Ah, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd…
As April 14th 1983 approached, Ho and I began rehearsals on what would become The Very Nearly One Man Mime Show, in the place that it was to be performed, Beacon School drama studio.
A completely empty, 80 x 30ft space, black all over, apart from the nasty brown nylon carpet tiles, fitted with 13 amp wall sockets and a rudimentary lighting rig which was controlled from a cupboard with no view of the “stage” area.
The blankness of the place wasn’t an issue, indeed, our previous show had been called Images on a Blank Stage, it was more the technical logistics that were a problem.
The lights that were in situ – a few profile spots and a selection of fresnels (box shaped spotlights that could be focused via a slide-mounted lens) – were probably cast-offs from the larger rig in the main hall and were all well and good, but it was impossible to see the stage while controlling them.
And the controls were outdated even back then. A huge grey steel panel with a bank of about a dozen noisy, sliding rheostatic faders, which you could hear being operated in the next room with the doors shut, let alone ten feet away in the audience.
We needed cutting edge technology, so we went and hired – and I’m quoting from the receipt I’ve just found – “1 twenty four channel, Rock and Roll effects desk, leads and powerpack” all for the princely sum of £15.87 inc VAT, for ten days hire.
Since we weren’t constrained by the strict rules of traditional mime, we could use sound effects and complex lighting plots to give character to the set, without the need to make expensive, time consuming scenery.
The only scenery we used were a couple of “flats” (large boards, held up by props and cement blocks) for the stage wings, and a table, chair, and telephone, for use in the shorter Nightmares section of the show in part two.
We sold, I think, about 100 tickets for the first night’s performance, filing the hard brown plastic chairs that appeared to populate every school in the country in the ’80s to capacity.
One long side of the studio was set up as the stage, with just a table, chair, and litter bin, the flats angled inwards to screen off the wings, with the other half filled with seating, all on one level.
And that was it. A blank canvas.
Part one – Daydreams.
Ho enters from stage right, dressed all in black, wearing the “Cleaner” mask, carrying his lunchbox and transistor radio which he places on the table, and begins working;
Now, Ho and I have been over this on the phone, and neither of us can remember the exact order of events, other than that the cleaner starts daydreaming, illustrated by him appearing in a sequence of sketches without the mask, but they certainly included the following;
The Duel – Ho plays both combatants in an old fashioned pistol duel, shown in the slo-mo gunfight style later popularised by Simon Pegg in Spaced…
…the punchline being that the bullets, their paths also traced by the frenetic Ho, meet in the middle and fall harmlessly to the floor.
The Arcade – In which our versatile star plays the oily stallholder, tempting customers into his amusement hall…
…he plays the punters, trying their luck at the various arcade games, and the machines themselves, miming the spinning reels and dials, both pulling the levers of, and being pulled as the levers of, one armed bandits, and providing the sounds of the cash payouts…
Try your luck sir?
…and playing the driving game which began with Ho climbing into a car simulator which greeted him with the words “Let’s put the pedal to the metal, heel to the steel, burn rubber, and graze bums on the tarmac!” which, at the time, I distinctly recall finding deeply hilarious…
“Quiet, I’m concentrating on my driving”
…after which, things went badly wrong with the game, ending with punctures and wheels coming off, and having to apologise to the smarmy owner.
…and, closing part one, my personal favourite sketch;
Fade to Grey – Ho’s cleaner dreams of being a pop star, playing the keyboard maestro and his instruments – the spinning reel-to-reels, the waveforms of the oscilloscopes, and the pulsing of equalisers.
And all the while, miming all the keyboard parts to that ’80s classic, and an old favourite of us both, Visage’s breakthrough hit Fade to Grey.
My job during all this was primarily audio visual.
The sketch started with the cleaner listening to the radio during his teabreak…
…he switches the radio on – the music is very tinny, with the bass turned right down and treble right up on the studio PA – until he slips into the daydream – when the music kicks in at full power – and our super lighting desk came into it’s own.
I used the programmable sequencer to imitate a rock gig, pulsing lights in time to the music.
Only one of the two photos taken of me were flattering. This isn’t it.
Unprofessionally, I was so into the scene, that when the time came for the cleaner to come out of his dream and switch off the radio, I completely missed my cue.
Fortunately for me, Ho, the consummate actor, gamely mimed fiddling with the seemingly malfunctioning radio, until I got the message and hit all the right knobs.
The audience never knew the difference, and they absolutely loved every minute.
10 minute interval.
Part two – Nightmares.
This section was a single, shorter piece concerning old age and loneliness,..
The old man relives old nightmares of being in the war…
…and yet there are moments of comedy, as his journey to the toilet is continually thwarted by a ringing telephone…
…at which he always arrives too late, culminating in the out-of-toilet-roll punchline.
With the show going so smoothly (bar a daydreaming producer) we should have known something would go wrong, and it very nearly did.
During the scene when Ho is rushing for the phone, at the end of part two, one of the flats collapsed, almost coming down on the front row of the audience.
As luck would have it, Nick, one of the former members of Dramatiks, was in the front row, and therefore had a vested interest in catching it and holding it in place for the remaining few minutes of the performance.
The whole show brought the house down – almost literally – and on the second night a large group from the local RNID home for the deaf turned up, and they loved it, apart from the Fade to Grey sketch which seemed to puzzle them somewhat.
Ho takes a bow.
After the show – with fan and ex-Dramatiks member, “Willie”.
After that it was nearly time to close the show for good.
Except for a special performance for local amateur dramatic society, The Rotherfield Players, for which we had to carry all the gear for the show four miles on foot, in baking heat, uphill, immediately before the performance.
And people say us theatrical types don’t suffer for our art.
Well luvvie, honestly…!