Obama helps me out on Easter Sunday

In Medieval times when you wanted a leak you just popped outside and did your business on the cobblestones or in the gutter and it would (hopefully) run away with all the other medieval fluids and detritus.

No such things in those long-distant days as ‘facilities’, ‘the gents’, ‘the ladies’, nappy-changing cubicles or disabled loos with emergency cords.

Haven’t we come a long way?

This April it is 100 years since the first British conscientious objectors began to be released from prison. And here am I on Easter Sunday, due to perform my play THIS EVIL THING, not once but twice, in a medieval crypt below a medieval church, St. John the Baptist, in the heart of Bristol.

But being medieval, the venue has no loos either in the crypt or even in the church upstairs – no-one having thought to install any in the intervening 600 years or so.

To solve this problem the people that look after the building (the wonderful Churches Conservation Trust) have made an arrangement – with the Grand Hotel 100 yards up the road. Thus the audiences for my play on Easter Sunday are welcome to stroll up there and use the hotel’s loos.

So that’s okay then.

Well, maybe for the audience, but less so for me. I down pints of water during the day and before a performance in order to hydrate myself and keep the vocal chords nicely lubricated – but as a consequence, I am a ‘frequent-urinator’ – (not as attractive sounding as a ‘frequent-flyer’, I grant you) – though never during a performance, thankfully (thus far, touch wood – or medieval stone, rather).

However, almost as soon as the final sound cue has faded out and the performance is over, I find nature calling me, very urgently.

The first performance on Easter Sunday is at 3.30pm and there are 40 or so folk packed into the crypt (which can hold 60 at a push). The weather is glorious, it is very warm in the streets of Bristol, and so entering the crypt mid-afternoon is like walking out of a sauna into a fridge-freezer.

Lois Bibbings, who has helped organise these performances, sent an email round to ticket-holders earlier, advising them to bring an extra layer or two. Not everyone received it in time, though. But she has also brought some blankets.

How many? I ask.

Erm, about half a dozen, she replies.

I wonder whether we should auction them for charity to the highest bidders.

The Crypt Crypt final scene
The performance, in what is a very atmospheric space, goes extremely well – despite the roar of Bristol’s buses in the street right outside, and the voices of passers-by heading home from nearby pubs and hostelries, replete with their Sunday roast dinners.

But as soon as the applause has finished, I’m off through the very low door of the Crypt, taking care not to thwack my head, before turning left and beginning my 100 yard sprint up the road to the hotel.

Outside the crypt
The church is located on Broad Street which is not broad at all, but narrow, with cobble-stoned streets adjacent, in an old (unbombed) part of the city.

I am sorely tempted not to bother with the hotel and simply ‘go medieval’ – but with lots of passers-by around, I think better of it.

So I complete my 100-yard dash to the Grand Hotel, but then discover it’s more like a 200-yard race instead, as I still have to wend my way through the hotel’s lobby then bolt along various winding corridors until eventually I’m relieved to find…

well, relief…phew…

Shakespeare’s line from the first scene of Hamlet pops unbidden into my head:

‘For this relief, much thanks.’

I used the word ‘bolt’. In this 100-yard dash to the loo I think I could have given Usain Bolt a run for his money. Have I ever moved more quickly in the last 30 years or so?

Having performed to a pretty full crypt in the afternoon, it’s disappointing to learn that only a handful of people have booked for the evening. I had suspected as much – folk would be spending Easter Sunday with families, or would have gone away or would be at home recovering from chocolate overload…but the performance has been scheduled and we certainly don’t want to cancel.

Awaiting an audience
I mean, I am feeling quite tired having done this demanding solo play once already today, my voice now a little ragged, not to mention my running practice up the street.

But 15 folk are expected and the show must go on. If only half a dozen, say, had booked then I might seriously have considered contacting them, and offering refunds etc.

Or would I?

I suddenly remembered a radio programme I’d heard on my drive back from performing the play in York last November: a programme about former President Barack Obama’s early years, campaigning to become a senator.

He was due to speak at a rally some way from home but when they got there, only half a dozen people had turned up dotted around a large auditorium.

But Obama’s P.A. said that rather than be down-hearted he gave just as passionate a speech to those six people as if they had been six thousand.

Most tellingly, the P.A. said, ‘You can be sure that each of those six people went home and spread the word to everybody about this wonderful new politician they’d heard.’

There and then that became my bench mark if ever I had to perform for a tiny audience – Barack Obama giving his all, not stinting in the slightest on the passion, the intelligence and enthusiasm.

In fact, as is often the way with small audiences, the evening performance was very special: the 15 who turned up were incredibly attentive and engaged, (once the blankets had been divvied up), there were fewer buses thundering past in the evening and I found I was able to be very intimate at times, which brought unexpected new tones and colours to the conscientious objectors’ stories.

I suspected that the permanent inhabitants of that Crypt also preferred the more intimate playing of certain scenes – the line from W. B. Yeats’ poem briefly popping into my head at one point, in somewhat altered form:

‘Act softly, for you act on my grave…’

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