Welcome back to the swimming pool of success, darling, splash about with me, as we enter week two of the Edinburgh festival build up. No dive bombing please, and do remember to keep to the appropriate lanes. This week, we swam off, out of the shallow rehearsal end out of the pool, and plunged into the previously unchartered waters of previews.
Previews are a funny business, in which you invite members of the public in to witness you make a series of mistakes (which move very quickly from embarrassing to tedious) and ask that they pay for the pleasure of watching you forget your lines, trip over the set and fumble around in desperation when you misplace your props. They're marketed as an exclusive way to see a show bound for Edinburgh (as if that were a place so remote that no-one could ever venture there) before it leaves town, and ours attracted quite a nice little crowd. The venue we had chosen required a certain amount of dedication and no small parcel of courage to find, being as it was hidden in a railway arch behind a construction site, but as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am all about subtly so really it was the perfect fit.
Seeing the set pieced together in its entirety for the first time, staring over all the costumes assembled in all of their tawdry glamour, watching as the lighting desk blew up three hours before show time, it all gave me a vague sense of peace. I felt as though something was coming into being, we were no longer shepherding vagaries and abstractions in a vacuum, we were presenting something to an audience - whether they liked it or not.
The real slog always comes in the days leading up to an opening, the days drag on forever as each hour is taken up by refocusing lights, shifting set pieces to and fro, and running sound cues back to back. The experience is disorientating, it feels as though life is on an endless, unbroken loop occasionally breaking out into moments of fast forward and then great hulking pauses. No acting is done, just a lot of standing around half-costumed and half blinded.
To distract ourselves from the tedium we took the time out to see Between the Sheets at the Hippodrome, a burlesque show which was triumphantly stolen by hysterical sex bomb genius Laurie Hagen. Otherwise it was business as bloody usual, I honestly thought my body and soul would definitively part company significantly before the previews were upon us. But somehow I remained intact.
When it came to showtime, I settled in under my plastic wrap, suffocated only slightly, and sat in wait of my audience. The soundscape that welcomed them into the theatre, comprising snatches of Nico, Ave Maria and end of the pier jingles, filtered in through the plastic sheeting, that sense of peace came back to me. My vision was triple filtered, like any good vodka, by the sunglasses I wore, the polyutherane wrap I sat under, and the pinkish lights cast on me from the rig. In all I felt as though I were anywhere other than under a London railway arch on a damp evening. I could have been marooned on a beach in a Doris Day movie, or dozing off in Church, or waiting for a train early in the morning in a foreign country, but when the lights came up and I pulled back the tarpaulin, I was rudely reminded that a room full of strangers would be staring expectantly at me for the next hour. There was nowhere to hide.
In the crowd were two of my all time favourite performers, Rhyannon Styles and Penny Arcade, I was charmed but nervous. Their presence entirely distracted me from the scribblings in the back row of a journalist from The Metro thank goodness, because there are few things more embarrassing than a performer tarting it up for a critic. As the show rolled on there were the expected hiccups; the doors of the giant wardrobe that forms the majority of the set refused to stay closed or stay open, I forgot my lines and my co-star Erin forgot her skirt meaning she came out in one scene in her pink lacy knickers. How nobody cracked up laughing is beyond me!
The real moment of tension came at the show's conclusion, which involves a very Yves Klein painterly performance, and the horror of realising exactly how close to the stage Ms Arcade (entirely dressed in white) was. Mercifully lawsuits and dry cleaning bills were avoided, and Ms Arcade had some important feedback for me, as did Ms Styles, for which I was very grateful.
Also in attendance were members of the UK Lesbian Gay Immigration Group, with whom our director Sarah Chew had recently worked. After the show we had an informal discussion session, talked over our varied life stories, and got to know each other a little bit. I think the show really connected with them, and it was one of the evening's highlights to talk with them.
The set was deconstructed quicker than seemed humanly possible, and stashed in a van ready to be driven to Edinburgh, where we will be facing down fate as of Thursday night. We ourselves dragged what remained of ourselves home, to pack and ready ourselves for our 9am train journey to Scotland, and it is on said train from which I write.
Currently there is a child telling her brother, "Don't pinch me, DO NOT pinch me, or I will call you a pig," a threat which seems to genuinely worry him. Erin is asleep across two seats, Mydd and Naomi (the set design team) are making advances on the man with the tea and coffee trolley, and Sarah is doing her ayurvedic stretches in the aisle - business as usual. Sadly Stephen, our beloved and sainted stage manager, ended up having to take the dreaded 10 hour megabus ride to Edinburgh, as we realized shortly before boarding the train that we were one ticket short. (That is the sort of organisational genius we are dealing with here. My assistant Emily looked mortified when she realized the mistake, and if it wasn't for the fact that she had an asthma attack on platform 14 I probably would have fired her).
As England rolls away past the windows, as the horror of the Olympics becomes an ever more distant memory, as Scotland looms on the horizon, I can but wonder what other disasters and adventures await. I guess we'll find out!
Boy in a Dress - Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Stand @ 16.20Suggest a correction