Having my brother Myles at the admin steering wheel was a godsend because he was an inventive logistics expert (still is). And that’s what we needed when the Harbingers Street Theatre rolled into town. The Harbingers worked as an international touring company – I had encountered them in California. They mixed a dedication to quality drama with a commitment to communicating the Christian gospel via slapstick plays that got under your skin.
It seemed like a winning combination to me and I said, “Ireland loves the theatre!” and invited them to tour Ireland without asking them any further questions. This somewhat discombobulated their director and writer, Jeff Taylor. He was probably thinking, “Maybe, just maybe, this eejit knows nothing about theatre”. He would have been right.
Mercifully, Myles then got involved in arranging the tour. Once the Harbingers arrived in Dublin, Jeff pointed out to Myles that the touring troupe was being accompanied by his two-year son who was being cared for by Jeff’s wife Sue (one tough cookie). Where would they find a cot for him? Myles told him, “Ireland has lots of babies so finding a cot won’t be a problem”. In truth, he was thinking that we had a lot more complicated logistical problems to solve than that one.
So now we had eight actors, including a director with scripts in his head, some on paper and one wife (pregnant as it happens) and a toddler. But no set for the play. Jeff came to our office on the fifth floor of 28 Westmoreland Street in Dublin to try and work out how to build the show’s scenery. Myles came to the rescue again by handing Jeff the phonebook and suggesting he call the Abbey Theatre for help. The intrepid Jeff called and Joe Ellis, at that time the Abbey’s production director, arranged for the Harbingers to get 25% off their bill at a local timber yard and the troupe stared building scenery. We were in business.
Plan A was to perform their 30-minute play “The Perfidious Temptation” on the Dining Hall steps in Trinity College but the college like to have notice of that sort of thing so the show got transferred, at a moment’s notice, to the Junior Common Room above the college’s Front Gate. The review in the Evening Press newspaper said, “They acted out their ‘comedy-truth’ drama with a single-mindedness and depth of concentration”. That’s a good thing because, being the Common Room, they had to compete with table soccer and snooker – a competition which was won by The Perfidious Temptation, according to the newspaper anyway.
One of the people most affected by the play was me. It told the serious side of the story of Adam and Eve from the book of Genesis in slapstick form (if you can hold all that in your head at the same time!). The actress who played Eve (Marilyn Mike) was so convincing in her portrayal of Eve experiencing labour pains that I forgot the table soccer, and indeed the whole Junior Common Room, as I was forced to think about the pathos visited on the world and womanhood in particular. Theatre does that to you. And the play survived to show again the next day at UCD Belfield.
Harbingers’ biggest hit must surely be their show at Carysfort College in Blackrock, County Dublin – at that time a teacher-training college run by the Mercy nuns. They were invited by Phyllis, Myles’s wife, who ran a Bible study group for Carysfort students. When they tallied the numbers in the audience over a couple of days, it appears that the entire student body had turned up! Phyllis ended up with 25% of the college in her study groups.
Myles and I remain slightly embarrassed that our management of their month-long tour did not quite match the bravado of the actors. Only later did they tell us about Sue’s arrival in Cork – she (plus toddler) had taken a late train to Cork, arriving at midnight. Exhausted, she went into the station loo and cried. An attentive member of the train staff heard her and asked what was wrong. Then the train engineer weighed in and took her to his home nearby where his wife put on a spread of tea and biscuits fit for a princess until Jeff, who had travelled from Dublin by a rickety old van, worked out where she was and rescued her.
Irish Rail distinguished themselves again when the Jeff & Co got to Galway and the woman in charge of the van to transport their scenery didn’t show up. The stationmaster lent them a massive luggage cart (the Harbingers were convinced it was “from the 19th century” – no doubt it was). It was then a matter of press-ganging every passing student, new friend, or innocent passer-by, to push the scenery to UCG, a mile away, starting with uphill through Eyre Square.