Tuesday, 19 May 2009

MAYFEST: A Review


The end has come!

Some snippets from behind the scenes of Mayfest, via Suit Yourself magazine.

As part of Bristol Old Vic’s front of house team, I seem to witness some pretty wacky things. I’ve spent shifts hunting for dinosaurs in the Studio along with gaggles of excitable children and I even once served a coffee with a shot of gin in it – yes, it did curdle – but nothing has come close to delight and frenzy that has been Mayfest.

The fest has been a two-week whirlwind adventure of ground-breaking theatre, a fun-loving atmosphere and seemingly never-ending bar shifts. As soon as the influx of reclaimed chairs, kitsch tablecloths and dusky lampshades arrived, we knew we were in for enchantment. The downstairs bar was transformed from wipe-clean chic to a vintage cornucopia. This prop shop-come-folk den provided some unusual finds, like a telephone box once frequented by Daniel Radcliff that “smelt like magic and horses,” according to one FOH joker. The joyous soundtrack to the Old Vic’s temporary makeover was provided by Mayfest co-producer Matthew Austin’s ipod, Beirut and Bat For Lashes making each lonely bar shift (it’s pretty lonesome when you guys head inside) that little bit more inspiring.

At the launch party we worked like speedy bar squirrels to make sure we kept up with your insatiable thirst but also played the part of ushers-come-maiden aunts, preventing the more inebriated punters (and staff) from initiating a health and safety nightmare. Live music and reviews floated back to us throughout the night and we felt like disco-Nazis when, after time was finally called, we had to heart-wrenchingly shoo out all the merriment. The usual perks of the job applied, like being to ask the actors all those niggling questions over a post-performance pint, but during Mayfest every query seemed a tad more bizarre. From “which character suits you best: dog, penguin or walrus?” (Polaris) to “how’s onstage nudity treating you?” (Kellerman), it all felt like pub banter between friends rather than pretentious hob-knobing.

Not only was there camaraderie behind the scenes but the audience too seemed far keener to get know the folk that tore their tickets. Whether it was the charming Mayfest regulars or hip, young things that hadn’t lingered about the theatre before, there was more post-play chitchat, complete with loving, loathing and liquor, than ever before.

One of the best parts of the festival was sharing with the you some of the Old Vic’s stunning and secret enclaves that we have the pleasure of wandering through every day. We led you backstage to our paintshop, an intimate space with an arty warehouse feel, perfect for animated puppetry of The Paper Cinema and playful DIY aesthetic of Our Father’s Ears. During The Weepers, you saw the exquisite and historically invaluable Theatre Royal from an actors-eye view and had a chance to witness the charming mechanics of lowering the iron. Kellerman may have sparked marmite-style reactions, but most agreed that the visually stunning blurring of the cinema/theatre divide helped to see a very old space in a startlingly modern light. And ushering for My World Is Empty Without You tested my commitment to contemporary theatre to the limit – I stood alone on a Clifton corner for several hours in squall and high-viz, like a weathered neon hooker – but I pulled through and was still smiling, mainly because my features had frozen that way.

Amongst Mayfest’s packed programme of shows, workshops and events, we were all entertained, inspired, touched, educated, provoked, impressed, intrigued, offended, excited and challenged. We shared drinks, opinions, ideas, debates, fish and chips, cycle rides in the rain and bacon sandwiches. We made new friends, made new discoveries and some were quoted as having had life-changing experiences. What more could you ask for from a theatre festival?

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