Ever since The Beatles’ famous psychedelic outing I’ve been fascinated by magical mystery tours. Taking an audience on a journey with surprises around every corner is something I really enjoy organising, and believe me, I’ve helped organise a few in my time, from bonkers river adventures in Holland to spurious traffic-stopping historical walks in Royal Greenwich led by none other than Henry VIII himself (played by me, of course).
I say ‘traffic stopping’ because Good King Hal took his own portable zebra crossing with him, complete with a lollipop lady to help the participants negotiate those busy roads.
It’s great fun to dream up episodes appropriate to the location. This particular tour took in the site of a famous music hall. So naturally we had Max Miller, Cheeky Chappie of yore, emerging to sing one of his salacious songs. The audience was supplied with crates of rotten cabbage to throw at him.
What’s that to do with King Henry you ask? Well, you had to be there.
Many years ago Bath Arts Workshop and the Natural Theatre Company organised a mystery tour that stretched over a whole weekend. Coaches took a wide selection of the community on a torturous journey around the lanes of North Devon and Somerset. Myriad infiltrations, performances and happenings took place en route including a mummer’s play, a multi-coloured food feast and even a raid by highwaymen on horseback.
At every stop we noticed an orange Volkswagen beetle, its occupant observing us closely and then driving away when approached. The conspiracy theorists amongst us, hippies all, decided it was the drug squad. Turned out it was the drama critic from Time Out magazine and we were voted ‘Best Alternative Theatre Event of the Year’.
The amount of preparation that goes into these things is amazing. The audience, sitting in their comfy coach or walking behind the guide see things happen seamlessly in all sorts of wild and wonderful places. But planning the route, getting the actors and props there in time, hiding the support vehicles, sorting out permits, parking, safety issues and even researching toilet locations (someone always asks), let alone dreaming up the surprises takes a huge amount of time and imagination.
Bath Comedy Festival’s famous Wine Arts Trail, is a case in point. Participants, which this year will include a good proportion of unsuspecting tourists due to our new partnership with VisitBath, are transported around the secret corners of our city in a big red bus. At each stop, as well as being presented with scenes of delightful hilarity, they partake of a glass of fine wine. So in addition to the aforementioned logistical complications, carried out by a twenty-strong back-up team, there’s the added nightmare of beverage management.
Is it possible keep 140 glasses of Alsace Gewurztraminer at the correct temperature in a field full of cows the middle of nowhere? Time to find out: tickets are now on sale!