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Some time ago I e-mailed Day Star Theatre in the hope that they might be able to provide more information about a rumour I’d heard that our old boat ‘Eileen’ had, at some time, been what was described to me as a ‘theatre boat’.

Pete ‘Duffy’ Marshall e-mailed straight back, and very kindly providing the following information:

…Yes I can fill in the details from the dark and distant past. Basically before Day-Star Theatre set off as full time performers in 1981 we did some pilot shows in the late ’70′s with a bigger cast of performers, more for the fun of it than anything else. From 1977 Jane and I lived on the Day-Star on the Thames in Surrey. One of the other performers was Paul Pepperell, who lived on the ‘Eileen’ at the same mooring as we did at Abbey Chase, below the weir at Chertsey Lock.
When we started performing we named our company after our boat and took a show, using both boats, to the 1980 IWA National Waterways Festival at Lea Bridge on the River Lee. The play, about life on the Thames, was actually performed on the top of the two boats breasted up.
The following year – 1981 – the IWA National Festival and Waterside Arts Festival took place on the Aire & Calder Navigation at Leeds, and although we were unable to make the journey on the Day-Star, Paul took the Eileen and she became Day-Star Theatre’s base for the festival…

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As yet I’ve been unable to find any images of either festival on the web, but have contacted the IWA to see if they hold an image archive from the period – fingers crossed.

The idea of a floating stage, timbers lashed to the roof of a boat sounds a wonderful idea… The drawings above are my way of trying to visualise the reality of that stage, plywood sheets lashes to cross timbers tied to the handrails on the roof, a ladder to the towpath perhaps? A simple theatre en plein air? I’d love to find out more. If anyone has any ideas about how I might be able to source images of the performances please do leave a message.

In the meantime thinking about the unique character and magic of an inland waterways floating stage led me tangentially to the following images…

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‘The Cut’ – The Dead Rat Orchestra (national tour from 30 July to 16 August 2014) – A floating tour moving at a walking pace by pioneering folk group, The Dead Rat Orchestra that will chart the Thames, and Kennet & Avon Canal Between London, Oxford and Bristol. Traveling by narrow boat, they will draw on both the formal and informal histories of England’s once industrial waterway arteries to explore the social, historical and musical heritage of the canal routes. The boat will provide a moving base for concerts, talks and workshops. The Cut is co-produced by Sound and Music, the Canal & River Trust, The Kennet & Avon Canal Trust and The London Canal Museum.
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Henrietta Hale, TUG producer and a member of the Dog Kennel Hill Project, said: ‘’TUG will engage participation from canal communities and bring performance to an area rarely, if ever, the setting for contemporary performance. ‘’We want to tap into the way that canals force us to slow down to another pace of activity, just by stepping down from a city environment to the often slightly hidden waterway that passes through beneath. “We will also look at what it means to travel on water, and the sensations this can evoke of passing over to the unknown.’’

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The adventure of the Pirate Weekends @ Stoke Bruerne, not performance / theatre as such, but certainly a spectacle!

 Oh, and this little snippet that I couldn’t resist adding in…

 

I reckon old ‘Eileen’ would have had a heck of a good time as a theatre boat!

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