It’s Friday 9 May, the 5th performance of Character has just come down and I’ve just consumed what I estimate to be my tenth or eleventh order of The Selkirk’s Nachos in a two-month period. Its fair to say if there was unofficial sponsor for the Blackshaw’s current duo of productions, or at least its production team, it would be The Selkirk’s Nachos (which if you’re catching the shows in the final weekend, you may guess I can highly recommend). I’m now sat here with the overriding fear that I may end up writing a blog exclusively about nachos and for the first time in the six months since I first read Character, find I have a newfound empathy with Michelle, staring my own writers block in the face. Although unlike Michelle, its not that I have nothing to say, rather I have too much.
Back in October I received a proposition from Blackshaw’s remarkable Commander in Chief, Ellie. Blackshaw were mounting two productions for WAFF 2014: one a newly written play; the other a beloved children’s story in a wonderful new adaptation; with one cast, performing them in rep, above a pub and would I be interested in joining the adventure? What was there not to like? (And this was before I’d found out about the Nachos).
I think what I excited me the most about the project was the opportunity to work on two shows and the contrast between them. Character is a darkly comic two hander with two incredible female roles, while Alice in Wonderland reimagines Lewis Carroll’s classic for its events to take place in the confines of a junk shop. Starkly different (Character certainly isn’t for children) but somehow incredibly complimentary of each other it has been, and remains. a joy to discuss how men are like doughnuts one evening and the logistics of a gaggle of talking flowers the next.
We have had the rare and wonderful benefit of creating these two productions in the space in which they will be performed, creating ourselves a little home from home above The Selkirk just off Tooting Broadway. Over the last few months the space has slowly transformed itself simultaneously into Wonderland and Michelle and Freya’s secluded Cotswolds hideaway with a busy local pub still buzzing away below us. Piece by piece our sickeningly talented company of actors have begun to flesh out the inhabitants of these worlds, now in full visual fruition thanks to the deign genius of Zahra Mansouri, to the point that I feel I will never be able to look at it in quite the same way again. Indeed, once our affectionately nicknamed ‘cat wall’ is no longer in residence, something will definitely be missing.
We have another weekend of performances to come, before this particular adventure down the rabbit hole draws to a close, and this little jotting has been an amazing opportunity to reflect on a whirlwind and rewarding process. It’s been hectic, eclectic and downright hilarious at times, occasionally equitable to falling though a looking glass, but always gratifying. I may have also consumed what I can only assume is an unhealthy amount of guacamole (although probably less than Emily, our Alice). However, my inevitable avocado overdose is instantly made worthwhile every time a child chuckles through The Walrus and the Carpenter or you feel someone’s twinkling recognition of themselves in Freya and Michelle’s ‘mid-life’ crises. Sharing those moments with those who’ve come to visit us above the Selkirk (and those who have yet to do so) is something that will certainly stay with me.
It’s now I realise that I was drawn to this project because of the differences between these two shows, but maybe they’re not so different after all, and perhaps I finally understand Ellie’s stroke of genius. Both these stories are about getting lost, sharing the adventure along the way and finding your way back.
My only hope is that we can all share them again.
Oliver Gordon, Assistant Director, WAFF 2014.