I might have retired from the Natural Theatre Company after nearly 45 crazy years, but rest assured I’m finding plenty to do. Recently I co-produced and indeed co-hosted the annual Wine Arts Trail in association with Bath Comedy Festival. This year, realising that the crew and performers on the tour only experience a fleeting moment of the whole thing, I wrote a report detailing the whole caboodle for their delectation and by way of documentation. Here is an edited version.
This was the seventh Wine Arts Trail and the third to use a London bus. The big red Routemaster bus made two journeys as usual, driven by Commissioner of Transport for London, Sir Peter Hendy.
Each trip lasted approximately two hours, with a Prosecco reception sponsored by the developers of the new Widcombe Social Club, Iesis, at Natural Theatre Company’s studio which, by kind permission of NTC, had been converted into a delightful pop-up venue for the duration of the Bath Comedy Festival, followed by four mystery destinations: little known or normally inaccessible venues…and certainly not on the tourist trail. We wanted people to exclaim ‘Well I never knew this place existed!’ and indeed that is what happened.
At each destination the participants (approximately 110 in total) were treated to a glass of wine from a different country, served by a national stereotype from said countries. Well done Angela Vick for managing to change nationalities several times en route in the back of a van driven by her son Daniel, who also had to make sure the right wineglasses and tablecloths reached the right venues. Well done also to Susie Fugle for holding the fort at the launch of both trips as Gina Lollorosso when we realised at the last minute that it was physically impossible for Angela to be in two places at once!
The ‘hosts’ en route were Godfrey Spittoon (pronounce ‘Spoon’), a grumpy wine buff played by Ralph Oswick, and the president of the spurious Bradford on Avon Wine Tasting Club, Gavin Ghastly (pronounce Fanshawe) played by John Potter (who is in reality the Mayor of Bradford on Avon). Guest ‘clippie’ was the irrepressible Lorraine Chase who entered into the spirit of things with enormous glee despite, at the start, not having any idea of what she had let herself in for! Nevertheless, she revealed herself as the perfect choice, not only looking fabulous in a genuine vintage London Transport conductor’s hat (Sir Peter’s own from when he was but a humble conductor himself) but operating the ticket machine with aplomb in a veritable cloud of personal nostalgia.
The wines en route were supplied at an extremely generous discount by Great Western Wine, apart from the Mayoral Reception at the Guildhall which was arranged, catered for and hosted by Morgan-Brinkhurst Consultancy (Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst being a Natural Theatre board member of long standing who enjoyed the 2013 Trail so much she decided to sponsor one of this year’s stops). The stops (which were individually sponsored by local companies) were as follows:
- Cleveland Pools: Sponsors CardokUK and Minerva Cars of Bath: the unique Georgian Lido is currently the subject of a fundraising campaign with the aim to completely restore it for the people of Bath. Most of the participants had never visited the site, it having been derelict for many years. Some were not even aware of its existence, though some older passengers had fond memories of having their first swimming lessons there in the final years of the pool being operational. At the pool was an information stand operated by the trust that has taken over the restoration and the passengers were cajoled by a pair of health and safety obsessed Australian lifeguards (Ric Jerrom and Neil Fowler). An Artistic Hat Competition took place poolside. The winner of the hat competition was whisked away in a snazzy Porsche sports car from Minerva Cars of Bath.
Participants donated £65.75 to the pool funds and the Wine Trail will be donating £100 from ticket sales.
- Bath Guildhall: Sponsored by Morgan-Brinkhurst Consultancy: The party was met outside the Guildhall by his worship the Mayor of Bath, Councillor Malcolm Lees, in full regalia complete with accompanying mace bearer. Tourists and passers-by were astonished as everyone gathered in a cheering, flag-waving throng on the steps to welcome the arrival of the hat competition winner in her VIP transport. After much kerfuffle and countless photographs, the group processed to the Mayor’s Parlour, with its many historic artefacts, yet more wine and a live harpist (Jenny Crook). The Mayor then delivered a short address on the history and traditions of the mayoralty in the impressive Council Chamber, aided and abetted by Ms Morgan-Brinkhurst, herself a former (and youngest) mayor of Bath. Apparently, when the councillors get bored they look up and count the naked breasts on the throngs of muses and goddesses adorning the classically-inspired ceiling. Questions were invited (the ex- proprietor of a well-known French bistro asking cheekily if the Mayor was real or a performer from the Natural Theatre Company!) and Ms Chase took it upon herself to mount the dais and plant a large kiss on the Mayor’s cheek. Surely a first for these august surroundings!
- Specsavers: Customers at the shop were astonished to witness the invasion of a great gaggle of guffawing, hat-wearing and by now slightly tipsy folk. A wine-tasting in an opticians? Made even more surreal by the appearance of famous specs-wearer Nana Moussaka, who gave us a heartfelt rendition of White Rose of Athens and then proceeded to stumble into and totally destroy a (pre-set) sunglasses display stand. An unfortunate accident involving red wine and a white blouse was eventually resolved to the satisfaction of all parties and resulted in improved stage-management on the second trip. Specsavers are a featured sponsor of Bath Comedy Festival.
- Langridge Village Hall: Sponsored by Julie Hunt Advertising: A classic village hall some way out of Bath, where we came across the Vicar’s wife president of the local Women’s Guild (Pavel Douglas) balanced precariously on a step ladder attempting to erect a string of bunting despite the drizzle that was now falling. Apparently there had been a double booking with the macramé circle…and besides, her husband (played by Jeremy Towler) was inside rehearsing for the Langridge Players next murder mystery production. Eventually we were allowed in for a final glass of (Chilean) wine…and a rare chance to see the Langridge Players in rehearsal. (The Langridge Players on this occasion being played by none other than the sham-dram Widcombe Players of Bonbon Cabaret fame). After the Grand Raffle (Thank you Anni Marjoram) we were treated to a short excerpt from the murder mystery, which cleverly integrated itself into our preceding journey in that the murderer was none other than the self-proclaimed Chilean aristo seen earlier pouring the wine (and even earlier in the guise of various other shifty en-route foreigners) who turned out to be plain Irene Grimshaw from Barnsley (Angela Vick yet again!). Finally, armed with the Colonel’s rifle, Irene kidnapped Lorraine and we all got back on the bus.
- Kuki Fortune, the well-known (not) Chinese martial arts performance artist flagged the bus down on the return journey and treated everyone to a whirlwind mixture of explosive high kicks, Kung Fu portraiture, twerking and ludicrous banter. And panda portraiture! Few people realised that this was the same Ginny Adams who earlier gave us her Nana Moussaka
Chocolates en route supplied by Charlotte Brunswick Chocolatiers. Reception venue and back-up transport provided at cost by Natural Theatre Company.
The Red Wine Arts Trail was researched and produced by Nick Steel and Ralph Oswick as part of Bath Comedy Festival 2014