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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Outing to Derngate Centre in Northampton

We've been to see several shows at the Derngate Centre in Northampton. We last went to see a production of "A Tale of Two Cities" in the Royal Theatre which is part of the complex. I have to admit to having something of an affection for that beautiful little theatre. I think it might be there that I got my interest in theatre when I was quite young and in the late 1960's I almost got a job as a Student A.S.M., but eventually ended up at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. We have been to see larger-scale productions in the other theatre, The Derngate, which is next door. We have seen productions of "Cabaret" and "Cats" and in the past I've been to classical music concerts as well as a production of "Hamlet" which was utilising the uncut text and running for over four hours. It was a good production, but it was over two hours before there was an interval!

On this occasion we were here because we've just celebrated out 10th Wedding Anniversary. We had looked for something to see locally and had hoped the theatre in Milton Keynes might have had something we'd have liked. I'm afraid the seat prices in the Milton Keynes Theatre were somewhat too high. I had hoped we could go and see the touring production of "Funny Girl" but the only two seats I could get for a matinee performance and which were in the top-most tier of seating cost £45 each, and I'd no intention of paying £90 and then having to sit in such a poor seat with poor visibility of the stage.

So this is how I came to book us two reasonably-priced tickets for a show called "Running Wild" for a matinee performance yesterday (Saturday) at the Derngate Centre in Northampton.

On Arrival in Northampton we had to find a carpark. I knew we'd be able to park closer to the Derngate as there is a carpark virtually next door, but that is easier to get to if you come in from Bedford on the A428. But we came in on the A45 from the M1. When we'd come to see a production of 'A Tale of Two Cities' a couple of years ago we parked in a multi-storey carpark which contained a multi-screen cinema complex called The Vue. So this is where we managed to find a space this time. A lot of vacant spaces and not too far up the building.

Once we'd parked we walked towards the town centre. We had quite a lot of time to fill before we could collect our tickets from the Derngate box office and see the show. We visited a few shops to browse, including Debenhams. Carol said she needed to do a blood sugar test, so we stopped in Debenhams while she did this blood-prick test and discovered that her blood sugar level was low. Being a hot day didn't help.  The temperature outside was high and it seemed to be hotter because it was a town centre and the pavements and the enclosed nature of the streets seemed to increase the heat. It got to the point where we wanted to have some refreshment and decided we needed to find a Wetherspoon's pub.We have been to several across the country as they do reasonably priced meals. We weren't entirely sure where there was one in Northampton town centre and actually found the spot where one used to be but had been closed. There was a sign on the hoarding telling us where the nearest one was, called 'The Cordwainer' and in  street called The Ridings. There was a map on the hoardings which purported to show the route to this new pub, but we didn't manage to find it, even after we asked several people where it was. We even used Google maps on my iPhone. You'd think it would be an easy matter. After a while we did land up outside the pub and it was busy. Well, I suppose it would, seeing how it was a hot Saturday and it was lunch-time. We found a table in a corner and began to look at the menu so we could order food. Carol chose burger and I chose what was called the Three Chicken Feast, which looked perfect for what I needed because, by now I was hungry. I went to the bar to order the food as well as two sugar-free Pepsis. It didn't take long for the food to arrive at our table. The only problem we had was that unfortunately we had chosen to sit at a table near the disabled toilet. Not nice being to close at the best of times, but people kept coming and going. You had to have a special key in order to use this facility.  But never mind, the food was good and it gave us a chance to just sit and relax. Anyway, regardless of all that, the food was good and plentiful. A good enough reason to choose to eat in a Wetherspoon's pub. Also, at a very reasonable price. From The Cordwainer we walked towards the Derngate Centre. We still had plenty of time to waste and walked past the Guildhall and, in a rather  nice shady courtyard next door to this Northampton Council building we saw a statue sitting on a bench. This seems the way to present statues of famous people these days, rather than having them on plinths and too high to be able to observe properly. On inspection, the statue turned out to be of the local Northamptonshire poet, John Clare. This gave us an opportunity for rest and relaxation and to take a couple of selfies with the statue. By now it was approaching 2 o'clock so we decided to walk the short distance to the Derngate Centre where we collected our tickets from the box office. We managed to find some seating in what was the entrance to the Royal Theatre until it was time to go into the auditorium and find our seats for the play which was going to start at 2.30.

A large audience. I think the house must have been around 85%-90%. A lot of children and parents with those children. Actually good to see so many children being taken to see a live show. I was quite surprised by how many had mobile phones on. You couldn't but notice because the screens on smartphones light up. Fortunately these appeared to be turned off as the lights in the auditorium went down and the play began. Directly in front of of was the sound and lighting operator's desk and you could see the computers that the operator used for both lighting and sound control for the performance.

The show utilised clever staging, with minimal scenery which could be changed rapidly to get from one scene to the next. Actors performed alongside puppets which were operated in full view of the audience. One, in particular, was an elephant that moved very convincingly even though it was operated by around five puppeteers. The girl who played the central character of Lily had to ride on the elephant, so those puppeteers must have been strong to support her. The show was aimed at children, as already mentioned, but it wasn't in the least bit sentimental or morkish. As much as I like puppets, I don't prescribe to the idea that they should be mainly for children. It's a bit like animation, which up until a few years ago was aimed almost entirely at an audience of around 5-10. It wasn't until the appearance of the Muppets on British television in the mid 1970's that it became obvious that puppetry could be aimed at a far older audience.

As I said, we enjoyed the show and then left the Derngate to walk back to the car and home. No doubt we'll be visiting the Derngate again to see another show in the not-too distant future.
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