It’s not always easy to spring an actor from rehearsals the week before the show opens. Right now, the theatre is abuzz with oversized livestock, blazing fiddles and deliciously ripe Mummerset accents as the cast of She Stoops to Conquer work like fury in time to entertain a paying audience this Friday (3 September). The show is a rip-roaring, rollicking, all-out comedy and as any actor knows, you can’t pull off hilarity without getting serious about it. But the prospect of a free trip to the pub did the trick.
A trip to the Olde Trip, to be precise. Edmund Kingsley and Rina Mahoney were the willing volunteers who escaped the rehearsal room for a publicity photo at one of Nottingham’s must-see landmarks, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. Officially England’s Oldest Inn, it’s easily ancient enough – by a margin of 500 years or more – to play host to the 18th century dandies and barroom wenches of She Stoops to Conquer.
The show has an inn, too: the Three Jolly Pigeons, where Edmund’s character Charles Marlow stops off on his way to Hardcastle Hall and a first meeting with his prospective bride. Young Charles is quite the charmer with the barmaids and ladies of the lower orders; it’s when he’s confronted with a young woman of his own social status that he goes all to pieces. So it made sense to get Edmund along to a local hostelry to practice some chatting-up in appropriate surroundings, along with Rina who numbers a barmaid amongst her roles in the play. And of course it made a good photo opportunity for our local paper, the Nottingham Post.
We just needed a venue to stand in for the Three Jolly Pigeons. Well, at Nottingham Playhouse three jolly pigeons are what you’re more likely to find flapping around the forecourt, flying in the face of all our bird-scaring efforts and gleefully defying the prospect of Sky Mirror doom. (In fact, in a memorable incident some months ago, one particularly jolly pigeon made itself at home in the foyer and the Keystone Kops operation it took to oust it was almost as funny as anything in She Stoops to Conquer.)
CAST, Nottingham Playhouse’s highly recommendable onsite bar and restaurant, is anything but olde-worlde: it’s all sleek modern lines and cosmopolitan atmosphere. So for an authentic period pubbe there was really only one choice.
It’s possible that Edmund and Rina felt just a tad self-conscious as they ambled through the door of Ye Olde Trip, clad head to toe in Georgian costume. It’s possible too that some of the drinkers might have wondered whether that fourth pint was such a good idea. But they were all fairly phlegmatic about it, and the bar’s general manager Rosie St John-Lowther proved a wonderfully welcoming landlady. Whilst they awaited the Post’s photographer, Edmund and Rina were treated to a tour of the Trip’s fabled cellars, tunnelled into the rock beneath Nottingham Castle. This way the cock-fighting pit, that way the condemned man’s cell: it’s not every pub that comes with such resonant historical relics, and of course the ghost stories to match.
The Trip’s many legends are detailed in a guide book, of which Rosie gave free copies to her guests. She even offered them a drink on the house, but the actors nobly refused, as they were imminently expected back in rehearsals.
She Stoops to Conquer, after all, is quite a challenge. The cast not only has to deliver its increasingly absurd comic situations with a straight face, they also have to put over the believable love story at the centre of it all. What’s more, in this production most of them have several roles; they might take a hand in shifting the scenery too; and on top of that, anyone who can wield a bow has been pressed into service to play the musical interludes specially composed for the show by the brilliant Mick Sands. Luckily, the cast of nine are multi-talented and are well up to the task. We invite you to be the judge, between Friday 3 and Saturday 18 September – and perhaps to sink a pint in CAST afterwards.
In the mean time, you can wet your whistle with the publicity shot, in the Nottingham Post of Wednesday 1 September