by Charlie Albuery
This summer, instead of the conventional trip to Edinburgh, Mr McCrohon, Mrs Filho and Miss Bustard accompanied a group of ten pupils to the international theatre festival in Avignon – We were performing an abridged version of the internationally renowned verbatim play ‘The Exonerated’. Our two performances in the Round Tower in Old Portsmouth had received positive reviews, and we were all mightily anticipating our first performance overseas - so we boarded the overnight ferry to France with much excitement.
Several games of Mario Kart, a bowl of frites, a few hours of less than blissful sleep and a possible sighting of Dwayne Johnson later, we arrived in France.
We performed in the ‘Théâtre du Centre’ a fifty-seat theatre just off of one of Avignon’s many bustling squares, in the hope of attracting an audience to our show we engaged in some serious flyering – for those of you unaware as to what that means – flyering is the act of hassling passing strangers into taking a flyer for your show, with the assumption that a small number of people who take a flier will proceed to come to the show itself. So we all busted out our best Franglais and hit the streets. I personally had reactions ranging from great interest and rampant pleasantry to just generic profanities, but it’s this variety in the tourists and locals, much like the variety in the shows that makes a theatre festival such as Avignon’s such a unique experience. The atmosphere is simply indescribable: try to imagine something between a football match and the closing night of the proms and you’re getting there.
We performed three shows in Avignon – despite less than packed houses we always had an attentive audience and even mustered a standing ovation on the final night! As I knew I was writing this article I noted down the words of a woman who saw our opening night as she bumped into to us the next day, bearing in mind we were performing a particularly wordy play in English to a largely French-speaking audience this is (certainly for me) some truly uplifting feedback: ‘I’m sorry to bother you, but I saw your show last night – and I don’t speak English very well, but you made me weep. Thank you so much'. It’s moments like that, not a packed house, that show you that you are doing something right as far as theatre goes.
Aside from performing the show, the festival itself is an amazing experience. As a group we saw everything from a physical theatre piece about an alcoholic water demon to a musical in nearly every European language about a broken down caravan which it turns out (spoiler alert) runs on bubbles – go figure. Although a vast majority of plays were in French and largely dialogue-based, there was a category of shows for those who were not fluent French speakers, and these were the shows that entertained us for the week – with Miss Bustard’s aficionado skill level at play-picking proven following her suggestion of a full-length retelling of Pyramus and Thisbe (in which I played the role of the lion, rather well if I do say so myself) she led us on a swathe through all beautiful and bizarre that Avignon had to offer.
Huge thanks on behalf of me and the rest of the cast go to all members of staff involved in making this trip a reality. I will end by saying that anyone who ever has a chance to go on a trip similar to this, grab it with both hands! You will have a truly memorable week, and one that I highly doubt you’ll ever forget.