Sunday, 17 August 2014

Leeds

There was a bit of a panic this morning as I rushed around the house throwing my belongings into a suitcase, trying to work out what I'd forgotten to pack. I must have switched the kettle on seven times without actually make myself a cup of tea!

I reached King's Cross in good time for my train and was amazed to be charged 2p for a plastic bag in WH Smith, which they couldn't actually provide! There was not a single bag in the entire shop. To register my discontent, I asked for a refund, which took forever. When they proudly handed over the 2p, I demanded it went into the charity pot!

I spent some time looking at the departure boards, and for some reason drifted into something of a romantic reverie at the concept of train leaving London and going all the way to Inverness.

I find train stations in general hugely romantic places, largely due to the frantic and dramatic displays of emotion which tend to be found within. Quite a number of people clambered into my carriage to say goodbye to loved ones. The little old man sitting behind me was informed by his daughter that his son would come and find him on the train in Grantham. "Good luck Daddy" she kept saying. He was at least 90, and an alarming thought crossed my mind that she was perhaps thinking she might never get to see her old dad again.

Another woman ran along with the train, waving at her friend with a big smile plastered across her face. She stopped running and promptly burst into tears, which was a really very moving sight. I guess when making a piece about the First World War, you become all-too aware of the significance of waving people away at train stations.

There was a caged budgerigar in my train compartment, which felt a little weird. It chirped its way through the journey in a most disconcerting way which was somehow less disconcerting than the enormously fat woman who spent the entire journey complaining that the air conditioning had broken in our carriage. After I'd listened to her for a few hours I wanted to shake her and say "loose weight, love... Then heat will not be your enemy." She looked like a cross between a tank and a pillow.

I arrived in Leeds in a rain shower. The weather seems utterly incapable of deciding whether it's summer or winter. I wheeled my suitcase to the student accommodation in some kind of monsoon, which instantly became sunshine and blue skies.

Our little bedrooms are rather lovely. I sat on the bed in a pool of sunshine feeling really very content, before strolling across to the theatre with young Josh.

We turned up at the City Varieties to discover the set in place and lots of lights being focussed. Everything looks majestic. The set design is remarkable; simultaneously capable of looking like a munitions factory, a front line trench, and the barn in Bus Les Artois where the Leeds Pals were billeted.

I got extremely emotional looking at the stage, seeing the lights isolating different areas of the set, with hazy smoke drifting through the slats of wood.

It's wonderful to feel like a spare part. I genuinely mean that. Everything is very much in hand. The technical directors are wandering around, peacefully doing their thing. From tomorrow, our brilliant stage manager will run the technical rehearsal and Matt will make sure everyone is standing in the right place. I am only really here to smile and tell everyone what a great job they're doing. And I won't have to lie because the team is sensational.

The cast have been banned from seeing the theatre until it's in a decent state, but I found Andrew, Alex and drummer Ben waiting outside, so took them on a little tour of Leeds, down Briggate to the minster, via the Corn Exchange and then along the canal back to the train station. I felt very proud to be showing them around.

We had supper in Bella Italia and then returned to the theatre for a very chilled-out evening session. I adore the silence that descends on a theatre in the latter stages of a get-in. There's a spine-tingling air of anticipation: almost as though the theatre starts to look forward to what is coming. It made all the hackles on the back of my neck stand on end.

Tomorrow, this very special atmosphere will give way to something really very different, when the actors pour into the space and the technical rehearsals begins...

Three days now, and counting...


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