Even I can’t find anything funny about the last couple of weeks. Strained bonhomie delivered from my balcony to acquaintances passing by, endlessly repeated gallows humour scraped off the internet. Yes, I have seen that. No it’s not hilarious.
Rather than squeezing a few laughs out of what was until recently just another fizzy drink (Corona? Geddit? See, not really funny), I’m going to trawl up some amusing stories about my time with the Natural Theatre Company which are normally included in my popular after dinner talk entitled for obvious reasons ‘Travels as my Aunt’ the delivery of which is currently curtailed.
During my time with the company, we performed in over eighty countries, mostly in shopping centres (Benetton in Marrakech is much the same as Benetton in Maidstone) but also in castles, palaces, airport concourses, on cruise liners, on the top of mountains, at Buckingham Palace, on the Orient Express, on a submarine, at the Great Pyramid of Giza, on a station in Islamabad, in a Munich circus (complete with elephants) and even on a flight to Malaga.
This last one was a hoot. We (I say ‘we’ but sometimes I simply helped dispatch the teams around the globe, like at theatrical Amazon.com) The company was booked for a hen party, an entire airliner full of shrieking ladies knocking back the Prosecco like it was going out of fashion. Imagine the crescendo registered on the shriek meter when shortly after take-off instead of the smartly uniformed attendants, the Naturals emerged from the galley completely starkers. Well, not really naked but sporting their realistic nude suits with the rude bits sewn on and set off by a natty cabin crew scarves.
More Prosecco was distributed, seat belts adjusted and of course the safety drill had to be repeated and this time the passengers really did pay attention. As did the guys in air traffic control when the team posed on the steps of the plane with the real crew.
Disasters came thick and fast. One of the performers was bitten by a performing monkey in Pakistan, I myself was arrested in Brighton, Bath and Vienna and we were all poisoned in Ashgabat where we found out too late that the kindly young man from the Turkmenistan National Orchestra looking after us was filling the kettle for our daily afternoon tea from a pond in the yard of the opera house, the theatre’s plumbing having given up.
In my time we were kidnapped twice, had bricks thrown at our heads in Newcastle and had a television set dropped on us from the top floor of a block of flats in Sheffield*. We misjudged the undertow on Ipanema beach and were nearly drowned, got caught up in an illegal Basque independence demo in Spain and caused a riot in Bogota.
These and other stories I hope to be able to share with you over the next few weeks. And if you’ve heard any of them before (i.e. if you’ve ever stood next to me in a pub) I apologise.
*The show went on regardless!
First published in Bath Chronicle as Ralph Oswick’s Weekly Column (now in its 15th year)