So yesterday I did my last show of In the Glare of the Neon Yak. And weirdly it was quite an emotional moment. This show has been with me for almost two years. In 2016 I met up with a famous fringe performer for a breakfast meeting about the basics of putting a show together and they gave me the most invaluable advice. On the way home the next day, an idea came in to my mind to set a show on a train. The first idea was to call it Vestibule Dreams, and that it would be the stories of all the people who were crammed into a Vestibule because there weren’t any seats in the carriage.
Several ideas kept rumbling away in my mind including a show based on the local legend from where I grew up, of Herne the Hunter, the mysterious deer who haunts only when England is in crisis or in peril. I wanted to create a similar myth, and the title came to me all of a sudden: In the Glare of the Neon Yak. I would subvert the myth. A yak which only appears as a symbol that things will be ok. Those who see the Neon Yak will be assured that everything will turn out alright.
The next stage was that I bought a costume. A ringmasters outfit. And the show started to take place, what if I took the costume, the idea for a show set on a train, the idea for a show about a mysterious Yak, and put them all together? I gave myself four months to write the script, took a week off from work, and wrote the whole thing in five days.
Several parts of the show are nods to people I know. Tony the Train Manager is based on a real person, as is Molly. The train is called the Puddlehopper Express, which was what my dad used to call his car. The train company was called Preyard, which is what my dad calls a certain airline which he used to fly with. Jacques the tight rope Walker and Parsnip the clown are characters from a really bad novel I wrote when I was about thirteen.
In January of this year I started rehearsing. Previous to this year, id never been able to memorise a three minute poem, but I decided to memorise the whole hour show. I have no idea how many hours I spent going over the script. I would go to the gym and memorise the show while I was working out. I also worked with a director, who gave such good advice on movement and speech. The music was put together myself and by Bryce Dumont, who sent me thousands of his music files to plough through.
And so it was launched on the world. The first show at Exeter Phoenix was a bit scratchy in that the tech guy played all the music in the wrong order, but it wasn’t his fault. Nevertheless the audience liked it, and from Exeter it went to Barnstaple, Bristol, Guildford, Denbury and Gateshead, before a final run through in Torquay, followed by Edinburgh.
Edinburgh has been its normal self. On some days I had quite respectable audiences, on others, two or three people. However, I had some amazing feedback. One of my heroes, the performance drag clown storyteller Dandy Darkly came to one performance, and he said some very nice things about it on social media. And then someone left this amazing review on the Edfringe website:
“If a tree falls in a forest, can dullards in pubs speculate as to the physics of sound? Similarly, if you see an engaging spoken word show that isn’t a search for identity or a lecture that resembles a Year 9 assembly, and only three people see it, does that mean it’s a bad show?
For idiots, the answer is obvious, because they’re idiots. However, for the three of us who watched Robert Garnham’s witty adult fairy story about five characters on a train journey from the West Country, the rewards are many.
Going the whole hog in ringmaster garb, Garnham manages to put across a star-struck train guard, a pie-eating clown-fixated trapeze-artist and his former clown lover plus a unique depiction of homoerotic coitus in the toilet of a Cross Country 125 and a sexting octogenarian all within the structure of a tale about the eponymous creature.
Such ambition and craft deserves Hollie McNish’s audience. She wouldn’t miss it, but we’d miss not having shows like this. It’d be like not having forests.”
And now the Yak is done, and I really can’t believe it. I’ve got used to the characters and they’ve become like friends over the last few months. I’m making plans to tour the show around the uk and anywhere else that shows an interest. But the last scheduled show has been done. And I’m only just starting to realise what an achievement it was. The last show had a large audience and there was a big cheer when it finished, and I must admit, I did feel a little emotional.