Life post-lockdown for Norfolk favourite Ben Langley: “For someone in my line of work to go on stage five times a week is a complete privilege”
PUBLISHED: 13:17 28 August 2020
Comic Ben Langley is back on a Norfolk stage doing what he does best – but how different is life as an entertainer in the post-lockdown ‘new normal’?
“Suddenly, life got busy again…”
After months of lockdown and uncertainty, and an anxious wait to see when he could entertain again, the curtains have opened on a new chapter in comic Ben Langley’s incredible career.
As Potters Resort in Hopton-on-Sea reopened its doors to holidaymakers at the end of July, Ben returned to entertain them alongside the venue’s famous performers, albeit in a format that reflected the strangeness of 2020.
Now with the go-ahead to perform to “real live humans!” Ben is relishing every moment of playing to a crowd, even if that crowd is socially-distanced and only a fraction of the capacity that can fill the capacious Potters’ theatre.
“Every single one of us who gets to perform for holidaymakers thanks their lucky stars because we know what a privilege it is,” he said.
“And what an absolute joy to be bringing a bit of fun into people’s lives and what a treat they are for us, to be seeing their faces, hearing their laughter. It’s wonderful.”
Ben had just been taken on by Potters as part of their full-time team having written last year’s Christmas pantomime: he had grand plans for the Hopton resort “I was so excited, it was a dream job – comedy writer and comedy consultant at a place I love and close to home so I could spend more time with my family,” said Ben, who lives with wife Sarah, a choreographer, and sons Loxley and Elwood.
“I had so many ideas, so many plans…and then…lockdown. It was a terrible shock but I was so grateful to be able to be furloughed – this is the first time I have ever been employed, rather than self-employed, the first time I’ve been on a pay roll.”
Lockdown came after two years of change for Ben, who began his career in entertainment in Covent Garden where he performed “so I could afford to eat” and who has performed in 21 pantomimes and has written for a galaxy of star comedians.
After THAT stint on variety talent show Britain’s Got Talent, Ben became a household name – there followed a “difficult” pantomime at Norwich Theatre Royal in 2018 and then he was signed for the 2019 Christmas show at Great Yarmouth Hippodrome Circus after which came the role at Potters.
And then the brakes were applied on normal life in March.
During lockdown, Ben created 100 poems in 100 days which he performed while running. Through rain and shine, Ben entertained a virtual audience on YouTube with a series of ditties about all manner of different subjects.
“Writing the poems helped me, because it gave me a focus and forced me to do something and I think it helped some other people because they were a little bit of fun every day,” said Ben.
Comments under his videos suggest this was very much the case: “These have cheered me up each day, thank you Ben for your warmth and kindness over the past 100 days,” said one while another viewer said: “We’ve certainly had a giggle and I will miss your daily ditty. You’ve helped to lift our spirits when life has been quite awful.”
He and Sarah also home-schooled their sons and Ben taught himself to use new technology in order to help with Poem on the Run.
“I loved spending so much time with Sarah and the boys but of course, like everyone else, there was that nagging fear about the future, particularly in our line of work,” he said, “there were difficult moments and hard times, but we kept going.”
Admitting to a rush of emotion at the news that Potters would reopen and he would be part of the returning entertainment team, Ben said that everyone “hit the ground running” in order to provide a service that was commensurate with the experience Potters’ guests have come to expect from a holiday.
The resort reopened on July 24 after developing its facilities to include 50 private restaurant suites and new open-air entertainment spaces for families.
Initially, Ben returned with the entertainment team and was unable to stage any indoor shows with an audience: instead, shows were recorded live and streamed across the resort into holidaymakers’ rooms and to outdoor screens.
“We normally have around 20 people on stage but with social distancing it is now four dancers and two entertainers and at the beginning, no audience,” said Ben.
“But we were full of ideas and you just have to adapt. The show must go on and we had to find a way for that to happen.
“Performing comedy without an audience was very strange and it was bizarre to get try and get laughs when no one is there to laugh back, but you get used to it.”
With no real-time feedback, Ben and other performers would leave gaps in which they hoped the audience in their room, or at the new outdoor South Terrace area, would fill with laughter. And, of course, the laughter came.
“I am in work, I am making people laugh and I am part of a team that work together to make people’s holidays special – it doesn’t get much better than that,” said Ben.
“For someone in my line of work to say that they go on stage five times a week at the moment is a complete privilege.
“Potters has made a great gear change, a left-turn to greet a situation which no one saw coming and it has worked: people come away to escape real life and they are getting that escape.”
But Ben admitted that he and the team had missed the sense of community gained from everyone gathering in a shared space to laugh and enjoy themselves: like Covid-19, laughter is contagious, but the latter, unlike the former, is very welcome.
On August 13, Ben performed at The Drive-In Experience at Taverham Hall, the first time he’d played in front of an actual audience since March and then the news came that indoor performances would be allowed with the caveat that audiences must practice social-distancing.
“It felt like the beginning of a new chapter,” said Ben, “to see people’s faces, even if there were less of them, was so incredible. We all felt quite overwhelmed on the first night: it felt really special.
“People queue for tickets for the live show and those that we can’t accommodate can still watch on Potters TV, but to see people’s faces and see them loving having a laugh is just great.”
Ben said that at dark times, a little light entertainment can offer a much-needed escape – he said he had loved going to the Hippodrome Circus to see the summer show and looked forward to returning there at Christmas.
As summer turns to autumn, Ben is relishing the chance to bring some of that light into as many lives as he can and feeling thankful for the opportunities created for him.
“After a tough few years and a very tough few months, to be back on stage is just wonderful and I am so grateful.
“Potters celebrates its 100th birthday this year and it’s a business that has survived World Wars and it will survive this – in fact, it will emerge as an even stronger resort,” said Ben.
You may also want to watch:
“After the year we’ve had, seeing people laugh, well, it’s lush, isn’t it?”
· Around half of comedy clubs in the UK say they will definitely face permanent closure without further funding or support according to a survey from the Live Comedy Association
· The UK Government is providing £1.5 billion emergency arts funding but comedy was not mentioned in the announcement
· Comedians have found new ways of performing including virtual versions of their gigs, Zoom comedy stand-up shows and the Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival on Twitch – more than 75 per cent of performers have earned less than five per cent of their pre-pandemic estimated income from online performances of any kind
· More than 45 per cent of those asked by the Live Comedy Association have already given serious thought to leaving comedy because of the pandemic, with just under 60 per cent of all respondents predicting they’ll need to leave before February 2021 unless performances are given the green light
· Almost three-quarters of those asked by the Association said their mental health had been negatively impacted by job and industry uncertainty during the pandemic
· Live comedy makes a huge contribution to the UK economy, generating around £500 million every year
Ben’s 100th (and last) poem: Onwards and Upwards
“Good morning – welcome to Poem on the Run!
“A hundred days ago I started this Poem on the Run aim and a hundred days later, here we are, I’m still in the game.
“Cor, we’ve had spy hideouts, back scratchers, rain on barbecues, Mick Jagger as a delivery driver, DIY and celebrity zoos.
“And I hope I’ve made you giggle and given you the odd thought and helped you through this time and made it feel…I don’t know, short.
“So today’s my last one and I don’t want to be an irritation so – with all this blimmin’ running, I’ve reached my destination.
“So thanks for watching and all the comments you’ve made, you’ve certainly given me a purpose and something to do with my day.
“So the next idea is, and there’s no need to vote: instead of Poem on the Run, I thought I’d do ‘note on a goat’…
“So here’s me signing off now and to help me on my way, let’s all say it together, have a lovely…day.”
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.