Shakespeare Goes Electric: The adventures of two old thespians in the Gulf Islands

It began with a phone conversation with my old mate, Neil Dickson. He in LA, me on Salt Spring Island. We’d appeared in a 1985 mini series together: AD-Anno Domini, a Biblical-Roman epic. Stayed friends and saw each other over the years. In our chat I learned that Neil had a one man show, a play called The Standard Bearer, about an old actor taking Shakespeare to ‘the natives’ in East Africa, 1980. I have a one man show, ‘Shakespeare 1600’, about the world that Hamlet arose from. One man shows are hard to book as people want a whole evening’s entertainment. Two one man shows however…

shakespeare-on-the-islands-pender-2Which is why we found ourselves six months later boarding the Queen of Cumberland in Fulford Harbour and setting out on the ‘sea’ road. We were being toured by Ptarmigan Music and Theatre Society based out of Pender Island and the wonderful Krista Konkin organized everything for our first three gigs – Galiano, Mayne and Pender.

We arrived on Galiano and went straight to the Community Hall. img_1775There we were met by Sonya, who hailed from Essex, and who was our stage manager, technician and box office controller.

Neither show was too technical – we each needed some pre show music, basic lighting. I had a slide show to present and Krista had armed me with a projector and screen. And this is where I had my first difficulty – the clicker didn’t advance the slides, I downloaded a program to use it from ‘ye olde iPhone’.

That would work well for the first few five minutes then inevitably conk out when I actually needed it. 1600-on-pender-1In the end, at all the gigs, I relied on some kind soul to advance the slides on my command. A slight hitch – and since my show is part improvisational I was even able to have some fun with it.

We had an audience of 30, all enthused by the evening. At the talk back there were a lot of great questions.




img_1787We’d been told there was a pub next door that would be open. The word ‘pub’ is the absolute favourite of all old English actors – after a show there’s nothing they want more than a pint. We hastened thither – and it was closed! But there were lights at the back and I pushed into the kitchen. ‘Closed,’ said the chef. But the young manager was there – Nicole from Taiwan. After I explained who we were and worked the puppy dog eyes she took pity and let us in. Not only did she pull us a pint each, she then appeared with a huge tray of nachos! Then it was back to our cabin at Driftwood Village and a rendezvous with another old friend – The Glenlivet. Tales followed, memories shared. It’s very rare for me these days to be able to return to the world both Neil and I emerged from – English regional theatre. Tales of dodgy digs, strange landladies, romantic encounters, drunk actors all flowed with the whiskey. This was what we’d both signed up for all those years ago. What was for so centuries was the primary impulse of the actor: take a show on the road. Gypsies moving from town to town. Our lives are so different now. But this was a time machine back to a special time and though our bones creaked a little, we revelled in it.




Neil also had the extra dimension of never having been to the BC before, let alone the Gulf Islands. He was gobsmacked by their beauty and it didn’t rain once on us.





Programs, Yorick, Beer, Glenlivet, Money Box

There were two other members of the team: Yorick the Skull, who opened the show with me; and our electric car, a Leaf. I’d scored this from in Victoria BC. They were happy to sponsor us, in exchange for some promo. I loved the fact that we were green in our travels.




Onto Mayne, this time the Agricultural Hall. Another great tech/SM – David. He set us up wonderfully and a small audience appreciated what we did.


Three performers on Mayne


Then it was back to our digs – a lovely little cabin in the woods, Raylia Cottage.

Pender next – home base for the tour, everything taken care of by the fab Krista, her husband Leon and the SM Colin. This was a bigger hall and we got a bigger crowd. img_1808

I’d also set up our digs with a friend, William Deverell, the great crime writer and his delightful partner, Jan Kirkby. They provided us with amazing food and drink after the gig in a house I think one of the most beautiful I have ever stayed in.




Neil Dickson, drunk in Africa








Artspring Stage. About to show a clip from AD – the series we did in Tunisia 1983/4

We returned to my home base, Salt Spring Island on the Friday and had a day off, to show Neil about here. Saturday night we were playing at Artspring, a proper theatre with more bells and whistles for us to use. Pender had been a good house of 60. Artspring doubled that, so it was terrific to end with a bang. A little gathering afterwards at Café Talia, old friends as well as new – and the visiting British Consul who I’d met in Vancouver and who made her first trip to the islands to see us – was a great wind down. But not the last. The last saw Neil and me in my writing hut, finishing the Glenlivet, laughing our heads off.

I feel I have just laid out the facts here without the feeling. I mentioned above that this sort of touring felt like a return to our roots, the world Neil and I began our careers in four decades ago. It may not be a world we want to live in now – I am mainly a writer of course, and Neil has a very different full life in Los Angeles. But to do it for a few days? Travel, explore a new place, set up a show, perform – which is still the ultimate high after all – then to wind down with lovely food and drink and conversation?

As I had said to him from the beginning, quoting Great Expectations: ‘What larks, Pip! What larks!’ Now I am trying to set us up with a few more gigs. There’s more whiskey to be drunk, more places to visit, more audiences to share Shakespeare with, to engage in discussion and exploration. What larks indeed!

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