I can still remember the moment that Kate and Richard asked me if I’d like to join them to try touring a production of ‘Scaramouche Jones’. Kate had recently directed Richard in the role for Masque Theatre and I had helped out backstage. We had all enjoyed the experience so much and weren’t quite ready to let it go. Despite their reservations that I might actually like to join them, I was delighted that they asked.
That was 10 years ago and little did we realise it then but White Cobra was born and it was going to send us on some pretty amazing theatrical adventures
The name was inspired by the character of a magnificent and unforgettable white cobra featured in ‘Scaramouche Jones’. ‘Benjamin Disraeli’ was often getting in to scrapes and provided some hilarious moments in the story. It has turned out to be a fitting moniker…
After a few performances of ‘Scaramouche Jones’ at local theatres, Phil Welsh joined us to lend his technical expertise.
We all had a certain level of experience and knowledge gained from our time in a number of local drama groups but touring was something else. It wasn’t always possible to visit theatres before we arrived to set up and it quickly became apparent that we never knew quite what we were going to be faced with.
Would there actually be a stage? Would it be clear or would we have to work round the set of whatever the theatre had just produced or was about to produce? Would we be able to put up a set? Would there actually be a lighting box? And where is the Stage Manager going to sit or crouch?
Touring a show helps you realise quite quickly just how resourceful and adaptable you can actually be
On a tour for a specific play, no 2 venues and performances are ever the same. And when a tour consists of more than one play, the mind can boggle.
Fast forward to 2022 and what started out as a tour for a one-man play with a team of 3 has grown into a company that is able to produce anything from a one man play, through a series of 2-handers to productions with a cast of thousands (well, that’s what ‘Hi-De-Hi‘and ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ felt like, anyway… )
From the very early days, everyone has mucked in to help get the stage set up, whether it be a circus tent, a booze ridden hotel room, a simple black box or a complex set with provision for choreographed set changes. Most of the time, there is pressure to get the set built and dressed (Denise Swann is a marvel) and allow for technical run throughs and rehearsals (not to mention time for tea breaks and Jaffa cake consumption) but this is also where a lot of the fun is to be had as everyone gets involved.
To this day, there are some theatres where, for some reason, we are still completing the technical rehearsal twenty minutes before the performance is due to start. Denise and I have gone from experiencing mild panic in the early days to a quiet confidence that somehow it will all come good. (not sure if the Directors or actors always share our confidence…)
From grand theatres like the Royal in Northampton and the exquisite Gaiety Theatre in the Isle of Man to rooms in pubs and small village halls that don’t even have a stage, backstage area or official dressing rooms (ask Richard about his ‘dressing room’ at the Hen and Chickens Pub in Ealing…), each venue provides its own memorable experience. The teams at most of the venue take such pride in their theatres, large or small. They are usually very welcoming; nothing is too much trouble and they are happy to share their experience and knowledge with us.
Not every venue requires an overnight stay but at those that do, the White Cobra ‘Away Days’ as they have become known usually include accommodation at a plush, swanky resort (Travelodge or Premier Inn if we’re really lucky). Vast quantities of cheesy chips and Prosecco have become the post show cuisine of choice and after show festivities can go on until the early hours as we forget that we’re not a s young as we used to be. Next morning’s full English breakfast is often to be had at said swanky resort restaurant or the nearest Morrisons Café. We know how to live it up.
I would not have had the opportunity to visit most of these venues or indeed had such great experiences or learned so much if it had not been for my involvement in White Cobra.
As we all know, touring wasn’t possible in the last 2 years but White Cobra’s tenacity maintained a presence in the theatre world by branching out into radio plays, podcasts, short films and there is now even a dedicated YouTube channel (cue shameless plug: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=white+cobra+productions )
A large part of the success of White Cobra is due in no small part to the tireless dedication of the founding members, Kate and Richard Jordan. Their hard work behind the scenes as directors and producers, as well as their on-stage performances are at the heart of the company.
Happy Birthday, White Cobra. Thank you for some amazing, hectic, emotional, full-on, scary, fulfilling, learning, challenging and exciting experiences over the years. Here’s to more of the same!