…was attended by a series of miracles. Firstly (and for the first time in our whole rehearsal period), we competed with only one plane, no drilling, only one garden party and neither wind nor rain. More-than-sold-out, our audience cheerfully (well, mostly) sat on MCR furniture, benches and picnic blankets in addition to the hired seating (tip for future audiences: get there early. I am excessively paranoid about being late for the theatre, and even I was surprised how quickly we filled up once it got to 7). I say ‘mostly cheerfully’ because one latecomer had a strop at the interval about sitting on the grass, meaning that our heroic Production Manager (a misleading term which actually encompasses ‘all known technical staff’) had to break into Merton JCR and steal two more chairs. Merton Fellows’ Garden looked beautiful (as the space which inspired Narnia could hardly fail to do), and even provided some of the props – Jacquenetta’s final scene bouquet (wait and see) was hand-tied by the College Head Gardener, and buttonholes for Moth and Armado were plucked from the flowerbeds during the second half.
Our dressing room is James Lowe (Navarre)’s bedroom. This is large and nice enough to fulfil every stereotype about Oxford accommodation, and is also impressively neat. James himself was a saint, first off reverting to some sort of Edwardian priss (appropriate, that) by suggesting that The Men Let The Ladies Go And Dress, and then amenably spending the next three hours going ‘Can I come in? NO SORRY SORRY I DIDN’T WANT TO ANYWAY’. The rest of the time, when not backstage (i.e. Behind The Tree, Quietly Freezing), the cast masses in the Music Room, a tiny rose-fringed building that audience members occasionally mistake for the theatre. Sam Roots (Dumaine) spends a lot of time sitting around playing the piano with casual and terrifying brilliance.
And the performance itself? Went well. Much better, in fact, that anyone could have hoped for. When the 13 actors offstage for I.1 heard James say ‘Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives […]’, there was a certain amount of shock that this was, finally, actually happening, but apart from one hiccup in the last scene (over which may a charitable veil be drawn), it went well. The wait for the first laugh is always horrific, but fortunately came with Phil Aherne as Costard, establishing for the rest of the evening that what this audience would respond to was: campness, silly voices, silly walks, silly noises, and sex jokes. So that was what we gave them. Tonight we’ll probably have one of those terrifying audiences that only laughs to show they understand the language, or worse, a bunch of smilers. Note to public: ACTORS CANNOT HEAR YOUR SMILES. In the case of this actor, without her glasses and in the dusk, she cannot even see your faces. Laugh. Loud, and often. One unexpected effect of the semi-blindness was that when Daniel McLean ran towards me in full Muscovite gear (comedy beard, now with the addition of a fluffy hat), I had no idea who he was and thought I was about to be assaulted by Rasputin.
Have spent the morning asking myself profound questions (‘Where did I put my glasses before showering? How did my room get like this? Where is the selotape?’) and nursing certain bruises from an AMAZING Propeller workshop just before the show. More on that when I get time, but now, I have Primark shirts to buy…
Dr Sophie Duncan is Fellow in English at Christ Church, University of Oxford. She works regularly as a historical advisor and as a dramaturg for theatre, TV, radio and film. She likes theatre, detective fiction and cocktails.