Redemption '01 - Iain Coleman

Friday seems so long ago...

When we arrived at the hotel, it was hard to believe that it was two years since the last time. In 99, Rachel and I had only been together a few months and she was rather apprehensive about spending a weekend with some vaguely-imagined gaggle of weirdos. Now we're married, and she'd been looking forward to this con ever since the last one, at which she became an instant convert to fandom. Detailed planning of outfits had been going on for months, I kid you not.

Anyway, we checked in, picked up our packs of goodies and went off to the room to get tarted up. We were in the same corridor as last time, but on the other side. I found this terribly baffling.

I spent much of the evening in the bar, blethering away with an ever-changing vortex of old and new friends, catching up with the gossip, indulging in shamelessly opinionated rants about creaky old sci-fi shows and generally having a great time. After three pints or so I thought it would be wise to have a burger to line the old stomach: this took considerably longer to arrive than I had anticipated, which was doubtless the reason for my subsequent slight tipsiness.

The opening ceremony is hazy in my mind. Hazier still is the Freedom City party: my only vivid memory of that happy occasion is of insisting to Calle at some length that our cabaret sketch would be the finest comic creation in history. Maybe I should go into publicity.

Saturday dawned as Saturdays do. This was going to be a busy day. I dragged my sweating carcass out of bed in time for Neil Faulkner and Andy Lane's panel on 'How much science do we want in science fiction.' This was an interesting discussion: inconclusive, as such discussions always are, but some illuinating points were raised by the panellists and the audience. (I'm not sure 'audience' is the right word for such active participants, but it will have to do until I think of a better one.)

Next up was 'Why we love villains'. Rob Clother was fronting this, and I didn't envy him. The main hall really isn't suited to this kind of discussion: it's too big for the audience to join in without microphones, and the panel can't see the crowd. Furthermore, Rob's co-panellists didn't show up for quite some time -- and when they did, it became a curious double-act with Michael Sheard passing round a microphone in the crowd, in between thespy rambles, while Rob posed various questions about drama and reality from the stage. In spite of all these slings and arrows it was a thought-provoking hour, with a lot of good contributions from Rob, Michael and the audience.

Next up was 'Blake: terrorist or freedom fighter' with Una, Judith, Pat and Gareth. I've always considered this a rather uninteresting question, but fortunately the panel ended up talking about more interesting issues anyway, so that was all right. This particular debate was very diverse: a lot of the examples of real-life political struggles were brought up by audience members who seemed to be speaking from personal experience, and this combined well with Una and Pat's more analytical arguments. Gareth's most relevant contribution was his insider's view of how Blake regarded himself, and what was really driving his character -- and he provided the most comic moment when he remarked that this 'Star One' that everyone was going on about must clearly be something pretty important.

I skipped out early, as I had to prepare my workshop on 'Performance lessons we can learn from B5 and B7'. I was very unsure about how this would turn out, but thankfully it seemed to go well. I enjoyed it, anyway, and learned one or two things in the course of the hour. Thanks to Alison, Rob, Una and Calle, who volunteered to perform some scenes and really helped to illustrate some of the acting issues involved, and to everyone else who took part. Thanks also to Steve: I had caused him a bit of hassle because I was being terribly picky about what sort of room I wanted, but he came up trumps.

By this time I was pretty knackered, but there was no chance of a respite. There was a sketch to rehearse! In true Blake's 7 style we had a page of last-minute script changes to rehearse on the very day of performance, so Una, Matthew, Alison and I went to my room for an hour's work, with Rachel and Ian dispensing tea and constructive criticism. The performance involved much swearing and throwing of furniture: I later had to assure David Walsh (who was in the next room) that Rachel and I weren't having a domestic.

Alison and Una had Things to Do, so Matthew and I had to represent the group at the cabaret rehearsal. Being a technical rehearsal, this involved the perfomers standing around for two hours then spending a few seconds wandering about on stage. Dreadfully tedious, but necessary. David Walsh tried with moderate success to teach me some basic dance moves for the evening. As we were doing this I noticed that the stage was in sections, and hoped he wouldn't get a stilleto heel trapped in the floor during the dance.

Mission accomplished, we went to the 'Political systems in SF' panel which Neil, Una, Alison and myself were running. This was a packed and occasionally fraught affair. We had done little preparation, but frankly that was just as well: it became clear that any discussion was going to have a momentum of its own that the panellists could do little to influence. There was a good discussion of utopias in SF, which went into all sides of the issue in some depth. However -- and I guess we should have forseen this danger -- the present-day real world did encroach on the discussion a bit too much. In particular, I was disturbed and embarrassed by the bursts of thoughtless anti-Americanism that kept bubbling up from the audience. My attempts to divert this were entirely ineffective, and I apologise to any Americans in the audience for that failure. Fortunately, there was no aggressive ranting from anyone involved until about 6 o'clock, when the panel was due to finish anyway.

After this, we had a bite to eat (and were pleasantly surprised by the food in the carvery), then I had a bit of a lie down before heading to the cabaret.

The fancy dress -- sorry, masquerade -- was impressive. Every time I see one of these the standard seems to be higher. I was a little disturbed by just how effective Nicola Collie was as Servalan, I must say.

In the cabaret itself, Steve Kilbane and Fi did a couple of excellent songs -- Fi, you have a terrific voice. There was a fair bit of dancing as well: Kat acquitted herself with great style and panache as one of Londo's dancing girls. There was some belly-dancing of the scantily-clad variety, but by that time I was too busy worrying about our sketch. After all these panels my voice really was shot to hell, and I was quietly doing vocal exercises in an attempt to recover it.

Then we were on. Matthew, Una and Alison were great, and the audience reaction was very positive. Great fun.

After this, the good Mr Walsh got me up to dance. Cruel fate stuck one of his stilleto heels into the stage, just as I had feared, but we had a good time regardless.

Then -- much to my surprise -- Rachel came up to the front bearing a large chocolate cake, complete with candle. Chris O'Shea announced that it was my birthday, and I was back on stage again to have 'Happy Birthday' sung to me by more people than have ever done so in the past 28 years. I was really touched by this. Thanks, all of you.

When all the cabaret fun was over, it was time for people to get glammed up for the disco. Our room became a hive of girly activity, as Rachel and Una got into their Abba gear, Alison got into her wig and feather boa, Rob was put into his fishnets and Rachel did everyone's makeup. I, of course, went to the bar, then to Gareth's Shakespeare session. This was absolutely packed, and very enjoyable.Gareth read some of his favourite passages, interspersed with some chat about Shakespeare and about performance. All the readings were powerful, and in particular his reading of the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy was the best I've heard it done. He really is rather a good actor, you know.

Then down to the disco, by now in full swing. Rachel and Una were as goddesses in their sparkly platform boots and flamboyant mini-dresses. I danced for a bit, than retreated to the bar to discuss with Matthew our mutual closet dislike of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.

I crashed out shortly afterwards -- it had been a long and tiring day.

Sunday was somewhat calmer. We had a long lie, a spot of brekkie, then packed our things. I had only one duty on Sunday, which was a panel about the science of space habitats entitled 'A world of spinning steel'. I was a bit apprehensive about this, not knowing the other panellists, but it turned out to be really good fun. The discussion was wide-ranging, touching on all aspects of space travel, past, present and future, and the audience brought at least as much knowledge and intelligent inquiry to the proceedings as the panellists did.

After that, a quiet wind-down to the closing ceremony. As well as the things I had expected -- final announcements, raffle, and so on -- there was a short film that had been made during the con. This involved the spacecraft from the chaos modelling workshop doing battle, assisted by shaky wires and a cloth backdrop, with inserted performances by various congoers, and an impromtu soundtrack provided by the vocal talents of Mr Spock. This was quite simply the best thing I have ever seen in my life.

And that brought our con to an end. Rachel and I said a few last farewells then set off home. It was an extremely good con -- tiring at times, but you get out what you put in. There were lots of people that I was glad to see again, and a few that I met in person for the first time. Thanks to all of them for being part of such a great weekend, and thanks especially to Judith, Steve and the rest of the commitee for all their hard work. I'm already looking forward to Redemption 03.


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