Riverside Studios in London staged “The Exonerated”, a play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen in Spring 2006. They did it as a stage reading with a cast of several regular and some changing actors. One of the guest actresses was Kate Mulgrew and of course many of the European fans wouldn’t miss that.
The play itself is absolutely worth seeing – or reading. I think there’s even a film version now, starring Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover, among others. It follows the stories of six people who have been wrongfully sentenced to death from their arrest to the time after their eventual release years later. It’s not exactly light entertainment and not really appropriate material for children, but it deals with relevant issues in a way that makes it impossible not to look a little harder at those ideas we have about the justice system.
The London production was a very basic one in terms of set design, as would be expected of a stage reading. What it lacked in fancy sets and costumes and movement on stage, was more than compensated by the amazing performances of all actors and actresses involved. Light and sound design helped create the right mood for the dramatic tale and made for a very emotional experience.
The entire trip was going to be a big adventure once again. Many of the people I had met the year before had made plans to go see the play on the same weekend – the weekend of Kate Mulgrew’s birthday. As a birthday present from her fans, two ladies organised a fundraiser. Many fans contributed through donations and auctions, making it possible to present Kate with a sizable check – money donated to the Alzheimer’s Association in her honour. That night, the small theatre bar was packed with excited fans who wanted to sing Happy Birthday and see the look on her face when she got her present. It was an amazing moment that showed me how much can be accomplished when a few like-minded people put their heads together.
The day before, my friend Michaela and I had arrived – separately – and met at our hostel. This time we had arranged to stay at the same place. In the evening, we walked over to the theatre to meet a few of our friends for drinks. We hadn’t seen each other for about a year and had a lot to talk about. At some point Kate Mulgrew came over to our table to say goodbye before she left, as she knew at least one of our group – the woman who had organised the fundraiser. It was one of those slightly surreal experiences that, even years later, make me blink in surprise and wonder if that really happened.
The two days after that were a little less relaxed, as hordes of fans descended upon the venue to watch the play and celebrate Kate Mulgrew’s birthday. Michaela and I originally only had tickets for the Saturday night performance, but we liked it so much that we got tickets for the Sunday matinee and, later, the Sunday evening performance as well. At some point in the chaos that was the Sunday night stage door hype, we even got an autograph.
We all got to spend a lot of time together, drinking wine and chatting with people from all over Europe as well as most members of the cast. They were an amazing bunch of people. One of those sweet guys was Martin Freeman. Yeah, I’ve got an edition of that play with his autograph in it. At that time, he was just a sweet guy and a talented actor in a brilliant cast and we had a really nice chat about being a travelling fan with him.
The following Monday, many of us went to a small, rather weird town north of London for a convention. They had set up a huge vendor’s area in a large shopping mall, placing autograph tables all around. It was a little unusual, but fun, as fans and regular shoppers crowded the place.
Apart from Kate Mulgrew, the only other guests I can recall are Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton and an extremely bored Robert Pattinson. Back then he had just been one of those dudes who played a part in one of the Harry Potter movies. I’m still a little bummed that I didn’t get an autograph. I could probably have sold it for a fortune now when they went for something like £10 back then. Oh well, live and learn, I guess.
As it happened, I was far more interested in taking photos and getting autographs of Kate Mulgrew. As far as convention experiences go, this one was not particularly outstanding. It was cheap and fun, but there were no talks or photo sessions. Before we headed back to London, we did run into Kate Mulgrew, though. We even had a chance to exchange a few words and tell her how much we had enjoyed the play the previous weekend.
Despite all the excitement around Kate Mulgrew, the most vivid memories of that weekend are of the effect that play had on me and of the warmth and friendship I experienced. And that time I actually saw a little bit of London. If I ever find out where I put the photos of that time, I’ll update this post.