Chris Sutton comments on ETC…


One day, back in the long distant past, before roll-on deodorants or hovercraft were invented and before Hemingway had written “The Old Man and the Sea”, I had the misfortune to be born in Bonny Soggy Scotland. That was the start of a life-changing series of adventures and misadventures that eventually led me to the South of France where, inevitably, I had to wear the kilt at special functions and to sing the odd Scottish song at Burns Nights organised by other British ex-pats. So far, so good.

But then, calamity! At one such informal gathering, my terrible singing was overheard by a lovely wee blond lady called Nancy. She really is quite tone deaf, poor lass, but I must have impressed her in some way because one day back in 2019 I received a telephone call from her:

“The ETC is looking for a man to sing a Scottish song in our next production – Ben’s War. I know you’ve a lovely singing voice so would you be willing to wear your kilt and sing Keep the Home Fires Burning for us?” Nancy being ever so persuasive and me being ever so gullible, I replied with a tentative “yes”.

That was the start of my exploration into the life of theatre productions. To me it had the great advantage of being my only opportunity for me to speak English – or at least my version of it. I very quickly learnt that my Scottish accent was virtually incomprehensible to the majority of ETC cast and crew. So back to basics – slow down, get rid of the Scottish words and phrases, ditch the accent and speak Guide Book Touristese.

But, back to Ben’s War. My French friends found it distinctly odd to be hillwalking in the Pyrenees with a singing Scotsman and his border collie (whit Heilanman disnaehae a collie dug undriskilt?). It was the only place I could practice my song without being led to the guillotine.

Despite Covid and my destruction of various peoples eardrums I ended up being a small part actor in various productions leading up to the current rehearsals of The Long Christmas Dinner. Although I only have a few lines I’ve begun to appreciate just how much time, effort and expense it takes to put on just a very small production.

The English Theatre Company is a real team of teams. Not one of us can manage without the support of many others. The actors are unable to perform without the back-stage team, the catering and bar teams, the technical, lighting and sound teams. None of these can manage without the input of the actors, who would be totally at sea without their director, the secretary, the box-office and the committee. So many people, all beavering away in small groups or often alone to bring the whole event to fruition.

At weekly rehearsals over a three month period prior to any performance each and every actor relies totally upon the presence of all the others. Not only de we have to learn our own lines but also the lines of all the other actors and, in particular, the actor speaking just before you. Woe betide you if you miss your cue or spout the wrong line at the wrong time. I never thought it would be so difficult.

But, on to the present, The Long Christmas Dinner is going to be a bit strange for all of us because there are no props, no Christmas Dinner despite the title. Imaginary turkey, imaginary wine. I ask you? If it wasn’t for the chocolate biscuits ant our rehearsal coffee breaks……. And now – we’re being told that we have to speak with an American Mid-West accent. That’ll be a laugh!

Chris Sutton