Well, that was a very low-key first show in the run up to the Edinburgh 2017 fringe. Actually, no, not ‘low-key’: the bijou audience chuckled and chortled, even guffawed at times – ‘low-key’ suggests underplayed and Well Thumbed at the Rising Sun Arts Centre in Reading was anything but that.

What it was was very under attended. My one-man show was in danger of outnumbering the audience….

Where was everybody? Glasto? Tesco? Ascot?

I asked the paying member of the audience – all one of him – if he was happy for the show to go ahead. Of course he said yes. Then two of the Rising Sun volunteers volunteered to come in. And Liz (she’s behind the camera, standing where you are in the picture below) made four.

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Well, nothing ventured…

I can honestly only remember two such nigh-on or full-on invisible audiences. The first was in a London fringe venue – Café Theatre (as was) in Leicester Square: four in the cast for a piece of Camus’ existentialist tragedy, and we definitely outnumbered the audience until both box office and back stage sat out front. That show went on, and then it went on to the Traverse in Edinburgh.

& then there was the Valentine’s night where I propped up a hotel bar with a fabulous actress. I can’t even remember where it was. We had been engaged to orchestrate and emcee an evening of romantic games. No one came. I can’t even remember where it wasn’t.

On the other hand, a few years back I was reviewing shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. There was a Steven Berkoff two-hander that tickled my fancy, performed by newly graduated students from, I think (but memories play tricks), the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Anyway, I got there, press ticket in hand. The venue had literally sprung a leak, the stage had been soaked; everything was running half an hour behind. I was the only member of the audience. The cast, both of them, came out to explain the situation and pleaded that the show must go on. The unwritten rule is never outnumber the audience. This could have been awkward. I was the only one in the auditorium… And it brought out the best in all of us. One of the best theatrical experiences I have had. The atmosphere was electric. The sparks that flew were figurative; they did not come as the result of a leaking roof.

So, back to last night. I can only judge it from my side of a lighthearted divide. Well Thumbed has found its mojo. It’s a happier, sillier show than it was, and it’s in very rude health. My thanks to a perfect little audience, all four of you. We made it. And it was fun.

Well, modesty should forbid but that was what they told me afterwards: ‘fun, educational, erudite and surprising’ and other words to that effect.

Looking forward: next week Well Thumbed rocks up at the Guildhall in Barnstaple

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and I am thoroughly looking forward to it. Well Thumbed has found its legs, now it’s using them to chase around looking for its audience.

I’ll be doing a spot on BBC Radio Devon this Monday in support of my 4 nights in Barnstaple. Well Thumbed artist Carl Chapple, who will be exhibiting the beginnings of his growing collection of Well Thumbed author portraits alongside the performances, has sent me this message:

‘Re the interview on Radio Devon – if a local reference might be useful, I grew up in and around Tavistock, and went to Tavistock Comprehensive. My art teacher was the marvellous Stuart Stephens, whom I can’t seem to find anywhere online, and I was rejected by Plymouth College of Art after making a terrible drawing of a cactus.’

There’s a lot more to Carl than that. Here’s a link to  Carl Chapple’s website and if you don’t have time for a full explore right now here’s a sneaky peak at some of his glorious little Well Thumbed pics.

Lawrence, Casanova and Twain…

And, if that’s not enough, here’s an entirely gratuitous portrait (by someone else) of  the author of the Beggar’s Opera, John Gay, summing up the wonders of Well Thumbed.

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See you there.

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