By James Millard.
I never thought I’d be writing this when Dan March, Matt Sheahan, director John Walton and I first got together to develop a new comedy show in a village hall in rural Oxfordshire three and-a-half years ago, but the product – Instructions For American Servicemen in Britain – is about to hit New York City!
After two UK tours, and a sell-out run at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London, we were asked to bring our show to 59E59 Theaters for four weeks as part of their ‘Brits Off Broadway’ festival. It’s really exciting and a huge honour. And what’s more, because the show is so fundamentally about the relationship between US and British culture, bringing it to America poses a really intriguing reversal.
The central conceit of the show is that the audience are a bunch of American G.I.s who have just arrived in Britain. We then try to explain British life to them in all it’s wonderful eccentricity. Whilst quite a few genuine Americans have been in our audiences and have been kind enough to tell us afterwards that they’ve really enjoyed it (and learnt a few things), the vast majority of the audiences have been British and have enjoyed the irony of having their own culture explained to them. The fact that we love to laugh at ourselves is, I think, one of our most endearing facets as a nation.
Now here’s the thing, that whole relationship is now going to flip. We are going to be explaining Britain in all it’s endearing quirkiness to a roomful of genuine Americans. When we tell audiences who’ve just seen the show in the UK that we’re taking it to America, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that literally several people have expressed an interest in how the show will change and what the response will be like. It’s a good question and that’s why we’ve set up this blog – we’ll be writing about how that process plays out so any of you who have seen the show and are intrigued can follow and find out how we get on! It might be impossible to talk about it in much detail without giving away some spoilers so if you haven’t yet seen the show take heed – SPOILER ALERT!
I guess we can start by saying that prior to New York we have gone back into the rehearsal room with the show. We’ve also taken it on a mini-tour of locations around the UK and back for one night at the Jermyn Street Theatre to get us back up to speed and ready for the Big Apple. We looked again at the script with the knowledge that we are going to be explaining this for real to genuine Americans and that’s been a great exercise for weeding out any assumptions we’ve previously made based on cultural understandings we implicitly share with the UK audiences. For example, we previously had a US officer using the phrase ‘Land Girls’ when talking to a roomful of supposedly newly arrived G.I.s who would probably not have had the foggiest idea who or what he was talking about. That worked fine when performing in the UK, but now, in a New York State of mind, the character adds a a quick explanation “Land Girls – the women working the fields while the men are away”. Adding that in has felt good when performing in the UK, too, simply because it is more realistic, and in addition I guess it subtly reminds the English audience of the game we are playing, in which they are pretending to be American G.I.s, so there is a pleasure in that. We have found new little gags and fun bits to add in as part of this process so it has enriched and freshened up the show, which has been a joy and we can’t wait to start sharing it with New York audiences – watch this space for more blog updates!!!