Sunday, 14 September 2014

Huff Blog 19 - AGYG

It's a Sunday afternoon and I am full of Sunday roast and curled on the sofa in a friend's London flat as I write what will be my final blog (for now) for the Huffington Post. It hasn't quite sunk in yet that the show is over - come 7:30pm on Tuesday I'll probably be feeling thoroughly lost and more than a little bereft! This week Annie Get Your Gun played its final week of the (slightly curtailed) UK Tour at the fabulous not-quite-West-End-but-still-London New Wimbledon Theatre. It has been a week of wonderful highs and heartbreaking sadness as we bid farewell to the Wild West and what has been an incredible five months as a company.

As ever this week has been somewhat hectic. Although there are no further tour venues to visit  there's still been press and events to do, including a fabulous sing-a-long event hosted in the theatre on the final day, which I took great pleasure in popping along to. Hearing fifteen total strangers singing the Berlin songs that have become so very familiar to me, was both thrilling and a little sobering. It's always interesting to hear how someone else interprets a piece of material, especially one as famous as 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness' but maybe it ultimately proved a little cathartic too. That commencement of handing Annie back over to other people now she is no longer mine, I suppose

It has still been a week of fun and frolics though with many a friend and family member in, and several industry folk too. The tour hoodies arrived and were worn with pride backstage and on Friday evening our end of tour party took place at the lovely Hot Pink Healthy Grill, across the road from the theatre. Whilst scoffing grilled halloumi and chicken skewers (and supping on many a delicious milkshake), we seated ourselves for the first (and possibly only) Annual Annie Awards! Annies - trophies made of tiny cowboys and logo decorated plinths - were handed out based on our voting forms from the past few weeks. Sexiest Cowboy or Cowgirl was won by the gorgeous Jonny Godbold, Tour Quote went to Jason Donovan and his perpetual 'Ma, Ma, MAAA' and I personally picked up the Large Lungs award for my long note in 'Anything You Can Do' which topped out at 43 seconds it seems!

Awards over, we watched a fabulous montage of videos and photos put together by Swing extraordinaire Ste Clough, which I'm sure will be sent out to everyone over the next few weeks. It was a bittersweet end to what has been an amazing job, to see so many wonderful memories all together side by side. I have made some astonishing friends on this production and forged what will hopefully be life long friendships. Although working on this production has been incredible, it is the people that have made it truly special and this team have certainly been one of the best I've ever had the opportunity of working with.

Saturday's final shows seemed to speed by unbearably fast and all too soon we were taking those final bows. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was a sobbing, snivelling heap at that moment, and I certainly wasn't the only one. As we linked arms for that final kickline you could hear the tears in our voices singing 'Showbusiness' one last time. 'There's no people like show people' we chorused, 'they smile when they are low...' Collectively we pulled our arms tightly together, collectively we dug deep and collectively we felt that smile firmly fix itself to our faces and grinned for all we were worth, tears rolling freely down our cheeks. In the wings afterwards we sobbed openly, hugging each other close, thankful for the experience.

So with a wry smile I must go 'home and hang up my gun as I ain't the champeen no more', to paraphrase Ms Oakley. I have had the most superlative and remarkable time playing this sharpshooting woman. She's taught me so much, not least about myself, reasserted my confidence and brought out a side of my voice I never knew I had. I've loved each and every minute of this show - from conquering my fear of heights, to learning how to clay pigeon shoot and even fighting through a show with food poisoning. I'm so very grateful that there is absolutely no business like show business.... so until next time, let's go on with the show. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Huff Blog 18 - AGYG

There is a tangible sense of finality in the air around the company of Annie Get Your Gun. This week we have been visiting the beautiful green and gold auditorium of the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, our penultimate venue. Additionally this is also the final venue that most people will have to be 'on the road' for as next week we are in the warm embrace of London's New Wimbledon Theatre and those that can, most certainly will be commuting from home. 

Glasgow has also been one of the most distant venues that we've visited on this whistle-stop tour of the UK. With the impending Scottish referendum, it's possible that the next time any of us play this theatre it will be on entirely different grounds. The political spark throughout Glasgow during our visit has made for an interesting and thought-provoking week featuring many a lively debate and lustily thrust leaflet, but the audiences have been just as responsive as ever, if not more so. I put this down to the Scots loving a feisty lass - and Annie Oakley certainly is that!

However, as we head into our final week and our final eight shows, the past five months are beginning to take their toll. It's a truth stranger than fiction that teachers, for example, only ever get sick during holiday time. No matter how well they look after themselves through the term, fighting off every bug known to man with aplomb, they will, without fail, be stuck with a summer cold throughout the entire sunshine season, which will only clear up a few days before term restarts. It's a similar thing with theatre-folk, the week after we finish a job of any kind, we all get sick!

I put this down predominantly to the fact that you spend so long ensuring you're fit and well enough to do your job, that the minute your body gets wind of a potential break, it seizes it wholeheartedly. Following my vocal rest in Brighton, this week saw attacks of gastroenteritis, colds and severe migraine resulting in swing and understudy bible central. It wasn't until Friday evening that we had a complete show again, and much kudos must be given to everyone who made sure that the production went ahead faultlessly despite these factors. Now that we're into single digits, nobody wants to miss any more performances.

With that end in sight, and a fortuitous surprise visit from my parents, I took the opportunity to lug my ever-expanding tour suitcases home to Yorkshire before I hit London again with something more manageable for the week. It's astonishing how much you can accumulate in such a short space of time, and also how much you find you've merely dragged from place to place and not used! As I sit here writing this on iPad Mark 2 (following a literally smashing incident the other week), I am surrounded by the chaotic jumble of no less than three suitcases. My kit box on the truck now contains only my make-up bag, steamer and cards... plus some Annie Get Your Gun bunting we stole from Aylesbury (ssshhh)! Hopefully this way I can finish the production and return to the North without dragging another five tonnes behind me. I mean, even I can't buy that many pairs of shoes in a week.

Unpacking has however proved therapeutic to some degree; rediscovering things I'd forgotten that I'd picked up on our travels and learning how little you really do need to get by. The past five months have made me some wonderful memories and some even more wonderful friends, but we're not over yet - there are eight more Wild West wonders to hit the bullseye with. Packed houses beckon, filled with friends, family and familiar industry folk and then there's the end of tour party to be rocked, tour swag hoodies to be claimed and even an awards night on the not too distant horizon. It's sure to be a week of fun and frolics, and maybe a few tears but as they say - it's not over until the not-as-chubby-as-she-was-when-she-started-this-tour lady sings, right? 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Huff Blog 17 - AGYG

Venue 13 on the Annie Get Your Gun tour and unlucky for some, you might say. This week we've been in beautiful Brighton, a cultural and theatrical mecca on the South coast and frequent keeper of my heart. I've lost count of the number of times I've considered moving here and, after some unscheduled extra time in the city, I'm understandably contemplating it once again.

We've been in the historic Theatre Royal this week, one of the more deliciously old-school theatres on our tour. The theatre itself was built in 1806 and has such an incredible history of performers that it's hard not to feel slightly overwhelmed when you consider you're treading the probably-been-replaced-by-now-but-still-essentially-the-same boards as Charles Wyndham, Marlene Dietrich, Mrs Patrick Campbell and Laurence Olivier, amongst so many others. Of course, the wonderful Annie Get Your Gun cast has now been added to that illustrious list and thus it was fitting that we made our own little addition to history by celebrating our 100th performance there on the Wednesday matinee. Or rather, some of us did.

On Tuesday evening, press night for Brighton, venue 13 did indeed prove unlucky for me and the toll of the show began to show in my voice. The role of Annie Oakley is a tough sing for anyone. The range is vast - from the low notes of 'Showbusiness' to the top Bb of 'Anything You Can Do', the styles are wide ranging - belting 'You Cain't Get A Man With a Gun' to lyrical 'I Got Lost In His Arms' and even the dialogue is pretty heavy going. I'm rather protective, possibly over-protective, of my voice because of how much my roles mean to me. I believe it's a privilege to be able to do this for a living and so I'll do anything to ensure vocal strength. This means I wear a scarf all the time, frequently don't talk unless onstage and haven't had an alcoholic drink since March. (Apart from the last night of Manchester before the first holiday, but the less said about that the better!)

As such, it was heartbreaking to me to hear some vocal cracks during the belt notes of 'You Cain't Get A Man With A Gun' on Tuesday night. The rest of the show felt absolutely fine but it seemed sensible that, if I wanted to make it through to the end of the run without causing damage, I should take a couple of shows off to rest - my first since 2009! I can't honestly tell you how difficult I found that, even knowing how astonishing Natalie Day was going to be as Annie Oakley, and how safe the role would be in her more than capable hands. With only a few weeks to go I simply didn't want to miss any performances.

Going off a show is never easy, especially on a tour as you have nothing around you. It's not like being able to take a couple of days off with your family, on tour the company are your family. And with vocal rest I wasn't even able to phone my literal family for some long-distance TLC. Let me tell you, those two days were not only hard but lonely. So I bought shoes. Obviously. Shoes make everything better and they're very pretty. 

After two days off, with Natalie bringing the house down as Miss O, I returned to the show to complete my own personal 100th performance on the Friday night. The Brighton audiences have been brilliant the entire week and it was so wonderful to be back in the warm embrace of the company, a sort of coming home if you will. After a few more standing ovations and a quick pack up of my relatively unassembled dressing room space, the flight cases and trucks were reloaded and now it's off to Glasgow for our penultimate week. There are only two tour venues remaining. Only 16 more shows to 'do anything better'. Only 272 more minutes of crazy interval change left. I better make sure each and every one counts. 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Huff Blog 16 - AGYG

With only a few weeks left on the Annie Get Your Gun tour, there's a heady sense of excitement in the air, not least because we're finally properly hitting the beach! This week we've been in the beautiful town of Bournemouth, something of a delicious gem as far as I'm concerned and home to many wonderful surprises during our time here.

There's something thoroughly invigorating about the seaside. Maybe it's the sea air, the proximity to nothingness over the ocean or simply the fact that there's a general sense of holiday which pervades over everyone, whether they're actually on holiday or not. We've been fortunate with the weather too, glorious sunshine and dry days which have made for a nicely sun-pinked company. There has still been the need to wrap up though as the winds of Bournemouth can be pretty wick, particularly late at night. This is England after all!

As the only week of the tour where we've not had three matinees, nor understudy rehearsals, there's been plenty of time for social activities. Coupled with the fact that most of the company have been staying in the same hotel - a somewhat Fawlty Towers affair apparently - you'd be forgiven in thinking that we'd be sick of each other by now! Not so, with the midweek matinee done and dusted we hit the beach for a late night barbecue party that evening and followed it up with a sports day afternoon on the Thursday!

Splitting into teams of four, denoted by that kit box staple of any decent stage management member - coloured electrical tape, we raced around a long stretch of sandy beach recreating the sports days of our childhoods. There were valiant efforts made all round at the sandy sprint, the wheelbarrow, three-legged and egg & spoon race (with the spoon in the mouth - a first for me!) amongst others. Our taller members also proved incredibly adept at the standing long jump, although Ste's forward handspring attempt proved most hilarious of all, if not particularly successful.

Races completed and points totted up, the Red team of Iffy, Lisa, Jordan and Ste were declared the winners and presented with their trophies. As is only appropriate ice cream followed and then games of rounders and football, before a dip in the warm-for-England-but-still-blooming-freezing sea. That evening's show was sponsored by far too much fun and a healthy dollop of aftersun to boot!

Fun and games aside there's also been some exploring time. My personal find of the week was a little cafe a short distance out of the town centre called Frieda's Tearooms. I've been staying a mile or so away from the theatre and on one of my many walks in I decided to search for Bournemouth's Best Breakfast and this is where Tinternet lead me. They weren't kidding. A gorgeous boutique place in itself, the eponymous Frieda served up the most wonderful full English for me, followed by a decadently indulgent hot chocolate with all the trimmings - including Maltesers! Certainly a must for any visitor - I'm only sorry I didn't have room for cake too!

I'd also recommend a visit to the gardens that run alongside the theatre. The beautiful River Bourne trundles through them and on most afternoons there appeared to be a band of some sort playing on the bandstand there. It was all rather like stepping back in time. Listening to the strains of Cole Porter and Gershwin from my blanket on the green, it was just nice to take the time to stop for a while. Completely and utterly stop. Turn off the technology, ignore the world and take a deep breath of calmness. It was a little unnerving however when the brass band began playing what felt like a potted musical history of my career, beginning with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

Saturday sadly saw the final shows for our lovely Alternate Frank, Jonathan Wilkes. He's been an amazing part of the show and it feels weird that he's now hung up his holster. It also highlights that there are only three weeks left on this tour and the reality of unemployment, and leaving behind this incredible company, is approaching with painfully dizzying speed. Better make the most of it - bring on Brighton and Beach Week 2! 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Huff Blog 15 - AGYG

Press is one of the things that goes hand in hand with promoting a show, but it's always nice to shake it up from the usual tv, radio and newspaper interviews by taking a step out into the unusual. And step out we did, all the way to Wimbledon Piazza for a Wild West themed fun day in anticipation of our appearance at the Wimbledon New Theatre in September. There have been several of these fun days around the country as we've toured, but this is the first one the company have been able to attend due to the proximity of our venue for the week. Aside from giving the people of Wimbledon a taster of the show by performing 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness', there was also a lasso rope ring toss, shooting gallery and even a bucking bronco, which we gamely gave a turn - under the watchful eye of company manager Kristi of course. No broken bones here please!

Fun and games aside we headed off en masse to Woking, this week's venue, to tech in the show as we usually do on a Tuesday and then settle into our dressing rooms. Being so close to London, many of the company are commuting so the socialising has been notched down. However, there's one thing guaranteed to make everyone hang around for the last train.... ice cream! It turns out that Woking is home to Creams, the most epic of American style ice cream parlours and, as an added bonus, it's open until late! With sundaes, waffles, crepes and about a gazillion flavours to try there really was something for everyone to indulge in.

It's probably a very good thing that we didn't discover the parlour until Thursday though, as otherwise our corsets might not be fitting quite so well once we get to Bournemouth. On the Friday night a repeat visit occurred, in the necessary interest of testing the crepes this time, and showing our physio Gina our discovery. On the following Saturday night I may have even been back in the booths again for a third time. In my defence, I had a friend in to see the show and it seemed only right to share the magic of Woking.

Woking's magic was only furthered by the arrival of a new tour mascot in the form of a 15 inch high sexy ceramic cowgirl figurine! She was unearthed by Will's parents as part of an auction lot they purchased and for some inexplicable reason they didn't want to keep her. Fanny Crackawhip, as she has been affectionately named, has now joined the stage right props table where she will live for the remainder of the tour until, unless she turns out to be a priceless antique, we decide to use her for target practice!

Mascots seem to be part and parcel of touring, with many of the company carrying something that reminds them of home. I'm personally touring two of my own in mascots in my kit box. Firstly I have Treacle, a knitted cat teddy bear who was a birthday present from a friend in Japan. Treacle surveys my dressing table antics and was recently joined by a teeny tiny lego figurine of Annie Oakley. This latter gift came from my beautiful baby niece Faye, I'm assuming as an apology for her stealing the Annie Oakley balloon our illusionist Darren made me!

But it seems I'm not the only one adopting additional mascots on the road, despite the fact we have limited space. For press night in Manchester I got everyone miniature cacti. Whilst some of the team have been touring them, our DSM Léonie has been slowly adding to her real cacti with a myriad of other Wild West themed items. It began when she ducked out of the rain in Oxford into a phone accessory shop, chancing upon a small cactus headphone socket protecter (who knew such a thing even existed?!) which it seemed rude not to then buy. Since that moment the Western-themed gifts have been coming thick and fast, particularly in the form of stationery - what girl doesn't need a cactus-shaped eraser or two? It does however mean she will only ever be able to do cowboy-based musicals from now on, I think.

Next week we finally return to the seaside by playing Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre and as there are only seven shows to do, and no cover rehearsals either, we're already planning the beach parties. The outdoor games from Malvern have been dusted off and there are fireworks and barbecue nights afoot. Anyone would think we're on holiday - although with an easier schedule for the week it feels almost as if we are! With that in mind it seems only appropriate that we take a paddle in the sea as well. Wait... did someone mention ice cream?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Huff Blog 14 - AGYG

I've mentioned before that one of the joys of touring is getting to explore new places that you may ordinarily never visit otherwise. The flip-side is that you also get to return to the venues and cities that you know and love well. You look forward to the familiar territory, however briefly you are able to tread it as it makes life on the road seem, well, less on-the-road!

This week has been another of my Old Familiar weeks. We're in Liverpool at the incredible Empire theatre and whilst I've not played this venue before I am familiar with the city, having most recently played the Arena with Michael Ball in 2009. Like Edinburgh, Liverpool was on my university shortlist and my love affair with Merseyside sprung up around that time when I was attempting to fill in my university application forms. I was 17 and although I was in the middle of my A-levels, I was given 4 months out of school to make a movie with Steve Coogan called The Parole Officer. The film was predominantly shot in Manchester, where it was also set, but one particular sequence proved impossible to do there.

The movie revolves around a bank heist, during which the motley crew of perpetrators (myself included) have to access the bank by zip-lining from an adjacent, higher building. There were no feasible locations in Manchester so instead the entire film crew and cast packed up and moved over to Liverpool for four days, where we filmed the scenes whilst desperately trying not to show the Liver Birds in the background! Due to the petrol crisis at the time we ended up staying in the city rather than commuting, so in between pulling enormous piggy banks around dressed as a schoolgirl and sliding through ventilation shafts in a ladybird mask (as you do) I had the brief opportunity to visit some of the many tourist attractions that Liverpool has to offer. 

Now Liverpool is well-regarded for its welcoming atmosphere but the Empire is a big old house to fill. After the packed out (comparatively) tiny theatre of Malvern I think we were all a little reticent about how it would feel to be back in a vast space with an orchestra pit void again. We needn't have worried. The Liverpool audiences have been the most engaged and vocal so far! Standing ovations, cheering, whistles and a lot of laughter! A perfect antidote to the sudden downpours that have tried to dampen our moods.

Yet it's still all-guns-blazing-busy in the Annie Get Your Gun camp. This week we met Michael Starke who will be joining our little company to play Buffalo Bill in Blackpool and Torquay, once Norman Pace has departed for all things One Man, Two Guvnors. Joining us for the delectable Hannah Grace's birthday tea, he clearly fit right in whilst we were treated to the sight of a Double Bill-feature (Sorry, terrible joke). Company sight-seeing trips aside, our wonderful understudies have also finished their rehearsals with a full run through this past Friday. 

Understudy runs are always a slightly bizarre affair because the cast is somewhat depleted, particularly on this show with such a small, hard-working company. Ste was apparently especially funny as he covers so many roles that he was swapping characters with aplomb to make the most of it. He's like a one-man Wild West production all by himself! The fact that we also move a lot of the set boxes and barrels around also made for some set change chaos, so when they do the next cover run in a few weeks' time, I think the rest of us will be volunteering to help. I'm personally looking forward to breaking out my chaps for My Defences Are Down!

Our next stop is the New Victoria theatre in Woking, with a brief detour via Wimbledon for some of us in order to do a bit of pre-production press there. After that we'll be hitting the beaches on the south coast for some sun, sea, sand and ice cream... oh and a show or two! With only 8 weeks left to go on the Annie Get Your Gun tour after Liverpool, it feels everything is moving far too fast. I'm not ready for this production to finish as I'm loving it far too much, and as the local lads here said... all you need is Love.  

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Huff Blog 13 - AGYG

It's been a week of ups and downs. Literally. This week the Annie Get Your Gun team have been in the beautiful, and somewhat hilly, town of Great Malvern at the Festival Theatre. It's one of the smallest venues we play on the tour in terms of stage space and although we'd already had a rehearsal in anticipation of this, nothing quite prepares you for re-spacing a full show in limited tech time.

After the vast expanse of stages like Edinburgh Playhouse, playing on the limits of the Festival Theatre has meant we've all become much cosier this week. The wing space demands that you only ever walk in single file, meaning we're now super organised in terms of entrances and exits. Poor Leonie (DSM) had to call the show from a completely separate room and bits of the show couldn't even make it to the stage! Gone were the back cloths (as happened in Birmingham) but also cut were the curtain kabuki drops, whilst the cart never even made it to the shooting match! Although we did manage to lay down the entire floor, having thought we wouldn't be able to, we still weren't able to use the front four feet due to lighting rig restrictions.

All that aside though the show has benefitted from us changing it up a little. We've had to be on our toes and concentrate harder, a good thing when mid-tour complacency could set in. Having the audience that much closer, even in the circle, has also meant that we've felt more engaged with them, and they with us if the standing ovations received this week are anything to go by.

A closer company also means social activities have been at a premium too. The Festival Theatre is situated in a beautiful park and when the weather has been good enough, we've been outside playing frisbee and ball games courtesy of a trip to the local outdoor activity shop. It's a great way to expend some energy when you're on a post-show adrenalin high, although I don't think any of us realised how strong our competitive edges were until we invented a hybrid version of rounders and cricket! Fortunately a surprise cream tea laid on by Company Manager Kristi kept everyone on friendly terms.

There was also ample opportunity to get in some good walking too. The whole village is set on a pretty big hill, but looming over our dressing rooms were the Malvern Hills, the highest of which is Beacon Hill at 425 metres. Most of us took a day trip up there at some point but on Thursday night, because we're a little bit dippy, eleven of us decided to take a midnight hike up to the top! I mean, obviously, after five shows in three days that's precisely what you need. 

Bananas, torches and water in hand, and following a quick (and necessary) reminder to take the keys for our digs, we headed up the hill. About 15 minutes in some of the boys decided it was far too warm for jeans and changed into their shorts, regretting it later when we hit the more grassy areas at the top and the nasty little biting flies who decided to have their own midnight snack on our bare flesh! 46 minutes after we set off we rounded the final corner to the stunning views of the Beacon. Spending a slightly chilly half and hour at the top, we star-gazed and took in the nighttime lights of the surrounding towns. It's a remarkable view in the daytime but there's something about the peace of night that lends it a magical touch. I'd highly recommend it if you have the time to go carefully and take ample precautions.

Now if we thought the way up was at a treacherously steep and sweaty angle, coming back down on the slightly damp underfoot surfaces was most certainly harder. We'd promised Kristi that we'd be super-careful - no-one wants to get injured on a cheeky nocturnal excursion - and did fortunately all make it down in one piece. The same cannot be said for me the following morning. On my way to maintenance physio for my shoulder, which takes a good hammering in the show, I managed to trip on a grate and then, I kid you not, five metres later took the spill of a lifetime leaving behind a chunk of my foot and knee on the pavement in the process. Fortunately I took away a cracking bruise or six to even the score, and a lovely gentleman was kind enough to set me back on my feet again.

If that weren't enough after the sprained thigh muscles of last week, that same day my injured foot was stood on (by accident), I ran full pelt into a piece of set during a quick change, slipped on the stage, was elbowed in the face and trapped my hand in a door! I actually checked the calendar to make sure it really was Friday the 1st not the 13th! But you have to laugh or you'll cry so injuries aside (and now broken phone aside too - but that's another story), the only way is up. In fact I may climb that hill again to make sure of it! 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Huff Blog 12 - AGYG

This is the week that the Annie Get Your Gun girls have been anticipating/dreading for the past couple of months. Ever since the delightful Lorna Want asked during rehearsals if anyone would join her for the Race For Life, we've been sweating our backsides off in training during our spare time in preparation for today's 10k race around Hyde Park for Cancer Research UK.

Now whilst we're all fairly fit due to the physical nature of our jobs, we're not all natural runners. Some of us run regularly, some took up running purely for this event. One or two have hobbled their way around a long-distance race and a few would only run if there was a price-crash sale on Jimmy Choos! However, one thing was clear from the start, this was our challenge and we were doing it all together or not at all.

Once Lorna had got us all organised as the spearhead for the campaign, I took charge of the group fundraising page and did a tiny bit of coaching along the way. This basically consisted yabbering annoyingly motivational phrases during a training run or two and today's race. Oh, and being a little bit of a drill sergeant for Kara Lane when she was unwillingly facing a massive hill to run up in Stoke! Note to self: check the route first, as Kara has no idea how much that hill also hurt me!

What is so wonderful about the Cancer Research UK Race for Life is that it's now a massive event up and down the country, with races of various styles and lengths yet each and every participant is gathered with the common purpose of beating cancer. Writing the cards for the back of our t-shirts was an emotional event in itself. Filling that space with the names of lost loved ones, and those currently fighting, helps you focus on exactly why you've chosen to yomp a 10k at 9am in baking heat after only a few hours' sleep! Reading everyone else's reasons is also just the spur you need when you're halfway round and want to collapse in a sobbing heap!

Natalie Day's message in particular drew many an approving comment from strangers as we ran. Simply put, it said 'Hating running, but hating cancer more', which says it all. This was a small sacrifice to make, for what will surely be a big difference. We've been really lucky in terms of our online support via JustGiving, smashing our team target of £1000 a few days before the race. Our fabulous producers also allowed us to do a collection on the Saturday shows this week and the Aylesbury audiences proved just as generous as they were responsive! The bucket collections from the first show alone raised over £500, which just proves the universal regard for Cancer Research UK and the work they do.

We're also fortunate that it's been a beautiful week. The sunny weather has made for some very sweaty shows which was good training for a hot run, and also kept the spirits high of cast and audience alike. We've had wonderful audiences at the stunning Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury, but press night was hands down the most fantastic we've had so far. It's always thrilling when responses to a show improve as it settles in and we carried that adrenalin buzz with us today.

Assembled this morning (super early) in Hyde Park, despite Flo Fields getting a touch lost en route, we donned our blue 'One Show' team t-shirts (as we affectionately call them) and pinned on our various numbers and messages. Added to this were some signs coined by the lovely Katie Marie-Carter.... 'Annie Get Your Run' and the finishing touch.... cowboy hats! Perfect for a yeehah or two as we raced! We crossed the start line holding hands in solidarity, and spotted our support team along the way for some action photos. This consisted of Katie and Kara's boyfriends, Tom and Jim, and Lorna's fiancé James. Or Jonathan, as Natalie decided to call him! We'll blame it on the heat Nat, though video evidence may say otherwise!

A midway point 'selfie' was a must, it being something of a joke pastime amongst our company,  and as we began the second lap, we were tired but proud that we'd made the 5k marker in only 34 minutes. No small feat given the heat and our determination to run everything together, adjusting our pace depending on who was struggling at what point. At 7k the tiredness began to set in. We adjusted the pace, regrouped our thoughts and took it in turns to provide motivation. Suddenly 8k was upon us and the hills disappeared for the downhill homeward straight. 9k passed in a blur as we rounded the corner to the Royal Albert Hall and finally we were counting down the metres. Hand in hand, the six of us sprinted the final length across the line completing the 10k in 1 hour 10 minutes, before collapsing onto the grass in sweaty, heaving heaps of tearful joy.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of each and everyone of those girls. Today was a massive achievement for everyone and so incredibly emotional too, matched by some fantastic fundraising. We promised we'd race as a team and did precisely that, running the entire course, never once stopping to jog or walk despite feeling sometimes like we might have to. Together we were stronger, together we know we can make a difference and together we have already raised over £2000 with more to come! Together we can beat cancer. Let's start today.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Huff Blog 11 - AGYG

After nine glorious days of (mostly) rest and relaxation, returning to the show is something of a shock to the system. Regrouping with the company, it feels like we've been apart an age and yet, conversely, barely any time at all. There are stories to tell, news to catch up on and tans to admire but once we're all gathered in the subterranean rehearsal space at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley, it's back to the grindstone once more.

We begin the week with a speed-run of the lines. This is where we sit in a large circle and run all the dialogue from the show at slightly above show pace (given that we only have an hour to do it in!) as a way of refreshing our memories. It's quite a strange exercise as you really have to concentrate and yet it can be incredibly funny as the pace breeds mild hysteria. It's a fun way to break the ice and get the brain working, as it's evident from any seated speed-run how much you rely on the staging to remember your lines - movement and dialogue prove excellent bedfellows for memorisation

Lines run, we head into rehearsals and tech, with a few press photos and interviews on the way. This is Jonathan Wilkes' first full week on the show and as such it's the first time he's done a tech session with us. I think he's suddenly very grateful to not have to do these normally as they're pretty long and intense. There is much to soundcheck plus two new Little Jakes to rehearse in and the Churchill Theatre proves a slightly odd space sound-wise. This is partly because it's smaller venue than some we've played, seating 785 in comparison to the 3000 seats of Edinburgh Playhouse! Fortunately Alex, our intrepid Sound No. 1, is pretty blooming wonderful at making it all balance out - no easy feat when you're working with vastly differing spaces each week. 

Tech done, we begin getting ready to kick off the week in style with our press night show. It's our first venue that's really close to London and as such this week will bring many of our family and friends to the audience. Many of the cast are even managing to commute, which is particularly nice after a holiday week. My first port of call however, before the make-up and pin curls, before the warm-up and corset, is to set up my dressing room. 

This is a process of several stages. First off, I recover my 'personals box' and Mr Pink (my large suitcase) from where they've been placed after removal from the touring trucks. Depending on the size of my dressing room for the week, they'll either be given a spot or unpacked and tucked away to save room. Once into the room, I decide where my make-up station will be and get the iPad set up. To the strains of whatever is this week's music of choice (for Bromley it's a mixture of Mina Tindle, McFly, Pink and Eels - I'm nothing if not eclectic), I'll lay out my various kits (make-up, toiletries, medicines, side of stage necessities), light my candle for some Zen time, open a window (if there is one) and set the fan and humidifier going. Finally I'll stick up all my cards and letters, with pride of place going to a photo of my beautiful 2 year old niece Faye and the hand-painted cards my godmother Margaret sends me for the first night at every venue.

Given that four short days later I'll be taking it all down again, many people would consider this something of a Sisyphean task. Jonathan even timed my de-rig this week! Maybe it's because it's my first tour or maybe it's just that I like to feel at home, but spending the extra time and effort to properly settle in brings this nomadic actress an astonishing amount of joy. Sure it takes me longer to get unpacked and repacked, and sure I'm carrying around way more stuff than I actually need, but for a little piece of home wherever I go? That's priceless.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Huff Blog 10 - AGYG

This week's blog comes from the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. Well not the very top, not the stone itself, but one of the little rocky groups literally six feet away from it. The actual top is pretty dinky and currently awash with a group of Spanish tourists - it seemed rude to hog it for long enough to write a blog! We've been enjoying our second holiday week from Annie Get Your Gun and after doing all the necessary catchy-up type stuff - routine visits to the doctor, fun with the family, the unbearable agony of continuing dentistry - I've taken myself off to Edinburgh for a mini-city break on my own.

Edinburgh is essentially one of my favourite cities, I've played and visited the Fringe Festival a dozen or so times and I even chose here for university (before I deferred for a year and ended up becoming an actress). But whilst I know the city well in a general way, this holiday has been my first opportunity to explore it a little deeper, without the intense fear of a first-time traveller to somewhere unknown. And believe me I've had that fear a few times in the past! Over the last few days I have been the ultimate tourist. I've walked the city, toured the castle, visited the museums and watched the penguin parade at Edinburgh Zoo open-mouthed with glee. I saw one of my favourite bands, The National, play a gig at Usher Hall and on a whim went to the Festival Theatre to see whatever was on.

What was on, turned out to be Caitlin Moran. Caitlin Moran, voice of the modern feminist and journalist/writer extraordinaire. Standing on my seat in the auditorium, along with 1650 other woman and 39 men I hasten to add, shouting 'I AM A FEMINIST' at her behest, I was suddenly struck with how relevant this current plight for an equality revolution is to playing Annie Oakley. Annie Oakley, truly a woman living it up in a man's world, really is with me wherever I go. Buffalo Bill Cody was a staunch supporter of women's rights, and equality in general, and it struck me how sad it is that this was a relevant issue not only at the time they lived, nor also at the time the show was written 70 years ago, but also now. Today. In 2014. 

Politics aside, this wasn't the only moment Annie infiltrated my holiday. In a more planned experience, I took myself off to Hopetoun House estate near Edinburgh for a clay pigeon shooting lesson with top clay shooter Stewart Cumming. Well, ordinarily the lesson would have been taken by Stewart, but he's off in Portugal at the moment at the World FITASC Sporting Clay Shooting Championships! (My timing is impeccable it seems.) Thankfully his father, Tom, stepped amiably into the breach and took me under his wing.

Whilst we had gun practice during rehearsals, one of the things I really wanted to do was go for some shooting lessons. However, time constraints being what they are there simply wasn't the opportunity to fit it in and, as we don't use live ammunition or even blanks in the show, an actual firearms lesson was one of the less vital luxuries of research that had to fall by the wayside. It seemed only natural then that, being nearby, I should try and fit in a lesson now so that I could honestly answer the question 'so how good a shot are you?' that many journalists frequently ask me at the moment.

As it turns out, I'm actually not that bad! In fact for a beginner, I'm bloody good. It's the first time I've ever fired a weapon of any kind and I think by the end of the class the clays were pretty scared of me and the over-and-under shotgun I was wielding. I think the production has at least given me a level of comfort in the handling of a weapon, although I use a long-nosed flintlock and a Winchester during the show. Feeling at one with the instrument seems pretty vital, but I think even Tom was impressed when my final shot struck home with a vengeance, despite my having lost the rhythm several shots before.

Now as I sit here on my final evening of holiday, taking in the beautiful surrounding vista, I contemplate the return to England and Annie Get Your Gun, with my gun recoil bruises and freshly freckled face. Bromley is our next venue, with Jonathan Wilkes taking the helm for his first full week as Frank Butler. I've missed everyone on the show to quite a surprising degree on this week away, but most of all, I've missed Annie. She's as much a part of me now, as I am.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Illness, Injury and the Unavoidable!

I've mentioned before about the need for any person working on a show to remain healthy. This goes for not only the actors onstage but also everyone behind the prosarch too. Whilst health is something we often take for granted in our daily lives, if for some reason you aren't well enough to do your job on a theatrical production there simply has to be someone to step in and fill your shoes.

This is where swings and understudies come in, both on the stage and behind the scenes. Hannah and Ste are our onstage performing Swings, running both their own tracks and covering numerous other tracks of the cast. In the wings though we have Jordan, our Swing Technician. Jordan covers the stage management roles behind the scenes as

Huff Blog 9 - AGYG

The first 'leg' of our UK Tour of Annie Get Your Gun has drawn to a close at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham. 6 cities, 51 shows, 255 knife throws, 459 stage kisses, 561 balloons popped and a remarkable 2703 shots later, it's no wonder that the whole company are relishing a week away with friends and family for some well deserved rest and relaxation.

Birmingham has been a pretty incredible week. The audiences have been really responsive and the fact that the house is close, meaning the audience are very near to the stage, certainly helps. With our band being onstage the unused pit in front of the stage at some venues can create a void of empty space that you have to work extra hard to get over in order to reach the audience. Not so at the New Alexandra. Even the circle is relatively near to the stage and this helps the entire production feel much more intimate.

Travelling around on the show has so far proved quite eye-opening for me, not only because I'm getting to play so many different theatres of dramatically different sizes and styles, but also because you truly get a sense of how different each city is in terms of their response to theatre in general. Every city has been wonderful but the reaction of each is almost like a fingerprint. It's unique to that particular place. Birmingham has been a city of loud response, Oxford loves puns (of which this show has many), Edinburgh likes to laugh, Sunderland save it for the applause, Stoke enjoys a big showstopper and Manchester is generally more excitable - especially as the 'Manchester Gets It First' initiative means they're seeing the show in the early stages, before it has a chance to completely settle in.

The theatres have been remarkably different too, both onstage and off. This week, the New Alexandra's smaller stage and wing space meant that there was only a foot at the back of the set and so the backcloths (apart from the final sunset) couldn't be used. Entrances and exits had to be adjusted slightly, care taken to not run into the still very effective black brick wall at the back and tweaks made to the backstage plots. It keeps you on your toes and if you have the capability to adapt, as we do, then the show is still as great as ever.

Birmingham has also proved a generous city. Throughout the week cast members have been in the audience at the end of the show collecting spare change for a local charity, the Acorns Children's Hospice Trust. Acorns provides care to children and young people with life limiting and life-threatening illnesses, as well as support for their families especially in bereavement. Like so many charities they are in desperate need of funds and it was so nice to be able to help them in their local theatre. I honestly believe that having the company shake the buckets helped us to raise more than if we'd just let the ushers do it. There's something quite powerful about being able to break the fourth wall temporarily and get amongst the audience. It's not something actors often get a chance to do, and there's a great sense of gratitude. We're grateful for having been made so welcome and the audience in response to that gives generously, so everybody wins. Whilst I don't yet have a final total, I believe it's a few thousand! That's pretty bloomin' special and we know it will be a much needed help to everyone at Acorns.

Our charity endeavours don't end there though. In three short weeks the Annie Get Your Gun girls will be racing around Hyde Park on our day off for the 10K Race for Life, raising money for Cancer Research UK. It's a cause dear to all of our hearts and as a bonus to hopefully making a nice little donation to a great charity, we're also getting super-fit and sightseeing whilst we train around the country! So whilst we may be on holiday for the next week, whilst we may be spread all over the world as we do so, each and every one of us will be strapping on her trainers at some point and clocking a few miles. Think of us and our sweaty summer slogging as you read this, and if you can please spare even a few pennies for either of these great charities, then click on the links below. Thank you. 

Acorns Children's Hospice Trust in Birmingham https//

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Huff Blog 8 - AGYG

The New Theatre in Oxford has been home to our Annie Get Your Gun family this past week. A very hot and tiring week, smitten by some illness and injury that left everyone working harder than ever. However on Wednesday we were expecting some very special guests and the adrenalin of that knowledge alone was enough to keep us going. Now, there are few things I will ever become tongue-tied over. Let's face it, I can talk. I like to talk, heck I LOVE to talk! But once in a while a moment will happen in my life that leaves me utterly lost for words. Unable to speak. Geeking out, if you will.

Generally these moments happen for me when I meet not actors, as one might expect, but writers. Persons whose novels, films, plays have shaped me, formed me, challenged and inspired me. They are the celebrities of my daily life. For me, meeting an actor, even a very famous one, is more like meeting a colleague I simply haven't had the chance to work with yet. We're in the same field and whilst I admire and respect them, I also have an automatic connection and understanding. Writers, and by extension composers, are a whole other ball game, and it appears to extend to their immediate family as well!

The Wednesday began with a few excitable press interviews before the matinee, causing me to forego my usual ritualistic matinee bacon sandwich. Not necessarily a bad thing as I've been overindulging somewhat recently, though it probably would have helped calm my fluttering butterflies for our expected visitors. Bert Fink and Andy Chan from the  London office of R&H Theatricals Europe were revisiting the production (R&H – aka, Rodgers & Hammerstein - looks after the Irving Berlin musicals as licensing agents) and bringing with them Ted Chapin and Bruce Pomahac, the President and Director of Music respectively of Rodgers and Hammerstein (New York)! If this itself weren't enough to set my nerd alert to high beam, they were also bringing two extra-special guests with them - Linda Emmet and Emily Fletcher, a daughter and a grand-daughter of Irving Berlin,  songwriter extraordinaire.

Now on paper this sounds like a lovely treat of a visit, but in reality it was a delicious mixture of heady excitement and nerve-shattering fear! Irving Berlin was an astonishing  songwriter, and singing his songs every night is an utter privilege. From the elegance of his lyrics, the soaring sweep of his melodies, the overwhelming beauty of his orchestral score - each moment is joyous. When Berlin passed away in 1989 he left behind him a legacy that helped to shape musical history. I grew up watching the movies that he scored - the films that proved instrumental in my wanting to become an actress one day if possible and the songs that gave me the fundamental need to sing. To finally be singing as Annie Oakley in his show is a dream come true, and whilst I have always known I would never meet the man himself, meeting his family hit me more powerfully than I thought possible. 

After the show, Linda and Emily joined the company and team from R&H onstage to say a few words. There was a hushed silence as we listened to the kind words of congratulation and approval from the unassuming, sprightly and witty Linda. Shaking her hand with my own trembling one, I felt completely humbled and utterly unable to form even the most basic of sentences. To be trusted with this role in general is pretty incredible, to perform it in front of the family to whom Annie effectively belongs, and to meet with their approval is somewhat overwhelming. As I returned to my dressing room afterwards, shaking my head in happy disbelief, I greeted my wiggy and dresser with the immortal words 'I just met Irving Berlin's family', before promptly bursting into tears! This is as near as I could ever possibly come to getting the nod from Berlin himself, and when I look back on this moment in years to come, my smile in our group photograph will speak volumes. Like so many others, I thank you for the music Irving Berlin, you helped to make me who I am and for that I am eternally grateful.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Frocking Up!

One of the great pleasures about being an actor is that, essentially, you get to dress up for a living. Or dress down. Or, sometimes even undress! But fundamentally the fact is that we play a childhood game of pretend and, when fortunate and with the wind behind us, we can even be paid to do so.

Paul Farnsworth's designs for Annie Get Your Gun are not necessarily the typical buckskin and fringing that you might expect for this classic Wild West musical. On the very first day of rehearsals, he laid out his costume designs on the table and explained that his vision had something of a

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Huff Blog 7 - AGYG

Edinburgh - city of tremendous culture, stunning architecture, amazing views and incredible whiskies. Also home to one of the largest, and most unusual, theatres I've had the pleasure of playing - the Edinburgh Playhouse. Standing at the top of the hill down into Leith, it's an epic 3000-seater on three tiers - astonishing considering it was originally a cinema! There's the added oddity that the sound desk is operated from the dress circle, rather than the more commonplace back of stalls position, and then the additional hill which makes the theatre seem as if it was literally hewn from the hillside. The steep walk down to stage door from the front of the theatre would be treacherous in bad weather, and I'm grateful for this week's beautiful sunshine which meant that wasn't going to be an issue.

The peculiarities continue backstage where the space is divided predominantly into two towers that run up the sides of the building, rather than lying across the full width of the space. It's a pretty good workout if you wanted to do the full run around, as the towers span ten floors! Stage Door is on ground level, the front of the theatre sits around level 6 and the stage is on level 3. However most of the dressing rooms are to be found on levels 7 and above. Given the nature of Annie Get Your Gun for quick changes, being in these dressing rooms wasn't really an option for most of us, so we were relegated to sub-stage rooms, with very little in the way of natural light or that aforementioned beautiful sunshine. It was worth it though to not have to climb numerous flights of stairs at the interval. This show is exhausting enough as it is!

Many of us did make the trip up the stairs at least once this week though, in order to pay a visit to the haunted corridor of level 9, which runs between the north and south tower dressing rooms, directly above the stage. This corridor is said to be haunted by Albert, the theatre ghost, who was apparently a stage door keeper at the Playhouse. It's a relatively dark and spooky place with lots of creaks and bangs, yet a cold an eerie silence for such a lively building. However it seemed only fitting to go and say hello and thank him for letting us spend the week in his home. I'll admit, on the Friday show when the lights started acting a little strange, my immediate thoughts did turn to Albert. 

Not content with spooking ourselves out in the Playhouse, many of the company headed out on a midnight ghost walk around the city for some additional socialising post-show. We visited the historic vaults of the city, hearing tales of torture and treachery, as well as Greyfriars Kirkyard en route, taking many a photo in the hope of capturing something unexplained. There were certainly an odd couple of things that showed up on my camera but what they truly are, who knows. I'm certainly not going to dismiss them just in case!

There's so much to do in Edinburgh that having only one afternoon off (and none if you're an understudy) was simply not enough, but we've all tried to make the most of it in our own personal ways. There have been trips up Arthur's Seat (kudos to those who used it for running training), the penguin parade at the zoo, the disappointing football (ho hum) and then the glorious post-show jaunt tasting various Scottish whiskies! But, sure as the sunrise, no sooner have we begun to settle in than it's time to pack up and travel on again. Our next stop is Oxford, another beautiful city and one that several of the team will be able to commute to. It will be the first time that our company will be broken up into those who are fully on the road, and those who are trying to spend time at home wherever vaguely possible. We also have the added excitement next week that Irving Berlin's family will be paying us a visit! I'll admit, I'm a little nervous. It's a privilege to be playing this role and singing Berlin's beautiful score, so I'm sincerely hoping they'll be happy with my interpretation of Annie, and the production in general. Watch this space!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Huff Blog 6 - AGYG

This week has been brought to you by coffee. Also the occasional Berocca and multiple bacon sandwiches from Stoke's Zest Cafe, but mainly coffee.

As a long term insomniac, coffee has been something of a go-to in my daily life. I general survive on about 3-4 hours of sleep a night, so I'm practically sponsored by the stuff. It's my wake-up call, my afternoon relaxer and my book-reading beverage of choice. Even now I'm sitting here in a lovely coffee shop, writing away on my iPad with a steaming mug of (decaf) Americano. A mild roast, with a dash of skimmed milk, sort of biscuit-coloured and utterly delicious. On a busy job like Annie Get Your Gun however, coffee has become something of a ritual. That first sip of morning coffee from my 'Geeky Cat' mug, as my hair is pinned and wrapped into submission, is truly joyous. It's also utterly necessary, as this week we've been working longer hours again, as we prepared Jonathan Wilkes, our Alternate Frank Butler, for his first shows on the Saturday of Stoke.

Whilst the show has settled into something of a routine now (although the fit-up and tech days are still pretty full-on), finding the time for rehearsals has been tough. The team have tried to make sure that we don't work too hard, staggering the calls and bearing the brunt of them themselves, in order to prevent unwanted injury or illness. Watching Dance Captain Jonny Godbold give not only his rendition of Little Jake, Buffalo Bill and Foster Wilson, but also Dolly Tate and Annie Oakley was, well, mesmeric. And hilarious. He and Jonathan make a lovely couple that's for sure! But seriously, it's truly a credit to Jonathan that after so little actual time with the company, he managed to give two outstanding first performances. 

Jonathan's Frank is a completely different, but equally wonderful, interpretation to Jason's, which certainly keeps the rest of us on our toes and it's fantastic for me to get to play opposite both versions, especially in the same week! It was particularly nice for Jonathan, being a Stokie, to play his first shows in his home town whilst Jason fulfilled commitments to a prior engagement elsewhere in the country. They truly are two of the hardest working men in showbiz!

Everyone else is also working ultra hard though as the audition season for productions this autumn/winter has kicked off with a vengeance. The tour currently finishes in October and it's vital that we keep ourselves in the loop of London whilst we tour the UK, which means quick trips to London or self-taped auditions. It seems so strange to be prepping material for other jobs when we've barely settled into this one yet, but it is the nature of the beast.

Given the extra rehearsals there was also no day off for the company this week, nor understudy rehearsals either, although there was at least a football match or two to watch apparently. I jest. I was one of the hardcore group of footy fans who zoomed off post-show on Saturday to do some cheering/shouting/swearing at the telly for England's first World Cup match. (I didn't really swear, Mum, promise!)

Hopefully we can reward ourselves for last week's hard work with some extra treats in Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities in the world. Although the schedule is as busy as usual - local boys to rehearse, tech sessions, (hopefully) some extra time on the trapeze in a bid to avoid RSI from the routine, which is completely centred on my right hand side - we're trying to fit a lot of other stuff in too. There will certainly be some morning training for the girls' 10k charity run and I'm hoping to take a yomp up Arthur's Seat and around the castle too. Kara, who plays Dolly, is even arranging a midnight ghost walk for us! Despite being a regular visitor to both Edinburgh and the Festival, it's something I've never actually done and as this tour already seems to be flying by, I think I need to begin planning out my tourist ventures if I'm to make the most of it. Well if you can't sleep anyway, why not scare yourself silly with a ghost walk around a beautiful city? 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Annie Get Your Gun - Can You Dig It?

There are Daleks in the bathroom. I kid you not. I'm placing my toothbrush into the holder and from the corner of my eye I can see three brightly coloured Daleks staring back at me. I'm perturbed. Heading through into the lounge and dining room, six more of increasing sizes loom over me. I run to the hallway where, next to the Tardis door sits K-9. No, I'm not having a Who-vian nightmare, ladies and gentleman, this is the wonderful world of theatrical digs.

I arrived in Sunderland about an hour ago and after taking the short walk to my digs, via the theatre so that I could get my bearings, I am hunkering down into my room for the week. My digs landlord this week is, you might have guessed, a Doctor Who fan. I think I'm

Huff Blog 5 - AGYG

Well, after our week long break, the audiences of Sunderland were an absolute delight! Despite the town seeming incredibly quiet, in fact almost deserted on the rare occasions I made it out and about, the responses in the theatre were rowdy, raucous and utterly roof-raising! 

We began the week with a mind-refreshing run of the lines, given that we'd had several days away from the show following an exhausting tech and first venue run in Manchester. Giving everyone a chance to go back over their roles from the comfort of the Sunderland Empire bar made for a rather speedy, and often unintentionally hilarious, version of Annie Get Your Gun which, whilst very funny to us, will hopefully never be seen by an audience!

This is the first venue that we've 'moved' the show to so the Tuesday was somewhat fraught. With two young local actors to rehearse in as Little Jake, a sound check, band call and technical session to complete all in one afternoon, we were a little pushed for time but good humour and lots of coffee saw us through it in a timely fashion. The Stage Management and Crew teams had worked tremendously hard to get the show fitted up in time for our rehearsals too, so Company Manager Extraordinaire, Kristi, topped the afternoon off perfectly by ordering every pizza in Sunderland for us all to tuck into pre and post show. It's certainly the best way to keep this group of reprobates happy!

The week in Sunderland has been slightly less busy overall than our weeks in Manchester thankfully, which has allowed the girls of the company to get some training in, as we're running the 10K Race For Life together in July for Cancer Research UK. Although the show is very physical and a great workout, getting some decent mileage under our belts before the race is pretty vital. If you fancy sponsoring us to make it even more worthwhile you can do so at This is a cause close to many of our hearts, so anything you can spare would be greatly appreciated.

This has also been a week for some fun though. On Friday we had the afternoon off for the first time so a bunch of the company headed up to Roker Beach to paddle in the surprisingly chilly sea and build sandcastles, as well as spend some time reflecting on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in the glorious sea air. The sun shone brightly for the day and after performing the 'Showbusiness' kick-line in the sea (as you do), eating fish and chips and enjoying an ice cream or two, we returned to the theatre suitably exhilarated and refreshed from the day, if also a touch sunburnt! Thank the heavens that stage make-up is quite thick and covers up the extra pink bits nicely!

Not everyone managed to escape the surreal darkness of the theatre for the day though. Now that we're open it's time to rehearse the understudies into their cover roles. With a fairly small company, most people do actually cover a role or two, but the focus this week was primarily on the Frank and Annie covers. Natalie, Sarah, Ed and Jonny worked incredibly hard and made it through the blocking for 3/4 of the show, which is wonderful as next week the understudy calls will be put on hold again whilst we finish rehearsing our Alternate Frank, Jonathan Wilkes, into the production. Jonathan is covering the dates that Jason, our usual leading man, had prior engagements on, and his first shows will be on the Saturday of Stoke. This means we're back to a very busy schedule of long days again, especially as we'll still have to tech and sound check on the first day. Fortunately there's only one Little Jake to rehearse in as George, one of the Jake's from Manchester, rejoins us for the work. 

It's going to feel quite strange playing opposite a new Frank suddenly on Saturday, but it's also exciting, particularly as Jonathan will be on his home turf. Jonathan's interpretation of the role will no doubt be different to Jason's, which will certainly keep me on my toes, particularly when I'll get my Jason back the following Tuesday. Fortunately both Jason and Jonathan are equally lovely to work with which, quite 'Frank-ly', makes me the luckiest girl in showbusiness.