Theatre: Show Boating In Manchester, Or Of Broadway Ability, Busses And Bad Behaviour

July 15, 2014



We have just left Manchester. I am sitting in the front of the bus (because I can put my feet up here) next to Straight-steering Steve. Steve’s seat doesn’t bob up and down like David-the-Driver’s did. He is far less the bus driver stereotype, which is a great disappointment to me. I have a cold, so I’m a bit gross and snotty and apart from passing me the occasional tissue, Steve doesn’t seem to be so pleased to have me as a companion. Perhaps I am getting less friendly after about 10 hours of bussing in two weeks. This front seat business gets you all sorts of unexpected luxuries in a bus. I have a little fridge for my water and Steve even offered me a pillow for my strapped-up foot. I must look a bit of a mess: red-nosed, puffy eyed, yawning and icing my injured foot. I guess it doesn’t help that I keep asking him for a wee stop. I think I’m like the proverbial “are we there yet” kid, except my desired destination is the WC. Well, we are in England and I’ve always been told that the Queen never passes up an opportunity to use the loo. It must be all the tea. Speaking of tea, you will be most disturbed to find that I was left without a kettle for the whole week in Manchester. Finding that our hotel rooms didn’t have tea made me quite indignant and diva-esque on arrival at the Ibis Budget Hotel in Salford Quays. I guess a hotel with the word “budget” in its name shouldn’t inspire high expectations, but no kettle for morning tea? And this in England? Preposterous! To get tea at the Ibis, one has to go down to reception, explain what one wants, get oneself a token thingy and decant hot water from a cheap coffee machine into one’s cup. This made morning tea very difficult to drink in bed and it also tasted slightly of plastic and coffee. I think this lack of homely comfort inspired me to research the best places to have a traditional British Cream Tea – which is just normal tea, but with a scone and clotted cream. I eventually settled on Propertea (appropriately titled) which is opposite the Manchester Cathedral. Victoria, Lynelle and I indulged here on Friday morning before a little tour of the Cathedral and Exchange Square. It was one of the best cups of tea I have ever had. I would say it comes second only to the most expensive cup I’ve ever had, shared with my sister in Venice in 2007. The scones from Propertea were also shaped like little hearts of deliciousness. What more could a girl want?

cait1           Manchester’s Minimun

Manchester is mostly pretty. It has some great spots that are surrounded by some not-so-great spots – a bit like Johannesburg. If you go one street too far in the wrong direction, you end up feeling a bit nervous. I enjoyed doing some sightseeing on arrival, although I didn’t manage to walk very much on my foot. This always seems silly considering that I dance on it every night anyway, but rest is required to make this possible. After two different physiotherapists suggested an x-ray for a possible stress fracture, I was feeling a little nervous and more than a little frustrated. But, the show must go on and so must I, so we dance on our broken feet and smile while we do it. My foot allowed me a trip to the Central Library, Piccadilly Gardens, a mini shop at Primark, a little tour of the gay village, Propertea, Manchester Cathedral, Exchange Square and a drink in the Northern Quarter. I managed this in bits with coffees, cakes and pizzas in between. All tourism was packed in on Sunday afternoon, Monday and half of Friday. The rest of the week was spent in the Lowry Lyric Theatre. I think the whole cast enjoyed The Lowry much more than the Hephalump-odrome. The transition from bus to theatre was incredibly smooth, and theatre management laid out a series of friendly green stickers on the floor to prevent us from getting lost. Yay! Apart from my uncanny ability to walk through the wrong door backstage (despite the big green arrow) and almost end up in the auditorium at least three times per show, I love the Lowry. Its staff are particularly personable and its walls are particularly purple. It’s very much particularly purple, and this made me think of my agent, Carlynn. She rocks that purple. So, when a theatre runs like clockwork, the performers sometimes end up being ready early. Yes, we do. Performers can also be early, sometimes – usually by accident. Getting ready for a show is quite a process for the girls. The boys have less to do with their hair and make-up so they tend to have a relaxed hour and a half before the show starts. Most of us girls run around doing make-up, squishing our hair in to wig caps, sticking on eyelashes and manoeuvring in to laddered stockings. I also have to have a sip of tea at some point, and I never go on stage without fresh panties and clean teeth. I made Nobuntu capture a few of the most attractive moments of my getting ready process – no, not the panty change, sies! – on our opening night in Manchester.

cait2Pin curls, wig cap, mic tape, and a tooth brush in full costume (bad planning).

 I was ready early on opening night and so was Nobuntu. This meant that we went a bit hyper in the dressing room by ourselves. Nobuntu decided to attack my costume out of jealousy –  she only gets to wear one outfit and I get to wear six – and then we sent a “picture of love” to Carlynn, whose agency we share. Lynelle popped in (because she missed us) and got roped in to the selfie session too. We giggled a lot. I actually felt like I was corpsing, except I hadn’t gotten on stage yet.

 cait3Ain’t they gorgeous?

Some of you won’t know that dressing rooms have little speakers in them that play the show back to you while you’re waiting (if you get time for that). They also play the stage manager’s announcements before the show and in interval. We get a little countdown to each performance that I usually use to gauge how late I’m running. I need to have done certain things by certain “calls”. On opening night on Tuesday I was already sitting in full costume and wondering when the standby call would come, when I heard Robyn (stage manager) warn us that we had  30 minutes left. Argh! On a normal day, the standby call results in a little whispered profanity, a slick of lipstick and a speed walk to stage. It really threw off my routine to be so early. I don’t think I liked it. I almost needed the hyper rush to the finish line – it’s become part of my track. Track? Each performer has “a track”. It is what you do, where and how you do it – entries, exits and everything. AKA your routine, I guess. As a show goes on you start to find where your sips of water can be slotted in or where you have time to go to the loo. Once this is established, it almost becomes choreographed in to your show for you. For example, I only have enough time for a loo stop after the opening of act two. So, inevitably, I always need the loo in the opening of act two. Nobuntu also makes us both tea in interval. I never finish this cup of tea. In fact, sometimes I don’t get a chance to have any at all. I also do a full costume change in interval and so I only get to my tea after the Chicago Fair scene. But, if she forgets to make it, I feel quite put out that I have to carry on without it. I generally manage only two sips before I get my pink ball gown on and head in for my last pre-Kim scene.

cait4 The tea awaits…

So, I told you the Lowry is purple. It also has three levels of seating in the auditorium. I could only stare when I realised that the last row is literally sitting in the ceiling. The theatre is in Salford Quays, but more specifically in Media City. This area is quite industrial, but attractive and clean. What struck me the most was how the days stretched themselves out, so that when we emerged from the stage door the sky was still only a midnight blue and the lights in the buildings were flicking against the water in the canals.

 cait5Lowry and lovely!

 The Manchester audiences responded in much the same sort of way that the Birmingham ones did. They became vocal about half way through Act One, and only then did they seem to enjoy themselves. We had more lovely reviews: one described us as having “brought Broadway ability to Salford”. It has struck me as odd though, that almost every review refers to the dreaded “n-word” that we “insist” on using in the show. Well, it is in the script? And the show’s central theme is racism and classism? I’m pretty sure a South African cast is touring with this production for precisely that reason. I don’t see why a show should soften the blow of its message. We have impact in this production because we understand it from the context of our own history. I would rather an audience allow themselves to become engulfed in the time and context of a show. We are so quick to gasp with a hand to our mouths or to close our eyes. Perhaps the conservatism is also because there were a lot of grey-hairs in the audience. Usually, audiences look a bit like Lego people to me. They move differently and sound a bit fake when you’re on stage. We had wonderful, generous, Lego applause, but our patrons generally resorted to sitting forward in their seats and clapping above their heads instead of standing. I saw a few teary eyes and many broad grins in the front few rows. I’ll take it as an ovation of sorts. So, I will finish off by pointing out that on a day when we have two shows there is very little that the girls can do to look “normal” if they go out during the lunch break. You have now seen me in a wig cap and I’m sure you have found the look wanting. To avoid doing pin curls and the whole missions again, we don scarves, sunnies and whatever else happens to be in our dressing rooms. Then we go out looking less normal than if we had just embraced the wig cap. This was how I sat at Pizza Express on Saturday afternoon: in a dress, flight socks, laddered stocking and a head scarf. We didn’t get good service. At least in Manchester, unlike Montecasino, I am less likely to bump in to my ex in this kind of outfit…