Local theatre is not about the play – but about the coach party from Worthing.
We’re at Eastbourne’s splendid Devonshire Park theatre, to see an adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s 1990 novel Gallowglass.
And I don’t wish to boast… but not all of the coach party are so aware as me.
They travelled this morning, enjoyed a good lunch on the seafront, and are now settling in their seats, ten minutes before the 2.30pm start.
‘So what’s the play?’ asks one of them. (It clearly wasn’t a hot topic over their fish and chips.)
There is some uninformed discussion in Row 12 before an expert can be found.
‘Gallowglass’, they declare, consulting the theatre programme.
‘Is it a comedy?’
‘It doesn’t say.’
Though the clue is in the author, and while I don’t know much, I do know it’s not going to be a comedy.
I’m not sitting here expecting a ‘Ooops-how’s-your-father!? bedroom farce, with wardrobe japes, hilarious infidelity and hostile mother-in-laws.
Ruth Rendell wrote this story under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, which signals a twisted, dark and probably violent psychological thriller.
But I’m not telling the Worthing posse.
Devonshire Park is a splendid small Victorian theatre, of course, with ornate decorative plaster work inside.
‘A proper theatre’ says Roger who I’m talking with at the interval outside the toilets, and I know what he means.
We particularly like the two boxes at the front, which, given their angle, have a perfect view of everything…except the stage.
You’d have to be a (rich) contortionist to watch the play from there
‘I think it was the era when you hired a box to be seen rather than to see,’ I say, and Roger likes that.
Back in the day, he used to run a garage in Worthing and he’s now waiting for his wife who is in a queue for the Ladies, a queue that – with only two toilets in a theatre with an 870 capacity – could well be called The Never Ending story.
(And you don’t need to know this, but they have the sinks actually in the toilets, which further slows things down.)
Roger doesn’t think Victorian women went to the toilet in the theatre, because of ‘all their dresses and stuff’.
Meanwhile, I anticipate further plot developments in the second half as the psychopath (who could be gay) puts his evil plan into action.
Roger nods. ‘With the queer ones, you don’t know what’s going to happen.’
I haven’t heard that word for a while; but then this is a matinee in Eastbourne.
‘There are a lot asleep, look at ‘em – but then they had wine at lunch.’ He refers to the dozing heads in the stalls. ‘I didn’t have any wine. I knew I’d be out and I warned them, I did – I warned them. But, well – wasted breath, eh? You can’t tell a lady what to do.’
Meanwhile, back on stage, the 11-year-old girl is played by a 19-year-old actress who does a pretty decent job of regressing…but there’s only so much you can regress.
There is also an ex-Emmerdale actor and an ex-Brookside actor, but get this – there is no actor in the cast with The Bill in their credits, which must be a first, surely?
I cannot believe this has ever happened before. In the old days, every actor (and many who weren’t) had been in The Bill.
It was almost statutory…I must be getting old.
But – may the Lord’s name be praised – I discover that the ‘Emmerdale Sex code’ is also used in Eastbourne.
In Emmerdale, you know when two people have had sex because the scene opens with one of them doing up their top shirt button.
Have you noticed this?
When you see the top button being done up, you know: ‘They’ve had sex.’
And so it is in Gallowglass...the top button is clearly a universal language.
And maybe a helpful warning for us all: when coming out of the public toilet, or the vestry – don’t be doing up your top button.
Do it before leaving.
And yes, some of the scenes are too long, making for a play that is too long – and the wheels really come off at the end.
Good starting is easy, but good ending is difficult, the hardest calling.
Overall, though, we have just the best of times at the matinee, loving our afternoon adventure in local theatreland, and feeling we must do this again.
Though we won’t believe the posters in future.
The poster for Gallowglass has a scantily-dressed blond in an ankle manacle…mmm, intriguing… but it bears no relation to the play that we saw.
If it had, more of Worthing may have stayed awake.