How it all began
- The beginning – Founded by Pete Talbot in 1997, after a long career as a teacher, we first toured in 1999 with our showman’s living wagon & old green truck, changing in the living wagon & performing on a stage that took much too long to put up. 2020 is our 21st year. For the first 3 years we toured to small rural communities with Shakespeare plays to find our audience, style & purpose as a company. Our aim was & is to create new plays, always comedy but embracing the tragic, using a style & brand of our own rooted in the commedia dell’arte but for the 21st century & for ‘our audiences’.
- Working outdoors in rural areas – We are best known for our outdoor summer tours and taking theatre into small rural communities. We do get into towns and cities occasionally where there are concentrations of Rudes’ fans but the ambiance of buses, car horns and drunks is slightly less conducive to poetic moods than the country where a worst case scenario is adjacent muck spreading, bell ringing practice or performing in a cow shed.
- Inspirations – We were inspired to work this way by romantic images of saltimbanques and Harlequins and by the sublime ‘Footsbarn Theatre Co’, who were driven out of England by the sheer neglect of our own funding system at the time to France where they were & are properly appreciated.
- Compromise – But England is not France. The pace of life, the aggressive environment of our roads, the banal mentality of Government regarding the Arts at times – although we are constantly indebted to Arts Council England – and sheer economics and practicality – Pulling a living wagon up hills at 5mph with a queue of traffic behind wasn’t fun! – means we have long since compromised (regrettably but without conscience) the romantic ideal. We sold our living wagon to the rare and beautiful ‘Harris Brothers Traditional Fair’, but function very well with our portable theatre consisting of our pageant wagon, gas lights, flexible fence and tents for the cast and front of house.
What we do
- Our audiences – Our audiences are growing every year – about 7,000 & more annually – and we have a hugely loyal fan-base that come to see us year-after-year and a dedicated Friends group. We work across Southern England from Devon to Kent. Our shows are aimed at adults but enjoyed by all ages and are performed mainly outdoors, but we haven’t given up on indoors.
- The team – Our cast is composed of experienced, top quality professional physical theatre actors and actor-musicians trained in mime, clown or commedia. Most members of our team are also musicians, and our original live music is integrated with the action.
- Style – Our acting style uses large comic and often acrobatic movement and physical jokes called lazzi and burli, much of it part of a tradition which is hundreds of years old, but using Pedrolino style white faces – pantomime blanche (rather than leather masks) – and bright coloured vibrant ‘cartoon-ised’ costumes. We literally use the slapstick or battoccio, but our work is not ‘merely slapstick’.
- Poetic solutions – Poetic solutions to storytelling are never far away and through mime, vocal sound effects and devices of our own we are constantly looking to exploit the poetic, fantastic and absurd. Using magic realism our stories slip easily between the realistic & the fantastical while constantly reminding the audience that ‘it’s just a play’ & we are actors.
- Commedia & the contemporary world – While we are heavily influenced by the commedia dell’arte, we are not a ‘heritage’ company – neither English nor Italian. We use tools from the tradition – as and when we see fit – to produce new work. We call this use of tradition to create contemporary work commedia parodia. The style is our own, our brand, & has become the accumulated influences of the actors we have worked with & what they bring as individuals as well as the inspirations not only of commedia, but music hall, silent movie, circus & pantomime, but always with a serious intent to stimulate thought as well as to entertain.
- What we look like – Take a look at a video of our work – Click here
- Working with communities – Although we do include a few towns where there are concentrations of Rudes supporters, as explained above, our main work is in small rural communities where we have over a long time built up strong bonds & a common theatrical language. We have been going to many of the venues for 20 years & many others over ten. We are very close to our audiences therefore; children have grown up with us & now bring their own children. We are deeply embedded in these people’s lives. Our local organisers are among our greatest assets. ‘Community’ for us is a key principle: It combats loneliness (especially in the elderly), provides fundamental cultural opportunities to celebrate the milestones of life & the chance to participate in key rights such as democracy. It forms the backbone of all we believe in & the functioning of our art form.
- Brand new plays – We have created 18 brand new plays, written by Pete Talbot, all of which in some specific way speak to community life, that is not only in the settings & stories, but about who we are, how we became what we are & how we find ways to live together.
- Tears & laughter – They are all comedies & sometimes the comedy is enough, but comedy is often about ‘somebody else’s tragedy’ & finding ways of coming close to sadness, feeling it & then releasing the audience from the tension of that through laughter, drives our plays. Tears & laughter have the same reflex mechanism; the only difference is the trigger point – and we try to work with that, especially with the traditional character Fosca (Death), who frequently arrives, uninvited, in our plays, dances his tango & takes characters away to the sound of laughter.
A timeline of our work
The first three years – The Shakespeare phase
The Comedy of Errors (1999)
Two Gentlemen of Verona (2000)
Twelfth Night (2001)
The Comedy of Babi Babbett (2002)
The Wife of Bath (2003)
The Odyssey (2004)
The Fairy Queen (2005)
The Gold Rush (2006)
Five Get Famous (2007)
Noah Babel’s Ark (2008)
The Musicians of Bremen (2008 & 2010)
Mother Sweetapple (2009)
Ik’r’us Inc (2010)
Gentle Harry’s Farm (2011)
Who Saw Marjory Daw? (2012)
The Dressing Book (2012)
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Cat (2013)
Harlequin Goes to the Moon (2013)
The Commercial Traveller (2017)
Little Lily Harley (2020/2021)
Revivals & re-writings
The Wife (2004)
The Wife (2014)
The Comedy of Babi Babbett (2015)
Oberon’s Cure (2018)
Ikarus Inc (2019)
If you would like to know more about our past plays click here
About our production team
To continue THE TOUR & hear about our team click here