Gin and Coconut

Posted on Apr 12, 2017 | 1 comment

Theatre is a risky profession on all sorts of levels.  So many things can go wrong.  Listening to the report of the two boys who got their throats cut during a performance of Sweeney Todd, reminded me that when you step out on a stage you can never be sure what’s going to happen.

When the Catholic Church loaned us the little pedal organ they had stored in the loft of the church, we  promised to love, honour and obey it, forever.  We borrowed it because the play was Mervyn Thompson’s O Temperance and the old organ was perfect for the time and the temperance choruses.  Luckily, we had someone who had the physical stamina to pedal furiously while playing them.  At the party on the last night, later in the evening, after the organ-player had been drinking gin and dessiccated coconut (a Wairoa thing – don’t ask), decided to favour us with s dance.   If she’d just stuck to gin it would have been all right.  Or even gin and icing sugar which the props person was drinking.   Or the sherry and tonic, favoured by the oldest committee member.   There had been a craze for Vodka and Mint Sauce but that seemed to have died off.

She danced something purporting to be a flamenco dance.  Needless to say any relationship to real flamenco was only in the mind of the dancer.  Anyway during one of her Carmen Amaya spinning top turns she banged into the organ and naturally blamed the organ.  She bashed her glass on it and told it it shouldn’t have been standing in her way.  Then she slowly slid down the back of it and disappeared from sight.  The rest of us who had been watching (who wouldn’t?) in stunned disbelief from our first sight of the glass jar of dessiccated coconut, rushed to the organ and inspected it closely, patted it all over and someone even got a rug and cuddled it (end of run party – funny things happen, get a grip).  The organ was okay.  The woman came to eventually and said, ‘Something banged into me.  Where’s my glass?’  So she was okay.  But the jar of coconut had vanished.

Once I was props for a production where at some stage in the play, one of the characters had to throw a little clay figure onto the floor and break it. (Note:  I think the play was The Caretaker).   So I got to and made umpteen clay figures.  Blobs with rolls really.  I was very pleased with myself.  Should I make some extras for rehearsals?

‘No need,’ the director said, ‘he’s so clumsy, only has to look at a thing and it breaks.  He broke one of the stained glass windows in the Anglican church a week ago when he was taking a photograph of it’.

I put a little note on my props table, Clean and Sweep up Blob, as a nightly reminder.  The first night the guy picked up the blob with rolls and threw it at the floor.  It made a noise like the SAS was storming the theatre but it didn’t break.  The actor said, Fuck me.’  But Pinter wasn’t in the audience so that was all right.  I understand he didn’t take kindly to any changes made to his lines.  Over the three week season none of the blobs with rolls broke.  I think it must be some sort of record.  I can’t remember what I did with the two cartons of blobs but they’re not in the garage so I must have got rid of them somewhere.

Then there was the famous (in Wairoa) incident during the first night of Noel Cowards’s Blithe Spirit.  Time has mercifully blotted out my fury, but at one stage Madame Arcati (the medium) was doing her stuff when a figure in a long grey dress walked from one side of the set to the other.  To say Madame Arcati was put off her stride is like saying that someone is upset when their house is flooded.   It barely touches on the range of emotion suffered.

‘Jesus Christ,’ she yelled, ‘Holy Mother,’ and, crossing herself vigorously, picked up the crystal ball and  rushed off stage, leaving the other actors staring at each other until one of them with more presence of mind but less brainpower, said brightly, ‘It’s been a rather surprising day.  A  pig walked round the corner of my house when I was out in the garden.  I got a shock I can tell you.’

The audience, thinking this was part of the play, roared with laughter, and if Noel Coward had been in the audience, I hope he would have too.   By this time I was backstage hissing instructions at Madame Arcati, along the lines of, ‘I don’t give a fuck how many fucking ghosts there are, just get out there and finish the bloody scene.’

So Madame Arcati came back on and said, ‘There’s no-one there,’ sat down and continued the scene.

And no, we never found the woman in the long grey dress.  A bit odd.  But that’s theatre.








One Comment

  1. 4-13-2017

    Delightful, thank you Renee