Nothing in Moderation
I must be mad! What am I doing going on tour with a One Woman Show? It all started when I met director/producer Clive Tulloh. I knew he had masterminded Joanna Lumley’s hugely successful one woman tour, and he thought we might do one a bit like it: lots of chat and funny stories about my life, backed up by clips and photos popping up on a screen behind me, and ending up with questions from the audience.
And then somehow the vague idea became reality, and I was suddenly, it seemed, rehearsing in an upstairs room in the Groucho Club. There were only four of us in there: me, my agent Hilary Knight, Clive and his techi chap trying to synchronise the video clips and pictures to my script. But I was shaking, unbelievably nervous. I couldn’t understand it. I am never nervous on Bake Off, and there are a tent-full of people, and I’m only mildly nervous, for a minute or two, if giving a speech or lecture. And I’ve told these stories of my life hundreds of times, for charity events, or literary festivals: childhood in South Africa, student life in Paris, catering disaster stories galore, feeding the rich, famous and royal, illicit love, motherhood, adopting my daughter, widowhood, love once again, and my non-food careers as a novelist, campaigner, and businesswoman.
But here I was terrified: hands shaking, dry mouth, heart banging. Don’t worry, says Clive, it will be easier when there’s an audience.
But none of us are completely confident. We need to convince the promoter that we will not lose him money. So we decide on four try-outs in the UK and another 4 in the States. The first two are in a tiny theatre, the Rondo Theatre in Bath, where the staff are helpful, enthusiastic and professional. The show is not advertised except to the friends of the theatre, and only about 40 of them turn up on the first night, maybe 70 on the second. I’m still very frightened, but it’s true the audience presence helps. They laugh at the right places, clap a lot, and when they have to fill in questionnaires, we are relieved and delighted to get 100% approval. Yes, they would recommend it to their friends.
Then we do two more at the Royal Spa Centre Studio in Leamington Spa, which attracts bigger audiences and a delightful couple of booksellers who flog my memoir Nothing in Moderation, and my cookbook Bliss on Toast, in the interval. They say sales are terrific and the audience buzz is good. (But, we won’t return to this theatre. The staff are incompetent, unhelpful, borderline rude, and the dressing rooms are dirty and smell of drains. Welcome to the life of a touring artist!) The practice rehearsals are working. I am getting a bit better at this performance business and I was even able to walk about the stage a bit. Not quite so scared of drying up or getting lost in the script.
Next come the try-outs in New York and Los Angeles. In New York I lose my voice completely and Arnold Engelman (Clive’s equivalent in the US) sends me to a “doctor to the stars”, who produces a cocktail of drugs which miraculously revive my voice. But there are few bookings for the first show, at the Daryl Roth theatre in Union Square, so we decide to cancel it and give the audience tickets for the following night. Surprisingly, they all agree and next evening we have an almost full house. For the first time, I really enjoy it. The audience carry me along. I suppose the truth is, they are only there because they like me, and they’ve come expecting a good time.
L.A. is even better. We are at the excellent Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, and I have such a good time I begin to think I should have been doing this for the last sixty years, not slaving over a hot stove. Americans, especially Californians, are right over the top and of course I love it. When I walk on, they hoop and holler and whistle and won’t stop until I put my hands up and pretty well order them to.
And because they are so on my side, I relax and we all have a great time.
So now I’m committed. Next year in February and March I will tour the UK- https://prue-leith.com/books/events/and in the Autumn I’ll do two months in the U.S. And in between I will film my beloved Bake Off, and the American version, The Great American Baking Show, and the Celebrity and Christmas Bake Off specials.
That’s quite a full agenda for an octogenarian. I suppose I could drop dead, or break a hip, or something, but I feel so lucky. There’s no doubt that I owe a lot to Bake Off. Everywhere I go, especially in the States, people ask for selfies. They always apologise for bothering me. But they needn’t. I love the attention, and if it wasn’t for people like them, who would come to my show?