In my previous post I explained how I originally had the idea of performing Top Hole! and how I prepared the script.
Now I will try to lead you through the production and rehearsal minefield…..
In the past, when I have written a new script, I have been used to writing, rehearsing and performing it. My only worries being ‘is it any good?’ and ‘will anybody come to see it?’
When first preparing the Wodehouse script it suddenly struck me that of course there may well be an issue with performing rights this time. That is an area that I have never had to consider before and had no idea how to approach it.
I put my ‘Dickens’ hat on and tried to work out who a stranger would approach if they had an inquiry to make. They would, I guessed, make an online search and come up with the contact details for The Dickens Fellowship.
I did the same and came up with contact details for The Wodehouse Society. I sent an email to them and very quickly got a wonderfully positive response, saying how exciting the project sounded, how they would publicise it for me via their newsletters and giving me an email address that I should use to get further details about the performing rights.
The new contact led me to: The Agency. It all sounded very mysterious but soon I was in contact with the gentlemen who looked after the arrangements on behalf of The Wodehouse Estate and so there began a series of email exchanges. What was the show? Where would it be performed? How much would I be making from it? How large would the audience be? And so on and so on.
I was asked to supply a script for The Estate to review and this was my first test. If they didn’t think that I was creating a show that honoured Wodehouse, then that would be the end. The first script that I sent was the dull, uninspiring one story-after-the-other version and it was the fear of them rejecting it that led me to starting on the idea of intertwining the four stories in a more creative and complicated way.
Fortunately, as I mentioned in my previous post, that version came together relatively quickly and I was able to email it to The Agency before the estate themselves had a chance to comment on draft 1.
There was a nervous wait, although I was actually touring in America, so the time passed quickly and then, one day, the answer came through…I had been granted the rights to perform the piece! It was so exciting and again a positive confirmation that this idea really could work.
I didn’t do a great deal of work on the script when I was in the USA and almost as soon as I was home I had to work hard on learning and rehearsing Great Expectations, so Top Hole took a bit of a back seat for a while. What I did have to do, however, was make arrangements for actually performing it.
The very first idea for the show had come to me via my golf club’s weekly newsletter so I thought the best thing would be to give Top Hole its premiere performance at the club itself. I contacted the Manager at Oxford Golf Club and soon the wheels were in motion.
I decided to make Oxford a try out for the script and therefore would not charge them for my performance. Soon a small committee had been formed consisting of me, Ray Davies, an ex captain who arranges the social events, current Club Captain, Alan Davey and the Club Manager Alan Butler. Between Alans and Davey/Davies this promised to get very confusing!
Back to The Agency I went with further details of my first show. Back they came to me with the same list of questions: What, Where, How Much? I told them my plans, that I would not be making any profit from the show. How could that be, They asked, how would I finance the show? I replied that it would be a loss leader, that I would fund the show myself, that the Golf Club would donate the space and charge the guests only for the dinner they would serve. Yes, they replied, but how will you be paid? I won’t, I replied, I’m doing it for free! It was a tricky concept to grasp – for me as well as The Agency but eventually they got it and we drafted an initial agreement for the first performance of Top Hole.
At the golf club the committee meetings started, ably chaired and controlled by Ray. Here is a man who likes to know that everything is under control, that everything is minuted, that everyone knows what they have to do.
After our first planning meeting one of my jobs was to prepare a poster and this was a project already in hand. Last autumn, when Liz and I were in Scotland for my birthday celebrations, she took the most magnificent picture of me on the links at Fortrose and Rosemarkie Golf Course. The scenery was spectacular and the sky wild but clear.
I decided that the poster (and my marketing leaflet) would be based on a similar pose lifted straight from the text of ‘The Letter of the Law’:
‘He finished his stroke with a nice, workmanlike follow through, but this did him no good, for he had omitted to hit the ball.’
The first job was to get a costume together and that took me to a fantastic vintage clothes shop in Oxford, via a golfing website with pictures of 1920s golf fashion. Plus fours, tweed jacket, woolly sweater, diamond long socks and flat cap: I was ready to go.
Over the previous week or so I had been looking at various views across the golf course, trying to find a suitable backdrop. Fortunately my standard of play is such that I get to see the course from some very unconventional angles. The view had to shout GOLF!, preferably with a hill involved and a green in the distance. There could be no houses, towers, pylons or anything modern in the background. It being March the trees were not in leaf, which was a shame but that couldn’t be helped. Eventually I found a perspective taken from the seventh fairway looking towards to eleventh green, which seemed to fit the bill.
On a sunny afternoon I arrived at the club, changed into my costume (which is very hot indeed), and with the manager Alan walked out to the 7th. The day was bright and, as a bonus, a willow tree was coming into leaf giving us a burst of fresh spring green.
For twenty minutes or so we posed, clicked, ducked as errant tee shots sailed around our heads and eventually got a collection from which I could build the marketing campaign.
And before I knew it posters were up in the clubhouse, the e-newsletter had announced the show and, if I didn’t want to make myself look extremely foolish I had better get down to some serious rehearsing.
I took you through the process of line learning in my Great Expectations blog and basically the routine was the same for Top Hole! Repetition, repetition repetition, add a bit, learn that. Go back, refer to script, try again. Over and over again.
Interestingly at first I found Top Hole! much more difficult to learn than anything else. Over the years I have become so familiar with the way that Charles Dickens wrote, that the sentences almost form themselves in my mind. Wodehouse was a different matter altogether. I really had to concentrate on capturing the exact phrasing and structure if I were to do him justice and not just recite a few stories about golf. I realised, quickly, that my rate of learning was nowhere near fast enough, that I would possibly have the first act learned and no more come the first night.
I had wanted to challenge myself and now I discovered that I had really succeeded! Every waking moment, and indeed a few sleeping ones too, I found myself muttering lines. I would wake at 5.30 with my head spinning desperately trying to remember the order of the passages, if George Mackintosh came after Wilmot Byng. Did the script go back to Oom or did it move to the dogleg fourth hole? Is this the passage in which Mitchell Holmes loses his temper in the grass? When DID Celia Tennant lead me back to the ravine where George lay…..the house had pages of script all over the place as I picked up the page I was struggling with, walked around the house muttering and then put it down again.
Little by little it began to find a shape and I was managing to run the whole first act easily and the slightly more complicated second more accurately with each rehearsal.
On the production side things were also moving along. Press releases were sent to the local newspapers, radio interviews sorted for the week of the show, invitations sent out, via The Agency, to the members of the Wodehouse Estate.
At one of our regular committee meetings Ray, Alan, Alan and I met in the clubhouse itself and I began to visualise the performing space. It would be a fairly large rectangular area which gave me plenty of room to set the show as I’d begun to visualise it during my rehearsals.
The first thing in the staging of the show was that I would be in clubhouses, not theatres, so I could not make the performance space complicated in anyway. However I did want to make it very clear to the audience when I was in each of the four stories. In a theatre I would rely on pools of light but that would not be an option for me with this script.
The large rectangular space gave me four distinct corners and I numbered them in my mind. 1 (bottom right) is where the whole thing starts, an armchair, a table a large history book and The Oldest Member can begin his telling of ‘The Coming of Gowf’. Area 2 diagonally opposite (top left), where a single golf club (a niblick if you must know) will stand. Area 3 (top right) is the setting for Mitchell Holmes, with a small book and lastly, bottom left (4) is the setting for Wilmot Byng and the great President’s Cup playoff, assisted by a driver and a book of rules.
For rehearsal purposes our living room rug became very useful, with the props set out at each corner and actually the movement between them assisted with the line learning as well.
So, here we are, just over a week until tee off time (did you see what I did there?). I am pleased with where the show is but of course there is still more work to be done: plenty more run throughs, plenty more referrals to the script just to check the EXACT phrasing, plenty more experimenting with different voices and accents.
There will be some more meetings to go over final arrangements and there will be more emails to The Agency. I need to create a programme for the evening and of course I need to play golf (all in the interests of research. )
All of this leads inexorably on to Thursday and Friday the 3rd and 4th of April and 8pm. Getting into my costume, waiting on the edge of the room. Watching the guests finishing their dinner, sipping their coffee, getting another drink from the bar. Looking again to see if the props are where they should be, in each corner of ‘the stage’. Yes. Ray checking with me to see if I am ready. Short nod, ‘yes’. And then he is there, in the middle of the room calling for quiet, making his opening remarks. At the side of the room I’m listening to him but also to the words in my head: ‘On the broad terrace, outside his palace……’. Laughter from the guests at one of Ray’s remarks. Am aware of people looking over towards me, people with whom I play golf. Concentrate now. ‘Please welcome our Oldest Member!’. Applause and I am on……..
I don’t know if you’re nervous having read that, but I am! Only one thing for it, I had better run through it one more time.
Top Hole! is to be performed on 3&4 April at Oxford Golf Club, Oxford.
Tickets, although limited in numbers, are available from: firstname.lastname@example.org