The BHA’s week of Protest the Pope events began on Monday with Relief-o-matic – a night of comedy and music, raising money for AIDS-relief charities. Robin Ince, Ed Byrne, Richard Herring, Andy Zaltzman and Ben Goldacre were amongst the star turns, and I had a tip-off about special surprise guest Tim Minchin. I was booked for the photography, and had been looking forward to it for weeks.
Then the operation on Friday knocked me back. I was determined to go, but, to be honest, by Monday I knew I’d be pushing my luck. Walking still hurt more than I was hoping it would, and sneezing (as I am prone to do) was Not Fun, but I dosed myself up on painkillers – keeping the if-you-have-to liquid morphine as an option – and headed down to London. Thankfully I was genuinely ok – adrenalin and ibuprofen kept the edge off for the evening, and I was able to bounce around without prolonged discomfort. Admittedly this was a bit lucky. Still – got away with it, and I’m really glad I went, as the night was great fun.
I’d never shot at the Bloomsbury Theatre before, and didn’t know where I’d be allowed to stand, or what their regulations would be on people moving around during the show. Thankfully they were relaxed about it. I pretty much had the run of the place, and was able to creep up and down the entire length of the side aisle without disturbing anyone, which meant I could get right up close to the stage with my telephoto lens.
Shooting staged events is always tricky because the audience is darker than the performers. I’m used to lecture halls, where you can usually fudge a shot of both in the one image, but this was a proper theatre, and I had no chance. I could get a properly exposed shot of the performer looking out into The Endless Nothing, or I could get the audience staring into a nuclear fireball. And there was no happy medium. Which sounds annoying, but in practice is a no-brainer: you concentrate on the performers. So I did.
The show itself went very well. The BHA had learnt the lessons of the slightly-too-long early Godless concerts and paced the acts nicely, giving everybody ten minutes or so and alternating the comic styles. The tone was generally good, too – as with the godless concerts the audience is always going to be on-side, so you can say seemingly-contentious things without having to qualify them with the obvious caveats we all know apply. Ben Goldacre, Peter Tatchell and Johann Hari supplied the important messages, and were surrounded by comedians, all of whom I really enjoyed. I was particularly happy to see Andy Zaltzman in the flesh, as I’m a huge fan of The Bugle, and the BHA Choir put in a wonderful turn with The Vatican Rag and Every Sperm is Sacred (and made BBC London News!). And all the time there was a conspicuous piano.
I was also allowed backstage, which was brilliant. At first I was in the green room, where the performers congregate, but it seemed like it’d be rude to take photos of people preparing for their act, so I didn’t shoot in there at all until the end of the night. So I mainly hovered, ate crisps, and watched @Psythor of The Pod Delusion do his stuff (and tried to figure out how he interviews people so well).
Tim Minchin came as a complete surprise to the audience, and rounded off the show with – obviously – The Pope Song, getting the biggest applause of the night. For he is awesome. I managed to say hi backstage, which was a moment of High Squeee, and he’s exactly as you’d hope – a really nice guy who had time for everybody. He went to the pub with the Choir afterwards.
The audience were really into the show from the off, and I haven’t heard anything but praise. I was happy with the photos, too. I had a really good time – I hope they make it an annual thing.