Home Truths: Good Company

Feature in Issue 22-2 | Summer 2010

The Canny Granny spends a week in good company.

Being in good company is very important: great people make things go quicker and more cheerfully, which is presumably why people organise themselves into theatre companies. I’d like it, I think: it’s such a pain being an offensive old bat like myself. I’ve noticed that a couple of regulars haven’t turned up for Mahjong recently and I’m sitting here tapping my tiles, smoking a raft of Craven As and wondering what to do about it.

A company is like an artificial person. A person who goes on being there even if someone has to duck out for a quick cigarette or a sabbatical. A person who can’t get sued. Now I have a hip replacement and an artificial knee it doesn’t seem so strange to become an artificial person.

Theatre companies are basically an extension of the gangs you had as children, and their names can be equally imaginative. They differ from commercial companies in having names that deliberately obscure their purpose. If they were a shop, Spymonkey would be peddling CCTV technology, Coney would be selling icecreams and Forest Fringe would be a bikini waxing specialist.

Theatre companies’ names may also obscure their actual size, like a padded bra. The National Theatre of Brent is only two people. Their comedy double-act is based around pretending to be a theatre company in the same way that Flight of the Conchords’ live show was based around their delusion of being ‘a band’. Quite some irony now that their current television success far outstrips their original fantasy.

Being in a double-act might be a like a marriage of sorts. LipService, the Manchester-based female theatrical duo (Sue Ryding and Maggie Fox) who tour the country with literary spoofs notable for their virtuosic character-switches, described the tribulations for Maggie’s husband of Sue almost being part of their relationship. They are constantly inventing reasons to leave the stage to change character, so they, too, play with the illusion of a huge cast. Perhaps I should play Mahjong this way, stepping out and then making an entrance as a new player.

A ‘collective’ is usually a theatre company that graduated from Central School of Speech and Drama. Groups like Present Attempt have democracy embedded at a molecular level. The government should consult groups such as these when considering the stability of proportional representation. For a larger collective like Shunt, you’d think it would make decision-making as slow as Bosnian parliamentary processes, but they seem pretty streamlined now: they only started designing their breathtaking Money machine in January 2009, which is a remarkable turnaround considering its scope and scale.

An ‘ensemble’ implies that each part has an equal role in creating the whole. It also implies an excellent outfit – my favourite ensemble is a dog-tooth check two-piece, though I barely fit it with all the French Fancies I’ve been indulging. The Clod Ensemble is another favourite – with the music becoming part of the action. Fitting, perhaps, that they are exploring anatomy: the body knows all about working in synchrony. My eyes just about still work in synchrony with my brain, harmonised by my glasses.

In my day we had ‘troupes’ who would barnstorm around. Footsbarn, who come to town with all the family, must like each others’ company very much indeed, as they live and work all together, a bit like Zippo’s Circus. As a child I found this ethos captivating – all the behind-the-scenes and caravans. You could play a lot of cards in caravans.

Oh do come over, everybody. I’m tired of solitaire. You need at least four people for Mahjong and we can play for hard cash next time.

Laura Eades is the Canny granny, some of the time. The rest of the time she’s a Faster Craftswoman, and she has an honourable Society: www.fastercraftswomen.blogspot.com/

Spymonkey’s Moby Dick is currently touring: www.spymonkey.co.uk
Coney’s A Small Town Anywhere is set to tour in late 2010 / early 2011: www.youhavefoundconey.net
Forest Fringe, Microfestival is currently touring round the country, with a return to Edinburgh at the Forest Café August 2010: www.forestfringe.blogspot.com
The National Theatre of Brent: www.nationaltheatreofbrent.com
Flight of the Conchords www.flightoftheconchords.co.nz
LipService: www.lip-service.net (They were on BBC R4 Woman’s Hour on 9 February 2010 and you can still access the programme as this goes to press)
Shunt’s Money runs until September 2010 at Bermondsey St, London Bridge: www.shuntmoney.co.uk
Present Attempt: www.presentattempt.co.uk
The Clod Ensemble: www.clodensemble.com
Footsbarn: http://footsbarn.com
Zippo’s Circus: www.zipposcircus.co.uk

This article in the magazine

Issue 22-2
p. 17