GREEN Hammerton’s theatre-on-your-doorstep proponents Badapple Theatre take to the straight road this autumn with a revival of The Frozen Roman.
Artistic director and writer Kate Bramley has selected three actors new to the company – Zach Atkinson, Andrew Purcell and Ellen Carnazza – to re-tell the story of how the Romans came, they saw, they built a wall, they went away again…or did they?
When hapless villagers try to prevent a housing development being built in their midst, could the discovery of a burial site under the pub throw them a lifeline? Expect twists, turns and Latin puns as the situation in the village goes “ballisticus maximus”.
Why revive The Frozen Roman, “a very silly show about Romans and immigration” that Badapple first toured in 2019? “This play is still very appropriate,” says Kate.
“I always do social politics by stealth in our plays, and the ‘frozen’ man they reveal at the end to be a Syrian refugee, and that’s because the spread of the Roman Empire spread as far as Iraq and Hadrian’s Wall, and though you think of Romans being Roman, actually they collected people and repatriated them to serve their needs as migrants.
“Our character in the play has come from one end of the empire, and the other end is northern England, so it’s the same story of migration that has gone on in the last 2,000 years. That’s the social politics side to it, the serious side. However, as an audience experience, it’s all about maintaining a feeling of pure joy.
“It’s one of the silliest shows we’ve ever done, and that’s why we’re doing it again, when everyone has been through a bleak time. If we pull out the craziest, silliest story, when there are serious undertones to it too, then we’re doing our job properly, particularly when theatre is having a hard time to get people to come back out.”
Covid confidence is a factor, so too are tightened purse strings amid the cost-of-living crisis. “But the plus point for us is that our tour venues are small and geared to ‘small-scale experiences’. If people have drummed up the confidence to go to a coffee morning, then they’ll go to a theatre show,” says Kate.
“For our last tour, the audience figures were 70-80 per cent of what they normally are, and we see that as a significant upturn, but the reason for the delay in this tour is the time it’s taken our rural touring partners to come back on board.”
Kate is enjoying working with company debutants Zach Atkinson, Andrew Purcell and Ellen Carnazza. “It’s very exciting for me to get this team together, who are pretty young, ranging in age from their 20s to 30s, relatively new to professional theatre from doing their training,” she says.
“Zach is the youngest of the team at 21 but he’s the most experienced because he did four years in Billy Elliot in the West End aged 11 to 14. It’s an interesting mix of early-career actors who are a lot of fun, completely get the nature of high comedy and are prepared to take risks. The show has an energy to it because they’re all at that stage of their career where they just enjoy getting out there and performing.”
Playing village halls and community centres has a different vibe too. “There’s a level of interacting, a level of conversation with the audience, that’s slightly different to a formal theatre,” says Kate. “People feel they can converse with them and actors have to be in full cheerful control; it’s saying everything is going to be all right, we’re in control, with that cheery confidence to tell a story.
“When I was at Hull Truck, John Godber drummed into me the idea of theatre as conversation. If you don’t have an audience, you don’t have theatre. That’s what different to watching films. The audience can contribute to each show when you’ve set out the rules that we’re all in this together, whether it’s in a village hall or an air hangar.
“All of the key influences I’ve had have come from companies that have the attitude that theatre should be inclusive, a social conversation for everyone, rather than high art. I think that’s very important now when no-one should be excluded by price or by ‘elitism’.”
On tour for six weeks from October 7 to November 13, taking in North Yorkshire, the Midlands, Lincolnshire, County Durham, Cumbria and Cheshire, The Frozen Roman will visit Tunstall Village Hall, Tunstall, on October 27 at 7.30pm (box office, 01748 811288) and North Stainley Village Hall, near Ripon, on October 28, 7.30pm (box office, 01765 635236 or 07971 093907).
Looking ahead, Badapple’s Christmas show, The Marvellous, Mystical Music Box, will be on tour from December 2 to 30, with full tour details at badappletheatre.co.uk. Written by Bramley and requiring an actor with circus skills, this two-hander involves Rosa inheriting a battered old music box that never seems to work when needed to do so.
“But this year, when she wishes for her family to be reunited at Christmas, all sorts of magical things start to happen,” says Kate. Watch this space for a full preview.
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