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.
…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.