On my journeys round the globe, you’ll have gathered that I love doing all sorts of different things on my travels and don’t have boundaries and limits. Whether it’s backpacking nonchalantly through Iraq, attending a victory parade in North Korea or eating as much food as you can in Gracia, Barcelona. I heard word that Paddy Campbell’s award winning play “The Wet House” was on in Soho Theatre, London while I happened to be passing through so I got a few tickets and off we went.
And this is my travel blog of my journey around the planet and anything that takes my fancy. Remember I’ve reviewed football matches, books and even TV shows before – it’s not just about crossing the border into Suriname, backpacking through East Timor and getting pissed in Iraq. Plus there was that time in Taiwan when I went to a play organised by foreigners and loved it – you can read about it here – An Evening of Shorts.
On my return back to London in 2014, after a few drinks at the Montcalm At The Brewery London City, I decided to go to see a play in the west end – at Soho Theatre. It was my first time in Soho Theatre and the only memory I had as I walked down towards the theatre was that I once attended a swanky awards do here back in 2007 at the Shiny Shiny Awards where I collected an award on behalf of Apple. How ridiculously ironic in light of my recent problems with Apple computers. This time I was heading to watch a play called Wet House by budding playright Paddy Campbell. The reason for which, and my connection to Paddy will become clear in the final few paragraphs, first up an overview of the night out and my opinion of the play.
It was a busy week for me in London and Windsor. I toured the Tower of London, the town of Windsor and spent a few nights in really good hotels for a change – the Mad Hatter in Southwark, London and the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa in Windsor. I also attended the Professional Travel Bloggers Meeting in Blackfriars and helped my best mate celebrate his 30th birthday but on the Wednesday night of that week I was down for theatre. I got a ticket for my best mate Millwall Neil and at the last minute Sandra joined us too, so there were three of us for a night in the theatre. I collected our tickets then went to the wee Pub opposite the theatre for a pre play pie and pint – the bit upstairs was called Pieminister!
I had a Guinness and a Shamrock Pie. Well, I felt that seeing a play by a guy named Paddy, anything with an Irish connection would be a good mood sitter. Sandra and Neil joined me after a mad dash from work and the play began at 7pm sharp. We just made it in the door in fact after the first few lines – that’s how tight working Londoners cut things by, and we sat down to watch the Wet House.
So you’ll want to know what Wet House is all about. It’s basically a drama based on real life experiences of staying and working in a hostel for recovering alcoholics, drug attics [sic], single mothers, sex offenders and anyone who needs some rehab or a home to try and help cope with problems they have in life. Hostels like this really exist, and alcohol is permitted inside, hence the title Wet House. Paddy Campbell the writer has based the play on real life experiences and you can tell this in an instant. A raw, real life of a hostel in north east England becomes apparent from the play’s opening scene and here’s an overview of my night out there watching it without giving too much away as I encourage you all to get out there and see Wet House when it’s next on at a theatre near you.
The entire play is based in the actual hostel itself, changing from room to room and with a few scenes reliant on the in house CCTV from the hostel’s reception.
We meet Mike and Helen first of all. Both are workers in the hostel. It’s as if their lives have become evolved around looking after these maniacs that reside in the Wet House. Mike is the hard lad, the man who always wants to be the tough man. He talks of life in the army, holding guns in Northern Ireland etc. (by the way, I enjoyed this Northern Irish reference, if indeed it does serve as a reminder of the way things where when I grew up there in the 1980s). I’ve worked with people like Mike myself in my life and I can connect to the type of character portrayed here. Helen is the hard working, feisty lady who cares more for the hostel residents than Mike. In fact, all Mike does is moan about his job and the residents, yet he oddly seems to enjoy this, but talks down to the hostel residents throughout. We learn that an ex worker at the hostel, Jim, has “rung in sick” and has now left. So they will be joined by a new, young, enthusiastic worker. The sad truth is that this young lad is coming into a job he has no idea how crazy things can get. The place isn’t full of people who are maniacs just for the sake of it – these are genuine crazy people here.
So the new lad saunters in, he’s cycled here and gets the piss ripped out of him from the start by hard lad Mike. The new worker is Andy. Andy appears nervous, shy and timid at the start. He seems like a genuine hard working lad. As soon as I saw him I wondered if indeed this character was based on the author of the play himself. I’d hazard a guess that I’m spot on. Andy gets straight into the swing of things – learning the rules, cleaning the floor, chatting to the “patients”. We meet three of the patients during the play, others are only spoken of. Here’s an overview of the hat trick that we meet:
1. Dinger. Dinger looks a lot older than he is. He’s forgotten about his family, he has no job, he rarely washes and he’s a self confessed alcoholic. His charater would remind you of a Father Jack type from Father Ted. Except Dinger is more talkative, more raw, moves off his chair and is a full on alco. Again, we’ve met people like Dinger in our lives, in most cases out on the street clutching a bottle of cider, in some cases the rich ones turn up in bars drinking too much and annoying the other customers. You always sense Dinger has a heart but with his constant shakes and need to drink as much as he can, he’s a sorry figure with a serious problem.
2. Spencer. Spencer is a sex offender. At one point, Mike uses the word “kiddy fiddler” which suggests he may have had a thing for young boys or girls. Again a sad character but we can’t have too much sympathy for people like Spencer in real life either. Yet, he’s a quiet lad at heart who probably wants to be an innocent man. But he isn’t. He may have served time for it and now he drinks away his worries. Andy sticks up for Spencer as does Helen at times throughout the play, but Mike is having none of it. Mike is almost an old school homophobe. The type that wouldn’t be receptive to gays and ladyboys. There’s one crazy incident in the play involving Mike and Spencer but I’ll leave that to you to watch when you go.
3. Kerry. Kerry is a typical English teenager. She got into boys, booze and drugs before she would ever have considered education or a career. She’s “up the duff” from the start, something which Andy notices and remarks on, only for Kerry to lie to him saying he’s a cheeky bastard for making such a suggestion. She comes onto Andy at one point. Somehow, a young lad with an education like Andys (he’s got a degree in Art History) wouldn’t be wanting to be anywhere near the likes of Kerry. Again, typifies some of the girls I personally met when I lived in England. Some might call her a slag, a chav, a steek etc. The baby’s due as the play begins.
The play lasts just under 3 hours, including a 20 minute interval (where ironically Neil, Sandra and I headed straight to the bar for a Wet House half time drink – we were able to take them back in with us). Scenes change all the time during the play and excellently chosen music chimes in between scenes adding to the sense of sadness, brutality and reality that is evident throughout. The scene includes violence and swearing – it wouldn’t be the same otherwise. After the show I hung out in the bar and got to meet the cast.
Off stage, everyone seemed really down to earth and I loved that. Top cast – I was particluarly impressed by Joe (who played Dinger) and Eva (who played Kerry) – Joe had stopped shaking and was having a pint and Eva was glammed up looking gorgeous – a far cry from her character, Kerry. Overall I loved Wet House and can’t wait to see if the playright Paddy Campbell releases any more plays, as I’ll be straight up to get tickets when it happens. A ticket for the Wet House cost £20 and I bought a book copy of the play too for £4, with intervals drinks at £4. Typical London prices really and very much worth it for the night out. I rarely go to plays but when I do I love them and I really hope you can all get to see Wet House sometime! It started off as a play in Newcastle’s Live Theatre back in September 2013 and has won three awards.
Wet House by Paddy Campbell
Live House in association with Soho Theatre
Cast (in order of appearance):
Helen – Jackie Lye
Mike – Chris Connel
Andy – Riley Jones
Dinger – Joe Caffrey
Kerry – Eva Quinn
Spencer – Simon Roberts
(All the actors and actresses have a really successful acting CV including appearing on shows like Byker Grove, Casualty, Jonathan Creek, Doctors, The Bill and Poirot.)
Now a bit about the play’s author, Northern Irishman Paddy Campbell. Apologies if I shed a tear or two.
I loved the play and was completely inspired by it, in fact I was in tears towards the end and looked to the London sky afterwards as if to thank God that Paddy Campbell was a success. You see, I know Paddy Campbell. In fact he was my best friend for a while when I was 13 – 14. With names like Blair and Campbell, we’d be sitting beside each other in classes a lot – something to do with alphabetical order in the over bearing, wannabe conservative shit hole of a grammar school Paddy and I both attended. Bangor Grammar School. I’m immensely proud of my Primary School, Kilmaine and even went back for a reunion this year, but Bangor Grammar means nothing to me. Reading Keith Gillespie’s book recently made me realise that I wasn’t alone. Paddy Campbell didn’t like the school and nor did I. An event that happened in May 1994 (the 16th to be exact – that date forever inscribed into my brain as “Paddy Campbell Day”) changed the course of Paddy Campbell and Jonny Blair’s lives forever. We had big plans to hang out together that summer, have a few sneaky teenage cans of beer down the beach and get some girls. That was the dream. Between us, Paddy and I lifted ourselves higher than your average student. We stole an exam paper. The third form history exam – I found it and Paddy nicked it. We copied it, sold it and used it to get better results. Aged just 14 back in a ceasefire stricken Northern Irish 1994, we thought we were kings of the world at the time. We sang along to D:Ream’s hit “Things can only get better” back then (a vivid memory of mine) and everytime I have heard that song since I think of Paddy and always pull out this line and dedicate it to our friendship, what it was back then and what it should forever be:
“I, I sometimes lose myself in me, I lose track of time and I can’t see the woods for the trees. You [Paddy] set them alight. Burn the bridges as you’ve gone. I’m too weak to fight you. I’ve got my personal hell to deal with.”
I wrote about the exam paper incident with fondness on its 20th anniversary in 2014 before thinking of Paddy for a few hours as I sipped on a few cans of Guinness in Hong Kong. It was a really emotional few hours. I just thought, what if I could meet Paddy again. My best mate when I was 14. What is he doing now? Then I remembered – we have Google, we have Twitter and we have Facebook. I can probably find Paddy Campbell and get in touch after all these years. It was worth a try. The worst he could do was ignore me. But then I knew Paddy. Why would he ignore me? In fact, my school buddy Scott Callen murmured what turned out to be spot on judgement on a Facebook comment, “Och Paddy will be fine with you – people don’t change that much.”I’d spent a lot of time acting the lig and messing around at school with Paddy. Lunches together, football at break time, ridiculous games in school lessons, Saturday detentions for no reason, making the world’s first Fantasy Football League in a plastic bag (I kid you not). Paddy and I went back a long way. So I found a tweet about a “Paddy Campbell” on Twitter, retweeted it and then got a reply on Twitter from a Zoe Dawes. Itself felt odd, as I had worked in radio with a Zoe Dawes in Bournemouth as a student about 10 years ago. But this was Paddy Campbell’s girlfriend and a different Zoe Dawes. Twenty years on. A shiver down my spine when I knew I was close to being back in touch with Paddy. Would he add me if I friend requested him on Facebook when I realised which profile was his? I messaged him with the story I’d written on the 20th anniversary, Paddy added me and replied. Same old Paddy Campbell. The genius that he always was. I cried.
Just we were now 20 years older. We’d drifted apart but were back in touch. Paddy and I always had a passion for English and writing though. It’s true. I used to write football reports, Paddy would write mock plays during English lessons. He was always a genius. The teachers never saw it. They didn’t want to see it. Paddy Campbell was a wild card. He was popular at school, because he was out there. There were no limits to Paddy’s humour or capabilities. He was destined to be something more than what the school thought. And so, after getting back in touch with Paddy, I found out that he is an award winning playright. And me, his best buddy from 1994, I was now a travel writer and backpacking businessman, making my own way around the world working, again all off my own back and no thanks to the idiotic teachers at Bangor Grammar School. I reckon we had both done pretty well. I cried a bit that night when I realised that Paddy and I had taken similar paths in life after the exam paper episode (which meant we only saw each other once in the last 20 years, and that was a fast meeting at a bus stop). I hadn’t been permanently haunted by the exam paper episode but it always lingered in my mind. When I attended a Saturday detention in June 1994, forcing me to miss a World Cup football match on the TV as a result, I knew I was going to be a lonely teenager without Paddy around. I didn’t pursue, I got on with things, got my GCSEs and got the fuck out of Bangor Grammar when the bell rang. Now the missing piece of the jigsaw as Paddy and I were back in touch. A quick google search also reveals that award winning Northern Irish playright Paddy Campbell also featured on the BBC website, the exact same week that a certain Jonny Blair did, having taken my Northern Ireland flag to 70 countries. A coincidence waiting to happen? I’d say so. I also thought of the other crazy coincidences. Paddy had lived in England for a long time, as did I. Paddy worked in a hostel. I stayed in a lot of hostels. Paddy works at theatres. I spent almost 2 years working in a theatre (remember my post on working at Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre?). And we were just two wee lads from Bangor in Northern Ireland wanting to enjoy life and have a laugh. We certainly had a laugh at school.
The teachers didn’t respect Paddy Campbell or I. How wrong they were. He’s a successful playright. I’m a successful travel writer. What a Bummer, eh? Are you reading Miles Christy or Robert Stephenson? 😉
So as I walked out of Soho Theatre that night, I raised a smile to myself again. A kick ass 1994 Paddy Campbell smile. Paddy wasn’t there of course, he’s as busy a man to catch as me. And readers of Don’t Stop Living, do you want to hear the news? There will be a 20 year reunion of Paddy Campbell and Jonny Blair to follow soon. I can’t wait. I’ll probably cry my eyes out and there will be a video of Paddy and I together I hope.
Good times Paddy, f##king good times mates 😉
A wee video I made for Paddy that night:
And yeah mate Peter Cunnah was damn right – “Things can only get better”:
A trailer for Wet House by Paddy Campbell: