By Pete Marshall - 12th March 2012 7:09am
30 years touring professionally - 25 years based in Audlem
In the spring of 1982, Jane and I performed professionally as Day-Star theatre for the first time. When I say professionally I mean to say that we passed a hat around the audience at the end of the performance and whatever we collected was our sole income and only means of buying food.
The previous autumn we had given up our ‘proper’ jobs in order to leave our safe and permanent mooring on the river Thames and head northwards to explore the Inland Waterways of England.
The official starting point for our adventure in to the unknown was on the river Wey in Godalming, Surrey which was, significantly, the southernmost point on the navigable system. Our financial target was to earn at least £5 a week.
We had lived on our narrow boat on various moorings in the Surrey since 1977 and it was time to explore. The narrow boat was a 1930’s wooden ‘joey’ boat from Birmingham which just happened to be called Day Star. She leaked from under the water most of the time and from above the water when it rained….. and she was wonderful… most of the time.
#Spring of '82
That very first Spring performance in 1982 was at a canal festival in Mile End in east London and from there we planned a canal side pub based tour which took us north and by September we had covered a great deal of the waterways and quite a few of the canal side pubs of the East & West Midlands.
We had one modest production called Mr Smith’s Narrow Boat Holiday which ran for a full 30 minutes. For some reason that we have never quite been able to remember we decided to do it all again the following spring and summer. Perhaps we had achieved our £5 a week financial target.
On various recommendations we ventured further north, discovered the Shopshire Union canal and amongst others, a pub called The Shroppie Fly in a village called Audlem. The Shroppie Fly became an annual venue for us until we stopped touring the canals in 2005. We soon added The Bridge Inn and a little later The Lord Combermere as regular venues.
And we just kept going. The following year saw the addition of another boat, the Angry Bull, which we used mainly as a floating gift shop. Autumn and winter meant finding somewhere to moor up wherever on the side of the canal but by 1985 and with our first son George on the way we started looking for a canal side base.
A chance meeting with a British Waterways manager in Chester led us to discover the empty Old Stables on the winding hole at the bottom of the Audlem flight of locks and in 1987 the place became ours! The rest, as they say, is history.
#Theatre in Education
We soon added theatre in education to our repertoire taking history based plays and workshops into primary schools and over the years, with the help of a few other talented performers when the children were babies and the odd TV and film appearance when work has been short, we have managed to more than achieve our £5 a week target.
Our key stage 2 school work is now our main source of income and we have 2 plays, Put That Light Out! about the home front in world war 2 and Matilda & the Climbing Boy about The Victorian Age and we take them, by road, not canal, as far as Manchester and Birmingham as well as everywhere in between.
To replace our pub based canal themed productions we now take plays with a mainly rural theme to venues such as village halls and small theatres in Cheshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire but occasionally get as far as Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Southampton.
These plays are aimed at a grown up audience and as with everything else we have created we write the scripts and the music, record the soundtracks and design the lighting.
These rural touring productions have become a real family affair with sons George and Jack involved in the pre production music and lighting work along with help from their partners Kirsty and Heidi. The grandchildren are yet to offer their services but frequently display behaviour of a theatrical nature.
To conclude, 2012 marks 30 years as a professional theatre company and 25 years based in probably the friendliest village on the canal system.
What better way to mark this than to perform one of our current rural touring plays, A Matter of Time here in Audlem for, believe it or not, the very first time.
This will happen on Saturday 24th March and further details will emerge very shortly.
Saturday 18th May
Friday 17th May
Audlem Methodist Church