There have been a number of times this year when Charlie Bennett, producer of RashDash, has breathed out a familiarly exasperated sigh. We haven’t needed to ask why. We understand the code.
It refers to the beast we are currently nestled in the jaws of: Taking our National Theatre co-production We Want You To Watch on a national tour. The specifics of said sigh are more complex. It could be in response to the logistical nightmare of Luton van hires, issues with contra deals, prop hires, washing plots and impossibly crammed in tech schedules. It could be the complicated people management, budget struggles, and impending venue deadlines. And now, most recently, after all that work it could be the (gulp) fear of small audiences.
We Want You To Watch is not an easy show to sell or indeed to watch. It’s not supposed to be. It’s about pornography and two women who are on a mission to end it. It is bold and uncompromising, loud and surreal. Relentless, sometimes hopeless. Based on a series of failures, the show raises a lot of big and terrifying questions without providing many/any answers. And, probably without fail, it divides audiences pretty radically.
It is the biggest show we’ve ever made. The biggest team we’ve ever worked with. The biggest set we’ve ever built. So… just remind us, what were we thinking?
We can see first-hand why many shows that don’t just fit into a suitcase don’t do extensive touring. Or indeed any touring. We can see why as a small (tiny) company there was a certain level of apprehension surrounding our ambitions to take this particular show on the road. We can see that.
But for us, performing the biggest, most politically radical show we’ve made only in London just wouldn’t feel right. We’re based in Leeds at West Yorkshire Playhouse. We’re a national company with a commitment to taking our work to national audiences. And for us, that is a really vital part of what we do. So we’re doing it. Despite the madness.
So now, in the thick of it, we are three venues down, five to go and I am brimming with excitement. Unlike a long run of a show in one space, on a tour like this each performance feels utterly distinctive. And it is. We’re making changes all the time and I can recall each performance so far in vivid Technicolor. How it felt in this space, what the relationship with the audience was like, the bits that jarred, the bits that soared. Navigating each new venue throws up a heap of challenges and disorientation. Performers, technicians and stage management alike are thrown into the deep end, only coming up for air on the other side. It is a thrilling ride. It is theatre.
Maybe in the future we’ll make shows that really aren’t suitable for touring. Shows that are site specific, or on a much bigger scale, or specifically routed to a particular community. But until then I hope that we can do this again and again. Experiencing new cities, meeting new audiences, learning more about what we’ve made.
Certainly I would do it again in a heartbeat. But then (these days, and in the current moment in time) I’m not the person booking the Luton …
Sex In The Afternoonfeatures RashDash as special guests at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on 12 October 2015.
We Want You to Watch runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse 13-15 October 2015 then touring | Image: Richard Davenport