The show that almost went wrong

Site-specific show at Soho House in Birmingham

What could possibly go wrong, quipped our unflappable producer Julia as she signed up to her duties on Power of Invention back in 2019. Turns out, pretty much anything.

The original plan was for a promenade show inside Soho House where the audience would meander through the house and encounter the industrial giants of the past in their natural setting. 

What could go wrong? Well, let’s start with the pandemic. As live performance ground to a halt across the country, our planned show looked decidedly unlikely. 

As the lockdowns progressed, no-one knew what was happening – not even the government. So, after a year of false starts and mindful that ‘the show must go on’, we decided to change the nature of the production from an indoor promenade to an outdoor garden party. 

An outdoor show in summer in a pandemic? What could go wrong? Well, as the old joke says, you can always tell when it’s summer in England because the rain is warmer.

And rain it did! Rehearsals were intermittently drowned out.  Plan B meant move into the tea-room. Effectively, the cast rehearsed two different versions of the show – one for the garden and one for the tea-room. That’s what I call the Power of Invention.

It was just as well, because the weather forecasts were grim. Our audience clearly weren’t put off, mind you, because tickets continued selling well, and we were delighted to have the modern day Lunar Society spreading the word. But would anyone turn up? 

Thank goodness for our loyal audience who trooped into the gardens like a band of soggy refugees, wearing waterproofs and face-masks, carrying deckchairs and hand sanitisers, picnic baskets and umbrellas.

And the show worked well in its garden/tea-room venues – one performance even took place in both, after a rapid downpour forced it to move indoors mid-performance. The opening six shows felt like a triumph of survival!

With a week to recover and only three more performances to go, surely the hard part was over? The weather forecast was improving. Surely nothing else could go wrong?

Nothing…apart from the fact that two of the four actors couldn’t perform in the final shows due to illness and the pingdemic.  

Would our show be a victim of coronavirus again?  Would we have to cancel and refund the ticket money? Step forward producer Julia Wright and director Janet Steel – heroes both! After rehearsing on Zoom, they now stepped onto the stage – or rather the lawn – scripts in hand.

Unfazed, our adaptable audience happily played their part, and the final three performances got a great reception.

So, against all the odds, the show did go on – and everybody deserves a round of applause: the cast & crew, Soho House, the unflappable Julia – and most especially our soggy audience! 

Well done all – live theatre is back! Stephen Jackson

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