feeding the seagulls


chips with everything

This weekend, I got to meet someone who once played me. If you see what I mean.

It happened a year ago, when Richard and I were due to do a reading in Birmingham Library Theatre. Except that I wasn’t there, I was in hospital in Bristol, having some emergency surgery. I was zonked on Tramadol by the time I should have been on stage, but young Katie got a message through to Richard, and Federay Holmes stepped forward and did my bits of the reading.

We’ve got to know each other since then, if only online; but this weekend she was in Bristol with her theatre group, Factory, for the Bristol Old Vic’s Bristol Jam festival of improvised performance. So we finally got to meet up properly, and wander around the sights of old Bristol, including the almost-obligatory tour of the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft. And then we picked up Richard from the station, and dined on pie and chips at the very exclusive pontoon at Redcliffe Quay. There we are, in the picture. Well, there’s Richard and Fed. I’m behind the camera.

a couple to Chekhov the list...

…and behind me, in turn, was this noisy couple, making rude comments about our food. Hooligans.

There were two lots of performance that evening; the first one, Round 2, was a series of short plays, of which the one written and performed by Federay, 1975, was lively and definitely my fave. It reminded me of Beckett at his most playful, if Beckett was ever playful.

We just had time to grab as much alcohol as possible before three hours worth of Chekhov’s Seagull. For the previous night’s performance, they had played the play backwards. This evening’s twist was to play it as though it was set in 19th century Russia. A bit of a radical departure in these revisionist times, as I’m sure you will agree.

As part of the ad hoc thing, the cast wandered around the audience scrounging props. I lent one of my Moleskine notebooks to the symbolist playwright character, and spent ages looking worriedly at it during the performance. You never can tell with symbolists. He was also looking for something to represent the seagull. Richard produced an echt copy of The Seagull from his pocket, and proffered it, pointing out that it would be a very metatextual thing to use. The actor looked rather doubtful, and went hunting something else. He ended up using a flower. That’s symbolism, I guess.

I have a very good defence for what happened next. It’s like with music. I used to hang around with musos. Or at least they tended to be in the place where I happened to be, which isn’t quite the same. And sometimes I would feed them, and they in turn would explain to me that my opinions about music were valueless because I hadn’t studied it, and therefore couldn’t tell a diminished fifth if it jumped squawking out of a bush.

Likewise with drama. I’m afraid I didn’t get very much from this performance, so I travelled forward in time. It’s a gift I have. I tried to stave it off, fearing that I might fall forward into the row in front, or sideways into the lap of the Creative Director next to me… but my eyes would insist on closing, and the next thing I knew the cast were applauding the audience, the audience were applauding the cast, and I surmised that it was all over.

The next morning, I was driving Richard down to the station. The fuel pump started chattering furiously. I pulled over, fearing that the supply pipe to the carburettor had fractured and petrol was being sprayed over the engine,  as happened earlier this year.

No. The pump was chattering because we were out of petrol.

I broke the news to Richard. He tried very hard not to look annoyed. We walked to a taxi office. The girl behind the window said that a car would be there in five minutes. It took just long enough more than that for Richard to get Extremely Fretful, as he needed to get to Swindon to rendezvous with a car.

He made it.

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6 Responses to feeding the seagulls

  1. anjiknut says:

    Imagine being so famous that you have a real live actress to play the part of you.

    What a busy day. Do the seagulls try to pinch the chips?

  2. Federay says:

    I can’t believe I caused you to sit (or nod ) through all that re-reconstructed Chekov.
    I blame the chips.
    But you can (rashly) compare me to bits of Beckett anytime.

  3. Delia says:

    Diminished fifths? There are suspended ninths, too, so I’m told, but they’ll never replace music.

    • We only ever offer roles to suitably distinguished stand-ins. In Birmingham it was Federay, professional actor and pylon of The Factory. In Dublin, when I was struck down by chicken pox, the part of me in the Dru + Me reading was played by John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The pox still hadn’t cleared by the Bristol leg of that tour, and the wig and tights were generously donned by James Russell, creator of The Naked Guide to Cider (currently appearing in London, with free cider.) Finally, in Norwich, Dru and I managed to appear on the same stage at the same time without falling ill.

  4. Caroline says:

    Live theatre should be provided on the NHS for insomniacs.

    Even the most interesting play with the most uncomfortable British standard theatre seats has me in a coma in no time.

  5. Dru says:

    I was v impressed, Anji. I really should have liked to be there, but then that would have sort of spoiled it. The seagulls really wanted to join in the eating, but didn’t quite get physical as they may have done in some of the more forward seaside towns.
    I’m sorry, Federay, I was trying not to sound negative because I don’t feel negative about it. It struck me as being a good thing for the performers to do, for their own sakes… I remember acting in Stoppard’s ‘Dirty Linen’, and someone saying the same lines as they had said a few pages previously and we carried on from that point going through the same words for the second time, looking worried and helpless. Busking it is much harder than sticking to the text, isn’t it?
    Suspended ceilings, too, Delia.
    We have indeed been v lucky, Richard. I guess you just happen to know some really good people.
    It wasn’t the first time I’ve fallen asleep in the theatre either, Caroline. Quite surprising how easy it is, given the discomfort of the seating, isn’t it?

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