Through the high security gates we go, and past a field of old fighter planes sitting by the road. As we stroll between the buildings we are hit with a solid shot of adrenaline just at the strangeness of it all. This is a world my grandfather would have understood, but a world that feels very unusual to me. We are the only people not in uniform. We are surrounded by extremely capable looking young men and women, making their families proud back home, gaining an extraordinary education within the rigour of the US Navy. They’re gonna be Seals and submariners, but right now we’re bringing them Shakespeare.
“In another life I might’ve followed my grandfather into the navy,” I muse to Claire. “How would you have coped with the discipline?” she responds. “Yeah I think that’s the reason I didn’t.”
Nevertheless here I am now at the USNA in Annapolis Maryland. It’s technical rehearsal and they’re focusing the lights so I’m snatching a chance to write this. The days will be a very different shape here. Very high security, early morning classes, most working days finished by lunchtime apart from the shows in the evening. At 7pm, in about three hours, 600 of these young men and women in uniform will file into the theatre and watch the five of us in our little circle of light for a few hours. There are Union flags in the walls above our stage, stained with time and use and gunpowder smoke and salt damp. I went and looked at the plaques and they were all captured from British ships in “the 1812 war”. Outside our stage-right door is a wooden “British lion” captured alongside a royal standard during “the occupation of York”.
This marbled hall where we will tell our story is rank with pillage from the dying days of empire. I had to Google the occupation of York. It was when America was at war with England and considering expansion northwards to Canada, and there was a fair amount of looting, burning and general sacking going on which catalysed some anti-American sentiment among Canadians which probably worked to the advantage of the British. Nevertheless the pillage means that we’ve got these lovely old flags around us as we work reminding us of home. “I like the flags,” I remark to one of the young men in uniform who is helping with the lights. “You know how we got them off you, right?” He asks. “Well, yes. But it’s good to see them.”
Lovely show tonight to a sea of brown uniforms. Every venue Kaffe sings a song about the town at the end of the interval. The one he’s got this week is one the midshipmen all sing while they’re training. He had it reflected back in a wall of sound that was quite extraordinary to feel – 600 voices tunefully bellowing back at him as he stood alone in our little square of light whilst we sat behind him thrilled. It propelled us into a very connected and enjoyable second half. Semper fi…