Having spent most of my life showing off on stage in some form or other, from Ludlow to Aberystwyth to Brighton, London and Edinburgh, to Bath and Bristol et cetera – and having expended endlessly more sweat, currency and love on every evening’s entertainment than was probably logical… Well, frankly, in recent years my main aim has been to find the single most perfectly lazy way of sharing some kind of performance with friends and kind strangers, offering a good night out with the minimum of prep.
UKEAOKE was the ideal way of arsing about in lackadaisical limelight for a fair few years, while a working Unrelated Family Band held together (before The Great Drummer Famine of 2012), and it remains a lovely musical show to dust off if the opportunity is there.
But since Halloween 2012, TUF has been pissing about merrily with the idea of UNREHEARSED THEATRE, advertising a theatrical presentation which is not just unrehearsed, but uncast – and at least it’s free.
Ideally the concept is that any script which is freely available online can be summoned up on smartphones, iPads, tablets and the like at a second’s notice, using wi-fi – and then you have all you need to put on a show. Pint in one hand, script in another, silly hat on, and – CURTAIN UP! In theory…
Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.
UNREHEARSED MACBETH was the pilot scheme that Halloween at the Love Lounge, The Bell Inn, Bath – actually, come to think of it, which I do, they’ve all been at The Bell. With a few rudimentary props – a crown, some swords, a few decorative giant flowers for Birnam Wood etc., the conceit was that anyone could show up with the text in any form, and claim their part – while others were also just welcome to watch the bedlam unfold (and then Lawrie Duckworth’s Playgroup open mike would follow immediately after).
The whole thing balanced on a knife edge, to be honest, but thanks to our incredible Lady M, Muriel Lavender, and her family, plus a random chap called Sam who appeared out of nowhere, and a whole cast of Bell irregulars, Shakespeare’s horror totally caught fire that evening. There’s a terrible cliché about theatre, and especially Shakespeare, connecting with everyone and coming to life in the strangest places, but Unrehearsed Macbeth certainly proved it to be true, to us. Undeniably dodgy-looking well-oiled geezers who seemed just as likely to punch me in the face as the concept was first explained turned out to be secret McKellens, there were cheers as the swordfights got out of hand, and by 9pm, and ‘Scone’, the comradely adrenaline was positively chewable. The FB Event page is still viewable right about here.
But then the problem became apparent – that’s Macbeth for you. Billy Shakes’ fastest, coolest, darkest action thriller of all. We got away with that, but pretty much anything else from the oeuvre, necessarily uncut because we could only use the most convenient text, would probably have imploded – Hamlet would barely reach Act 3 before everyone was pissed. One way or another.
Jem Roberts, Gavin Lazarus and Matt Bragg are not actual Victorians.
In fact, that is what happened with UNREHEARSED A CHRISTMAS CAROL a few weeks later – though we did get the first Stave polished off before skipping to the end. This time we were in the more public front of the pub and raising money for Comic Relief, so it’s a shame I hadn’t already realised the obvious solution to the problem – MOVIE SCREENPLAYS. There are huge troves of scripts available in places like www.simplyscripts.com and when you flub over the credits, cinematic longueurs and action sequences (car chases being particularly tough to achieve in pubs), they only tend to take an hour or so from first reel to tragic denouement. If I’d linked everyone to one of the many scripted versions of Dickens’ story, we could have avoided the obvious embarrassment of the full text theoretically taking several hours…
Xmas Past Jem, Scrooge Gavin and also non-Victorian Claire Johnson are close to admitting festive defeat.
And so followed UNREHEARSED DRACULA for Hallowe’en 2013, using the original Universal Bela Lugosi screenplay (daft as a larch though it is), with Mr Lazarus returning for the title role – plus Lawrie, two Matts, Lauren, Jess, Peter, and dudes whose names I forget, but dudes they were. I didn’t even get to be in this one, having to narrate and play the part of a rubber bat on a bit of string, but it was a thrilling way to spend an early Hallowe’en evening, and we got away with it yet again…
The cast of Unrehearsed Dracula think they’re the cast of Peter’s bleeding Friends or something.
… But the annoying thing is, ‘getting away with it’ really isn’t quite as good as UNREHEARSED THEATRE can be. It has to be edge-of-seat stuff, but first you need to know you’re going to have everything relatively in place…
When we tried UNREHEARSED BLACKADDER on a sunny Sunday afternoon out in the Bell courtyard as part of the Bath Comedy Festival, again for Comic Relief, there was too much of an emphasis on begging to get anyone to stick on a wig, wrap themselves in a curtain and take part. Very often there are one or two absolute heroes who will just make an event like this happen, and this time, as well as Matt Bragg taking part throughout, the discovery of Gemma de Carteret – an utterly syllable-perfect tribute to Miranda Richardson’s brilliance in every role – was the saving grace (plus her splendid friends who we basically had to pressgang).
Although we managed to get through one episode from each series and make half the boozers laugh (and raise, um, fifty quid), one thing was becoming horrible apparent: UNREHEARSED THEATRE wasn’t going to work without one modicum more actual organisation. I’m a flaky sod at the best of times, but although this was conceived as a bit of a laugh, there’s no doubt that just crossing my fingers and hoping this will work is more stressful than it should be.
Jem, Matt and Gemma de Carteret perform the balcony scene…
I may be no Hugh Laurie, but least I’m more the size of the actual George IV.
So this is a call-out to any south-west performers, show-offs and strangers – we need to create more of an UNREHEARSED THEATRE community if there’s to be any more performances, either for charity or purely for laughs. This isn’t just a ‘script reading group’, we just do everything we can to fully perform the story, without any prior rehearsal.
What’s the point of it? Well for professional performers, it is a great work out, to portray a character’s whole story arc in an hour or two from a standing start, just downloading your dialogue onto your phone (admittedly you need good eyesight, and good wi-fi). But for anyone else, it’s a way of enjoying the sensation of entertaining a crowd, of being part of a unique cast just for an hour or two… without all the bother of learning lines, changing costumes, doing the same thing again night after night. And if we can get it working right, it’s also a memorable night of frenetic, ridiculous one-off entertainment even for those who just turn up to watch.
Sifting through online script databases, so many possibilities present themselves – Unrehearsed An American Werewolf In London? Monty Python & The Holy Grail? Casablanca? Or perhaps less cinematic freely available scripts, Unrehearsed Twelfth Night or A Doll’s House or The Birthday Party? Some people have a problem with reading from phones, it is a bit squinty, but then there’s always the option of sharing PDFs ourselves, if anyone would like to arrange a script. The thing is, if there’s a community of people who are generally up for taking part, anyone can come up with an idea for an evening’s entertainment – but this time, we wouldn’t book a venue or put up posters for the show until we had at least a ‘Reduced Shakespeare Company’-sized cast who could manage to get up and do the show, each totally committed to being there, and of course bringing along as many people as possible.
But most importantly of all, still not rehearsing so much as one word in advance.
A really good show could raise lots of money, and definitely beat a night with the curtains drawn gawping at a boxset. So email firstname.lastname@example.org or search UNREHEARSED THEATRE on FB, and you could be the star of a new live adaptation of Goonies in no time.