Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Dressing room, Essen.
It's the day before new years eve, and I'm sitting by my little blue table in the dressing room looking around. Here's what I see:
Over by the long mirror opposite the toilets are Benno and Johannes, two very earnest, very young, very serious (one might even be tempted to say "very German") boys who are excellent at diablo tricks. I mean really good. Probably the best I've ever seen, in fact, and sadly for me, that covers a lot of ground. They're keen almost to a psychotic level, and have been picking my brain about how to put me character in their act, as that's pretty much the only thing I can do better than them. Well, that and knob gags, and I don't really think their interested in knob gags. Their loss. They also argue loudly whenever a trick goes wrong. I think they may kill each other before they reach thirty.
Next to them we have Duo Love Story, Alex and Taty, a lovely double act who balance on each other's hands and feet while pretending to be in love. I say pretending, as the sometimes come off stage bickering, which is, secretly, quite funny. They are, in fact, not in love but have a relationship just like a brother and sister. Taty is close with Alex's wife, which is lovely, and lucky, really. They're great though - at one point Taty stands on Alex's hands, over his head, and he just launches her into the air, and for a moment - a long moment - she is almost floating in a perfect swan dive before swooping down and being caught inches from the floor. Gorgeous. Alex is, obviously, really stupid strong. Most circus men I have met who are as strong as Alex are also macho dicks who feel the need to spend most of their free time making sure everyone in the cast knows who the alpha male is. Alex isn't like this at all, instead choosing to be silly a lot of the time, which is a much more laudable personality trait in my book. The also perform this act on ice skates and on a cruise ship. That's at the same time - on ice skates, while on a moving cruise ship. That's just silly.
Strong Hold Movement are, I feel fairly confident in stating, about as homoerotic a circus act as you could get without actually showing gay porn at a circus (Which I think Billy Smart tried in the late 80's before going into receivership). They're ex-Cirque Du Soleil but are very nice people nonetheless. Their costume I could fit into my jeans pocket, along with my phone, keys, money, and another costume. Come to think of it, if I had bodies as young and toned as theirs I'd probably find a reason to do my act mainly naked too. Possibly with less success. They perform excellent acrobatics while hanging from straps, and climb over each other quite a lot, too.
Ekaterina was in the last variete I did in Hannover last year. She's a crazy bendy contortionist. I must have seen her act at least a hundred times, but whenever I watch it, my mind boggles a little further. She puts the base of her spine on the top of her head while doing a handstand. Think about that for a minute. There are very few acts who can get a genuine gasp out of a whole audience, but she can, and does. Yesterday I asked her what would happen if she sneezed or hic-cupped while doing one of her crazy contortions, and she looked at me like I had asked her what she'd do if she met moon men. I told her that sometimes, that's all I can think about when I watch her work. Then I realised that now that's all she's going to think about and I maybe shouldn't have planted the idea in her head. She does this smile that is friendly, but at the same time, palpably and obviously tolerant of your stupidity. When I mentioned the sneezing she did that smile and waited for me to shut up, before putting her head between her legs by bending backwards. Also, she hates horses. Hates them.
Fette Moves (it means fat moves in German) aren't in the dressing room, preferring to warm up out in the mainly-empty bar. I've worked with them before too, and they're great. Breakdancers, they are, but that kinda reduces what they do. They do a really good, tight, high-skill, high-energy dance act. They also use, as one of their backing tracks, a hip-hop version of the theme to "The Professionals". Yes, the Bodie and Doyle one. It's weird, but seems to work. They're the last thing in the show before the curtain calls, so all the girls in the cast use that as an excuse to watch them from the wings and argue about which one they fancy the most. They are all very lovely people and have that unspoken closeness thing. When their girlfriends, wives and little babies come to spend time with them, it's like looking at one big sprawling family. I've never seen them argue, though I have seen Dom get pissed off when he didn't do his amazing headspin quite as perfect as he wanted. These are people I will miss.
Tamara performs as Shirlee Sunflower. I have known Tamara for years, and become friends with her in the last few months. She'd disagree with me I think, but I see her as highly strung and takes her work way too seriously, which is why, of course, she's good at it. Vicious circle, that. A good clown needs to be able to be completely relaxed on stage to play well, yet a good clown also should take their stuff seriously and be annoyed when it doesn't work as well as they would like. Bit of a tightwire act, that. Not easy. Don't look down. But the point is that she's good. She's also very, very yellow. There's a point in the show where she tries to eat an orange, fails and spits it into my hand, whereupon I, of course, eat it. (No mother, I don't really eat it, it's a trick). This has become one of my favourite parts of the show, mainly for the withering look she gives me afterwards. She is also responsible for playing "Man, I feel like a woman" by Shania Bloody Twain (her correct full name) every night, which means it is always in my internal jukebox. I would have been friends with her a lot sooner if this song hadn't been involved in the relationship.
Our compere is Mathias Rauch, which is German for Matthew Smoke. Judging by the name, you'd assume that he was either a magician or a smaller character from Mortal Kombat. Your first guess would be correct. He's young, good, and very friendly and nice. He also has slowly learnt that cynical old variety acts like us communicate through stupid jokes, pranks and insults, and is now starting to enjoy that language, I think. During the show he pulls cards out of his mouth, dances with a hankerchief, talks to himself dressed as a comedy Mexican and makes some furniture levitate. After every show he sprays his suits with fabreze, and yesterday, when a TV crew were filming in the dressing room, he arrived early and tidied up his bit of the table.
Also here, of course, is my comedy partner and mucker Dave. I wasn't going to write much about Dave, but he recently complained that I haven't ever written much about him, so here's a little bit of Dave:
Dave looks like an eccentric uncle if he was made by Jim Henson's creature shop. This is to his credit.
Dave does the best impression of Scooby-Doo trying to tell you that he just saw a mummy that you ever saw.
I've known Dave since I was a teenager, and he was a younger teenager, and we kinda grew up in front of each other. I don't have a brother, so I often sort of think of Dave as the closest thing I have to one.
I can say anything to Dave, and he'll know what I mean, exactly. Often he'll know what I mean before I even have to say anything.
Dave cooks a very good Thai green curry, although I have never tasted it because I am an unsociable and grumpy hermit. He understands that, too.
After twenty-odd years of standing around backstage, in dressing rooms or behind street pitches, we still make each other laugh. A lot, and regularly.
Dave is all elbows and knees.
Dave's mother is 7 feet tall, and his dad has never left the house. Fact.
I know his first stage name and he knows mine. They are equally embarrassing. Death pact.
He spends half the year half the world away from me, yet every so often I'll see something or do something that I know he wouldn't let pass without comment, and I smile to myself.