Summoning ghosts in concert halls: The Bullet and the Bass Trombone at Butterworth Hall

Sleepdogs‘ Tim Atack tells us about the prospect of performing The Bullet and the Bass Trombone in a 1200-seater concert hall.

Next week Sleepdogs take our orchestra-in-peril story, The Bullet And The Bass Trombone, to Butterworth Hall, a 1200-seat auditorium at Warwick Arts Centre. Let’s be clear: we’re not expecting to fill the damn thing. Rather we’re there thanks to a cracked, brilliant, thoroughly wrong-brained concept from the gentlemen of China Plate, our hosts at Warwick Arts Centre.

“Where would you like to put it on?” they asked. “Why not an actual concert hall?” they suggested. “OK,” we said. The idea being: we do a show about an orchestra, in a place an orchestra might actually be. Or have been.

We’ve visited the hall. Scoped it out. We took some pictures. Giggled. Ran up and down the aisles, waved at each other in the middle distance. We then laughed some more, and looked to see if we could make out where the ceiling was. Basically, I don’t think I’ve performed in a room this size that wasn’t the big blue room you find in certain parts of the countryside. As sole performer in the show I’m seriously expecting the whole thing to feel like some kind of anxiety dream. My audience will no doubt be somewhere in the room. It’s just I’m not going to know precisely where, because we’re letting them sit where the hell they like.

We’re enjoying making subtle changes for pretty much every new venue we tour to – testing the show’s flexibility. We’ve remixed it for the Bristol Proms and re-blocked it for a thrust stage with audience on three sides at the National Theatre. We’ve even tried it at Latitude festival, on a hungover Sunday morning, in a tent, with regular interruptions from what sounded like the Death Star charging up somewhere in an adjacent field. It’s fascinating to keep telling these intertwining stories in slightly different settings. On stage I work to a kind of score – a set script, a symphonic structure – but it can be modulated. Generally, the bigger the space, the more of a summoning the story becomes. So I’m going to imagine those seats filled with people (even if there’s only a handful of punters in attendance.) In much the same way we’re asking the audience to picture an orchestra on stage, to conjure up ghosts behind the empty music stands, I’m going to visualise the bustle and anticipation of 1200 concertgoers when the lights go down…