• No, not drumming in tiled sanitary rooms, this is about inventive instruments in support of drumming out an important message: Making people aware of bowel cancer symptoms!

    A toilet theme is highly appropriate for the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, chosen by incoming Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf as one of four charities to participate in the annual Lord Mayor's Show 2013.

    The Lord Mayor's Show is steeped in history and tradition: Its origins can be traced back to the 12th century, and the street parade has coloured London's streets every year for almost 500 years.

    I was invited by a group of London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony Volunteer Performers to join an unusual float, and with the brief to recruit and organise experienced drummers drawn from the Pandemonium Drummers: four drummers for Taiko drumming on the float itself, and about two more to lead two groups of walking drummers.

    Instrument Design

    Part of the brief was to assess the instrument design for suitability and highlight issues for improvements.

    Greeted by a Dalek at an office in Fitzrovia, the group of experienced drummers I organised met with the instrument designer to assess four prototypes of the "portaloos": standard tom-type drums fitted with a toilet seat and even a waste pipe connector for authenticity.

    These drums would of course not be played with a standard percussion mallet, no, the beater of choice was a toilet brush with an attached door stopper for a good attack.

    We experimented how best to carry, hold, and play the new instruments, which included attempts to bash the lid to vary the sound.

    While some of our suggestions such as a better harness for increased comfort were not within the budget, we provided many tips for the instrument designer, who left with the task to quickly produce many more of these fun instruments - they sounded brilliant!

    Rehearsal

    A few days before the show, we were driven to a remote and cold industrial warehouse somewhere in the northern fringes of London to teach all signed-up volunteer drummers, many of whom without any drumming experience, the Beating-Bowel-Cancer-rhythms, which were only finalised during the rehearsal, based on the observed skills - co-ordinating drumming and walking is much more difficult than it sounds.

    The rehearsal was also our first and only chance to try the Taiko drums and arrange our drum patterns on what turned out to be two giant, oversized, 3.5m high hanging loo rolls with embedded Taiko skins in the centre on either side, arranged on a full size trailer.

    I considered myself lucky to be one of the four loo roll drummers, and it turned out that it was lucky indeed.

    Lord Mayor's Show Procession

    While we assembled in the dry, pretty much the whole first (main) part of the parade was wet, and although the rain did stop thousands of spectators from attending and cheering, the walking toilet drummers were heavily soaked - we four Taiko loo roll drummers were protected by the float's roof!

    The drumming itself went very well; the Taiko drums supported the walking drummers for large parts, and at key points we burst into a Taiko solo with the adequate visual action on the float.

    Unfortunately for me, my Taiko was at a rather uncomfortable height: standing upright, the vertical drum skin was hanging slightly below my breast bone, which made for an awkward arm positioning - during the solo parts, I therefore opted to kneel on one knee and drum with widely swinging arms over my shoulders.

    My kneeling allowed for excellent dynamic control and it looked visually highly engaging, but the position was also very exhausting to maintain for almost two hours of performance time.



    But the pain in the arms was easily offset by the fun of drumming on a highly unusual instrument in the Lord Mayor's Show procession, and by the knowledge of making a resounding contribution to raising bowel cancer awareness!

    Visit the Beating Bowel Cancer website
  • A drama with music, but not a musical, with a permanent presence of an amateur community choir whose members continuously alternate their roles between actors, props and audience.

    While having a different community choir each night might sound like a gimmick, it works in The Events by David Greig, as the choir is deeply integrated in the performance, taking on occasional tiny supporting roles and acting as a projection of less tangible aspects of the unfolding story.

    Young Vic Open Voices

    As a member of Young Vic Open Voices, a choir of locals put together specially for three performances of the London run of The Events at the Young Vic, I volunteered for the odd solo line as a singer and for a few text lines as...someone who speaks: We were briefed to not act but behave normally when reading (not reciting!) the lines, a technique that brought home the real-world authenticity of the play quite well.

    The Young Vic appointed Rob Holt as our Musical Director, who within only ten weeks of rehearsals confidently managed to unite singers of various skill levels, including those who never really sang before, and on the performance nights we represented a typical community choir quite well - perhaps better than a regular choir, whose self-selecting membership often shows characteristics of a very similar demographic, as I witnessed on two other occasions when I saw The Events as a normal audience member.

    Production Crew

    While composer John Browne was present in a very early workshop almost a year before our performance, the piano work on the actual run was shared between three pianists, and we were apparently the only choir to work with all three of them, exposing us to interesting differences in the interpretation of the music.

    Director Ramin Gray, who also heads the show's production company ATC as Artistic Director, visited us at the run-through just before the final London show; normally directions, along with a surprising multitude of changes between performances, were relayed by Associate Director Polina Kalinina during the run-through just before each show, where both lead actors Neve McIntosh of Doctor Who fame (Madame Vastra) and Rudi Dharmalingam joined the familiarisation exercise for the choirs, as did Stage Manager Jess Banks, who somewhat unusually also had a small speaking role.

    Conclusion

    All in all, this was an interesting opportunity to observe and be involved in a full theatre and music production, especially as I was involved to some minor but useful degree from way before the dress rehearsal, which I also attended.

    Please also see my piece on the rehearsal experience on the Young Vic Taking Part blog.

    Note: The Events is nominated for Best New Play at the 2014 What's On Stage Awards - please vote!