Suffering for one’s art

Last week I came across an old photograph of myself from the 1970’s. Apart from sporting a fine pair of sideburns, I look fairly similar to today. Except I have a magnificent crop of blond curls. Ah, one of your many wigs I hear you surmise. But no, this is your genuine peroxide job.

The Natural Theatre Company had accepted a booking to perform on the campus of Leicester University. Thinking we’d done our trademark Flowerpot People, Conehead Aliens and Yellow Suitcases routines to death, we set about devising something new in the way of street theatre.

The date of travel loomed and nary an idea had surfaced. And then we had a brainwave. We’d become an archetypal experimental theatre group, dead serious agit-prop style. So we donned matching white dungarees and in an effort to give visual cohesion to the team, we decided to bleach our fashionably long hair.

So, such was our dedication to our art, we found ourselves at Natural HQ bent over the sink applying liberal quantities of pungent chemicals to our luxuriant locks. At first it didn’t seem to work, so in for a penny we lathered on even more bleach and eventually emerged with horrific straw-coloured barnets.

We hardly dare show ourselves in daylight, let alone travel all the way to Leicester. What’s more we smelt like a pub toilet on a good day. On the way to the motorway a lorry full of squaddies gave us the once-over. We pulled into a layby and waited until they disappeared over the horizon.

By the time we got to Leicester we had gained confidence. We had ourselves announced at the railway station (despite having travelled by van) and made a fuss of ‘arriving’ complete with an array of highly theatrical looking but completely empty trunks. 

We spent the next two days shifting these trunks around the campus, talking loudly in the student union bar and generally being a gang of luvvies. We even got up insanely early, installed ourselves in sleeping bags on the steps of the maths building as if to say we’d slept out all night, and then arose and went through a hideous warm-up routine.

It worked! We became the main topic of conversation as we blocked the Paternoster lift with yet another pile of trunks and an intriguing rail of randomly selected costumes, including if I remember rightly a gorilla suit. As we toyed with our matching salads in the refectory we heard things like ‘What’s all this about?’ ‘It’s the Natural Theatre Company. I haven’t seen them, but apparently they’re really good!’

Thus we spent the whole gig not actually doing a gig. Clever eh? But back home there was a mad rush to the sink to restore those blond locks to something resembling the original. In my case I’d gone a bleach too far and no amount of chestnut dye would do the business. I had to spend the next six weeks looking like a Diana Dors with sidies until my hair grew out.

First published 2019 in Bath Chronicle

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