Last night, a new show opened at the Sewell Barn Theatre. It's called Airswimming, by Charlotte Jones.
The show's description says: "Based on a true story, Airswimming is stark, moving and entertaining. Persephone and Dora - placed in a hospital for the criminally insane in the 1920s for bearing illegitimate children and not released until the 1970s - create an extraordinary comic world. They day-dream, sing, plan their escape and most of all air swim. This is a highly visual, poetic and touching production of hope and friendship."
The audience last night was small. The Barn isn't a large venue - it holds 100 people at its fullest - providing a unique intimate theatrical experience. But even this small theatre was far too underpopulated for a superb show.
The Sewell Barn puts on eight shows a year, a wide range of large and small casts, classic and modern texts, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, funny ha-ha and funny peculiar. The standards are high, the dedication of cast and crew immense. The word 'amateur' does not have any derogatory connotations here: rather, in the sense of its literal translation, it's theatre that is performed for love.
I perform, I direct, I attend shows. I have a family and responsibilities and my own business. I know how hard it can be to take time in a busy schedule (I'll be going to see Airswimming myself next Wednesday - it's the only performance out of the eight that I'm able to attend). But I do feel strongly that people are missing such a lot.
There was another two-hander on offer in Norwich just last week: Duet for One at the Maddermarket. Much to my personal sorrow, I wasn't able to attend this at all (which is unusual - I manage to see most shows at both of these venues). The comments that I read were universally positive, praising highly the direction and the performance. Yet audiences for this show, too, were extremely poor.
Why don't people come to shows like this? Will they only attend when they recognise the name of the author? When it's an old chestnut of a farce, or a familiar Shakespeare? Will they only go to the theatre when, in short, they know what they're going to get? Frankly, in some forty years of performing and theatregoing, I can honestly say that the more unusual and obscure the show, the more likely I am to emerge entertained, challenged, weak with laughter or preoccupied with thought. Although it's a sweeping statement, I can truthfully say that the more 'predictable' a show, the more ho-hum my experience is likely to be.
The tickets are not expensive (£8). There is plenty of free parking. These are real people, not figures on a screen.
Here are some of the reviews so far from those who did see it last night.
"I want to say a massive thank you to the extremely talented Carita Liljendal for creating such a moving and incredible interpretation of one of my favourite plays, Airswimming. You would be stupid to miss this Sewell Barn production! The acting is superb, and the direction spot on. But Carita, the only problem with the whole play..... you made me cry BIG TIME!"
"Well, much as expected, Airswimming was just amazing. Some of the best acting I've seen at the barn, a great script, superb direction... just an all-round fantastic show."
"The reason that I love theatre so much is the constant possibility of surprise and this production is full of them. Again that creative pressure cooker of talent, the Sewell Barn Theatre, grabs an audience by the heart and mind dragging them into another world. Leaving them forlorn in the depths of sadness or lifting them to the heights of comedy and almost helpless with laughter.
In this small theatre, that somehow felt even more constricted than usual, perhaps due to the starkly impressive set, played out the tale of these two women deprived of their freedom. This intense focus on the acting talents of Kirsty and Mandy would have instantly revealed even tiny flaws in their performances. There were none. It is also such pleasure in watching the seemingly effortless ease with with they create, switch and hold such strong characters. But even more there is such a special chemistry between the pair that is pure magic to watch. The director also creates a special ambience with the use of images, music and sound that provides the perfect background, highlighting the actions of these already intensely engaging characters.
There is so much more going on in this very rich play but I won't spoil the surprise. Enjoy!"
One final note. I'm a self-confessed geek. I love my computer, my iPhone, my social media (I'm not actually that sold on the television). But it doesn't - never can - measure up to that little thing called Reality. Being there. Seeing other human beings.
I shared an image on Facebook the other day, which made me laugh. But very wryly.
If I've convinced you, visit or telephone Jarrolds (01603 697248) to book your seat NOW. Airswimming plays for seven more performances. Do yourself a favour and experience one of them. Try it. You might like it.
And if you don't, well, sue me.