• Richard Sutton

Ghost Stories Tour - Week Two

Updated: Feb 24

BATH THEATRE ROYAL, UK

14th - 25th January 2020



Definitely one of my favourite smells is rain on concrete. So sloshing up the cobbled streets from Bath Spa train station towards the Theatre Royal was a real treat. The wet weather was almost Biblical in its fervour. I entered the theatre just after 11am on the Tuesday morning smelling of wet dog and looking like a drowned rat. Kirsty, the stage door keeper, gave me a paper towel, my key and directions to dressing room 3.


My room was lovely. At the Ambassador’s theatre it had been tiny. I was also sharing with Garry Cooper which made it even more cramped for the both of us. So this was positively cavernous in comparison. Lisa, our wardrobe lady, had already hung up my costume in the closet, next to that was a TV and fruit bowl, a bed and a large window looking out onto a sandstone courtyard flanked by a dozen or so Georgian townhouses. The obligatory make up mirror, complete with lightbulb surround, and a large Belfast sink took up the remaining space. It was warm, light and you could feel the carpet through your shoes it was so thick. For some reason there was also a framed picture of a man who looked like Stanley Johnson above the bed.


I checked in with Claire and asked permission to have a mooch onto the stage. Different in design to Birmingham’s layout. The Theatre Royal was designed by Frank Macham. Quite similar, though younger, to his design of the Lyric in Hammersmith where Ghost Stories was born a decade ago.


After its massive success at the Lyric, the production transferred to the Duke of York’s theatre on St Martin’s Lane in the West End for a year from 2010-11 with Andy playing Goodman before Reece Sheersmith took over the role. At this time my career looked like it was seemingly destined to comprise of only TV. As much as I continued to pursue work on stage, I just couldn’t get seen. I was grateful enough playing an assortment of coppers, soldiers, boyfriends and other supporting roles in the usual actor’s butter and booze jobs of Casualty, EastEnders and The Bill et al. I was learning loads and it was great building up a list of respectable credits. The money is also much better for screen work, but for me the play was the thing.


The acoustics at the Bath Theatre Royal seemed more dead than last week for some reason. But we were assured by Diane, the assistant director who was sat at the back of the dress circle, that this was not the case. The tiers of seats were much narrower in the way that they are stacked. Almost like a wedding cake or the front of an old cruise liner. It is a beauty though; All red velvet, carved frieses and opulent chandeliers. Like Liberace’s Bat Cave.


Paul Hawksyard bought his beautiful little dog Ruby with him. I think she thinks that she’s actually a cat. She’ll just curl up and snore on your lap- Not causing any trouble and not expecting much from anyone. I like her style. Paul has introduced ‘Press Up Club’ as part of our pre show warm up. The premise is quite simple. He’ll perform one press up, then I’ll perform one, then he’ll do two and I’ll do two and so forth. We’ll go up to seven and then come down again one at a time. The idea is that at the end of the session you’ll have knocked out 56 press ups without really noticing. We hope to add a set at each venue.


Once again, the audience seemed to be warm on opening night though not as vocal as previous venues. It’s so interesting to me how we can tell how a show will be received within 45 seconds of its starting. There’s a gag at the very beginning and this is the litmus test for the whole show; If that lands well, we’ll fly. Ken Dodd famously said "You can tell a joke in Glasgow and people will laugh at it. But in Birmingham, they won't" So true.


We opened to a house of about 400 in Bath. Anne, the head of the Friends of the Theatre group, invited us all for drinks in the stalls bar after the show. We were joined by the crew James (Sound), Tom, Luke, Tam and Emily. I met a dusty old fella in the corner who hated the play and had no qualms in telling me so. I nodded politely, necked my vino and crabbed off to the pub next door to the theatre. I swear I could still hear him honking on as I skipped out of the stage door and onto the wet street.

We went to that pub, The Garrick, most nights to decompress and discuss the highs and merlots of Bath. Their homemade pork scratchings should be illegal they’re so good; Curly talons of pig based goodness. You can almost taste the oink.


My digs were about a mile up the road near the River Avon. An attic room in the house of Colin and Mads. A really friendly couple. The first night I arrived back late absolutely soaked to the skin. I left my sodden and ruined suede boots in their hallway as requested and sloped off up to bed. In the morning I headed out for a run and saw that Colin had stuffed my shoes with newspaper and placed them gingerly on the porch radiator to dry them out. Very sweet. It crossed my mind to leave my dirty clothes in the hallway that evening in the hope he’d wash and dry them too but thought better of it.

For some reason, the producers added another afternoon show to the schedule in Bath. I was told this was because “It’s a matinee type of town”. Very diplomatic way of saying the audiences there are slightly older.


On the Thursday, before the afternoon show, I joined a couple of the cast and crew for brunch in a fantastic restaurant near the Royal Crescent. We then headed off to the Roman Baths for a bit of culture. When queuing for entry, I was hit with a sudden intestinal reminder of the ill thought out pizza I’d scoffed the night before and so had to spin off rapidly to find a toilet. 2000 years of priceless historical ruins nearly decimated by a middle aged actor with a bad stomach!


The shows picked up both in the audience numbers and their responses. Some really nice reviews and word of mouth I guess. On the Saturday morning, having said goodbye to my landlord and lady, I’d planned to meet Lloyd for breakfast near the theatre. As we stepped out onto the street at the stage door, Lloydy tuned his ankle and fell to his knee. I heard that sickening slap as he hit the deck. He looked at me and we both knew he might be in trouble.


Claire was informed and Lloyd was despatched to his dressing room to ice and elevate his foot. He was absolutely gutted that he was to miss the last two shows in Bath. Billy Irving, Lloyd’s cover, was told to get warmed up as he was going on. Lloydy watched the afternoon show from the sound booth and then limped on an earlier train back to London. I really felt for him as he has such a passion for the show. He told me he actually dreads Sundays as he doesn’t get to perform the show. What a pro. Billy was brilliant of course in his place and the audience that night was probably the best we had all week.


Between shows we had a company meal at a local chip shop (a tradition that stemmed from the London run). Banter and battered fish flew across the table along with tales of dodgy digs and tortured tours. After the show I grabbed a quick shower and jumped on the last train of the day Paddington bound. Andy McDonald, Billy, Josh and Tam all joined me on the journey. Knackered and happy. I climbed into bed about 1am and curled up to a warm girlfriend smelling of sleep.



BATH REVIEWS


https://www.atticvoices.com/2019/ghost-stories-theatre-royal


https://www.bathecho.co.uk/opinions/reviews/ghost-stories-theatre-royal-bath-88099/


https://thebathmagazine.co.uk/review-ghost-stories-at-theatre-royal-bath/