Half past ten at night. We’re on the corner of Douglas Way and Watson Street, Deptford, southeast London, waiting for a cab. It’s becoming a familiar pattern. The cab firm has gone digital and their drivers have been asked to subcontract part of their thought processes to a new company GPS system. Only problem is that their technology has ‘virtually’ lifted us from where we really are into a cul-de-sac on the other side of a park. I’m standing in the glorious company of the northern actresses. They’ve just reached the end of another successful performance of Home Sweet Home and they’ve taken the energy out onto the street. They’re sitting on a wall, laughing, singing, and joking. A man in his late thirties wanders past with a guitar case slung on his back.
“Are you a musician?” asks Florence (in her young eighties)
“What?” asks the man; not breaking his stride
“Are you a musician? You’ve got a piano strapped to your back.”
“I don’t talk to drunks”, he blurts and disappears around the corner.
A moment of subdued silence, sadly not unusual: all week our little pocket of London has been struggling to respond to the open ‘warmth in the company of strangers‘ of these older northern women. Minutes pass. The man reappears.
“I’m sorry. I was rude. I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. I don’t know what my mother would have said if she had known that I had spoken to you like that.”
The guitarist starts to talk about his life, the women share their theatrical anecdotes, and the cab arrives.
Meanwhile there is a ripple of applause cascading down the open carriages of the 22.17 Overground train from New Cross heading north. The Bolder Voices (an amazing older people’s choir from northwest London) are living up to their name. They have taken songs, that moments earlier had been woven into the final haunting moments of the Home Sweet Home performance, out onto the street or more precisely, onto London’s transport system. They’re busking in the train.
A week later and I’m sharing the post-show drink, catching up on the gossip in the café of the ARC regional arts centre in Stockton on Tees in northeast England. Brenda is in full flow:-
“We decided to go back to the hotel after the show and have a quiet drink. When I opened the door there was four men sat there.
“What you doing in our bar?” They looked at me. “You’ve not been here before”, We sat down and told them that we’d just come from the theatre.
“We’re actresses, we’ve been in a show”.
They looked at us as if we were crazy, drunk. So I got out my iPad out where I’ve got the video of me and Florence being interviewed on BBC Breakfast Time. Over one and a half million people saw that.
This chap said, “She’s right! They are!” Florence comes in and digs out a copy of the Guardian review where the writer quotes her reminiscing about the hottest sex of her life mistaking lines of the play from lines from her own life. Marie sang her Joni Mitchell song. We had a fantastic time. It turns out they were oilrig workers. They didn’t know what was happening to them. They thought that they were in a dream.
The next morning at breakfast they said: “We can’t tell you what we thought when you first walked in. Our hearts sank at the thought of spending the evening with elderly women. We were so wrong. It was one of the best nights of our lives.”