Last week I reviewed a performance of Henry V by local amateur dramatic theatre company Collingwood RSC, part of the Royal Navy Theatre Association (RNTA). The company performed the play in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard, in the open air alongside Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory. Such a setting presented some wonderful dramatic possibilities but also came with a few challenges. The actors carried on regardless, a skill that every actor must at some stage come to master.
The major issue open-air performances have to deal with, especially in this country, is the weather. However, with the amazing heatwave we’d been experiencing, rain was the last worry on anyone’s mind. The seagulls were a different story.
In the very first scene one particularly brazen bird decided he wanted his moment in the limelight and swooped down on stage. Taking a fancy to the prop sandwiches (at least they looked like sandwiches from where I was sitting), he proceeded to wolf one down, much to the amusement of the audience. I could hear the titter of faint laughter and the stifled giggles as he went in for seconds. I’m sure the audience were all too aware of how off-putting a good snort of laughter would be, especially as at this point the actors on stage possibly hadn’t seen the antics of our feathered friend going on behind them.
We did our best to keep the laughter in, even when a rival seagull turned up, having spotted the feast taking place and wanting in. Observing him struggling to stay on top of the tent roof in the background as his feet slippy-slided all over the place was particularly giggle-inducing, as was the moment when we realised the seagulls between them had managed to eat the entire collection of prop food on stage. The actors, by now acutely aware of the presence of the feathery food thieves, did an admirable job, and managed to draw us into the action of the play and away from the bird antics.
The actor announcing the death of Falstaff competed with a soundtrack of seagull cries and helicopter blades, but again not even a twitch or the tiniest slip of character from those on stage. It served as a good reminder of the challenges one can face when putting on a show somewhere other than the traditional theatre setting. It also reminded me of the merits, and with the magnificent HMS Victory overlooking the actors as they brought this rousing play to life, it made for a wonderful evening.
Read more about the seagull antics from one of the actors on the RSC Open Stages at The Dell blog.