Finding Joy actor Richard J Fletcher talks Dad's Army, politics, and the joys of rural touring
I was happy to be ending week ten of our tour in Derbyshire! The sun was shining and I knew my journey home the following morning would be easier than the usual trek to be with my family up North.
As we pulled into the pretty village of Crich in the Derbyshire dales however, an air of apprehension filled the tour van... the village hall was modern, probably a millennium project when cash was given to communities and things were sometimes built with not much planning. With its odd layout and awkward access, it looked like we were in for a sweaty afternoon! Would our set even fit? Could we make it work? But as Sergeant David Lane appeared with his five-strong regiment, I remembered that this was "rural touring" and it always works.
When this tour ends in June we will have played 50 different venues of all shapes and sizes, including many purpose built theatres with full technical support. Some have been more welcoming than others and some have obviously done more to market the show and put "bums on seats", but when you visit a rural touring venue you know it will be a good night. The thing is, we're not in a theatre, we're in a village hall and for the whole community it is an event. That's why the get-in was easy! We were greeted by a fervent, enthusiastic "Dad's Army" to help wherever they could! The Sergeant, David Lane, is the evening's promoter; he owns the event and after months of waiting, he is determined to make it a success. And it was! The sell-out crowd was made up of all ages, all classes and many who I'm sure wouldn't usually venture out to the nearest "theatre" on the other side of the Dales. And because this is the audiences' own surroundings, they are comfortable, more vocal, more frank and ultimately more appreciative. Many stayed behind afterwards to chat, congratulate and help with the get-out.
We all know about cuts in Arts Council funding; this government continues to undermine the importance of the Arts in society, but this in itself is breaking down society. Communities like Crich thrive on events like this.
Having been lucky enough in my career to play Number One theatres and the West End, I truly believe our new culture secretary should take a theatre visit to somewhere like Crich before his obligatory trip to the ballet or opera house. The Arts are vital and need to be accessible. Rant over!
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the best cook in the village was given the job of feeding the ravenous bunch of wandering players... and even accommodated very strange dietary requirements! Please look out for and support any theatre company visiting a village near you.
Richard J. Fletcher