Whispers from the Wings

Russia

November 22, 2012

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an actor in possession of a sunny disposition must be in want of a good slap in the face.

As much as it is lovely to be working for a wonderful company, in a beautiful hotel, in one of the most interesting cities in the world; there is also the sense of impending doom as dreaded unemployment starts to rear its ugly head.

I always like to sit down to my Christmas dinner knowing where my next pay check is coming from. It is a constant battle to try and stay in the present. Enjoy the new audiences. The new language. The new food. But when shall we work again? Who knows? Or even dares to ask?

Our flight was delayed for a little over a million years. But it seems churlish to complain about a delay on a flight that you haven't paid for, going to do paid work that you have dreamt of doing all your life. It is a true privilege.

I watch my fellow actors with a bittersweet vision, wondering when I will see these people who have become friends, who have become family. Adjoa Andoh, who quite brilliantly plays Portia, says that actors are good at hellos and terrible at goodbyes. Maybe there are no goodbyes. We just wait until we say hello again. But all the lines seem sweeter to me now. I watch scenes with a little sadness now. Five performances left, four...

But you don't want to hear about that. You want to hear about Russia. Well, we are in Moscow. A great, mysterious city with solemn statues and shops which never close. One of the actors got buffalo wings at four in the morning! You can't get that in Aylesbury. We used the metro on our second evening here. It would be easier to complete Sudoku in Chinese. Beautiful and mystifying like the city itself, one can feel a part of the city and apart from it all at the same time.

We are staying at the Marriott Grand Hotel, a gorgeous hotel with pool, jacuzzi and efficient staff. There is no wifi in the room so right now I am typing in the lobby, watching successful Russians smoking cigarettes (you can still smoke inside here) move through the metal detector as they go about their work.

Friendly bilingual women clear away your tables and gruff security men give you a cursory nod (I think this is a warm 'hello' in their language). The rooms are extraordinary. But it is the main road that is most interesting. Huge buildings that give almost no clue to a non-native as to what they sell.

I can't be sure but I think there is a 24 hour camera shop! Why? No one seems to go in there. It sits across the road from a 24 hour flower shop. Is this just an incredibly romantic city? Or are flowers the Russian equivalent of 24 hour Chinese restaurants in London?

Surly businessman look at you which curiosity. Or is it suspicion? We are an almost completely black company. Are they hostile or just being polite? We have read stories of gangs of nazis marching the streets on Thursday nights looking for trouble. We are assured that this is a complete fabrication and no such thing exists. I will let you know.

The theatre is beautiful. A wonderfully stylish and utilitarian canteen, full of actors and crew suffused with a love of theatre. Ray Fearon (he of the glorious cheekbones, abs and biceps) is staying in Stanislavski's dressing room!

There are two seats in the auditorium which are dedicated to Chekhov and Stanislavski. Amazing. Humbling. Two of the greats of drama performed, directed and worked in this very theatre. They walked these streets. And now we are here. Could Shakespeare, Chekhov or Stanislavski ever have imagined that a company such as ours would pace this stage? Maybe.

Many dignitaries are coming to see the show. The pressure's on. As always. Pressure makes diamonds. We have been told that it is probably not a good idea to drink the tap water as our bodies would not be used to ... its Russian flavour.

Between this and neo nazis roaming the streets in packs and the ghosts of uminaries of Russian theatre haunting our footsteps, we may not survive. But we probably will.

by Andrew French  |  No comments yet


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Teaching Shakespeare