Theatre: Show Boating In Cardiff, Or Tunes And Tiaras

August 1, 2014

By CAITLIN CLERK

 

I can’t help but feel a little sad as we leave Cardiff behind us. I feel like each city we stop at gets better and better. Cardiff is the home of Show Boat’s sponsor, the Wales Millennium Centre. And what a fabulous host! The Donald Gordon stage is the central feature of a complex dedicated to art and culture that holds pride of place in Cardiff Bay. It looks like a big mouse from far (a computer mouse, thatis). It’s quite a feature and a buzzing hub of activity. It’s open all day for patrons to pop in and out of coffee shops or sit down and munch more officially at one of the restaurants. Closer up, it’s incredibly striking and has pretty Welsh writing on it. I like Welsh. It has the uncanny ability to make everyone speaking it start to look a bit funny. I’m not sure why – perhaps the sound is a bit too obscure for my untrained ear.

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Wales Millennium Centre – our home away from home!

 I arrived in Cardiff on Sunday the 13th of July. It was a four-hour drive from Manchester, with a pit stop for a mandatory skinny cap along the way. Since bus trips are really not interesting in any way (except for ridiculously green rolling hills that go on and on) the time should be used productively if and when the noise level on the bus allows. I think I’m fast becoming a “bus blogger”. Anyway, we arrived in time to do a long overdue load of laundry – with wine and dancing, of course – and then all I did in Cardiff was watch the World Cup Final in a very demure pub. I went to bed and left for London the next morning. I’m not sure why I didn’t just go straight from Manchester to London, but there you go. That’s how I planned it.

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Loving that Laundry with Shannyn Fourie.

We had a week off to rest and a lot of the group travelled to London and surrounds and watched shows and did exciting things. I went to Victoria Station in London (on a bus) and stood waiting for a man in a blue and white striped shirt. I had told him to identify me by my plum coloured luggage. He saw the luggage before he saw me. After a brief hello, I followed the blue and white striped shirt on to a train to East Grindstead. I sat opposite my late mother’s ex-boyfriend and “attacked” him with questions about my mom in her early twenties.

It was quite a surreal experience for me. I had a lovely two days with the Shopley Family in Forest Row. I’m still wondering what I expected to find. This year has given me constant reminders of my mom’s absence. I just wanted to go and be and hear and see. I also spent my whole time there singing Heffalumps and Woozles in my head just because Forest Row is right next to Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood.

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 Framed forest.

I spent a night in London on the way back to Cardiff. Lynelle had been asked to perform at a Cape Town Opera benefit event and had been given a tiny little hotel room in Paddington for the night. We planned to share it, but didn’t realise just how thin we needed to be in order to do this with any comfort. Good thing we packed light. It was London heatwave time, and after the performance we crawled up four flights of red-carpeted, narrow-walled stairs, had cold showers and squeezed in to a double bed that filled the room wall to wall. Of course we chatted like little girls all night. When things got silly we did some cast impersonations which ended in Lynelle jumping on the bed and falling (unintentionally) on her luggage with her feet in the air. We giggled ourselves to sleep.

I hurried back to Cardiff (another bus trip) on Thursday the 17th  for some much needed down time and the deliciousness that is Welsh Rarebit. I was excited to explore Cardiff and ended up spending some time wondering aimlessly around town and parting with too much money. Eventually, I found that Graham Hopkins’ tourism interests were similar to mine (although he is much more knowledgeable and had planned better) and I gate-crashed his sight-seeing. We visited some castles and did some cycling in pretty places. We even cycled to castles and, thankfully, he is just as dependent on coffee-stops as I am. It worked well.

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Cardiff collaged.

For the rest of the week I shared my hotel room in Cardiff with Nurit. She got me out of bed at 2am do sit-ups in panties and half a T-shirt. Yes, half a T-shirt. I am not sure how she managed to do this or why I agreed. She is also the reason that I ended up doing a bit of partying instead of acting like an old lady. We went in to town on Saturday night and found hundreds of young people milling around. We ended up with a whole bunch of Show Boaters who had all trickled back in to town from London that day. We had the kind of fun that you can only have with a group of over-stimulated musical theatre performers.

The next week, I shared with Nobuntu. She has the nose of an airport sniffer dog. My banana in the morning seemed to set her sinuses on fire. And apparently at night I move around because I am hot and my evident discomfort wakes her. Then I snore and she can’t go back to sleep. I also can’t use the air-conditioning (which would solve the hot and uncomfortable problem) because that troubles her nose too. We had our own rooms in Birmingham and Manchester, but in Cardiff those of us who were stupid enough not to demand our own space contractually are sharing a double room. I have no problem with Nobuntu – she’s my show bestie. I, sadly, appear to be so incredibly troublesome to her that she ended up sleeping elsewhere for a night or two so that she could get some rest. Nurit confirmed that I do indeed snore. Oh well!

So, I loved Cardiff. Firstly, there are castles everywhere in Wales. If I wasn’t earning in Rands I would have bought a tiara to wear purely for castle viewing days. The men here are also ridiculously neat and pretty. Well, it looks like they are until you see a large number of them being dodgy late on a Saturday night. This is quite a good way to describe Wales, actually. As I have experienced it, it looks neat and pretty and innocent and then you find its dark side. Like one Welsh Male Voice Choir that we found in a pub in Mermaid Quays last week. Nurit convinced them to sing to us with not much twisting of rubber arms. They filled the bar with the most glorious sound of the Welsh national anthem and the whole room joined them and then burst into rapturous applause. But, however charming, they’re just a group of dodgy old men. They all had the hots for my gorgeous friend who does sit ups all night and happened to be wearing a see through dress with pride. No, old men, she is very unlikely to follow you and your bald patches home, no matter how beautifully you sing. And yes, the whole choir was old.

We had fabulous audiences in Cardiff. The theatre is huge and beautiful and doesn’t feel like a maze at all. It’s organised, and the teams worked well together. The show ran smoothly and we had standing ovations every night. Gosh, I love my job! Oh, and I also got to wave the Welsh flag around on stage for a week. It has a dragon on it! Yay! There was just one thing that I couldn’t handle about performing in Cardiff; it is so humid and sweaty during the day. It feels like Durban. I don’t really go to Durban because I don’t like being sticky all day, I don’t like cold showers and I don’t want frizzy hair. In Cardiff I wiped myself down after every scene and I felt like all my time backstage was spent re-applying make-up and spraying deodorant. The saving grace of a sweaty day there is its culmination in a warm, breezy and beautiful summer evening in which you can sip on a glass of sauvignon blanc in a strappy dress all night.

Apart from the stickiness and the two flights of stairs from the stage to my dressing room (that I walked up and down at least six times per show) our performance week in Cardiff was sublime. I often have a moment of reflection during the show when I stand and freeze as part of the ensemble during the Why Do I Love You duet. I look out in to the wings (I can’t look anyone in the eye or I will laugh) and watch a few things happen while my right leg goes into cramp. Firstly two lights fade from backstage and a crew member puts a table down in the wings for the next scene. He tests the lamp and walks away. Then two men in the flies above us walk past each other. One usually stops and stretches his calves before he finds the next rope to pull. Then, Vanessa and Michael start to move in to their little dance and I see Vanessa’s frozen smile melt in to something real and lovely. This is my queue to dart my eyes to one of the screens showing the conductor and to start to sing. By this time my neck is usually sore too, but I love it.

Freezing and holding and trying not to sway back and forth is annoying for us, but it is also a rare moment to be still on stage and take in the sights that are so normal and yet so romantic. And, when you are allowed to slide out of your position at last, it feels almost as good as stomping on your corset.

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Behind the Scenes – courtesy of stage manager Neil Roux.

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