Stephanie Rutherford was new to Presence Theatre when she was approached about participating in the double-bill of Now That's What I Call Music and The Frugal Horn at Backwell Festival. But after reading the scripts she soon found herself embarking on a series of journeys on her way towards the final performance and beyond.
All aboard the beloved south-eastern to Herne Hill, for my first experience with Presence Theatre. Some weeks prior I had skyped a Mr Tarlton about a forthcoming project that required a flugelhorn player. There were two plays: The Frugal Horn by Nick Payne and Now That's What I Call Music by David Watson, that the company had discovered and decided to put on as a rehearsed reading at the Backwell Festival. The plays made for a good read so here I was sipping tea in Herne Hill before a rehearsal of the rehearsed reading. Once everyone had arrived and after the anticipated meet and greet chats we formed a circle and started to read. After discovering what was actually going on and discussing characters, we put it on its feet to give it shape and looked at establishing certain moments more in depth.
Now That's What I Call Music is a fast-paced, energetic ensemble piece that speaks directly to the audience. A record company have just listened to a demo and are now projecting their professional opinion. They constantly attack and overlap one another with positive contradictions. The rhythm of the language speaks as music in itself. In perfect contrast The Frugal Horn is a beautifully honest story of a young girl's journey to finding her lost flugelhorn. She travels to parts of the country she has never seen before and interacts with people from different walks of life. With each encounter she develops confidence and comes closer to getting her hands back on her flugelhorn. However when she finally does, she is asked to play it, which afterwards contributes to her decisions to leave the instrument with its final owner. This is a delicate play about what is not said and honours the inner desires and sometimes painful complexity of human nature. The audience come to realise the flugelhorn is much more than just an instrument, to Alice it signifies her late father. So this is also a journey through grief to acceptance.
A week later we all met again outside a petrol station in Hammersmith, piled into a car and hit the road toward Bristol for the Backwell Festival. I didn't quite know what to expect when I got there but I wasn't disappointed! A small village had created a contagiously fun environment full of world music, tasty food, and copious amounts of glitter. There was a fabulous community vibe to the day with people of all ages enjoying what was on offer. We performed our plays in the cosy but packed literature tent to a generous audience. We had so much fun together in Backwell that we didn't want to leave at the end of the day, but alas the lengthy car journey back to London was calling, so so after a celebratory beer or two (for those not driving!) we said our goodbyes and hit the road once again sharing our car games.
It has to be said, when I was first asked to be a part of this all I knew was that I enjoyed reading the plays so joined forces and went along with it. What I was not expecting was to end up loving the plays, to have two fun days out and to work with a group of such passionate, enthusiastic and downright lovely people. So thank-you Jack, Helen, the other Jack, Tom, James, Beth and everyone else who was a part of making it all possible and getting these two wonderful plays to new ears.