Barnaby Eaton-Jones is the guiding hand behind the OFFSTAGE Theatre Group. The less popular story of OFFSTAGE’s creation is that the Devil created little evil thespians to run amok around the world, creating puns and poor jokes, with a view to irritating large audiences of Christians who had just come along to watch themselves get eaten by lions. OFFSTAGE derives from the Latin ‘Egotistical Ponceous Actorae In Amplus Numerus’.
However, I spoke to Barnaby myself, and found that there was more to it than thatâ€¦
So come on then â€“ how did OFFSTAGE really come about?
In 1991, at Brockworth School in Gloucestershire, deep in the heart of the Cotswolds, Stephen Rix (then Head of Drama) created an after-school club that drew from every age range of the secondary school spectrum. His original idea for OFFSTAGE was to create a place where people could learn about all aspects of drama (writing, acting, lighting, sound, directing, etc) and – to put it simply – ‘have fun’.
Of course, ‘having fun’ was the prerogative of any teenager, so this was what is known as a good idea.
So how did your first night go?
The first production was somewhat of an improvised shambles, but highly enjoyable (you see, we were having ‘fun’!!). From then on, OFFSTAGE evolved into a travelling theatre group, with bigger and better productions, and is now run by myself and Kim Jones. We pride ourselves on performing 99% original work. This, to be honest, was because we could never afford to pay royalties for someone else’s work! But, it did allow me to hone my comedic skills – which are now so finely tuned that I could easily be as funny as a French kiss at a family reunion – and secured me a full-time writing job that pays the bills.
So as a travelling theatre group, how far have you travelled and how often?
Our very first production (‘Ring-A-Ding-Ding’) was taken to Glastonbury. We were all young, naive and excited. We came back a little older, a little wiser and lot more excited!
Then we toured extensively with the educational and informational (is that a word? It is now!) play about the illness M.E. called ‘Running To Stand Still’. This was taken to schools, colleges, universities and M.E. support groups around Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire and ended up at an international conference for M.E. in Milton Keynes (as well as being the first play ever broadcast on BBC Radio Gloucestershire). A couple more international conferences for M.E. at Milton Keynes followed in respective years. We were invited to London, to perform in front of world-renowned Doctors, Scientists, Psychiatrists and medical experts (who had gathered together to classify M.E. as a real physical illness for WHO – that’s the World Health Organisation and not our favourite Time Lord!) with a ‘Sleeping Beauty’ parody (all in rhyme). Then we toured with the multi-award winning play ‘Waiting For A Friend’ around Gloucestershire and in two One-Act Play festivals.
It seems that nowadays everyone is doing some thing Doctor Who-related (and I should know!) When did this start for OFFSTAGE?
In 2002 we hit on the ‘Doctor Who’ idea and within 12 months (March 2003 until March 2004) we’d done eight productions (when a normal theatre group usually does one a year!!) in London (three times), Liverpool, Stockton-On-Tees (twice), Evesham, and Northampton. Phew. We then went back to Liverpool for another Doctor Who convention and to Swindon for a ‘Robin of Sherwood’ convention. We’ll be travelling to Cardiff for another Doctor Who this year and to Nottingham next year for another ‘Robin of Sherwood’. We’re in discussions with Shaun Lyon, of Gallifrey One, with the view to travelling to America for a convention sometime in the next two years.
Currently, we’re setting up a tour of local villages and towns with two productions – Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and a Blues Brothers tribute band show.
Where does the Doctor Who input come from â€“ which one of you is the DWM subscriber with the Jon Pertwee coffee mugs?
(Things started to get foggy at this point â€“ I remember someone smearing Vaseline around the lens as a repeated staccato phrase danced through the darknessâ€¦)
(Deep voice over â€“ Iâ€™m thinking Christopher Lee perhaps? Visually itâ€™s a scrapbook affair with Ken Morse on the rostrum cameraâ€¦)
It all started when Barnaby began pitching Doctor Who book proposals to the BBC. The commissioning editor at the time was Jacqueline Raynor (known for a lot in fandom, but mainly as a member of the ‘Time Team’ from DWM) and she personally contacted him to give a little encouragement, as she had seen the words M.E. on his CV and she had suffered with it herself. After pitching a few books, Barnaby decided to co-author one with a chap called Vince Stadon. They then decided that the stage might be an interesting way to go, as Vince suggested that the convention circuit seemed to be the usual round of ‘discos’ and ‘cabaret’ for the Saturday evening entertainment. So, it developed from their mutual love of Doctor Who, and the fact that – if you love something – you are happy to send it up, safe in the knowledge that you’re doing it for the right reasons.
They vetoed any mention of ‘wobbly sets’ or ‘rubber monsters’, and they never intended to be barbed or mocking of it all; preferring to celebrate the rich heritage of Doctor Who in a comedic way! Of course, any Adric references were always going to be barbed or mocking, but that was perfectly fair. Ahem. Sadly, Vince parted company with OFFSTAGE after a couple of shows, for his own personal reasons. But, because Barnaby acted in the plays as well as writing, he had the good fortune to gauge what really made a Doctor Who audience laugh. This allowed the following plays to get funnier and more creative.
(The sequence ends with a Wembley-sized crowd literally wetting themselves with laughter while watching 13 oversized kangaroos making chocolate ice-cream out of Barnabyâ€¦ and Adric.)
I wiped my rheumy eyes â€“ it had all been a dreamâ€¦
As for members of OFFSTAGE who are DWM buyers and own Jon Pertwee coffee mugs, well that’s not an easy question to answer. Everyone had heard of Doctor Who, and some even followed it when they were younger. We auditioned some new members specifically to create a balance between fans and non-fans, and we got David Ratty, Francis Moloney and Ian Kubiak (all big fans). But, I have to say, the non-fans became converts after they had videos and audios to study (to try and ‘capture’ whoever they were playing). Virtually all of them watched the new series with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, and loved it! So, in order of biggest fan to smallest fan, my opinion would be… Francis Moloney, Ian Kubiak, David Ratty, Barnaby Jones, Kim Jones, Sophie Jones, Bob Roberts, Anthony Baldwin, Liz Hosler, Kathryn Hopkins, Tim Baldwin, Emma Vogwell, Iain Barton, James Hamblett, James Barrasford-Lane, and Gaz Ricketts.
But, you can’t come at it with total disregard or the audience sense that and just don’t find it funny. You’ve got to respect the subject, even if you’d never ever own a Dalek Cookie Jar.
“Who Am I?” Whatâ€™s it all about? Why cross Doctor Who with Willy Wonka?!
After listening to â€˜Zagreusâ€™ I realised it was ripe for parody. It took â€˜Alice in Wonderlandâ€™ as itâ€™s basis with the Eighth Doctorâ€™s audio companion as Alice. McGannâ€™s mercurial portrayal of the Eighth Doctor had, I thought, some of Gene Wilderâ€™s portrayal of Willy Wonka. So â€˜Who Am I?â€™ spoofed â€˜Zagreusâ€™ and â€˜Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryâ€™, with the Doctorâ€™s companion Charley Pollard as Charlie!
In the original â€˜Zagreusâ€™, Big Finish had used lines from a fan recording of Jon Pertwee as the Doctor to create a conversation between the Third Doctor and McGannâ€™s Doctor. Strangely moving and eerily ethereal, it was. So, we decided to do the opposite and used lines from Pertwee’s time as Worzel Gummidge to create a conversation with our Eighth Doctor/Willy Wonka hybrid!!
Barnaby, this sounds absolutely insane! It sounds fantastic!
I’ll be honest â€“ it should have been a proper staged play but time overtook us on another production, so the script was hurried. I’d say it worked 70% of the time. Like the audio it was parodying – ‘Zagreus’ – I felt that this had too many elements thrown in, was entertaining if a little jumbled, and could have done with a good edit. Unfortunately, we had no time. It wasn’t a bad production, and it had the audience laughing heartily – but we felt that it was weaker than previous productions.
How did you take to the new series of Doctor Who, and what – if anything – did you find in it to send up in future?
To be honest, I thought the appearance of a new series would be perfect for what we do. Oddly, if it had flopped, or just been particularly bad, it would’ve been very difficult to spoof. You can’t kick a man when he’s down, as they say. Nobody in fandom would’ve wanted to watch a comedy take on the nail in the coffin for our TV Timelord.
But, in all honesty, it’s been difficult to get back on the Convention Circuit with our stuff – even though we have scripts and ideas ready and waiting (and we have THE perfect take on Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor!!). I’m assuming for Â£300 (which is roughly what we charge now, give or take a few negotiations!), you can get someone like Mitch Benn who is a well-known name to come and do an hour of professional comedy, with a slight bend towards Doctor Who. But, I would like to think we can slot in alongside that. We’re flexible and we’re available. However, this gives us scope to look outside the box, which is why we’re now doing the ‘Robin of Sherwood’ conventions, and hoping to expand into the Joss Whedon universe of Angel and Buffy. It would be gorgeous to fly across the ocean and do an Outpost Gallifrey convention but the logistics are a nightmare!
OFFSTAGE will be returning in 2006 with their new play, â€˜The Androgum Inheritanceâ€™; meanwhile find out more about this great band of performers at www.offstagetheatregroup.com.
Kasterborous.com would like to thank Barnaby Eaton-Jones for his time in the making of this interview; special thanks as well to Carolyn Edwards for the illustration.