Features Published 29 May 2014

Flights of Fancy

Eddie Elks - author of the wonderfully woozy, smoke-stained Botallack o'Clock - on memory, mountain goats, darts and his new play, Mugs Arrows.
Eddie Elks

“Write something that’s close to home. You’ve written two plays about abstract artists. Write something that’s close to home.” I’d been wanting to experiment with the action of live darts on stage for a while and whilst in residency at the Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter with Third Man Theatre in 2012, we had the chance. We started work-shopping the show during the day and the movement and the action of the game seemed to work. “Let’s see where this goes.”

Flashback 1

Christmas 1986 marked the arrival of my first dart board. My granddad thought it was time. I was 6 years old and I was chuffed to bits. I was already a big fan of what was then the Embassy World Championship and the new board gave me the chance to start working on my own game. There was an added bonus in that the owner of the board could write off to the makers Winmau and request their own personalised flights for their darts. Having your initials embossed in silver letters on a jet black flight would surely make you a better player. John Lowe, Eric Bristow, Dennis Priestley, Cliff Lazarenko, Leighton Reece… Eddie Elks. The board was well used in the winter months over the following years and old school phrases such as Tin Hat, Shanghai, Fish n Chips, Mad House and Mugs Arrows were cemented in the vocabulary.  I never made it to the Embassy and despite much chat me and my Granddad never made it on to Bullseye but I’ve still got the board and two of the initialled flights are still useable.

Work-shopping Mugs took the piece in many different directions – light and dark. A brighter moment was when a local Exeter actress who we were devising with that day appeared from under a table wearing a hamster suit – we still have no idea how she got it on without us seeing. Darker moments also arose during the process – given that the Bike Shed Theatre is underground, without any natural light and we were performing our slightly unhinging show Botallack O’Clockreviewed here – every evening, whilst ”switching off” entailed first two seasons of Breaking Bad for bed time viewing, it wasn’t surprising that sharp edges started to appear in the piece.

So from the non-existent summer of 2012, through the never-ending winter into 2013, Mugs Arrows emerged. We then took a fully-formed Mugs back to the Bike Shed and had a lot of fun with it. The atmosphere at the theatre is fantastic and it’s not surprising it was recently voted the UK’s Most Welcoming Theatre at the Stage Awards. David Lockwood and his great team really make us feel right at home. Maybe also something to do with the cocktails – but very much to do with the audiences. It was brilliant to chat and get feedback from the audience who had followed our work over previous years and seen the very first scratch performances of Mugs. 

Mugs Arrows, by Eddie Elks.

Mugs Arrows, by Eddie Elks.

Flashback 2

I was walking with my brother in the Derbyshire Peak District on Easter Weekend 2013. Despite being late April and expectations of spring, the winter was still very much present and snow drifts blocked many of the paths we were trying to walk down. The countryside looked fucked – like it was trying to break through regardless but failing miserably. The newly born lambs and their mothers were scattered around the fields – many not actually standing together, seemingly estranged. The only wildlife that fitted the picture were the black crows in the bare-branched trees, scouring the fields enthusiastically. Walking through various fields against the wind, all in total disarray and we came across one with a particularly large snow drift. 

As we got closer it became clear that half of the drift was in fact large pile of sheep and lambs. From a distance the snow and the fleeces had merged together and it wasn’t until we were nearer that their small black faces were visible. They were gathered together for warmth but the snow and the cold had been too much. 

Following the three week run at the Bike Shed last autumn we thought we should try and bring the Mugs tale of provincial dysfunction and social trauma to the capital. We also haven’t performed a Third Man show in London since Botallack O’Clock at the Half Moon Theatre, Herne Hill which we subsequently took to Edinburgh and New York. We were thrilled when the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub offered us a slot. The play is actually set in a pub and we are hoping to take some of the atmosphere from downstairs, upstairs. There is also excitement about bringing Mugs to the Old Red as our director Ken McClymont was Artistic Director at the theatre from 1988 – 2002. Whilst at the Old Red he directed over 40 shows and won various awards.

We are currently in rehearsal for Mugs at an incredibly spacious and sometimes bracingly cold warehouse in Shoreditch. We have made some changes to the piece since last year. It’s lovely coming back to it with refreshed eyes. New discoveries and realisations are occurring daily – as well as a certain amount of cutting and rewrites. If it’s got to go it’s got to go. That’s unless we soon find out that it really doesn’t work and then I guess we… put the hamster back in?

Flashback 3

My uncle recently recounted a story to me of an encounter with a decrepit mountain goat whilst living on the Isle of Rum. The goat had staggered down a steep bank to the coast and was standing motionless looking out to sea as the tide was coming in around its hooves. My uncle made the decision to haul it back up the bank, above where he imaged the high water mark to be – but the following morning it was nowhere to be seen.

Mugs Arrows, by Eddie Elks, is at the Old Red Lion, London, from 3rd – 21st June 2014

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Eddie Elks is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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