On Saturday Carol and I decided to go out for the day. It wasn't a really bad day, on the weather-front, when it started, but as it progressed it became really damp and miserable, but we were determined that it wasn't going to spoil things. We weren't exactly sure where we were going, as we drove up the MI. At one point we were going to Lincoln, but then we decided to head for Leicester. This is the area of the country Carol came from, or more precisely she came from a village near Leicester called Thornton. Also, I worked as an A.S.M. at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester in the early '70's, and the main reason for going was that they have opened a brand new theatre there last year called The Curve, and I'd read quite a lot about it and was interested to pay it a visit. We got to the Park and Ride car park on the outskirts of Leicester and parked the car and caught the bus into the centre of Leicester. We have become quite adept at Park and Rides, as we have used these at several towns and cities that we have visited in England, particularly Cambridge, Oxford, Scarborough, Bath and York. We certainly get around, and it makes life a good deal easier and far more stress-free to use these facilities, to drive somewhere and not have to worry about where to park when you get there. They are generally cheap, and certainly much cheaper than parking costs in the centre of most towns.
Well, I'll be honest and say that I really don't remember much about Leicester, so I didn't recognise anything! It was some 40 years since I worked there, after all. The area we got off the bus looked as if it had been completely rebuilt recently, with a large new shopping centre, very shiny new cinema complex (literally shiny, as it was covered in what looked like mirror tiles) and a branch of John Lewis department store. We then went into a brand new shopping area, which had a lot of what I can only describe as designer shops in it, but not actually somewhere we'd shop as everything is really expensive and over-priced. We had coffee and something to relieve our hunger in a rather nice branch of Carluccio's, and then attempted to find The Curve. I will say, for a multi-million pound theatre complex, they really ought to spend some money and effort with signposts to this theare, as we didn't know exactly where it was, although we had managed to pick up a town centre map which showed it's location, but it wasn't until we got into the older part of the city that we came across a signpost that directed us to it. We eventually found The Curve.
I have to say that at first sight I wasn't exactly over-impressed by the building. The outside has the appearance of some sort of over-sized grill for a heating system. It doesn't exactly fit into the surrounding streetscape and rather over-dominates it, but I have to say that it is a rather impressive structure. We decided to give it a go and go inside to have a look round. The entrance door is automatic and there are acres and acres of space in the foyer, if that's what you call it. You can see the streets outside through large windows which make it seem as if the outside has merged with the interior. The theatre has been designed so that the public can see the workings of the place, unlike other theatres, where these parts of the building are kept hidden. You can see into the workshop through a window, and we could see sets and props for the next production being build. You can actually see onto the backstage areas of the main audiatorium when they raise special doors onto the stage, and at the time we were there you could see the lighting rig being set up.From the street you can see a good deal of what is going on inside and you'd even be able to see the actors preparing for a show, and from overhead gantrys look down on the stage.
Having had our look-round, Carol suggested we stay and see a show, as there was a matinee performance that afternoon, not in the main theatre, but in the smaller studio. We discovered that the show was called "Story Of A Rabbit," which on first thought didn't sound that appealing. But we are people that like to give things a try, even if they aren't immediately appealing. We like theatre, and we've seen a few shows, but generally they'd be what you would call 'mainstream' and this show was somewhat what I'd call 'experimental.' We discovered that the show had come direct from the Edinburgh Festival.
We bought our tickets at the box-office and, because it didn't start until 2.30, we had around two hours to fill. We went back out into Leicester to have another wander around. One of the places we went was the open-air market where we bought a cauliflower for our Sunday lunch and some apples. It seems a really lively market and the stuff we purchased was really good quality and cheap, certainly in comparison to what we'd buy in Tesco, Asda or Morrison's in Milton Keynes.
We began to walk back towards the theatre and got there before the time the play was due to start and had time to have a coffee in the theatre cafe. We then went into the studio theatre, handing in our tickets at the door and walking into the studio. We didn't have numbered tickets so that you could sit where you wanted. There was someone on the door welcoming us to the show, who turned out to be Hugh Hughes, who's one-man show this was. At first I thought he was just someone who was a sort of usher. There were a few people already seated, but the place was hardly packed. This actor, Hugh Hughes, was talking to the audience, welcoming people as they came in. He was saying that this show had toured and this was the penultimate performance and that it wasn't going to tour again until 20010. Also, this was a matinee, and he rarely did matinee performances. He asked someone in the audience if they wanted a cup of tea, which was strange, as you rarely go to the theatre and get asked by one of the actors on stage if you'd like a cup of tea. He made this tea using what looked like an old fashioned hot-water boiler which was on stage, and then gave the freshly-made cup of tea to a woman in the audience. This was certainly not going to be a conventional piece of theatre, by any means.
He kept asking a theatre staff member if it was time to start the show, and when it seemed that all the audience was in, he began. It was difficult to know whether the performance had actually started, or whether it was just waiting for it to begin.
There were odd items suspended from the ceiling which were used in the show, for example, a pair of Marigold rubber gloves, a collection of ties, a plastic bag full of sawdust and on the floor a large car tyre, a Trimphone telephone, the water boiler and in one corner of the stage a flip chart. Also, on one side sat a man who sat at a keyboard playing some music and to one side of him a lighting desk. He operated all the lighting for the show and provided the music at various intervals throughout the performance.
The whole show was about Hugh Hughes father dieing and also, running sort of concurrently with this 'plot' the story of his family pet rabbit dieing. It may not sound particularly interesting material for a show, but the way it was done it was funny and touching, all at the same time. There were certain poignant moments where you didn't know whether it was appropriate to laugh, it was that much of a narrow margin between comedy and tragedy, which made it seem really good theatre. There were bits near the beginning where it didn't seem as if it was actually a piece of theatre or merely a presentation, because he used the flip chart and a Powerpoint which he operated from a laptop computer.
One poor man arrived late and Hugh Hughes mentioned this. How embarrassing for the man! I don't know how I would have coped with it.
Anyway, I'm really glad we saw it and at the end we left the theatre thinking that our visit to The Curve had been worthwhile. It would have been odd to have visited and not seen a show, even though it wasn't in the main theatre.
We weren't exactly sure where we were supposed to catch the bus back to the park and ride carpark. Someone at the theatre said that it was in the Haymarket, so we walked there and waited at a bus stop, but we were there for a good 20 minutes or more but no bus came along. Eventually we caught a bus whose driver told us he wasn't going out to the park and ride carpark, but he could drop us at a stop near the BBC Radio Leicester studios, and we would eventually get a bus to where we wanted to go. This we did, but, again no sign of any bus to the carpark. Eventually some people came along and we asked them, to be told that we should go back to the centre of Leicester. We followed them and eventually, after an even longer wait, we finally got on a bus to the carpark. By now it was getting dark, the wind got up, and there was a steady rain, but we were really glad when we got back to the carpark and got in the car, leaving Leicester and heading back to the M1 and home to Milton Keynes.