Most people ask me, when I’m off on tour, or heading out into the regions to do a show: where do you stay? This question is usually followed with: do they put you up in a hotel? Ha! No! We wish! Actors on tour or away from home are given an amount of money to live on – subsistence – and you pay for and organise your own accommodation out of that. The company or theatre will give you a digs list, which will include hotels on it and B&Bs should you wish to supplement your subsistence from your own pocket (it wouldn’t stretch to a hotel on its own) but mainly the digs are rooms in other people’s houses and they can be hit and miss. Essentially, for those who’ve never had the experience, think of digs as the reverse of Cribs.
I have done quite well in Oxford as my digs consist of two rooms, a single room with sink and desk that reminds me of my Uni days, and a small kitchenette with toaster, kettle, microwave and mini oven. Being able to cook on tour is luxury for most actors and I also am conveniently located near to both the rehearsal barn and North Wall where we’ll be performing. So I’ve done well.
Conversely, when I was in Cambridge two years ago doing Blithe Spirit at the Arts Theatre, I had my worst digs experience. It was a cold, wet November night, after our Monday show, when I arrived in pitch black at a musty old house and was shown my room. The room was freezing but as it was 11pm by now and too late to do anything about it. I got into the uncomfortable bed with its broken mattress and stingy covers fully dressed in my tracksuit and drew the strings on the hood up tight. It made little odds, I couldn’t get warm. I slept in 20 minutes bursts like you do when you are ill and too uncomfy to sleep except for the snatches of unconsciousness your exhausted body steals before waking again from the cold and aching.
I got up in the morning feeling like I’d slept on a plank. I looked under the ‘mattress’ (I assume it had at one time served as a mattress) and discovered – I had slept on a plank! The old lady had literally supported the broken mattress springs by putting a rectangular piece of wood over the bed base, though it didn’t even completely cover the bed base. Agony! I left that day at the crack of dawn, paying off the old lady and limping off red eyed to a cheap hotel, before one of my wonderful colleagues and now dear friend took me into her Cambridge family home. Bliss….
Luckily, my Oxford digs are working out quite nicely. So in addition to their long standing competition in university league tables, boat races etcetera I add in Digs. Oxford 1, Cambridge 0.