Following its three-week run here in Oldham, the Coliseum’s production of Whisky Galore is hitting the road on a national tour, stopping off at The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke; York Theatre Royal, Hull Truck Theatre; New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme; Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds; Cast, Doncaster; Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and Salisbury Playhouse.
The Coliseum’s last national tour, The Mist in the Mirror, was nominated for The Renee Stepham Award for Best Presentation of Touring Theatre at the UK Theatre Awards in 2015. We asked Interim Executive Director, Mary Caws, and Head of Production, Lesley Chenery, about how Coliseum tours are planned and what it means to present a show made in Oldham up to 240 miles away.
Why do we take Coliseum productions on tour?
Mary: There are a number of reasons for taking our shows around the country; there’s a financial aspect, there are artistic benefits in that it’s a way of forging artistic collaborations with colleagues around the country but perhaps most importantly of all, it’s about getting the name of Oldham Coliseum Theatre around the country. It’s that ‘made in Oldham’ brand, and touring is a great way of demonstrating that we produce really high quality work that audiences want to come and see.
How do you decide which show goes on tour?
Mary: There are two slightly different forms of relationships with this tour, the co-producing partners – Hull Truck Theatre and the New Vic – and the touring venues. At a very early stage when we’re thinking about touring a show we’d get in touch with two or three like-minded theatres, asking whether they would like to create a partnership and produce with us, and quite often at this point the play itself hasn’t been decided. Our Artistic Director, Kevin Shaw, might say that he’d like to do a comedy, and there would be a handful of choices that are passed around the co-producing venues. In that case, the decision on what the show will be is a collaborative process. Then, sometimes, Kevin will already have a show in mind and ask potential co-producers whether they would like to be a part of it.
Once the show has been decided then I sit down and think about the kind of show it is and roughly how much it will cost to produce on a weekly basis, and I look at other theatres around the country that have similar audience capacity (seats in the theatre) as well as the size of the stage.
What are the logistics of touring?
Lesley: I’m currently talking to the designer for the tour who will be designing a set which will sit well in all the different venues. We know Whisky Galore is going to be funny, and often, those humorous tricks/devices which seem simplest, can be quite complex to achieve. We’re expecting to have to find a few solutions and looking forward to plenty of opportunities to be quite inventive. The interesting thing about this tour is that it’s a three-way co-production with Hull Truck Theatre and the New Vic, whose stages are completely different.
We’ll have rehearsal time in both of those venues to restage some of the action so that it fits really well into the performance space. When visiting other theatres on the tour we’ve got to consider the differences in all the venues.
We’ll be asking our set building company to make it more portable, which often means there are more parts, but all the parts are smaller so nothing is too heavy. Once we know what size the set is I’ll know what size of truck we’ll need. When you’re touring you also have to take an enormous amount of ‘things you might need’ with you, so there will be lots of flight-cases filled with spares of practically everything, including tights, hair rollers, an ironing board and an iron, kettle and tea bags, in addition to the programmes which will be sold in every venue.
Who goes on tour with the actors?
Lesley: Someone from the Coliseum’s Senior Management Team will visit all the touring venues – usually for the opening night performances, but the stage management and technical staff will be brought in specially to take the show on tour. While Whisky Galore is working its way around the country our team will be needed here for Relatively Speaking (which is transferring to Harrogate Theatre), A Taste of Honey, Bread & Roses and the Autumn-Winter 2018-19 Season Launch event on Monday 14 May. The touring team will come to the Coliseum and learn the show during our three-week run and then take it on the road.
Are there any other things to consider when taking a show on tour?
Lesley: The show finishes in each venue on a Saturday night and the team have the day off on the Sunday and travel to the next town on the Monday. When you’re away it’s always nice to have one day a week where the team can do something socially together, so one of the Company Stage Manager’s tasks is to research potential activities in each of the towns they’re visiting. Every location offers its own highlight, Harrogate is great because you can go to Betty’s Tea Room.