital. The king was also brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the tv miniseries The Hollow Crown and by the Italian actor Alessandro Gassmann, who performed him like a sort of Frankenstein at the Teatro Diego Fabbri in Forlì. This is one of my favourite plays the Bard ever wrote.
Once reached our hotel, we took a walk around Leicester to see where Curve Theatre was located. We had a look outside and inside the Leicester Cathedral, too, which was still open, but a service was taking place so we didn’t visit it. Despite the weather was cold and cloudy, at the sunset the sun came out and spread its light over the buildings. The atmosphere was poetic. The city is beautiful!
On Friday morning (I realized it was Friday 17-03-17, I love such kind of dates!) we had our breakfast at Curve Green Room. it was a nice way to celebrate being in Leicester for the play. Toasts and cappuccino were delicious, have a break there if you visit the city! We had fun seeing a class of children outside warming up with their teachers, before to go inside the theatre. We wondered if they were there to see something or to take part to a performance.
While we were finishing our breakfast, I recognized from their Twitter profiles Nikolai Foster and Chris Stafford, respectively the Director and the Chief Executive of Curve, who were sitting at another table. I didn’t know what to do, I was afraid of bothering them while they were having a break. I have a rule: never bother people out of performing time! But my friend Laura, who didn’t want me to miss such an occasion, went on and introduced herself to them, explaining who we were and that we were going to see What The Butler Saw that night. I’m much grateful she did so. Stafford had to go, but Foster stayed for a chat. He seemed pleased we had come from Italy to see the play and that we showed interest in theatre. So he managed for us a wonderful tour of Curve, asking to a member of the staff if she could guide us inside the building. I’m sorry I forgot her name, because she was really nice.
Not only we got to go behind the scenes of WTBS! We also walked through the stage and were able to see the details closely! It was so very accurate, like being inside a real clinic. Our nice guide told us that the set designer made the stage inclined on purpose. I love to discover such tricks. It’s even more incredible thinking that actors had to run over it, the ladies and Holden even wearing hig heels! I had seen some photos of the making of on Twitter, I would never imagine I would walk through it one day! We couldn’t take any photos of the stage, though, due to the copyright, which we understood. The set looked like a treasure chest from the backstage. We could took some pictures there. My friend took a photo of me near the blonde wig Jack Holden wears during every performance, just for me to remember that I lived that day for real! In a corner there were all the clothes I recognized from the production photos, also the leopard dress! I was gloating! It made the wait for the incoming show even more exciting! I thought I got a pic of those clothes, but I can’t find it anymore…
We continued our tour and we saw a rehearsal room and then the workroom when a costume designer was making one wig for Mrs. Prentice: he told us they make it for every performance because they want it to appear fresh. And on the same floor, as promised by Nikolai Foster, we could attend to the rehearsals of Grease, which is going to Dubai soon! What a honour to be there! He introduced us to Nick Winston, the co-Director and Choreographer, a very kind man. One of the actors, Keisha Atwell, came to shake our hand and told she was happy we had come from Italy! What a warm welcome! Later I searched and followed both on Twitter. We took a seat and seeing them rehearsing was like being inside a movie. Like being inside A Chorus Line for example, but in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere! A dream coming true! It never happened to us! The actors were learning the choreography for “Born To Hand Jive”, one of my favourite scenes in the story. They seemed to enjoy themselves. What great artists performers and theatre-makers are! Rehearsing again and again a single scene for hours, every day for weeks, and then doing it on stage in front of an audience for weeks again, sometimes for months! I definitely can’t say how they do that keeping the passion on, it must be the big love for what they do which brings them ahead! I can understand that! I took a sneaky photo of the wall with the pictures the cast&creative were using as samples for the style of the Grease’s era, I hope they don’t mind.
Our tour came to an end and we had to leave our guests! We were so grateful! Unforgettable morning! I don’t know if we had said thank you to them enough! We kept talking about that morning between us!
Later, we went to the Visit Leicester office to get information about Richard III and what was available to visit in just few hours. They were very kind and helpful and suggested the King Richard III Visitor Centre and the Leicester Cathedral. We also took some goodies they sell.
On our way to “meet” RIII, we noticed a fruit market and had a look around. We love such places, full of colours. There’s also a stall that sells beautiful gift cards! I bought two.
The visit at the RIII Centre was very interesting, they explained with panels and videos about the time he lived in. Scientists used his skull to reconstruct his face, it looks quite similar to the ancient portrait we knew before the discovery was made, and the man that came out doesn’t look like the fierce King we have imagined from the chronicles of the time or from the play Shakespeare wrote! In the room built over the place where bones have been found, a guide explained us about the work made there after a proper research. Then RIII’s remains where transferred into the Cathedral inside a decorated coffin, after a ceremony along the streets of Leicester. Before to leave the Centre, I bought for myself a book with the story of RIII and a notebook for my diary.
Our guide at the Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic church opposite to the Centre in the same square, told us that perhaps all was said about the King came from the bad propaganda Henry VII the winner wanted to be made against him. It wouldn’t be a surprise. If true, history should give him justice! Anyway, Shakespeare’s Richard III is still a much fascinating character actors will continue to perform that way! Below you can see the definitive tomb where RIII was buried and the coffin used for the ceremony.
And, finally, our time to see What The Butler Saw arrived on the evening at 7.30 pm! We got good seats in the stalls in two different rows. Curve is a beautiful and comfortable theatre! The play is exhilarating, I was crying with laughter, it’s a bit weird laughing on such things, but the script is so brilliant that you can’t get offended by it. I will write my report on seeing this “Filthy, frantic, frisky farce” on this other page (I’m sorry I’m still working on it). This blog is long enough!
But I’m happy to say we got to meet Jack Holden after the show, he was as nice as always, he stayed for a chat and we were happy to talk to him about the play and performing dressed as Geraldine. I was all focused on him, but I loved the performance of all the six actors. It’s really a good cast! Another time, maybe, I will get the chance to meet them. I still have hope that a theatre in London, hopefully in the West End, calls them to perform Butler for the Londoners. I’d certainly go there to see the play again!
I got from Jack Holden the most lovely dedication ever on my programme! The only thing I regret is I didn’t take a photo together with him, like other fans of the cast did, but I asked the autograph already and for sure he was tired after the performance! Maybe next time.
What a fantastic day it has been for us! The Curve’s team made our day on so many levels!
I’m glad we made it in Leicester! And a reply I got on Twitter made me happy again:
I greatly suggest people to go to see What The Butler Saw in Bath from 27 March to 1 April 2017: http://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/page/3009/What-the-Butler-Saw/1363!
(Some photos were taken by my friend Laura, some by me.)