'Suzie with the LED crystal light nipple tassels is number twenty-two,' I told Squirrel, techie on last Friday's SexpoUK cabaret show. 'You mean Howard, who's modelling the jewel encrusted vintage gas masks vamped for breathing play.'
You know what I said about always being ready to perform?
With just enough time to take off my XXXL pyjamas from over my XXL tutu, last Friday I was thrown on to narrate the lingerie catwalk show on the main stage at SexpoUK. The last time I took over something so last minute when I was eleven and Nigel Godfrey, singing solo next to me at Southwark Cathedral, fainted midway through Wash me Throughly.
'Ladies and gentlemen, we have La Carissa now. If she carries on preening her boa just there she'll have her car keys taken out of the onyx bowl by the front door. Ah, Marian again, ladies and gentlemen, from the Ukraine; thinking we won't remember she wore that same dress the first time she came down the catwalk for us this evening. And the second time. Kevin now, in - what shall we call that: clerical latex? - being whipped on all fours by Linda. That'll larn him not to talk during Songs of Praise.'
Red Squirrel, Alex and Max on the sound and lighting desk were all nicely giggling. Which always makes things better in the theatre. A techie is like a cat: you feel privileged if he gives a shit about you.
A techie will have seen it all. And knows that whatever is happening onstage, good or bad, the clock on his desk keeps running. The show may end too soon, or go on too long, but at some point the curtain will come down.
I find it lonely and stressful touring a one-man show. I've learned to do all the things you're meant to. Take a couple of things from home to put in the dressing room and hotel room. A matryoshka doll, a section of carpet or the TV remote, that sort of thing. Perhaps a recording of the girl in the bedsit below having screamingly multiple orgasms all on her own? Thank God for when her boyfriend's over. Then it's three grunts, him shouting 'Dumbledore trusted me to see this through' and a thwarted sigh. I move the furniture around in my hotel room if I feel the need. Dame Nellie Melba moved the furniture around in the foyer of a Paris hotel, and when she was asked to cease and desist, informed the manager that she was Melba, but not to worry: she wouldn't charge them for the improvements. For long train journeys I take a huge great book like Middlemarch or Moby Dick - well, I say that. When I was first touring it was huge great book. I also took condoms in the hope I'd get lucky. Nowadays the book's Miss Marple or Marian Keyes and I take my ventolin puffer.
But, as I say, I do find it lonely. So it's always a comfort to have a techie, if not to come home to, at least to walk into a theatre to.
It's calming to work to someone else's timetable. You can do nothing other than avoid falling gels while Daniel, Gareth or Andrea, in his blacks, combats and tool belt, rigs your lighting. Running through the lighting and sound cues with him will then focus your mind.
Daniel Leighton, the fourth time we worked together at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool, called down from the box:
'Lad, you're even more of a jelly-brain this year than last. Can I have a visual cue, please, for you starting that song?'
Rather than the stuff about me fancying Scott Tracy, Thunderbird One.
Or my Nanna Ak's cholesterol. She was taken to the doctor and given a pamphlet. It said that the rule of thumb with fast was not to leave teeth marks in butter. She said how toop was that? Did they expect her to eat her buttered tea cakes without her bloody teeth in?
Or my class teacher at infants' school, Miss Postlethwaite, swilling out and decoupaging enough Germolene tins for all ninety-seven of us to have one of his or her own for putting our Cadbury's Chocolate Fingers in to go in with our morning milk.
See, being old and cynical these days, I want to know how Miss Postlethwaite came to hurt herself so much she got through those ninety-seven tins of Germolene.
She wasn't married.
Anyway, I gave Daniel a visual cue for the song: I sat down at the piano and started playing it.
Make it work with your techy, and they will save your bacon.
British Youth Opera. I had a cough and a spit part as the Magistrate in the Thieving Magpie. I was the understudy Giorgio. And learned the role of Fernando for Use only in Dire Emergency purposes. The baritone playing Giorgio went off on tour in Edinburgh. I was on. All was well until the court room scene in which the Magistrate, Giorgio and Fernando all appeared. As I waited to go on the three roles I had learned mashed and fused in my head. I walked over to Stu, stage manager.
'Stu, keep calm, but I'm about to go on and can't remember what Giorgio sings. Any clue, you?'
Stu took me by the arm, switched on his torch, and walked me to the upstage wing.
'Downstage, face the mayor. Stuff about hoping he hasn't been too traumatised, sir, by recent events of his own causing.'
Oh, yes, that.
Beers were on me at curtain down.
The head of security at Covent Garden once pissed off a techie by shouting at him for coming front of house in his blacks when we were getting the foyer ready for the Queen's arrival.
Never, ever shout at a techie!
It was the Queen's seventieth birthday. I was working in the Royal Opera House foyer bookstall. At curtain down I was given a walkie talkie at and instructed to stay out of sight while noting VIPs coming down the stairs from the Grand Tier - it had to be me because I knew everyone, apparently, dear. Mark Try was on a second walkie talkie and stationed at the VIP carpark off Bow Street. I was to tell him which hyphenate was just hoving into view, and he would locate the respective chauffeur driven car and send it down to the front of the opera house.
First, there was a new front of house manager that night, so he wouldn't have known where I might go to stay out of sight and still have the necessary view across the foyer to the Grand Tier staircase.
Second, the sound techie who gave me the walkie talkie and showed me how to use it was sent packing by the head of security before he could warn me that once Mark had sent down the first two or three cars our walkie talkie conversation would be relayed through the public address system for us to tell the VIPs when their respective cars were en route.
Here is what ended up being relayed through the public address system to the waiting VIPs.
MARK. Iestyn, what is that clicking?
ME. I'm seeing what the receiver tastes like. Wait, though, you can't just say things, you have to use the jargon. Words starting with letters of the alphabet. And Roger. Over and out. All that.
MARK. Who's on the stairs, please?
ME. Roger, your query received and being acted upon. On the stairs is the Queen of Denmark. Alpha, Betty, C..paghetti. Her treasury's clearly not of the fullest sort. Delphinium, Eglantine, Foxglove. Amazing what you can do with a couple of plastic daffodils and a candlewick bedspread. Hostelry, Igloo, Klytemnestra. What's her car like?
MARK. Brown. Sending it now.
ME. You mean: sending it now, Lard, Minge, Nongers.
MARK. What the fuck are 'nongers'?
ME. I don't make the rules, Mark, I just abide by them. Octopus, Prixunique, Quack-doctor.
MARK. Quack-doctor's hyphenated.
ME. Alas, I cannot attend to your pedantry, caller, as Mrs Krill's currently on the stairs. I repeat: Mrs Krill.
MARK. I think you'll find that's Mrs Krill Roger, Sierra, Tango.
ME. Oh, we want to play now, do we? Uvula, Vexatious, Wombat. Mrs Krill hasn't got a car anyway. She lost her licence kidnapping her friends' Filipino maids. Hers is in hospital after fireworks night. She gave her a sparkler, and they were all writing their names in the air, as you do. Her name is Mey-Mey Tirahlahlahchuchham. She set fire to her Thai Buddhist black wax cotton bead wristband and was rushed to St Mary's. Xylophone, Yak, Zarathustra.
MARK. Whatever - Alpha, Beta, Charlie - Mrs Krill's in a chauffeur driven car this evening.
ME. That's because she's just posh. Dexterous, Elementary, Fracas. Ah, here's the Archbishop of Canterbury. He once gave me two Cadbury's Cream Eggs at an Easter Day Service because he was so impressed with my top As in Schubert in G. Gertrude, Hangleton, Is-you-is-or-is-you-aint-my-baby? I do tend to have stretchy top notes. It's the shape of my soft palate. Juniper, Kwango, Letitia. WIth my proclivities the back of my throat's been worn away to an exact bell-end shape. Moribund, Narcolepsy, Orangutan. Oh, fantastic, it's Jilly Cooper!
At which point they finally found and put a stop to me!