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Beer!
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Writer/actor Stephen Michael Lowe on the production of Beer!...

It's now a week since the opening night of "Beer!". The audience's applause is now an echo in my memory and the adrenaline rush has been replaced by a malaise as I return to my daily grind. We started working on "Beer!" before my son was even conceived and now, as Sam looks forward to his second Christmas it's over...or is it? Granted the stage may have been struck but the elephant suit is in storage and may well have an airing in the new year; but less of KOBAL's plans for the future, let's look at how "Beer!" faired at Contact, or at least my feelings on the matter.

Since receiving confirmation that we could stage "Beer!" at Contact there have been countless meetings, emails, telephone calls, letters, texts and even the odd rehearsal. I helped out where I could with words and so forth; helping secure Arts Council funding and correcting the grammar on press releases amongst other things. Yet it wasn't until the Monday when we started our week of rehearsals at the Yard in Hulme that the magnitude of the task in hand actually started to sink in.

Part of the issue with co-writing a semi-autobiographical comedy and then being cast in one of the central roles is that you're expected to know what to say and how to say it from the off; which before that Monday I thought I did - how wrong I was. The moment I stepped into the rehearsal space was crucial and I could have seriously buggered up the whole production if it weren't for one thing - the cast. If I come across like I'm criticising any other aspect of the production or the casts of our previous shows I'm not; our crew are all seasoned professionals, they know their job inside-out and every cast we've had have been great but there's just something about Messrs. Bowles, Kilgour, Lord, McGuinness, Murphy and Thomas that make them special.

The first thing we did that rehearsal week was find our bearings and get to know each other a little better. Granted we'd rehearsed on Sunday afternoons for the last couple of month's but this was the first time we were to spend an extended period of time together and as the day passed we got better acquainted with the material and each other. In fact by the end of the day only one thing remained a mystery - the elephant suit. Up to that point we'd rehearsed with Paul wearing his usual scruffs but as the suit was being made in Devon by Mark's mother very little was known about it, until it arrived that afternoon.

Tuesday was all about getting used to Paul acting the part of Baz in full costume. Acting opposite Bowles is pretty odd at the best of times, but put him in a pink elephant suit that measures just short of seven feet tall and the situation becomes down right bizarre. However by the end of the Tuesday we'd stopped laughing at Paul (for the most part) and got down to the business of refining the play scene by scene.

The rest of the week seemed to fly by and the only problem came at the end of play on Thursday, when we realised that act two was a little on the long side. Once we'd all taken a deep breath Mark and I stepped back into "writer" mode and rejigged things a little (we're quite good at that) and we continued unabated.

Before we knew it we were sweeping up the rehearsal space and leaving the Yard behind us. I remember feeling a lump in my throat (it's true, I'm a big girl). Squeezing in a final speed run at our second home of Walkabout in Oldham on Sunday we were out of time, the first performance was days away and the nerves started to really kick in...

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