SITTING in Hong Kong, grounded by volcanic ash, is perhaps not ideal preparation for a leading role at the Lawrence Batley Theatre.
But that’s what happened to Patrick Hibbin whose trip to catch up with family ended in a bigger break from rehearsals for Alan Bennett’s play, The Lady In The Van than he ever expected.
The show opens next week and with one of the company’s leading men stuck at the other side of the world, Huddersfield Thespian president Steve Marsden had knuckled down to learning Patrick’s lines.
But everyone had fingers crossed that Patrick would make it back from Hong Kong in time for Tuesday’s opening night including, it has to be said, Steve. And Patrick did – with days to spare.
“We were very lucky in that we were able to stay with family. The problem really was the uncertainty,” said Patrick.
“We were constantly watching the news and were delayed for nine days.
“When we were initially due to return home, we checked with our airline. They told us to go to the airport and that there would probably be about an hour’s delay. When we got to the airport, there were just signs showing every flight cancelled.”
The unscheduled stop-over which followed gave Patrick time to see more of Hong Kong, its islands and museums than he had expected. And it also gave him time to work on his part though without the help of fellow actors.
“I had a text from Steve saying he would be learning my lines, just in case,” said Patrick.
“I decided that I was going to keep on doing my lines and believe that I was going to get back.”
And Patrick did, just in time for the final week of rehearsals via a flight on which there were just two seats left “at a ridiculous price!”
Patrick, an executive and leadership development coach working with the National Policing Improvement Agency, has returned to a production that has moved on considerably since his rather longer than expected absence from rehearsal.
“When I auditioned for the part I said that the only drawback was that I would be in Hong Kong for part of the rehearsal period. I said I could cope with that if the other people in the company could,” he said.
That said, neither Patrick nor anyone else expected to find one of their Alan Bennetts going missing.
Two actors, the other is Colin Harris, play the renowned writer at different stage in his life in a play about a real-life situation which saw a woman take up residence in Bennett’s drive in a broken-down Bedford van.
Miss Shepherd appeared in Bennett’s drive in the late Sixties and it was only when she died in 1989 that two decades of quite surreal behaviour by The Lady In The Van came to an end.
Bennett turned the story of his relationship with his eccentric “lodger” into a play packed with his signature wit and humour but also with moments of seriousness and emotion.
Next week, the complexities of a very individual relationship will be delivered by a company of actors who in recent, difficult times, have proved the value of camaraderie and teamwork.
“If you do something like this, you have to enjoy it because it takes up so much time. You are committing about eight weeks to rehearsals plus the time spent learning lines,” said Patrick.
He’s delighted that the Thespians’ team held the fort and that he was able to get back in time.
“I’m a very optimistic person and I believed we would get back. I spent each morning going over my lines before going out for the day,” he said.
He says that the production has moved on enormously in his absence and he is enjoying being back working with other cast members and seeing how the production has already developed.
Doubtless there will be sighs of relief from understudy Steve Marsden who will be able to work on the show as prompter rather than appear centre stage.
Alistair Cheetham returns to the company to direct and the cast is a blend of established Thespian members Christine Davies as Miss Shepherd, Matthew Fairhead, Miriam Marsden and Lawrence Barker alongside newer members David Payne and Dorothea Annison. Making their Thespian debuts are Emma Wood, Alison Maclean, Angela Payne and Prue Griffiths.
Box office is on 01484 430528 and performance run the LBT’s main house nightly from Tuesday with a Saturday matinee at 2pm.