Sunday, 26 April 2009

Postscript Post

Nothing's ever as squeaky as that ending. There's never a "clean exit with suitcase" is there?

Our disasters start as we enter the terminal building and manage to permanently slow the revolving doors to a snail's pace by repeatedly stabbing the button with a disabled symbol on it. After getting Jenny through these we discover there are no seats within 50 metres, and she's looking white and weak. We beg Information for a swivel chair, which is painfully slowly extricated from behind the desk, by which time Jenny has stopped talking. Slumped on the chair, she says "I'm going to black out" and does so, sliding off the chair into my arms so we look like some bizarre Pieta or something. A doctor is called. Blood pressure taken.

It gets worse. We're almost refused passage by the check-in staff. We're taken to the gate by a nurse (on the plus side, she's so pretty she must have a day job modelling for Armani or something). My laptop is scanned for explosives and Heather's hand luggage is minutely examined before we finally get on the plane.

I look forward to being welcomed back next year as a company.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Parting Thoughts

I've just been to Flohschanze, and I took my time getting back. I mean, I didn't yomp madly like I often do - after all, I'm not going to walk these streets much longer. There's a lot of things which I meant to write about and to remember which somehow didn't make the cut, or seemed a bit minor or irrelevant to post about, but which contribute to the whole. For example, there's a guy who runs the shop where I buy my postcards who always wears an immaculately dapper pale grey suit with co-respondent shoes. And there's a lady in Nur-bacK who knows perfectly well I don't speak German, but who chatters delightedly to me about how she's giving me a small reduction on the pretzel because it's the last one - I think that's what she says. And I have to confess that I avoid the accordion player on the Hoheluft bridge, but only because she really can't play very well.

The drunks who hang around the tube station late at night are a different calibre to English drunks - one of them wears a flat cap and what was once a tweed suit - he looks a bit like Tommy Trinder. And the phrase "sofort bleiden, bitte" which immediately precedes the tube doors closing seems to defy translation. Our next door neighbours, Marc and Sebastian, let us use their wireless broadband. "Tschuss" is probably the most brilliant way of saying goodbye ever invented. Wheat beer and Schwarzwalder ham are just as fantastic as San Miguel and Serrano, and maybe better. And I never found out how you're really meant to eat a krakauer - I mean, it can't be normal to burn your fingers every time.

I've fallen for Hamburg, and there's plenty to love. It's a charming, easy, picturesque, historical city that just happens to house a really good and well-attended English-speaking theatre. Bob and Cliff have found a winning formula, and in Geoff, Sylvia, Kai, Julian, Vera and Annika they have an amazing (if slightly off-the-wall) team. It's still a mystery why the theatre tumble dryer runs all day, every day (we think Geoff takes in washing), but long may ETH continue.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Reading In

Jenny is comfortably ensconced in a wonderful hospital called "Asklepios Klinik Barmbek", which is only a short journey from Emil Jansen Strasse. Her operation was a great success, and now she only has to deal with the boredom and frustration, which is rather more of a challenge. Heather and I take in the Guardian in every day, and I finish her hospital food for her (very nice - can't have it wasted) whilst we try to avoid talking too much about her replacement, who's been flown in at insanely short notice.
When Paul Fields (see posts passim) was called in last year, he had a few days to get familiar with the script, but Kate Glover has had two brief rehearsals and a dress after arriving on Tuesday evening, and she went on last night, 24 hours after she stepped off the plane.
At first the audience was quite restless having someone visibly on book. The usual laughs weren't there and there was a definite tension. However, this dissipated gradually, and by the end of Act 1 (John/Ann) things were the same - but different, of you follow me. Kate's approach is necessarily instinctive, and it's a very different performance because of it. Obviously this means that our attitudes and reactions to Ann are often not as valid; are not based on as firm ground as they were.
What's astonishing is how well they play manages to work despite this pressure. Gurney's evidently a better writer than I thought, but obviously the laurels really go to Kate for pulling it out of the hat so well. She's a wonder.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Random Hamburg

Rory went to Luneburg yesterday, which is a very pretty mediaeval (I think) town near Hamburg. I've seen enough stately homes and architecture for the moment, though. I saw endless Grinling Gibbons carving and Romney portraits in National Trust properties as a kid.
As a "nature philistine" I prefer cityscapes to countryside, anyway. I think it's the way people live that interests me. Like here in Hamburg you see these constructions everywhere:

For ages I thought they were sewer access points like you see in Vienna in "The Third Man", but no. They're storage sheds for bikes. You can fit about eight in, by hanging them from their front wheels.
Also, it may be a coincidence, but there's something familiar about the lettering on the shop below. And the stuff they sell bears a striking resemblance to the range that used to be available in every town in the UK:

And like London, there's interesting sculpture on the most overlooked and unlikely street corners. This is in an isolated position just outside the Planten un Blomen on Gorch Fock Wall. Like much of the public art in Hamburg, it's got something to do with WWII but my German doesn't run to what, sadly:

It's fantastic. Reminds me a bit of "The Burghers of Calais" outside the Houses of Parliament on Millbank.

Break a Leg!

I don't know if anyone's said that to Jenny lately, but like the true professional she is, she's taken it to heart! She's having a hip operation today after breaking it last night shortly after I left Emil Jansen Strasse, poor thing. We're seeing her in hospital later today, going armed with the Guardian and grapes. Get well soon, Jenny!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Making Waves

So anyway, it's my suggestion that we go boating. I've seen craft all over the canals here, and a quick websearch reveals a boathouse very near Saarlandstrasse, where the ladies are living. They bring the food, I bring the beer - as Bradley would say, "it's very pleasant".

Except they don't have a rowboat, which was our preferred launch. They only have alster kayaks which need paddling, and make it difficult for anyone to lounge effectively. Oh, well. We can pretend we're in Hawaii 5-0. For some reason, all our many years of hard-won caution desert us when we're presented with the boat, and Jenny steps in before I know what she's doing. As the Hamburgers look on, she keeps one foot in the boat whilst it drifts away from the landing stage, and she tries to walk on water with the other. This doesn't work, and she steps knee-deep in Alster water. The seafaring credentials of the English are in tatters.

The Hamburg canals all link up with the Stadtpark lake and the two joined lakes of the Aussenalster and the Biennenalster, which means you can paddle through a variety of landscapes, urban and pastoral, and get a whole new Hamburg perspective. I realise that I've crossed many of the bridges we drift under, but dodging the traffic. It's tranquil and charming.

There's a regatta hapening in the Stadtpark lake complete with Dragon boats, so we moor at a landing stage to eat cheese, bread and black forest ham, and drink wheat beer. It's idyllic, especially since the park, though packed, is almost silent at lakeside. As I've said before, there are serious problems with making a living as an actor, but the upsides can be enormous. Thanks, Heather and Jenny - perfectly lovely day.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Cabin Fever

Well, it's either that or we're early demob-happy.

Lately, the minuscule mistakes which we'd normally ignore suddenly seem very, very funny. And once they're funny, their comedy potential has a life beyond the mistake. I don't know if this has a name, but it manifests itself in everyone looking at the floor/walls/curtains - anywhere but in each others' eyes, at certain moments in the play. Perhaps character crash would be good, or Heather suggested fussboden moment. Anyway, it's horribly infectious.
Normally these moments appear in rehearsal, and it's usually where someone's said something filthy by accident. I accidentally Spoonerised "Jigger and Nina" quite early on, with results you can imagine, and trying to avoid actually saying that has always been a bit of an open manhole moment for me.

In the matinee today I nearly missed a line, largely because I was fascinated by a teenager in the front row. I suppose there are more offputting things for a performer than someone head-back, mouth open, blissfully in the land of nod, but I can't think of one offhand. Having said that, they were generally pretty attentive - it can't be easy, watching people who are old enough to be your parents going on about how they weren't loved as kids, whilst the sun's shining outside. I'd probably snooze a bit, too...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Planten un Blomen

I'm a bit of a philistine when it comes to flowers. I mean, I love nature and the whole "red in tooth and claw" thing, but plants cultivated for their appearance leave me a bit unmoved. Actually, they bore the arse off me. I could never understand why my mother and grandma would spend hours wandering round our garden at home discussing the flowers. But in the spirit of the second chance (like trying rice pudding and rhubarb, which I love now) I thought I'd better visit the big open park here near Hamburg Messe.
Like the Fischmarkt, you smell it long before you get to it. And when you do get there, it's remarkable how attractive it is - there's half-naked sunbathers everywhere. I remember Clive James commenting on how some Europeans seem to fling off their clothes at the first glimmer of sun (although I think he meant the Danes) and it really was very, very diverting. So diverting that I almost forgot to look at the flowers - it wasn't a fair contest, really, as the flowers weren't in bikinis.
The botanical greenhouse was the best thing, I thought. Divided into sections like tropical, equitorial and temperate, the plants there are exotic and unusual, and more my thing. I even took a couple of photos:

This is a plant of some desciption. I have no idea what it's called, but it is pretty.

This is some kind of Australian creeper. It made me laugh because it looks like a poo.

Ok, that's the brownie points earned. Can I come out now, Mum?

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

BA Heaven

I flew back to the UK at the weekend again for 24 hours or so. Since the early Sunday a.m. Ryanair flight seems to have been discontinued I was forced, forced to fly with BA for hardly any more money.
What is it about BA? There's this effortless ease, boundless confidence about what they do. The cabin crew are grown-ups and give straight answers. You get food and drinks. You can check in online and choose your seat (why the hell can't Ryanair and Sleazyjet do that?). And we arrived 25 minutes early. How on earth you shave 25 minutes off a 70 minute flight I can't begin to guess.
Anyway, my gorgeous kids seemed to remember vaguely who I am, and I cooked dinner for my lovely wife - well, having missed almost all the previous 9 weeks' cooking, cleaning and childcare it seemed fair. It's that spirit of give and take which keeps a marriage fresh, I find.
And then back on the coach to Stansted for a Ryanair flight back - of which I shall say only one thing. The cabin crew on a BA flight would never, never make disparaging comments out loud about the pilot's skills to passengers, no matter how bumpy the landing. Shame on you, Susanna the Purser.

Saturday, 11 April 2009


Hamburg's great for a flohmarkt and every Saturday there's a big, busy one in Feldstrasse. Jenny and I went there today, and it's the first time I've seen English people in any numbers here. They seemed to be everywhere talking on mobiles and holding plastic bags.

Amongst the usual market tat there were some interesting things - a few bits of Whitefriars but nothing which blew my skirt up. And whilst most stalls were anything and everything, there were a few that specialised. One seemed to have a job lot of surgical instruments of every conceivable type (including a whole range of speculums which must have made every adult woman shudder when they passed), and then I came across this:

A whole stall devoted to old lab equipment? Stills, retorts, test tubes, bunsens. It's all there. Anyway, we didn't want any pyrex beakers or benzine droppers, so we headed out and passed the entrance to the DOM, which is right next to this edifice, called the Hochbunker.
That name is a masterstroke of understatement. It is HUGE. A government bunker from the last war, it's been reinvented as a gig venue and music school. When I asked Kai, our SM, why it hadn't been dismantled after the war, he said, in his typical dead-pan way, "Well, it was designed to be totally bomb-proof. That made it a bit difficult to demolish".
Good point.

Friday, 10 April 2009


I've just been out for a walk - it's Good Friday and gorgeous - and everyone's out on wheels. Cycling is BIG in Hamburg, there are cycle lanes on all the pavements. And you've never seen a Hamburger properly annoyed until you've seen a pedestrian stray into the cycle lane - the air turns blue. Plus there's buggies, unicycles and inline skaters (some of whom were men in their forties, oh dear...)

Anyway, I stopped for a little while next to a skate park and watched the kids on boards for a bit - I say kids, I mean boys, as there don't seem to be any more girls skateboarding now than when I used to do it myself. I did wonder, though, why no-one was using the half-pipe. I mean, they were all using the low-level ramps and quarter-pipes but no-one was on the half-pipe, and when I was skating it was so popular you had to queue to even get on it. They all looked really accomplished, too.

As I moved off, I got a view of the top platform on the half-pipe, and realised why. There were about a dozen girls up there, reading magazines, swapping make-up and generally claiming it as their territory. Clearly none of the guys were going to even think about challenging them.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Emergency Literature

I posted a while ago (during the Sternschanze episode, in fact) about reading things you wouldn't normally pick up/have time for/notice in a bookshop. Each of the flats has a selection of books which reflects the tastes of hundreds of ETH actors, and sooner or later you're gonna run out of things you read out of choice, and pick up one of these gems. It's like flying to Australia - eventually you'll be reading the print on the sick-bag.
Or, if you'd rather not be saddled with Sam Bourne, John Grisham and Herman Wouk (!) you could always toddle along to the nearest Oxfam (mine's on Hoheluft Chaussee) and look in there. And what a bunch of smarty-pants Anglophiles we have in our neighbourhood! Or it could just be one expat with a voracious appetite - Life of Pi, Barrytown Trilogy, George Mikes' How to be a Brit (nicely ironic, that one), Ben Okri, Barry Unsworth, Angela Carter and a host of other literary fiction. I'd buy them all, but I'd never have time to read them at home!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Finally, the Story Outruns the Truth

I found this on an American website (the italics are mine):

A British actor suffered a heart attack and collapsed onstage at the precise moment during a play that his character was supposed to have a heart attack. Fortunately, Steve Dineen’s co-star Alice Selwyn realized he wasn’t faking and stopped the performance of Abigail’s Party to call for a doctor. Dineen is expected to make a full recovery, said spokesman Paul Brunton, but “it was very traumatic” when Dineen was lying on the stage, gasping. “It was almost like real life imitating art.”

And here's another corker from

Missing a beat
The audience at the Musselburgh's Brunton Theatre in the United Kingdom couldn't tell, but actor Steve Dineen was slightly ahead of cue when he collapsed during the final scene of Abigail's Party. But his fellow actors knew that Dineen's character, Lawrence, wasn't supposed to collapse and die of a heart attack for a few more lines. Dineen's heart attack, it turned out, wasn't staged. Co-star Alice Selwyn quickly noticed Dineen wasn't acting and emerged from character to ask for a doctor. An ambulance arrived in time to take the veteran actor to the hospital, where he is recovering

VETERAN ACTOR! Jesus Christ on a bike, I'm 42!

Sunday, 5 April 2009


God, they know how to do fairs here. We have a fair in St Giles' in Oxford once a year for two days. In Hamburg they have the DOM three times a year for a month each time. And it's great.
And I'm speaking as someone who doesn't like rides much. At the Oxford fair in 1981 I was violently sick after riding "The Cage" (all because my mother forced me to eat an omelet before I went) and I've never forgotten it. But I will do Dodgems and Ferris wheels and stuff. There was a good deal of machismo from our SM Kai at the mediaeval axe-throwing contest (he was beaten by a girl) and we all did the archery, ghost train and log flue. But the highlight for me was the Mouse Circus.
I don't think I was actually expecting mice taming smaller creatures, or on the trapeze and what-not. Actually what you get is hundreds of mice belting around the place climbing over stuff. And it makes you smile much more than it should:
The Ferris Wheel is not to be missed, either. At twilight you get a sensational view over Hamburg, and the DOM itself is the brightest thing in the city:

It was all very "Third Man". If we hadn't been the worse for a couple of Gluweins by that stage then maybe one of us might have quoted it.


This is a Hamburg institution - I mean, it's been going since 1703. And you feel that old when you pitch up at 7am - any later and you might as well not bother.
The first signs are at the St Pauli tube. There's a group of four hammered 20-year-olds, and one of them is carrying a crate of strawberries; you know, 24 punnets. I guess he'll work out what to do with them at home. There's hordes of people getting off the tube, and it's Sunday morning. Nothing is normal about today so far.
The market itself runs from 5-9am every Sunday, and it's a boisterous affair. Follow the crowds in the grey morning drizzle and quite suddenly you're there. Dozens and dozens of trucks, sides open, selling smoked fish, fresh fish, pickled fish, fish sandwiches. And that's just the fish. Fruit (mainly strawberries today) and vegetables, tat Hamburg souvenirs, hats, fruhstuck vans and god knows what else.
Everyone eventually heads for the fish auction hall - a huge galleried affair with beer stalls and grills selling bratwurst and krakauer. The Rough Guide talks about German rock being thrashed out in here, but today it's ZZ Top (except they're not doing the difficult guitar solos). It's like Saturday night, we mooch around, thinking about sausages for breakfast (well I do) and try to talk over the noise. Heather says something to me, but at that precise moment everyone choruses "Every girls crazy 'bout a SHARP DRESSED MAN!!!" and we revert to sign language. She points outside, and she's right. This is all too much with a hangover.

Saturday Night

Last night was one of the best shows we've done, and definitely the best audience we've had. They were incredible. An amazing sense of warmth and enjoyment just washing up on stage in waves, and an insane number of curtain calls, and some people even standing - although they might have been late for their trains, I suppose. No, let's say they were standing and leave it at that.

I've noticed a feature of audiences here that you don't get at home, and it's to do with their enjoyment of the details of the language itself. Colloquialisms and idioms which would pass unnoticed in a native speaking audience get extra mileage here, I suppose because they have to translate and interpret and then understand. For example, Jenny (Mother) has to say that the play is trouble because "'s chiefly to do with you-know-who." That's just a phrase to us, but the audience translate it, and then realise who she means, and it gets a huge laugh. It's odd.

Friday, 3 April 2009

'Nother Notice

"Steve Dineen as John (the "troublemaker" in the family who insists on bringing up issues) transmits John's persistence as being his character's virtue but also his vice beautifully".

How do you like them apples? Cheers, Hamburg Express.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Haar Here

Ages ago I posted about how ghastly it was having to sport a 70's moustache in 2009 (or 2008 as it then was). The subject would always come up when I was having a haircut - you'd see it in their eyes, a kind of quizzical "He wants a normal haircut but has THAT on his face? Does he know?" so then the story would come out..."You know Abigail's Party? No? I'm surprised...well, it's quite a famous play that's set in the 70's and...."
Bad enough. But tomorrow I have to go have my roots done and ask them to cut my hair in a deliberately bouffant 70's style and leave the sideburns. In German. Consequently I'm leafing through every dictionary and lexicon I can lay my hands on to anticipate every conceivable outcome.
I don't want a repeat of the occasion when I tried to check into a Spanish hotel on spec with a friend of mine, and we wanted a twin room. We didn't want to end up with a double bed, obviously, but all my useful Spanish on the topic deserted me, so I found myself asking for "a room for two male persons who are not homosexuals, please".

Return to Sternschanze

One of the places I visited with my B-I-L last week was Sternschanze, and I had a chance to look at it with fresher eyes than before. I still wouldn't want to live there - too noisy - but it reminds me strongly of what happens in some London areas when they become gentrified - the good and the bad which characterise it are swept away in favour of the safe and middle-class.
Geoff, our SM, told me that the fabulous Wasserturn or water-tower was lately converted into a luxurious Movenpick hotel, but in the teeth of protracted local opposition. The residents didn't necessarily want to do anything else with it, but it seems they objected to it being exploited for financial gain on principle. Guests arriving at the completed hotel had to be protected by security and police for some months after it opened, such was the strength of feeling.
The same local activism has successfully prevented the wreck of the Flora Theatre (now called the Rota Flora) from being renovated - here's a picture of part of it:

The Lonely Planet guide calls it an "alternative culture centre and drug-dealing hub", which is something they probably don't put in the estate agent's description when they sell neighbouring flats. Whatever it is, Geoff apparently went to a show there last year and couldn't shake the fear that the whole place was about to collapse about his ears. Just round the corner is another venue which Geoff has visited:
What was the show, "Stig of the Dump"?