Category Archives: Theatre

When we held hands

There we were, behind a makeshift curtain on the stage at one of the sixth form colleges in Halmstad, staring down at a bucket filled with compost. And then we walked out in front of the audience, hand in hand, and I certified that I had in fact seen a naked, Spanish man at the back. That’s all Björn Granath needed me for.

I must have looked the type who just adores being the one to ‘volunteer’ to come up on stage. I wasn’t, but realised I had to, since my friends on either side didn’t really fit the bill for looking at naked men.

It was the mid-1970s and we’d come to see Dario Fo’s Dom har dödat en gitarr men folket har tusen åter,* brought to us by Teater Narren. There were two of them, but I can only recall the one who held my hand, and whenever Björn has popped up on screens since that night, I remember the bucket. And how much of an idiot I felt like.

(I have to point out here that bucket of compost in Swedish ‘could’ sound just like naked Spanish man. So I didn’t lie.)

Björn’s character had to persuade the other character that there was this person in a state of undress at the back. Sounds like typical Dario Fo, if you ask me. And I suppose he did ask me.

I’ve just learned that Björn died earlier this month. Far too early. He was only ten years older than me. But at least from those early beginnings, he went on to pretty close to the top in Swedish drama. And now that I’m no longer standing in front of my grinning companions, I suppose I quite liked my couple of minutes up there.

*’Han matado una guitarra’ in honour of the then recently murdered Víctor Jara.

Encounters

Over a meal out the other week we got talking about what famous people we had come across in the wild. Apparently meeting them through ‘work’ like blogging, did not qualify. You had to just happen upon them.

Various semi-famous people were mentioned, but the discussion felt a bit lacklustre. What’s a Jeremy Paxman in Blackwell’s or an Alistair Darling at airport security? I mean, really? The best Son came up with was flying with Gordon Brown. Daughter didn’t even think to mention her own flying with Pilou Asbæk.

I felt I had something to add, but it took me a while to remember Agnetha Fältskog at Heathrow (as we have a flying theme). Jan Malmsjö in the post office might not count, as I worked there. But Daughter found someone from one of those shows I never watch at our former post office. Or was it the greengrocer’s?

We came to the conclusion that the winner was the Resident IT Consultant’s cousin who volunteered the fact that she had danced with John Travolta.

(The niggling feeling that I was forgetting someone, finally matured when I remembered my Cliff Richard and Cilla Black encounter at the theatre. But they don’t beat Travolta, since I didn’t dance with either of them.)

The deathlist

It is hard keeping track of who has died when you’re living in exile. There are two categories of people I’d know about if I hadn’t left the country of my birth; famous people [but not so famous that their deaths are reported internationally] and local people [to me] that any remaining friends I have would know that I’d want to hear about.

The Retired Children’s Librarian has done a sterling job over the years by keeping a deathlist. In between our phone calls, she writes down who has died, and when we have spoken, she rattles off the dead ones. Some I will know about, because they made it into a British newspaper. Others I won’t, and I’m grateful to be told. She also has a fairly good grip on who I’m most likely to be interested in.

Dead local ordinary people is the hardest. Mother-of-witch would tell me the names of those she knew, but of course, there are always names that wouldn’t have meant anything to her. And it is quite hard to find out if someone is still alive, once you’ve tried the phone directory [which tends no longer to be very effective].

My reason for talking about deathlists here is that today I read a Swedish magazine article about someone famous and long dead. There had been a television programme about her, in which ‘the late’ Alice Babs had taken part. That was the first inkling I had that Alice Babs is dead. Not surprising, though. She died two years ago at the age of 90, which is pretty good going. And when I searched, I found that she made it into the New York Times, but that was probably mainly the Duke Ellington effect.

I have blogged about Alice once before. I still maintain that her Swe-Danes album is one of the best ones I own.

Same dress again

She was right, the blog reader who thought I might know about Pam Dawber’s dress. She was also wrong, because I had to look things up, but it wasn’t exactly hard research.

Pam was photographed wearing a rather fetching dress at an event for Stuntmen’s Association last year.

And my eagle-eyed reader then found Pam wearing the same dress back in 1967, but while she wondered about the rich and famous recycling their wardrobe, she also felt it did seem far too long ago. It was. Pam would have been 16 at the time, twenty years before she married Mark Harmon, who was also in the photograph. I can’t afford Getty prices to use photos, so can’t show you, but the link takes you there, and it does say 1967.

That’s when Dr Dolittle the film premiered. I would guess that the Dr Dolittle premiere Pam and Mark were seen at might have been the stage production in 1998. They look about right for it to have been then. And the dress would have been a mere 15 years old when it came back out for the Stuntmen.

I reckon even Hollywood stars recycle. Pam strikes me as the kind of woman who  would. And unlike my reader and me, the dress still fit her.

Suitcase

After a while I became afraid I’d lose ‘my group’ as we walked round Piccadilly station in Manchester yesterday. Despite the fact I know the station well, I could begin to understand the anxiety the children of the Kindertransport must have felt on arriving in Britain.

Suitcase - Hanni

It began with me feeling anxious I wouldn’t be allowed on ‘the journey’ because I’d booked too late and every place was already spoken for. And all I wanted was to watch a drama; not to save my life.

I became aware of the production of Suitcase only a couple of weeks ago, as it was about to premiere at Glasgow Central. A crowd-funded drama about the Kindertransport, it was free and it was coming to a railway station near me. Or you. I felt despondent when I realised my only opportunity of seeing it was on my way to Scotland, as I passed through Piccadilly. And then I couldn’t get a ticket!

A very kind person suggested I call at the ‘box office’ (a suitcase, actually) for returns, and I did, and then I was shunted aside and had to wait and that’s when my anxiety levels rose. Just like a refugee. But then the suitcase lady handed me my own numbered label and gave me permission to join the blue group.

Only an idiot like me would go to a promenade theatre performance wheeling a suitcase round with them. But that’s what I did. It seemed almost appropriate, although the superior – and nasty – English lady having tea frowned at it for being red. (And before you are up in arms over my rudeness; this woman was an actor, showing us how some British people didn’t want the refugees.)

Suitcase - English lady

We started under the escalators, where we witnessed the children’s tearful goodbyes, as well as their arrival here, being serenaded with cheery songs. At times the noise and bustle of normal station activities almost drowned out what the actors were saying, but that too fitted in with what it must have been like back then.

Suitcase - Railway porter

As we shuffled between various corners of the station for more intimate sketches with one or two people, refugees, host families, fundraisers and volunteers, it felt as if the real passengers at Piccadilly didn’t really notice us. Rather like it might have been for the original children.

Suitcase - Czech boy and host's daughter

There was the Czech boy who begged us to find work for his clever mother. The railway porter who collected money for the refugees. We met a sister and brother, arguing like siblings do, before they were separated forever. The boy was desperate for the toilet, but they were in a new and strange place.

Suitcase - Kurt

My suitcase lady who objected to the workshy foreigners coming here and ruining things for the English. The couple who ‘knew’ they were getting a young boy, but ended up with a much older girl. Who didn’t even speak English!

Suitcase - volunteer

The volunteer organiser, trying to keep track of everyone, and wondering what to do with the leftover children no one wanted. And at the end, the children writing home, and reading letters from their parents, exhorting them to behave. When the letters stopped coming.

Here one lady had to be led away on a friendly arm. It could easily be too much for anyone. I felt like crying, and my country wasn’t even in the war.

Most of the children assimilated eventually. But Kurt, the one who needed the toilet, never got over the loss of his sister, of having to be grateful all the time, and being passed round lots of families. Heartbreaking.

Suitcase - red

There was music, and there was dancing. They even offered round baskets of doughnuts at the end. And I picked up my suitcase and went to find a train, still wearing my label. I’m so grateful I was allowed to join in.

(Shared with Bookwitch)

Will my first time be my last?

I was so pleased to have found it, but now, a few months later it seems The Byre Theatre in St Andrews is to be no more.

The Byre

In a way it’s not at all surprising. Everything is going under, except the government. And I blame them. Times are bad, and we can’t have everything in life, but we could do with some more encouragement and money spent on sensible things.

The Olympics are gone, but we are still here, and we could go to the theatre. If it can stay open. We have money for wars, but need to close our hospitals. There are Bibles (or was it Shakespeare?) for school children who can’t afford to eat.

The Byre

My first visit to the Byre was a good one. It was for the St Andrews literature festival in October. As litfests go, it was small. But St Andrews is no metropolis, and a big festival is not necessarily better than a small one. I was quite satisfied, and I thought the theatre was fantastic, and set in the most beautiful surroundings.

The Byre

You go through an old passageway, and then there are several small courtyards, and eventually you come to a brand new glass and wood (and stone) theatre.

As someone said when discussing this; the building will remain. Something needs to be done with it. Usually they seem to make obsolete structures into luxury flats. Maybe they will build more student halls?

The Byre

Or, thinking university and theatre; I suppose it could be a new lecture hall. But really, it’s the wastefulness of having perfectly good venues just being cast aside that gets to me.

It was too good to be true.

Rolf Harris at the Lowry

Rolf Harris sauntered onto the Lyric Theatre stage at the Lowry last night, dressed in a white shirt and sun hat, looking for all the world as though he was in Provence. He wasn’t far out. It was a glorious day, even in Salford, and so much better for Rolf being there. Maybe he’d got the wrong postcode, maybe not.

That’s the thing with Rolf Harris. You don’t know how much is an act and what actually happened. Maybe they really did drive round looking for the Lowry. (It’s an apt name. One painter to another.)

Rolf Harris programme

He started with Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, sticking to the same script he’s used for a while. We got emotional, we stopped clapping, we did everything Rolf told us to do. We sang. (Is there a discount when you become part of the act?)

Then he rambled a bit. Sang the intro to Kangaroo in Dutch. Spanish. Claimed he didn’t know the Japanese translation, although that didn’t stop him. Sang Kangaroo in Russian, which somehow turned into Kalinka. And Rolf finished with the Nashville version.

This all took a while, as you can understand.

A Japanese joke swiftly (no, pretty slowly in a roundabout way, actually) took us to Christmas and Six White Boomers. Then he moved via Aborigine art to Uluru and Raining on the Rock. He tried on his accordion for size. Several times. Then he finally played it, for tongue-twister Court of King Caractacus. The audience followed, still singing along. Was it an act, or was it for real? Rolf ‘completely lost it.’ Doesn’t matter.

You Are My Sunshine, with another slight hiccough. Who cares? We were all smiling in the sunshine. We sang Waltzing Matilda, and Rolf reminisced about singing it at Glastonbury with 130,000 index fingers counting ‘one, two, three.’ We found it hard to match this, having fewer fingers at our disposal.

Rolf Harris programme

We got a didgeridoo lesson, with Rolf doing unspeakable things with his glass of water and one belonging to a member of the orchestra. Basically, you blow raspberries while avoiding drowning yourself with the water. Don’t try it at home. This lead to Sun Arise, the most boring song the original musicians had ever played. Even George Martin felt it needed something a bit extra to counteract its mesmerising drone, and after three months on Radio Luxembourg it would have made it to number one had it not been for that upstart Elvis.

A short five-minute break for ten to fifteen minutes, meant we were back in 20-25. I’ll round that up to half an hour.

Rolf needed the time. He had a third leg to grow and clothe (orange trousers?) and a green tartan coat to put on. Yes, it was Jake the Peg, who had not only an extra leg, but sang the same bit a second time. Or tried to.

Rolf Harris programme

Once rid of the outfit and the spare leg, Rolf wore his cerise shirt, which he immediately covered up with a blue one so he could splash paint around. It was time for the painting. Fairly small canvas, for Rolf, but a great piece of work, nevertheless. Someone in the audience shouted out ‘can you tell what it is yet?’ I suppose it was worth checking he had some idea of what he was splashing the paint on. (Uluru, in case you wondered. With rain.)

The time spent painting, Rolf asked for permission to tell non-pc jokes. It was something about two Albanians, one of whom was called Patrick… He does do accents very well. You tend to forget this, in-between concerts.

Delilah and Stairway to Heaven raised the roof somewhat (we did sing very well, even if I say so myself). I now have a mental picture of Miss Given, for future use. Pavlova, on request, followed by Two Little Boys. I wondered how you can follow that with anything else, but Rolf did a rude version of it, which ‘lowered the tone’ sufficiently.

A lot of background information on Leadbelly, who wrote lots of songs, but not Sixteen Tons, which is why Rolf didn’t sing it. He forgot stuff. He dropped his money. And Leadbelly wrote Goodnight Irene, which will be why Rolf sang it.

Rolf Harris programme

Avoiding encores, we were firmly informed Rolf would finish with the British version of Kangaroo. We sat up straight and legs were uncrossed, and what we got was Kangaroo Elgar style. Or perhaps Land of Hope and Glory with dying stockmen. Seeing as it was the Last Night of the Proms, we felt we hadn’t missed out. And not a single varicose vein exploded.

Here he comes at last; Rolf Harris at the Lowry

We trooped out to the foyer where Rolf was going to sign. (They never said what, though. No merchandise, only programmes. And with no photography allowed inside, I have taken to photographing the programme to illustrate things. Sorry.)

It was a long wait, and a long queue. They had time to replace the pot of tea for a fresh one as we waited. I took a few photos and scarpered, so have no idea when the last ones left. This morning, I imagine.

Rolf Harris at the Lowry

I got to the tram stop as Rule Britannia was belted out on the façade of the BBC. Very nice.

Rule Britannia in Media City

It was all very nice. And if someone had suggested forty years ago that I would ever attend the concert of an 82-year-old, I’d have said they were crazy. But crazy would be not to go. This is feelgood stuff at its best.

Rolf Harris at the Lowry

I’d say come back soon, but I am a nice and generous person, so will say that it would be great to see you again, Rolf, but there are other deserving parts of the country, too. Probably.