There was a documentary on television recently about an armed hijack of a suburban bus in Rio. It included an extended sequence filmed from a helicopter showing the city’s astonishing topography. The camera swooped down onto luxurious gated communities and then up over vertiginous slopes completely jammed with slum dwellings like some kind of human wasp nests.
I suddenly recognised the shanty town where years ago Natural Theatre Company did a street theatre master class for deprived kids. Back then the buildings looked improvised and near collapse. But here they still were, looking even more ramshackle.
Then I learned that the hijacker came from that very place! He wasn’t in our class, but I did wonder if any of our bright and imaginative kids grew up to be desperate criminals.
Of course, we performed in some of the posh bits too. Down on Ipanema beach we did our famous Pink Suitcases routine when we act like lost tourists. The audience got the idea that they had to follow us, but then gathered at the top of the steeply shelving sand as if expecting a show. Nothing for it, whispered one of my fellow thespians, we have to go in the water.
So into the water we went, crazy Brits in full evening dress. Did I mention it was winter? The sea was freezing, but everyone laughed so we suffered for our art. Then a massive wave came from behind and knocked us all flying. The suitcases floated off. As a non-swimmer I came very close to drowning. But still they roared with laughter.
Dragging ourselves out, we found we could hardly walk…we had so much gravel in our shoes and turnups our legs turned to lead.
After drying off we did another suitcase walkabout, this time sticking to the prom. It was all a bit dull and windswept compared to the brochures, but help was at hand. From the opposite direction, a huge Gay Pride demonstration hove into view. They really thought our pink suitcases were there for them and mighty cheers went up. They went absolutely nuts! A band struck up and the gay Brazilians danced as only gay Brazilians can. We tagged along merrily until we spotted our hotel, and making our excuses we slipped away.