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Saturday, 29 September 2007

Had some new promo pictures taken...

Tell me what you think. Thanks Toofan! You rule!


Natalya is from the Ukraine. This month she works, alongside me, at the variety theatre in Hannover. She is part of a double act that chiefly involves her partner Sergei ogling various parts of her body, while she catches him. Oh, and somersaults. It's weird, but in a good way, and funny. As is Natalya.

She speaks very little English, but has learned the word "Employees" from the script of our show (I shout it at the climax of a gag towards the end of the show). She clearly enjoys saying this word, and now uses it to mean everything. I walk through the door and she hugs me hello with a happy "Employees!". She catches me going out for a run wearing shorts and lets out a lecherous "Employees!". We have a drink after the show and toast each other with a clink of glasses and an "Employees!". It's very funny, and linguistically seems to completely work.

She comes to me in my dressing room clutching a school type exercise book, sits down next to me and opens it flat on the table. It is full of carefully handwritten words in Ukrainian together with their English translations. She wants me to help her with her pronunciation. Of course. No problem. We go through her list and she's mainly a lot better than she thinks, and is clearly working very hard on it. The more we go through her book the more it hits me. These words are her life distilled. The list is a collection of haiku that describe her life. Her day to day existence boiled down to bare essentials.

i go
write me please


switch on
switch off

I find it profoundly moving, but , of course, am completely unable to communicate this to her, although I think she understands as she lets me copy the above words into my laptop.

Later on that evening she finds me backstage, grabs me urgently and says - in perfect and careful English - "I like vegetables". I smile broadly and reply that I, too, like vegetables. remembering that the word "Macaroni" was in her book, I ask "Do you like macaroni?", a happy grin spreads across her face, "Yes! I very like macaroni!"

We go bowling. Most of the performers and most of the staff of the venue. We have cocktails and it is fun. More fun, the more cocktails we have. Sven, the be-muscled performing partner of Roma, takes it quite seriously and is, to be fair, very good. He strides up to the lane holding the heaviest ball like a grape, sends it screaming towards the pins at blistering speed, shattering them into broken pieces of whatever pins are made out of. He turns, high-fives some of us (non-ironically - remember, he's German), and sits down as the scoreboard lights up another strike.

Natalya, however, has a slightly different approach. Not having bowled before, her chosen tactic is to cradle the ball like a handbag, run at the lane as fast as she can, before letting it fall in the general direction of the pins. Her first attempt always - always - finds the left gutter. But her second, due to the strange laws of physics and luck that seem only to apply to drunken ball games, usually finds it's target. This is, though, of little interest to Natalya, who seems only to concern herself with the increasingly complex series of celebratory or consolatory dance routines delivered with gusto after she has released her ball. These include, but are not limited to: Kissing her biceps, moonwalking, and dropping into a splits, before realising that her pants are too tight and yelling "Trousers! Employees!"

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Fragments from backstage

We're all a couple of weeks into the thing now and well into the "Well oiled machine" portion of the gig, which comes between the "Oooh this is all new and fun" part and the "I've forgotten what London smells like" part. Here is what's been going on:

Roma the trapeze artist is, to my knowledge, the only performer to actually bother taking advantage of the cheap rates at the local gym for performers. She goes every day. She bounds backstage grinning and telling me that she is "Fit like a sports shoe". "Like an old, smelly sports shoe", adds her partner Sven. I like Roma a lot. "Hello Roma", I say, every evening. "Hello London", she says back.

Roma has a dog called Nanu. It's hard not to like Nanu. Especially when she spends most of her time trying to get someone - anyone - to throw her squeaky plastic French bread dog toy. She's very good at catching it in her mouth, and when she has made what she knows to be a particularly skillful catch will look at you with shiny eyes and squeak the French bread in her mouth over and over. Being a juggler, I have worked on several tricks with Nanu. She can catch the French bread from under the leg, behind the back, from out of a juggle, from a nose balance (my nose) and from a foot flick up. I keep telling Dave that if I can get Nanu to wear a tux and a radio mic, then he's replaced.

I have been warming to Sergei and Natalia, the duo from the Ukraine. They both speak very little English and she is clearly a spectacular lunatic - talking at me in Ukrainian loudly and happily, well aware that I have no earthly idea what she's on about, and happy for me to speak pretend Ukrainian back to her before laughing uproariously and slapping me on the arm. Sergei has been learning English by watching us perform. Consequently, the only phrases he can speak to me are lines from my show, which is very strange. I'll be standing backstage and he'll sidle shyly up to me and say "Day after day, week after week, year after year" and then smile hopefully, "Yes?", and I'll say "Yes!" and grin, and he'll walk away satisfied. I have a plan to learn some Ukrainian and suddenly surprise them.

Tonight we cycled back home and stopped off, as we often do, at the little kiosk on the corner of the street we live on. It's a great shop, selling all the things you might need late at night - these being mainly booze and snacks. Yesterday they called me a taxi to take my wife, who was visiting, back to the airport, and we were both a bit sad as she left. Kati, the woman who runs the shop talks to me tonight and tells me how she saw us crying and was so sad for us, and talked to her husband about it and cried herself a little bit. Then she looks a bit sheepish and asks us if we'd like to come and have a glass of champagne with her as it's her birthday. Of course we would. So we all hung out with her and her two friends Gundy and Anna and drank and chatted. "It must be hard being away from your wife for so long", Kati says. I tell her how it's pretty much the only bad side to what I do. "But", she says, "If there was no bad side then it would be perfect, and perfect is boring". Turns out the lady who runs the kiosk is quite the philosopher.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The reviews are in...

And, well, blimey.

According to Neuepresse, the big newspaper of this part of Germany, we are:

"The un-denied high-point of the show..spectacular humourous the audience laughed until they could laugh no more."

And according to Bild, the biggest circulation newspaper in Europe, we're:

"The highlight of the show"

I am, as you might imagine, happy. Woot.

There are pictures from the show here. I'm the one with the beard in the white dress shirt.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Hannover diary

Sorry about the delay in posting - I've been having trouble connecting to blogger with my wireless connection here.. Anyway...

Tuesday 4th September

There are generally two kinds of rehearsals. Those where you're working continuously and there just aren't enough hours in the day to do all that needs doing, yet somehow all turns out ok on the night. Or those where you spend all the time sitting around doing nothing, getting bored, cranky and slightly worried about when you're actually going to get a chance to look out from the stage and see how things feel. Here at the Hannover GOP variety theatre, we're currently on day two of the latter. Our call was 10am yesterday and, apart from meeting the other artists and having breakfast, we've been called upon to do nothing at all in preparation for the show that will premiere tomorrow night. I'm not as worried as you might think. Sure, it'll be nice to get some time to cue some fun lighting effects and stuff, but the bottom line is that we could do our act in half an hour if needed, so we'll leave the long, fraught, argument-laded rehearsals to some of the other acts and chill out.

I bought a bike today. Me and Dave went up to a big Bike shop and I bought my first brand new bike since the blue Raleigh Arena I had when I was in school. It's all black and has a very high seat. It is, the salesman assured me, good for street riding and fast. Fast is good. I also bought a gadget that attaches to the handlebars and tells me how far and fast I'm going, and I bought a small pink plastic model plane that also attaches to the handlebars and lets me quickly find which bike is mine in a muddle of parked bikes. I unrelated news, I am 38.

Friday 7th September

Two and a half days. That's how long it took for the novelty to wear off. Two shows. It's not as if the first night was particularly seat-of-our-pants, we are, for the most part, seasoned professionals, so we just got on with it and it all seemed to work fine. Except for the way to complex and under-rehearsed curtain calls at the end, which started fine before disintegrating into a slightly confused shuffle off stage. Our act did well, garnering a nice big cheer when we came out for our final bow - always a good sign.

I went shopping before the show yesterday with the intention of getting some nice things to - as I believe the kinds are saying - pimp out my room. After an hour or so walking up and down one of the main shopping streets I returned with some instant mash potato and a bottle of Jim Beam. Not exactly what I had planned to get, but useful nonetheless.

We were slightly worried that our spot in the show is too long, which is certainly is. It would be hard to cut stuff to make it shorter as it's already been on quite the diet. In it's street theatre days it would run anywhere from 45 minutes to a full hour, and has since been slimmed down to 20-25 minutes. Any more cutting and it would start to lose what passes for a narrative. Luckily the director seems to agree with us, saying "It's too long, but it's funny, so it's fine", which is heartening.

After the first night, we were invited to a nice group meal, during which they served, as a dessert, yoghurt flavoured with basil. This only sounds nice if you don;t actually have to eat it. It was several kinds of wrong.

My onboard bike computer (which I am, of course, calling K.I.T.T.) is telling me that I have so far cycled a total distance of 16.102 km, and ridden for a total time of 55 minutes 38 seconds. Oh, and that I am currently travelling at a speed of 0 km/h, as it is sitting on my desk. Nice to know these things.


I'm in my dressing room in between shows - tonight we do a normal evening show and then a special late night performance. In between shows, the stagehands Roman and Toofan, who are both brilliant and fun, bring us all soup in a big silver pot. There's a restaurant attached to the theatre, so the soup is quite spectacularly good and we all dig in, and then there it is: The first little glimmer of group bonding. All of us, holding little white ceramic bowls of soup, dipping in bread and going, in all our different languages, "Mmmm".

Sunday, 2 September 2007

The road will own me

Currently in a poky hotel in Braunschweig, which OK, I have no bloody idea where it is. It's in Germany. Near-ish Hannover. That's as much as I need to know. I'm performing in a really nice variety show held in a beautiful big red tent that holds near on 1000 people. It's a four day gig to provide a little spending money for the long contract that starts next week. There's a bill full of high-skill circus folk - contortionists, arielists, trampolinists, acrobats, tight rope walkers - all nice people and the shows are fun. Tonight after the show we drive back to Hannover and I sleep my first night in the apartment that will be my home for the next two months. Monday morning the rehearsals for the variety theatre in Hannover begin. So far, so good.