In my second year at uni, I was part of a drama production at the Edinburgh Festival. We were promised by the director, Bryon Fear, that in return for offering him three nights a week full-on commitment and physical training, he would make us part of a show that would be the toast of the Fringe. The only problem was he hadn’t written any of it yet.
He knew it would be physical theatre (which means throwing yourself around painfully until you start bleeding). He also had the vague idea it would be about vampires and therefore on the dark side. And, oh yes. They would be metaphorical vampires.
They would be a symbol of thelovethatdarenotspeakitsname, although in Bryon’s case, he was screaming it from the rooftops: “Yes! I take it up the bum! Happy now, mother?”
So I auditioned, and Bryon thought he had a part for me playing some sicko bad guy vampire hunter who would rally round the village folk in the play and maybe get them to torch these deviant bloodsuckers or something (subject to permission from the venue Fire Officer).
Nine months of ‘trust’ exercises, yoga, aerobics, strength training, ‘visualisations’ and general mucking about in tracksuit bottoms followed. But no script.
We were lean. We were dedicated. And our director had a couple of scenes blocked where he frenchied the lead guy and rolled around on the floor with him. Arse gratia artis, I suppose.
A month before the Worldwide Premiere of Varcolac (in the college drama studio, tickets two pound fifty) we had our script.
Bryon took me to one side. “Look, I’ve had to cut the character of Don Salvore because it didn’t make dramatic sense,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “What will I actually be doing in the play, then?”
“Well, you’re still Vampire One, the one who gets staked right at the beginning.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“And I’ve had a genius idea for a new scene.”
Bryon ‘the’ Fear went on to explain that he had been deeply moved by Madonna’s book Erotica (this was back in ’95, you understand) and really wanted to use some of her music in the production. He said I was about the most androgynous member of the cast (I was only able to shave every third day back then) and what he wanted…
…and what he wanted was me to mime ‘Erotica’ with bleached hair, wearing a blouse and playing with a big stick while two of the female members of the cast performed a lesbian scene in front of me. I said fine.
* * *
We performed at college in York, to reasonable reviews, then broke for a month before getting back together for the festival.
On our return, Bryon the Fear told me he wasn’t happy with the Erotica scene. He wanted to change it- just me on stage, naked except for a G-string, oiled, and simulating masturbation whilst mouthing ‘Erotica, romance, I’d like to put you in a trance’. And so on. This would go on at the back of the stage in a recessed alcove, lit from above.
What could I do? We were due to go up to Edinburgh in a week and The Fear had spoken.
I said yes, but I wasn’t very happy about it.
So we had fourteen shows at midnight to do and on the first night, somewhat embarrassedly, I writhed and moaned and rubbed myself like a little bitch. At one point I opened my eyes to look up to the backstage area. Big mistake. The entire rest of the cast were gathered round, looking down on me and pissing themselves with hysterical laughter.
I felt defiled, frankly, but we still had another 13 shows to go (and yes, it never ceased to be utterly hilarious to the rest of the cast- bastards!)
* * *
The Fear announced a couple of days later that we were causing a storm. In the wake of Coppola’s piss-poor Dracula movie, vampires were THE theme of the Festival that year. We were getting rather full houses. BBC’s Edinburgh Nights asked if they could film it. Wow, we thought. The B Bloody C. This could be our big break (even if, in my particular case, it would possibly be for a series of dodgy gay soft porn videos sold by mail order).
In the event, they televised about fifteen seconds of the play, just the first scene where I got staked. All you could make out of my death scene (which was frankly terrific), however, was my elbow to the left of the fountain of blood that spurted from a pipe I was lying in front of (hate to give away these trade secrets, but that’s how it was done). Not enough for a show reel, sadly, but at least they didn’t show the wanking bit.
I can only remember one actual review, which was in The Stage (the bible of drama luvvies in the UK). They said it was an ‘inept vehicle for sophomoric renditions of deviant sex’ and gave it One Star. Bastards!
As for Bryon, I now have him to thank for the rather lovely insane elephant spearing the cut-out policeman in the banner above and, as soon as I can work out what to include, the cover for my new and much-improved book of the site of the excuse of the life.