Blog: Technical Cleverness

Among the many who came to see A Christmas Carol, the more keen-eyed of you may have noticed that I was playing the role of Bob Crachit.

This is a little bit of a departure from my usual zone of comfort, namely, being the one behind the audience, in a dark box, hidden entirely from view. Not the one standing on stage with a few kilowatts of light pointed at me.

Jan Blog

But this raises an important question – if I was on stage, who was in the box, controlling all the techinical malarkies?

Well, I was. You see, all good technicians are able to be in two places at once.

Or, at least, they give that impression.

In truth, it was more complicated than that. Shall I explain in unneccessary detail? I think I shall.

We have a thing called an ETC Element. It is a large silver box with a button on it that says “GO”. I went on a course a couple of years ago to learn how to use it. Turns out, you have to press the “GO” button. This silver box is our lighting board. It is, in effect, a fancy lightswitch.

We also have another silver box with the Apple logo on it. But that’s not important. What is important is that it has a rather nifty piece of software on it called QLab. It too features a large button with the word “GO” on it. From this laptop we control all the other technical aspects of the show.

If you were to follow the mass of cables coming out of this laptop then, well, in truth you would very quickly get lost and confused and start weeping quietly to yourself. I know I do.

However, if you were to persevere you would find that there are three key routes to follow. The first will take you, fairly straightforawdly, to a pair of projectors. The second route will take you, rather less straightforwardly, to the speakers on stage. The third route will take you to a radio reciever, and this lets me listen to Gardner’s Question Time.

No, not really. The radio reciever is in fact tuned to pick up the radio microphones that we were using to make the ghosts sound, well, less ordinary. And cunningly plumbing it into QLab in this way allows me to turn the channels on and off with the click of a button, thus removing the need for actors to be relied upon.

I really oughtn’t poke fun at the actors, since I’m one of them. But then, old habits die hard.

So, that is how Qlab lets us control most of the technical elements of a show.  But not the lights. So, we had to find a way to get these two silver boxes to talk to each other. Easier said than done – computers are notoriously antisocial. They never seem to have much interest in what each other have to say. But then conversations conducted in binary numbers usually are.

Except it doesn’t have to be done in binary numbers.  It could be done in hexadecimal numbers. And that makes all the difference.

Hexadecimal numbers (numbers written in Base 16, if you’re interested, which I realise you’re not) are usually used for electronic music or something like that, but someone clever has reappropriated them to do other things. One of these things is to get one silver box to send a signal to another silver box to tell it to press “GO”. So – plug the laptop into the lighting board with a special cable and hey-presto! We have all the technical stuff being controlled from one place.

But you still need someone there to press at least one of the “GO” buttons, even if only so that “GO” button can tell the other “GO” button to press itself. So, how do we get around that issue, considering that the person who needs to do this will be on the other side of the room, and not available to clamber over the audience every few minutes.

Well, sat opposite me as I write this is Mr. Naylor. He is typing at his computer using a wireless keyboard. A keyboard which, for the duration of A Christmas Carol, may have been borrowed by a certain technician.

Were you to watch A Christmas Carol from backstage you would have seen a somewhat frantic cast attempting to quickly, sliently and in the dark (a challenging combination) move set around, change costumes and get from one side of the stage to the other without bumping into each other. You would also have seen a rather nervous looking Merlyn clutching the afforementioned wireless keyboard (a raggedly placed bit of electrical tape highlighting the relevant key), hoping against hope that when I press a button, things will magically happen. And it did. Without fail. Well, it did fail during the final dress rehearsal, and I had to grovel apologetically for a while. But then, that’s what rehearsals are for.

And speaking of rehearsals, on Thursday the cast of our upcoming Waiting for Godot will be gathering for a first read-through. I am among their number, and am very excited to be on stage again. That’s at the end of March. And it just so happens that tickets are on sale. Maybe you’d fancy clicking here?

Ta-ra for now!

– Merlyn

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Blog: My Absent Valentine

As I write this I am sat in the control room watching Casablanca. Not for fun, you understand. This is work. And tremendously hard work it is too. The beautiful subtlety of the lowering houselights. The expert twiddling of the volume knob. The highly skilled manner of pressing ‘Play’. Not just anyone can do it, you know.


Casablanca is our Valentine’s Day film. And what better way can I think of than spending my Valentine’s Day in a room full of happy couples watching a romantic film? Not that it seems particularly romantic, at least thus far. Someone has been shot, a German bloke has arrived in a plane emblazoned with swastikas and some poor chap has had his wallet stolen. But maybe I’m just out of touch with the true meaning of the day. I thought it was supposed to be all chocolates and flowers for them, and bitterness for the rest of us.


But there are more important things I should be talking about. NT Connections, to be precise. If you’ve been about the theatre at all recently you’ve probably already heard about it. It is a rather exciting project involving hundreds of youth theatre groups from all around the country, each of whom has been given one of twelve plays to perform this spring. And we are one of those groups. And the play we’re going to be doing is by Patrick Marber and called The Musicians.


Upon hearing this I excitedly brushed the dust off my banjo ready to provide a rendition of Foggy Mountain Breakdown by the superb Earl Scruggs. But, alas, my services in this department were not required. The music the play concerns itself with is mostly that of Tchaikovsky, who was not made famous by his Banjo Concertos.

Aside from Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, 2nd Movement (no, I hadn’t heard of it either) the play also features Pinball Wizard by The Who. And I can honestly say I’m not bored of it yet. Not in the slightest. I don’t find it tiresome at all. It’s going with me to the Desert Island.


Maybe I can operate the show wearing earplugs?


I’m not going to tell you how two such disparate pieces of music can feature in the same play. You’ll just have to come and see it.

Rehearsals began yesterday, in earnest. The youngsters all seem very keen. And I must say, they did very well to cope with the quadruple-headed direction provided by Andy, Isobel, Matt and Sadie. It was nearly enough to get to me, and I was only there to put on the music.


Hold on. Something pivotal is happening in Casablanca. I’ll be back with you in a minute…



Goodness. Well. I never expected that.


We had a visiting company the other day. A show called Crazy Glue from Single Shoe Productions. I like it when visiting companies come. It makes a change to see some new faces. The show was very inventive and quirky. A lot of fun. All mime and sound effects. It was like watching a cartoon. And, as a bonus, their technician was pretty. And obviously knows how to push the buttons, if you know what I mean. She was clearly well acquainted with the operation of an ETC Element Lighting Control Board.


I don’t like Valentines’s Day.

Anyway. Enough of me being silly. A great show. Best of luck with their future touring.


I’d better wrap up now. We’ve got a busy week ahead of us. Rehearsals for The Musicians and Noël & Cole. Our half term drama workshops for the youths. Talking Heads next Friday and Saturday, for which we have to reinstate the set. And now that I’ve mentioned all of those I’m going to have to go and link them all to the appropriate booking page (I’m not very subtle with my hints, am I?). Or, if you don’t want to book online, call Isobel by dialing 01760 755 800. Tell her I sent you. It won’t get you a discount or anything, but it will annoy her. A laudable goal, I’m sure you’ll agree.


Casablanca is drawing to it’s conclusion. It was quite romantic, after all. Humphrey Bogart and friend are walking away into the fog. I won’t give any spoilers, even if it did come out seventy-four years ago. I enjoyed that. Worth seeing.

I said I’d wrap up. I will do so now.








Blog: The Autumn so Far

Time for a blog, methinks. Yes, you all thought I’d forgotten about these didn’t you? Well, no such luck, I’m afraid.

Why the delay in blogging activity, then? Do you remember that thing that happened a while ago when the sun came out? I think it was called “summer”? Well, during that happy time I was of course far too busy to be writing any blogs. After all, there was gin & tonic drinking to be done. Got to get one’s priorities straight.

In between drinks, I did find time to help out around the theatre, rigging lanterns, pressing buttons, that sort of thing.

If there are any Health & Safety Officers reading this, then I would like to reassure you that, yes, of course I waited for the intoxicating effects of the gin to wear off before I went anywhere near a ladder. I have no desire to be humiliated on YouTube.

Anyway. All that was some time ago, and we are now well into autumn, both in terms of our theatre programme, and the weather.


A few weeks ago an event was held at the theatre in commemoration of a gentleman named Trevor Shears, who sadly passed away about eighteen months ago.

If you’re interested, you can read about him and his importance by clicking here, because I am instead going to talk about the other half of the day’s events: the concert put on by the fantastic Eileanóra Ni Charthaig and some of her musical chums.

I may be able to spell Eileanóra’s name, but it is a better man than I who can pronounce it.

We’ve hosted the occasional concert here before. You are probably familiar with the Jazz Picnics we traditionally hold on a beautiful summer’s rainy day.

Musicians roll up to the theatre in some sort of vehicle or vehicles, and proceed to extract from it not only themselves, but the most extraordinary amount of equipment: music stands, microphones, amps, pre-amps, speakers, subwoofers, miles upon miles of cabling and of course, instruments. When one observes the effort put in by drummers and bassists in particular, one can’t help but think that the harmonica player has the right idea.

We have our own PA System in the studio, of course, but it is haunted. So we tend not to use it for gigs. The poltergeist causes enough frustration when getting the balance right with just a backing track, let alone a whole five-piece band. This is why bands bring their own system. Plus, it saves me having to worry about it.

There was the usual set-up. Sound checks and the like, a bit of rehearsal. Everything was going just fine.

The time came for the gig, the audience were seated and the performers came on stage. Eileanóra sat down behind her electric piano and pressed one of the keys.


The poltergeist, it seems, had struck.

Things often go wrong, of course. The phrase “Technical Difficulties” is one we are all familiar with. Particularly us technicians. It’s like a call to arms. And within seconds of hearing it, there we are, screwdriver in one hand, spanner in the other, and a roll of Gaffa Tape perched on our head for good measure.

As it transpired (after a few minutes in which I remained wholly calm, I assure you), the fix was a simple one. The male BS 1363 had become separated from it’s female outlet counterpart, causing a disruption in the electrical circuit, and therefore preventing the current from flowing through the electrical equipment.

Or, to put it another way, there was a break in the line and neutral conductors between the wiring in the fixed installation and the wiring in the appliance, which, as air is a superb electrical insulator, was creating resistance more than sufficient to impede the required Wattage from reaching the live parts.

Or, to put it a third way, the plug had come out of the wall.

Stay tuned for more electrical mumbo-jumbo.

Once I had performed the highly technical manoeuvre of plugging it back in, the PA system sprung into action, and the gig continued unhindered, and we were granted the acoustic delights of Mess of Blues, Summertime and an unusually jazzy version of The Rare Old Mountain Dew, which is a brilliant traditional Irish tune and has nothing to do with the bottles of green, fizzy stuff that Americans seem to like. Anyway, fantastic music, very much my kind of thing. And if you missed it, then… why? What were you doing?


Now for more electrical mumbo-jumbo.

It was about 8:30am when I found myself sat in my car outside the FDC, on the outskirts of Norwich. “FDC”, as I was surprised to learn as I entered the complex, stands for “Football Development Centre”. I feel the time is right for some sort of quip regarding the sporting performance of Norwich City FC, but I shall refrain, as I fear their supporter would hunt me mercilessly.

I digress. I should be telling you why I was in such a place. Nothing to do with football, thank goodness. This was the improbable meeting place for the Plugtest training course. And I was soon to find myself in a small room accompanied by eight men, all of whom had considerably less hair than I do.

I was to learn, over the course of two days, how to perform the in-service inspection and testing of electrical equipment. And I can say with complete sincerity that yes, it really is as exciting as it sounds.

For those of you who aren’t sure what that is, you know those green “PASS” stickers that you get on electrical equipment? Yeah, I was learning how to stick those on.

There is more to it than just sticking the label on, of course. It doesn’t take two days to learn how to do that. We had to learn how to perform polarity tests, insulation resistance tests, earth continuity tests, leakage tests and, of course, functional checks. Almost without exception, these tests are performed by plugging the thing into another thing, and pressing a button. But it’s useful (and actually quite interesting) to know the theory behind it.

There was an exam, as part of this training. A practical test and a multiple choice questionnaire, which featured a number of fiendishly phrased questions.

The practical element was quite straightforward. Test two appliances and fill out the necessary paperwork. I was given a lamp and a hairdryer, which rather elegantly summed up both my working and personal life.

I jest, of course. I never use a hairdryer. Terribly bad for one’s hair, you know.

The theory exam was rather more taxing. I thought, now that I had left university, I was done with this kind of thing. But no. Once again, I was to be ruthlessly quizzed. There were a few questions about about the nominal protective conductor resistance of a 30m flex with a c.s.a of 2.5mm2. Or the situations in which a residual current device would disconnect the supply. Or the precise manner in which a Class III appliance is isolated via a SELV source. They were all easy.

The hard questions were the ones about the regulations and legal what-not. Those aren’t things that are dictated by physics. They were decided. Probably on a whim. And can easily be misinterpreted.

But, at least as far as the exam is concerned, I did not misinterpret them. I am now certifiably “competent”. My mother has never been so proud.

In order to do this sort of testing, one doesn’t actually need any specific qualifications, which surprised me. One just needs to be, as they put it, “competent”. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to say what you have to be competent at. You see what I mean about misinterpretation?


Last week we had some guests. Rather a lot of guests, in fact. Dizzy’s Dance Studio, which is a dance school based in Swaffham had put together a showcase of rather impressive scale. The performers numbered in what seemed to be the hundreds, but more realistically numbered in the dozens. Still a lot to fit on our stage. Even the very youngest students were involved. They looked barely old enough to be walking. And they were still better at tap dancing than I am.

The show, entitled A Classical Twist, brought together a huge variety of dance and musical styles. Tap, ballet, street dance, other ones that I don’t know the name of, and some Irish dancing for the finale.

It was a week of quite hard work. Lots to be done, and not much time to do it in. On the plus side, I’ve had a lot of practice at programming chase sequences into the control board. Lighting thirty-four different pieces uniquely was certainly a challenge. I hope I rose to it, and I hope I did the choreography justice. Not for me to judge, really, is it?

Regardless, it was good to have people around, and maybe we’ll see them again, sometime. Keep dancing.


I’ve just glanced at the word count. I think it’s about time I stopped talking and did some proper work.

Before I do, I must mention the 22nd of November. On the 22nd (that’s a Sunday) we will be holding an Open Day between 10am and 2pm, in the hope that we might be able to find a few folks who are interested in volunteering, either on-, off- or backstage. Keeping this place running would be impossible without all the people who volunteer their time. If you are at all interested, click here to read more about the Open Day.

There. That’s my good deed for this blog done. I’ll shut up now.


Oh, one more thing. Shirley Valentine opens next week. Tickets here.  They’re going very quick.


All done. Ta-ra.



News: Open Day on Sunday 22 November

Westacre Theatre needs you.  It’s your own community theatre!

Drop in for a coffee and cake anytime between 10am and 2pm on Sunday 22 November – no strings attached. The search is on for Volunteers to help at Westacre Theatre both on and off stage – with set making, bar staffing, programme selling, stage managing, acting and lots more besides.  It’s a completely informal get-together so come along and see for yourself.      

What is Westacre? What happens at Westacre and when?  Where is Westacre? Well, Westacre Theatre has been offering Inspiring, Inclusive and Creative Excellence in the heart of West Norfolk for over a quarter of a century.  And Westacre Theatre is probably the only all-year-round rural performance venue in the whole of East Anglia.  So, Westacre is different.

In rolling West Norfolk countryside, Westacre Theatre’s scenic setting comes complete with landscaped lagoon. Only 10 minutes from Swaffham and 20 minutes from King’s Lynn, it is tucked away in peace and solitude; one of West Norfolk’s best kept secrets.  But once found, everyone always says how lovely it is and ‘Why didn’t we know about Westacre before?’ 

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Westacre welcomes everyone, so the Theatre has a happy band of Volunteers performing vital roles in its varied activities.  Many of the team are long serving troupers; everyone has a part to play. The turnover within the team is very low – once at Westacre, people tend to stay for the friendship and fulfilment. But life outside does goes on and sometimes people have to move away and move on. 

Matt Grist, Director at the Theatre explained ‘From time to time, fresh faces are needed in Westacre’s regular line-up. And now is one of those times.’ 

Having a perusal around our website will give you a good idea of the dynamic range of events on offer. Our own theatre company perform regularly to great acclaim – straight plays of immense integrity and magical musicals too, well known favourites or more challenging drama. 

But as you may expect, Westacre Theatre is more than just a stage.  Its fully equipped studio theatre is central to its all-inclusive ethos but there are many other parts too.  The converted Chapel where the Theatre was born 25 years ago is truly a tardis. Give us a look and you can see what we mean. 

Its own in-house productions are complemented by sourcing the very best Live! and Encore screenings via satellite from the likes of National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare, The Globe and Matthew Bourne with mainstream cinema under the Wednesday Flicks banner. The Cafe Bar serves relaxing drinks, Light Lunches and Suppers. The light and airy gallery hosts Art Exhibitions. Drama Workshops are held weekly and in school holidays for young people from 6 to 18 years old. Art and Crafts Classes are all in the repertoire. 

Performances and activities are presented in three seasons each year so there is always something new about to take off. The Theatre is overseen by a charitable foundation so all your time and skills would go directly to the worthwhile cause of keeping Westacre Theatre alive for the next generation. The Cast and Crew is a tiny team but they certainly make it all happen.  So why not do something different and link up with the Theatre that is different too?  A warm welcome awaits you on Sunday 22 November from 10am to 2pm.






News: Trevor Shears and The Shears Foundation

On Sunday the 11th October, we hosted a concert by the superb Eileanóra Ni Charthaig and her very talented musical friends. Attending the event was an invited audience of committed supporters of Westacre Theatre, most notably, representatives from The Shears Foundation. This charity was founded by Trevor Shears and his wife, Lyn. Without the generosity of The Shears Foundation, Westacre Theatre would simply not exist. The concert was held as a small “thank you” to the Shears Foundation, but particularly to Trevor, who sadly passed away last year.

As part of the event we officially planted a tree just in front of the theatre terrace, in celebration of Trevor Shears and in recognition of the contribution of The Shears Foundation to the development of Westacre Theatre. It is a fast-growing, large, deciduous tree of the genus Quercus Rubra, in other words, a Red Oak. It has an open, spreading crown and broad leaves that turn red or red-brown in autumn. It is a native of North America but was introduced into this country over 300 years ago. It can grow to well over 100 feet.

Shears Day ar Westacre 11.10.15 032

Trevor Shears was born in llkley in 1945. He enjoyed a successful career in the transport industry and was one of the founding directors of the Go-Ahead Group.  In his retirement, he became well known as a philanthropist supporting causes in Yorkshire, the North East and elsewhere and, in 1996 together with his wife Lyn, established The Shears Foundation as a charitable trust dedicated to this work. In 2009, Trevor received the OBE for services to charitable causes.

Trevor and Lyn became staunch supporters of Livespace Theatre Company during its touring days in the early 1990s . As Andy Naylor and Issy Huckle were enabled by the Birkbeck Estate to develop their work at Westacre, the Shears Foundation was instrumental in providing the pump-priming funding at key stages from 1999. Trevor himself became a founder member of The Westacre Arts Foundation when it was established in 1996.

He died after a short illness in May 2014.

Andy Naylor and Trevor Shears were first cousins but it should be made clear that their consanguinity never got in the way of a good political argument.


The Shears Foundation was established by Lyn and Trevor in 1996 following the sale of their transport business and supports projects that fall under the following criteria: Culture, Heritage and the Arts, Community, Education, Health, Environment and overseas projects in India.

Whilst helping to ensure the safeguarding and regeneration of the North East region’s major building-based cultural icons such as The Sage Gateshead and The Baltic, the Shears have taken a keen interest in reaching somewhat lesser-known causes on their doorstep. These include the likes of Berwick Film & Media Festival, Juniper Productions, Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company, Live Music North East, Live Theatre, Northern Print, Northern Stage, Music in the Minster, Open Clasp Theatre Company, Samling, Streetwise Opera, and Tyneside Cinema.

The nature of the Shears’ philanthropy is also carefully considered. Whilst supporting major capital developments at the likes of the Great North Museum, Seven Stories and many others, their giving is planned to ensure the sustainability of these organisations over the long term with subsequent donations and dedicated support.

Community impact and outreach plays an important role in the Shears’ decision making. Amongst numerous examples is their financial assistance to the Bowes Museum, helping to enable their educational provision for schools and families, as well as helping Beamish, The Living Museum of the North reach a total of 18,000 school children in 3 years through their work. They see the vital connection between financial health of arts organisations and their ability to increase participation – a marked upsurge in participation has been attributed to the Shears’ contributions in the Tyneside area alone over the last decade.

Beyond the North East, the Shears have supported the Westacre Arts Foundation in Norfolk, of which Trevor was a trustee; the National Tramway Museum in Derby and English National Opera. Their generosity knows no bounds.




Blog: The Siege of Westacre


0945hrs: A large number of vehicles are arriving in the car park. They appear to have coordinated their arrival. This is most unusual.

0955hrs: I have been observing these vehicles for some ten minutes now. Their behaviour is most irregular. They enter the car park, eject a child, and leave. This is evidently cause for alarm.

1010hrs: They have entered the building. These children are obviously invaders, intent on taking over our theatre. I must establish a plan of action.

1015hrs: My worst fears have been realised. Within minutes they had taken over the studio, the rehearsal space and much of the intervening area. There was little time to respond. A number of us have established a stronghold in the office. There is no way of knowing what will happen next. We must prepare ourselves for a long siege.

1130hrs: The children appear to have begun a reconnoitre of the surrounding lawn.

1135hrs: They are practising military manoeuvres. Cartwheels seem to be heavily involved. We intend to retaliate with rolly pollies.

1200hrs: Plan aborted! There are more of them than we realised! We are heavily outnumbered. I fear there is little we can do other than lock ourselves in the office and wait out the siege. We have rations of cake. I only hope it lasts.

1500hrs: The children appear to be departing. Could it be that we have survived?

1525hrs: All the children are gone. We’ve made it! Finish all the cake!



0950hrs: It seems we were too hasty in our celebrations. The children are returning, in the same formation as yesterday. We are already barricading ourselves in.

1000hrs: Alas! Much of my regiment are absent. I can only hope that they are far from here, in a place of safety. Andy, Isobel and I are all that remain.

1045hrs: Andy and Isobel are to fight their way through to the van. I have tried to persuade them otherwise, but they are determined.

1115hrs: I am alone. Trapped in this office, with no way to contact the outside world except via the telephone that keeps ringing. I don’t know why it does that.

1130hrs: The supplies are dwindling – tea, coffee and washing-up liquid are all that remain. I shall have to be strict with my rations if I am to survive.

1200hrs: It is clear that I have no hope. My only solace is that one day, this journal may be found and turned into a big-budget action movie, with Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the leading role. I think I’d like that.

1205hrs: I can bear it no longer. I must see the outside of this office one last time. This is the end. Tell my wife I love her.

1230hrs: I have decided to stop being silly and actually write a blog post. Here goes:


I think the most important thing to establish is that I am not married. Something which both me and my wife are very pleased about.

I think the second most important thing to establish is that we are not under any kind of siege.

There are however, a great may children at the theatre. We are in the middle of our half-term workshops for youngsters, led by Camilla, Hayley and Charly, all of whom are doing a stellar job.

But they’re not important.

What is important is that all the kids appear to be having a marvellous time. It certainly sounds that way. We aim to give them the most positive experience we can; educational and (more importantly) enjoyable.

In fact, we hope they enjoy it so much that they book for our workshops in August – Dramalive! for 9-11 year olds (25th-28th August) and Midsummer Mayhem, for 12-16 year olds (3rd-7th August). I mention it just on the off-chance you are young. Or know someone who is. Always good to see new faces.

Blatant marketing aside, everyone at Westacre is very dedicated to our various programmes for youths; six year-olds to undergraduates, and everything in between. And we really do hope that everyone who comes through our door feels welcomes and has a great time.

Believe it or not, I was once youthful. And I have hazy memories of coming to Westacre for the first time as a workshop participant, knowing nothing about theatre. Now I work here, and speculate with horror about what would have happened had I continued studying chemistry. No offence to chemists, who probably make up about 90% of the readership, knowing my luck.

The kids have gone for another jaunt around the lawn. It isn’t much of a secret that I have no great fondness for children – I often go to great lengths to avoid them, and for these three days I am remaining what I consider a safe distance. But it is nice to see them enjoying themselves from my perch. It will be eerily quiet when the workshop is over.

Many thanks must go out to the workshop leaders; Hayley, Charly and Camilla, who (by the way) has her own theatre company – MissAdventures Theatre Company. Go and have a look at the website.

It sounds like the workshop is wrapping up for the day, so I think I should wrap up this blog. It’s much too long, anyway.


-Lt. Merlyn



Blog: A doctor, a student and a foreigner go into a theatre…

There’s been rather a lot happening at the theatre over the past week. Let me take you through it.

A week ago, I arrived at work to find a building awash with doctors. Fearing some sort of medical emergency, I rushed inside to contribute my extensive anatomical expertise to the situation.

Yes, alright. That’s a lie. My anatomical expertise is not extensive. Closer to non-existent, really. In fact, the sight of blood makes me feel quite queasy.

Anyway, fearing some sort of medical emergency, I rushed inside to contribute my likelihood of fainting to the situation. However, there was no emergency to be found, medical or otherwise.

Instead, there was Isobel telling me to help in the kitchen. Suspecting I may be more use in the medical emergency, I reluctantly entered the kitchen and took up my position as Paprika Sprinkler.

“But what of all these doctors!” I hear you think. Yes, that’s right, I can hear thoughts.

The doctors were here to take an exam so that they could become GPs. This wasn’t the usual pen and paper ordeal that is most exams. No, this was much worse. This exam involved actors.

Sound horrifying, doesn’t it?

Before they can be set loose on people who are actually ill, GPs need a chance to practise on people who are only pretending to be ill. This is where the actors come in, as actors are rather good at pretending. Adopting an assorted array of ailments, the actors attend an appointment, during which the doctor dutifully diagnoses diseases and doles out drugs.

I should say – no drugs were handed out as part of the exam. I was just on a roll, alliteration-wise.

Of course, I saw none of this, as I was in the kitchen sprinkling paprika, preparing a feast fit for a king. Or, at least, a GP. I was also in charge of the clingfilm.

Once everyone had finished their lunch, further exams ensued, and I was left to polish off the leftovers, which I did with great enthusiasm. Except the prawn sandwiches. I don’t like prawns.

So, that was GP Day. A most interesting event to be even just a small part of. The best of luck to all the examinees, and “Get Well Soon” cards to all the actors.


Friday saw the arrival of some students, provided by the good people over at Peterborough Regional College. These young folk were here on a mini-tour, of sorts, and brought with them perhaps the most energetic rendition of The Hound of the Baskervilles one could ask for.

They also brought an enormous crew. Lighting designers, sound engineers, SMs, ASMs, DSMs, other types of SM that I don’t know about. It seemed a tad over-the-top, but they all had something to do.

Smoke machines. They brought smoke machines. We have smoke detectors. Combine the two, and you have a nuisance on your hands. A nuisance in the form of a very loud fire alarm. Mercifully, it did not see fit to go off during the actual performance, which went ahead very successfully and with great aplomb.

Since there were so many crew members, I had very little to do, just a bit of gentle ladder climbing and lantern focusing. When it came to the actual show I was entirely surplus, so sat in the control room with an Old Speckled Hen (I feel obliged to say that other brands of ale are available (But not as good (Drink Responsibly))).

After the show there was the usual joys of attempting to get everything that had come out of a van, back into said van. This is not an easy task. Vans are notoriously uncooperative, and appear to shrink ever so slightly when faced with a large piece of furniture. But, eventually, everything went in, and the group headed merrily in the direction of Peterborough.


Now, you are probably aware, we run a bursary scheme, open for undergraduates studying performing arts, or drama, or something else of that ilk. And Saturday was our annual bursary day, which is when all those hoping to be part of the scheme come along to show us what they can do.

Well, turns out they can do rather a lot. Without exception they were youthful, talented, attractive people. Exactly the sort of thing I like to see. Of course, it helped that this year, as has been the case in the past, that I was not an applicant – not there to drag the average down.

It was somewhat strange to be around as a staff member, rather than an applicant. I wasn’t quite sure whether to join in or not. In the end, I decided to have mercy, and stayed in the tech box. Besides, someone needs to play the same piece of music over and over again while dancing takes place. And there are worse jobs than watching attractive, talented youths singing and dancing for, what I like to think, is my own personal benefit.

All this singing and dancing was part of the audition process of our summer production of A Chorus Line, and you’ll never guess what  – there are some tickets for sale. Have a look here, if you’re interested. Which you should be. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

Our thanks to Jono, for being there to teach the dancing bits, our thanks to Sadie for being there to teach the singing bits and our thanks to Matt for being there to…

Our thanks to Matt for being there too.


As you can see, we have had plenty of visitors over the past week. But wait! There’s more! For the last two days the theatre has been inundated with 55 representatives from 11 different countries. Countries such as: Spain, Italy, Romania, and (possibly slightly awkwardly) Israel and Palestine.

They were here at the end of a 10 day residence in West Lexham, and were wanting a small theatre to showcase what they had been doing. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and we applaud their ambitions for greater international cooperation. And their ability to achieve anything in a second language. Five years of French classes and all I can do in a second language is order a coffee. I don’t even like coffee. Hopeless.

Anyway, we hope they enjoyed their time in Blighty, and we wish them all a safe journey back to their home countries.


That’s it for this blog, folks. Sorry it’s such a long one – I shall restrain myself in future. Ciao! Adiós! And farewell for now!

– Merlyn

Bursary Day pics 008

Jono, master choreographer. A portrait.



Blog: A Troupe of Travelling Players (and a new hair-do)

Time for another blog, wouldn’t you agree? Well, regardless of whether you agree or not, another blog is what you shall be getting. Here goes:

Last Friday we had some visitors – a troupe of actors. Good Lord! Actors?! In a theatre? What is the world coming to? A terrible situation, I know. They can be quite a nuisance. Particularly during the winter months. I think the cold drives them inside. But luckily, these actors were far from a nuisance, and they did not come empty-handed. They came bearing the gift of a full house.  In return, we let them use our stage, upon which they could perform their new play, Parachute.

The play, set in wartime Norfolk (as evidenced by the accents) focused on the relationship between a local family and an American airman, who turned up, drunk, in their garden. It had much to commend it – moments of laughter, moments of sorrow, very few technical demands. All the usual things one looks for.

Okay, perhaps not everyone looks for the last one. But it is a virtue in a touring production. Touring companies, in advance of their visit, send us a “Tech Rider”. The one for this production was pleasingly brief; warm wash, cold wash, down-stage centre spot. I needn’t have come in early.

They even brought a technician of their own. A sound engineer called Mark, who came with an extraordinary amount of equipment. Mercifully, I didn’t have to learn how it all works. Unmercifully, I did have to learn how to change the wheel on my car. Not as part of the play, though. As part of needing to be able to get home; my car decided to sustain a puncture, you see. Courtesy of a nail.

Irrelevant car stuff aside, Parachute was a very enjoyable production, and if you have opportunity to see it at another venue, then I recommend you do so.

Incidentally, we have two more touring productions coming to us during April. The Hound of the Baskervilles and Those Magnificent Men. On the 17th and the 24th respectively.  But I’m sure you know that already. After all, they are on the website; right next to where it says “Book Tickets”. Just thought I’d remind you.

In other news, I have been made aware of the dangers of the backstage area. During our run of Bedroom Farce, the backstage area was playing host to a pair of crimping irons. I have long hair. I think you can see where this is going.

It seems I was to have my beautiful locks clamped into a hot, zig-zag mould. The main perpetrator behind this plot was Sadie Grist, who is notoriously cunning in such matters.

Well, naturally I riled against this slight against my personal freedom. I did not come quietly. I fought back the whole way by calmly following Sadie to the dressing room and obediently sitting still for an hour. But despite my potent protestations, I had no chance. I just can’t say no to a pretty lady who wants to play with my hair.

And the end result was, admittedly, rather good. I may have to get some crimping irons for myself. I’d like to try using them on my clothes. That sounds like fun.



Blog: A Grand Day Out

Last week, at some unhappy hour, my alarm clock started bleeping at me. It does that occasionally. I think it was trying to tell me that I needed to get out of bed. Naturally, I reacted with a suitable level of disgust.

In the end, it turned out that my alarm clock was bleeping at me because I needed to catch a train. You see, the kind folks at Westacre Theatre had arranged a little day out for me. In London, no less! Me, a mere country yokel was to experience the sights and sounds of the big city!

A few short hours later, I was blearily making my way along the platform at King’s Cross, and staggering into the bowels of the Underground. As is tradition, this subterranean journey took slightly longer than I expected it to, and I arrived at my final destination at a time that was just slightly too fine-cut to be considered punctual.

But where was my final destination? It was, of course, Units 26-28 of the Victoria Industrial Estate, North Acton. It turns out that this humble, grey building is the European headquarters of ETC. Yes, I thought that stood for etcetera, as well. But apparently it stands for Electronic Theatre Controls.

A little while ago now, Westacre Theatre acquired a new lighting control board. Since then, I had been bluffing whenever I said that I knew how to use it, and have somehow managed to fluke my way through a number of productions. But today all that was about to change. I was to attend a training day, to learn some of what quickly became apparent was a vast amount to learn.

Happily, upon entering, I was handed a menu, and told to place my lunch order.

Lunch is my favourite.

I found myself in an unusual looking room. A surprisingly elaborate proscenium arch stood proud at the far end. Where one would expect there to be raked seating in neat little rows, there was instead an untidy arrangement of patio furniture. And where one would expect walls, there was instead an audience. A two-dimensional, hand-painted audience, whose expressions suggested that whatever play they were watching was going to be receiving mixed reviews.

Before long, our teacher for the day, a skinny, bespectacled and slightly camp man called Dominic, directed us to our workstations. Rather than using real lanterns, our lighting boards were plugged into a “virtual theatre”, which would allow us to mess up to our hearts content without actually breaking anything. There was also the advantage that a virtual theatre comes with virtual actors, who, unlike real actors, actually do as they’re told.

The virtual actors in question were the curious quartet of Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Lara Croft and the Loch Ness Monster. The presence of Nessie, indicative that whatever virtual play we were lighting was set in Scotland, caused me to leap straight into action and list all the plays I could think of that were set in Scotland. Having achieved a grand total of one, I concluded that we were lighting a virtual production of Macbeth. Don’t worry, it’s not bad luck if it’s virtual.

We spent the day working though a selection of tutorials, and I am pleased to say that I learnt much. From now on, technical rehearsals will be much more bearable. Oh, who am I kidding? Technical rehearsals are invariably awful, but they should at least be easier and briefer. A noble goal, and maxim of theatre technicians everywhere.

At the end of the day, I was presented with a certificate and free t-shirt, bearing the ETC logo. Marvellous!

Having successfully completed the training, I set off in the direction of Central London and ended up having many adventures in Soho. Unfortunately, since this blog post is getting a bit long, the precise nature of these adventures shall have to be left to speculation.



Blog Feb

Blog: (Belated) Happy New Year!


It seems that 2015 is now upon us. Anyone managed to keep their New Year’s Resolutions this long? Anyone at all? No, I thought not. Perhaps I’ll have more luck with mine; to update this blog. So, welcome, one and all, to what I hope will be the first of many a blog post to grace your screens in the year to come!


Now then, what is happening at Westacre Theatre this year? Well, what are you asking me for? I’m afraid I’m not the wealth of information you seem to think I am. Have a look at the brochure, instead. That’ll tell you everything you need to know. There’s a new one out. It came out only last week and it’s a good one. I mean, really good. Here, have a look. Jam-packed full of films, livestreams, workshops, visiting productions, music, a couple more films and, of course, a healthy smattering of our own in-house productions. It’s going to be a busy season.


To add to the busyness, and following on from our successful Food Fridays, we are introducing the Riverside Café. Open on Wednesdays to accompany all those films I mentioned, the Riverside Café will be serving my personal favourite type of food: lunch. If you are more picky than I am, and would like to know what variety of lunch can be expected, then have a look at the menu. It’s on the website.


Oh, here it is. Click that link to have a look.


But of course, before all that can happen, there is spring-cleaning to be done! We want the place looking spick and span for the new season. The nooks shall meet with a feather duster. The crannies shall meet with Henry the Hoover.  And the resident spiders, Geoff, Clara and Sebastian, shall be evicted. They haven’t been paying the rent.

There is also the unenviable task of cleaning under the seats in the auditorium. This may prove to be quite an adventure – who knows what we may find? Precious jewels? Ancient Byzantine gold? Or bits of old gels and dustbunnies? A veritable treasure trove awaits! I shall report back in the next exciting instalment of the Westacre Blog.


In the meantime, you should book tickets for something. How about Treasure Island? That’s coming up quite soon. Hope to see you there – I shall be comparing bounty with Long John Silver! Ta-ra!



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