The eagle has landed. And by eagle I mean me and by landed I mean arrived in Frankfurt. This is my first time in Germany; I’m successfully not mentioning the war, wearing copious lederhosen and have already partaken of more currywursts than you can shake a stick at, though I wouldn’t suggest shaking a stick at a currywurst, waste of a good stick and waste of a good wurst.
The lederhosen are, of course, a lie… for the time being. Currently, it is far too hot to be parading around the streets of Frankfurt, the financial capital of Europe, in any form of leather and the Mexican wave of cardiac arrests it could start amongst the banking world is not worth the effort. Or the recession it may subsequently cause.
The reason for my being in Frankfurt is simple: I am working as, in the words of our beloved director, a biological prop. Doing the acting in other words. Myself and three other biological props have been picked up and transported to the land of cleanliness, order and techno to perform Tennessee William’s masterpiece, The Glass Menagerie. And I am loving every second of it.
The Glass Menagerie is a play about family dynamics, oppression and shattered hope… A comedy I hear you cry! I play Laura Wingfield, the physically and emotionally crippled sister of Tom. The play is semi-autobiographical, Tennessee Williams’ sister Rose suffered from what we would now diagnose as panic attacks, anxiety and schizophrenia, in the end she had to be sectioned and given a lobotomy. She haunted him throughout his writing and you can see elements of her in many of his female characters.
In the thirties there was a swathe of lobotomies in America, mental health services were more than primitive as it was a subject yet to be properly explored without fear, misconceptions and taboo. They even had what was known as “the lobotomobile”… A van that would travel around and you’d pop in the back and swiftly get the front part of your brain removed. Not too dissimilar from our ice-cream vans, just with less ice-cream and more invasive surgery. We, as yet, do not know if they shared the same catchy arrival jingle. I’m hoping they did.
Needless to say, I have approached this part with delicacy and sensitivity, doing my best to build up a fully rounded picture of her and hoping to emotionally move the audience, potentially producing sniffles, sighs and or full blown tears (as every actor secretly or not so secretly wishes to do).
Well, last night, I produced more than that. An audible gasp echoed around the English Theatre, Frankfurt, in the final soliloquy. “An Oscar for her!” my inner ego was shouting, “Surely at least a Tony or a Bafta?!”No, no. None of those things. What had happened was this: I was on fire. And not in a good way. In the final speech, my challenge is to singularly blow out five candles on a candelabrum, without dribbling and or having an infuriating “magic relighting candle” moment. Until last night it had, worryingly, gone without a hiccup and with only a tiny droplet of dribble in sight.
However, last night my natural bird’s nest of hair decided to make a bid for freedom, dangling precariously over the flame, flirting with flammability until finally it caught and went up like a rocket.
The gasp was not produced from a place of awe and wonder at the sensitivity of my performance but more from a place of shock and horror at the flammability of my follicles.
Luckily, having grown up with three siblings fighting for the last parsnip on a Sunday roast, my reactions are cat-like and agile; I swiftly patted the offending section down, gave a cheeky smile to the terrified audience and finished blowing out the candles. All the while trying to ignore the unmistakable smell of burning that was snaking through the auditorium and my stage managers twitching with fire extinguishers in the wings.
In conclusion, I would like to add to the age old actors’ saying: Never work with animals, children or FIRE. Unless you want to get burnt. But maybe that’s just me.