Mad Margaret rides again

 

A few years back, I wrote a column for the esteemed Classical Music magazine about our exploits on tour, under the guide of Mad Madge the Mezzo. For almost two years, readers enjoyed the high, lows and downright odd things that befell Hatstand out on the road, with names and locations changed to protect the innocent and the eccentric alike!

Having rediscovered these articles recently in a file, we’ve decided to share some of the best via our blog, just for fun. And if you like them, we might even create an e-book so you can chortle over your Kindle on an exotic beach!

So, here’s the very first article, for your fun and our nostalgia!

 

Opera on the Road: touring tales of Hatstand Opera

“The glamour of opera,” I mutter under my breath, swinging the piano-laden estate car round a blind bend in the pouring rain, the wipers trying their best to smudge the windscreen with mud. “I must be mad.”

“You really enjoy this, don’t you,” booms the village hall committee Artistes Liaison Officer in hearty, county tones. “Lovely month, November. I’ll switch the heat on when I get back, OK?”

As we unpack the car, sliding the piano trolley down a ravine-ridden path, through swing doors that are designed to entrap strangers, and manhandle it onto a stage so high it gives you vertigo, I do wonder. Yet, a mere hour or two later, flourescent strip lights shining, the first wave of warm, friendly audience laughter fills the chilly air. Ah, performing, you can’t beat it.

Well, you can, actually. You can be richer, more secure, warmer and with a pension. You can have a definite income next month, and a tax bill that dribbles away each month, not lurking to horrify you at year end.

Why on earth do we do it? Simple, because we get to meet the GBP (Great British Public) on their home turf, from gruff colonels with faithful Labradors to indignant Wagnerians, meringue-baking Scotsmen to Scunthorpe football fans. Not forgetting the venues, of course; from top hotels to toilet blocks, flouncy marquees to medieval castles, all filled with GBP just dying to talk to us just as we’re dying to pack up and go home.

If you only ever work in an office, you’ll never get to meet these vast swaths of music lovers who have Time During The Day. They are the people at the heart of village life, who tend the church, mind the shop, protest about planning proposals and deplore the state of the roads. And they make the cast of Little Britain look the pinnacle of sanity…

Like the Mumerset lady who informed us that the venue electricity meter took 50p pieces – “the old type, mind”, and enquired “How many 50ps does your average show take?” The only source of old 50ps was not coming that night (“She don’t like opera much”) so a wet and cold dash to the appropriate cottage finally produced the magic multi-sided currency. Our show takes five, by the way, because we didn’t switch on the £10,000 rig of lighting bought with Lottery cash, as the Drama Society wouldn’t let us use them…

Or the venue committee who were having “a few renovations done”. Now we’re not generally fussy but we do like our venues to have four walls, not three and a tarpaulin billowing in a Force 5 gale. The demolished stage replaced by piles of concrete bags we could cope with, the dressing room stripped to its bare joists with hanging live wires we drew the line at, and retreated to the kitchen. We sang in a dust-laden draft, danced around the props holding the roof up, and dodged the fire extinguishers thoughtfully placed at ankle height.

The glamour of opera? Don’t get me started…