We rattle along the roads; our merry band of actors. Set, costumes and personal luggage all sandwiched together, all creaking and wobbling dangerously, with the director at the helm. We eat the food we stole from a hotel breakfast buffet that morning and hold out for fake promises of toilet stops. The only toilet stop we were allowed yesterday was in the dark, in a hedge, like a dog.
I will always associate Germany with this van.
After hours on the road, we arrive. Is it a school or a theatre? We are rarely privy to such information but we all hope for a theatre; we are actors after all, and it can be disheartening to perform to an audience forced to be there.
We clamber out. We blink and stretch our legs, before picking up a piece of set and being shuttled in. We travel up five flights of stairs where a disillusioned teacher and 200 or so bemused children await. There isn’t much time so the magic of theatre is the first to be sacrificed; audience members wander in as the actors are putting up the set, some frantically trying to warm up their vocal cords with a voice exercise while simultaneously nailing in an archway that threatens to fall.
Half hour till play starts.
Actors rush around in crushed costumes with half eaten sandwiches, “where’s that wretched knife?” “Does it matter that this has a stain on it?” One stands mutinously in the corner, refusing to get worked up muttering, “You wouldn’t get this at the National” But then it’s the 5 minute call and he is possessed like a puppet; straightening his costume and running through his lines.
The lights go up and the play begins. Performing in Germany means performing to continual murmuring throughout; the audience trying to decipher and translate the action unfolding before them. A little cruel perhaps to spring a Shakespeare on a foreign audience, but the people come and there are certain scenes they always love. When, as some poor sod lies dying, giving it his all, he is bound by the script to announce, “I am slain” the audience always find it hysterical. With hours of indecipherable iambic pentameter, this startlingly clear line can come as a bit of a joyous shock.
The end of the play, with all its death and tragedy, is quite the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. They leave happy. When the show is done there is no time for a rest or a sit down as we have to take down the set, load up the van and travel to the next venue. A few people congratulate us as we pass, but embarrassed that we don’t understand the language we become uncharacteristically humble and smile with our heads down and eyes to the floor. Anyway, our time is up. We have briefly been allowed out into the light, to do our little dance, but we must be put away now. I sympathise with imprisoned performing monkeys.
So it is back to our cursed van for another 6 hours until we reach another theatre. But then we emerge, and fired up with the delirium of temporary freedom, we act our hearts out.