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Sunday, 15 March 2009

When good things happen in Bad Oeynhausen

Back in Germany again an a variety theatre in the aforementioned Bad Oeynhausen. The show and cast is largely the same as last time in Essen, with the exception of the replacement of Slava and Ben, with Genevieve and Maxim, who also hang from things high up, in a heavily pornographic manner. Oh, by the way, the video above is the film we use to start our current show, thought you might like to see it.

I flew back from Sydney Australia, had about a day and a half at home, then flew straight here, so for the first week or so I was fairly screwed up. Every night, regardless of my valiant protestations, I would fall asleep at about 7pm, and then regular as clockwork, I'd be wide awake at 5am the next morning. We're now in week two, and although the jet lag has mainly faded, I'm still sleeping fitfully. Two or three times a night I'll sit bold upright in bed and panic about where I am, who I am, what time it is, how many strangers can see me naked, and which cues I've missed, before slowly waking up, realising what's going on, making a chewbacca-type sound, and trying to go to sleep again. Added to this, I've started the dazzlingly attractive hobby of grinding my teeth as I sleep, so as a side effect I've chewed halfway through my left cheek and my back teeth ache all day. Marvellous.

I type these sentences as I sit at my little round wooden table in the bedroom-part of my apartment just down the corridor from the theatre. It's Sunday morning, and I'm attempting to stabilise my mood by doing the familiar: writing, listening to radio 4 and playing Virtual Pro Wrestling 2. Perhaps it's the fact that this is the last two-month block of several, so we're coming to the end of the contract for this show, that there's a slight feeling of finality hanging around me. There's a big old chance that I'll never see most of the performers I'm sharing a bill with ever again, as many of them are from Russia, the Ukraine, or similarly crazy far-flung and fairy-tale places, so that's a bit sad, as I've grown to like many of them very much indeed.

I am, however, looking forward to going home more than I usually do. Feeling that ache, and it's only week two of eight. I've been away too much recently, and I think my soul needs to be reminded where it lives. Right now I don't feel completely anywhere, and I think that's contributing to my fuzzy malaise. It's like I'm one of those red shirts in Star Trek who gets lost in the transporter beam. A half transparent panicky version of me is on the Enterprise, and a half transparent panicky version of me is down on the surface of the planet, but there's not a complete, solid me anywhere at the moment. And for all the sliding of knobs that Scotty flusters over, we all know what happens to red shirts.

Having said all that, the show is going well, and everyone is chugging along pretty much fine - although the day before yesterday Ekaterina the contortionist was showing everyone her hand which was spasming all over the place while she pointed at it with her other hand, grinning, shaking her head and saying "I don't know!", and yesterday she took a day out of the show, because her hand was, y'know, spasming all over the place. Not good when you spend most of your act balancing on it, I guess. But Russian shaky hands notwithstanding, all is well - a review even giving me the brilliant quote "Mat Ricardo does what is considered hardly possible!" and says that me and Dave have "Diagonal humour", whatever that is.

As for the town we're in - well it's more of a village really. It reminds me of the places my family would go and stay in Norfolk, which, while very lovely, used to drive me quietly insane as a child because there was so little actually there. I remember when I was a kid going to the wavy line stores (the only shop within walking distance when we were on holiday) and making myself not look around the whole shop in one go, thinking, I'll save that corner of the shop for tomorrow, to make the excitement last. It's a bit like that. There's the kaiserpalais, where the theatre and my apartment is, which if you google it, you'll see is a large grand and beautiful old building set in acres of parkland, which is all very nice. Then right next door to us there is the bali-therme - a spa, gym and pool complex which all the cast immediately signed up for, because it stays open until midnight and there is little better than a post-show jacuzzi.

If you walk through the park to the station you get to what the locals hilariously describe as "downtown", which is three streets with a bank, a post office and a smattering of shops. The first day I was here I went out to try to find the nearest supermarket and was told by a lady in a knitting shop (Oh yes, there's only a dozen or so shops, and one of them is a knitting shop), that there was no supermarket downtown, no supermarket anywhere near here. I had been told there was one closeby, I said. She reiterated that no, no, no, the nearest one was - and then she pointed out to the horizon as if describing the direction of Africa - the nearest one must be, oh, ten minutes walk that way. I thanked her, and as I began to leave on my way to the supermarket, she asked after me, "You have a car?" she said. When I said that I didn't, but could probably manage a ten minute walk, her mouth literally dropped open and she slowly shook her head. This left me spending half the journey wondering if she's mis-translated herself, and perhaps she meant ten miles, not ten minutes, but no, I was there in five minutes. She was just a lazy German knitter.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A big trip

Heathrow airport, Saturday afternoon. I am cleansed, exfoliated and moisturised, wearing comfortable but stylish attire and standing in front of a charming young lady with flamboyantly constructed hair and a pale blue Air New Zealand uniform. She has just checked my bags in for my BIG TRIP. I am about to travel from London to Los Angeles to Auckland to Christchurch to Dunedin. This is a trip more easily measured in days rather than hours. "When you get to L.A.", the Air New Zealand lady says, "They will put you in a holding area for a couple of hours". "Sounds Terrific", I say. "Yes!", she replies, grinning broadly, "it is like a big cage!"

I'm thinking that this might be a tough trip, but I'm nothing if not a seasoned traveller. I know how to do this. I go through the security check and immediately head to a cafe and order a milk shake and a gingerbread man. Nothing bad ever happens to grown men who eat like children, that's almost a rule.

The flight to L.A. is uneventful, except for the quiz. There is a staff member - he doesn't seem to be cabin crew, and he's certainly not flight crew - he wears a stripey shirt and everso slightly wacky glasses. He seems to be - shudder - some kind of entertainment operative. Air New Zealand's equivalent of a Butlins redcoat. Bearing in mind we're to spend the next 12 hours in a confined space thirty thousand feet above the Earth, this is a grim prospect. The only task I am aware of him doing throughout the flight is the quiz. He gains control of the p.a. system, and cheerfully announces that seeing as it's Academy Awards weekend, we're going to have an Oscars quiz. He then - softly, and completely on his own - cheers. Quiz sheets are handed out to interested parties, of which I am not one, and later on in the flight a winner is announced and a bottle of champagne is awarded. A bottle of champagne which is, of course, a liquid, and therefore unable to be taken through any further security checks. So, fantastically, if the winner had any connecting flights, she would have had her Oscar quiz prize confiscated at the airport..

In L.A. we leave the plane, get lead to the homeland security interview, and then get shepherded right back to the same seat on the same plane we just came from. We only have to go through homeland security checks because we set foot on US soil, yet we only set foot on US soil in order to go through homeland security check. Fabulous. At least on the way back to the plane we are all issued with a complimentary bag of potato chips and a red apple. Kinda like a welcome to America, now bugger off picnic pack.

On arrival in Auckland I re-check in my bags and have a rather lovely 10 minute stroll over to the domestic terminal for my next flight. Nothing like fresh air when you've been cooped up on a plane with an Oscar quiz obsessive for a whole day. It's my first time in New Zealand and it seems nice. People are friendly, there are palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, and the air smells almost sweet. Blossomy, even. At an airport. Blossomy. This is a walk I enjoyed. Auckland's sunny blue skies make me feel awake and refreshed. I have a smile on my face. This is confounded when, on boarding my next flight I glance across the runway to see that the plane behind us is none other than Ed Force One - the jumbo jet that Iron Maiden use to transport themselves and their stuff from gig to gig and flown, rather wonderfully, by Bruce Dickinson - the lead singer of said Maiden. You can't beat a plane with a huge zombie painted on it, you just can't.

The planes are starting to get smaller. I sit next to a Barry Took doppelganger who is also from England. He is visiting his son. He asks me what I'm doing, and uses my answer to give me his opinions on how the Welsh and the Americans have no sense of humour, whereas his grandad did because he had TB when he was a kid. There was probably some logic in this, but I couldn't find it. This is why they invented noise-cancelling headphones.

Finally the last of my flights lands and I am picked up by a silver-haired kiwi who introduces himself as Leroy. We drive through Dunedin which, frankly, looks like a Coventry industrial estate. Elvis plays on Leroy's radio as we drive past the Leviathan hotel and Danny's - "The place to be for entertainment". Danny's has painted black windows and a burnt-out mini van out front.

At last I reach my final destination and board the frankly rather splendid Crystal Serenity cruise ship. I sign in, attend a mandatory immigration interview, attend a mandatory safety drill, check my schedule, then - and this is quite the moment - I order room service, have possibly one of the best hot showers in history and watch the Oscars, with a pizza and a coke, but without a quiz.