I think some people thought I was bloody mad to fly to Manchester for one evening and then fly straight back again. I think that because I was one of the people who thought it, so it follows that there were probably a few more who thought it as well.
“Are you mad?” A little voice in my head (which was really just me doing a funny accent) kept saying, “are you bloody cracked or what?”
As it turned out, I wasn’t mad at all. Going to Irlam turned out to be a very good idea indeed.
There was this Fringe Theatre Festival, you see, and one of my short plays got selected to be in it. As soon as I heard that, I said, “I’ll go.” I just resolved. To hell with the cost and the hours travelling. I’ll just go.
As I said, I’m glad I did.
Lots of people did lots of things to make it happen but The Festival was Jane McNulty’s baby really. And Jane, as I have learned, is a bit of a force of nature. When she gets her teeth into something, she doesn’t tend to let go. She booked the venue, she assembled the actors and the directors and the tech-wizards and the bar staff and the ladies who sell raffle tickets. She built it and they came.
It took me a while to get to Irlam Catholic Club (a fine establishment). The journey involved cars and planes and trains and buses. There was even a short run on a badly behaved knee. But I got there at 7.10 for a 7.30 start.
“There’ll be nobody here yet.” I said to myself, my mind still operating on West of Ireland time.
The place was packed. Jammers. Twenty minutes before the kick-off. Unheard of where I come from. The large hall was filled with people chatting and socialising and queuing for the bar and… stop, wait, ‘queuing?’ ‘for the bar?’. I know, I’d never seen it before either; an orderly line, waiting for their turn to procure a drink. I told Toto I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and went to score myself a seat.
One of the things I liked best was the seating arrangement. The seats, to my eye, were laid out for Bingo rather than in the orderly lines boringly associated with theatre. And, Bingo, it worked. People sat at their lines of tables and chairs and they were able to interact and look each other in the eye and still have a good view of the stage. The way people were sitting added considerably to the evening, for me. One to remember, that.
I got sitting with a lovely couple. Retired, I’d say. Never caught their name. We chatted away the whole evening. They were nice to me and struggled gamely with my funny accent.
The raffle lady came round.
“How much for a strip of tickets?”
“How many will you give me for five pounds?”
A momentary beady-eye
I won two bottles of wine, so that worked out okay too.
I won’t do a review of all the plays. From the moment the lights dimmed, right through to the end of the evening, there was never a moment’s doubting of the skill and professionalism of the acting and directing talent on display. These people meant business and, whether it was comic or tragic or dramatic business, they had all brought their A-Game to the stage.
The audience was warm and receptive and savvy and fine. A lovely audience. Jane did a brief intro at the start and then let the plays do their own talking. No individual intros. When one play was finished, the next came on. The audience got it and the evening flowed.
My play, 'Dance Night', was up last. It had a great cast; Samantha Vaughan, Hayley Cartwright and David Milne. Gayle Hare directed. They made me cry a little bit. At my own play. The buggers. Well done, guys, and thanks very much. You did my scribblings proud.
Afterwards there was no rush to vacate. There were drinks and chat and fun and warmth and drinks and a doll (for some reason) and drinks. Then a taxi back to the airport hotel. I left my phone in the taxi and the taxi driver drove back and returned it to me. That’s Manchester for you, they’re all right.
Jane says she’ll do it all again next year. Keep an eye on her and on Irlam too. If you’ve got a nice short play, let her have a look when she asks for it. If you’re lucky enough to get chosen, they’ll take good care of your play and of you as well.
You can be sure of that.