Tony Bell Diary of a Gossip Week Four Newcastle (actually Week Twelve but I've had writer's block)

“A sparkler up the bum”

“A sparkler up the bum”

Here we are again, peeps. Another blog. At last. Quite a lot’s happened since the last one. Christmas, New Year, Comedy of Errors, and a middle-aged actor running naked through the audience with a live sparkler up his arse.

It’s quite convincing, it actually looks like Antipholus of Ephesus shoved the firework up there in an impassioned rage at being imprisoned by a lunatic. That’s the directorial justification at any rate. It’s exactly what Shakepeare imagined, I think, when he wrote the Dr Pinch scene as a biting satire of the medical profession. Whether or not he thought about how the actor would achieve this moment of high drama, how he might stick a thin piece of metal where it hurts without sending the production company’s insurance premium through the roof, is a moot point. That hasn’t really concerned me as much as the practical mechanics of how to make it work. I tried the rustic, no pain no gain, method, of actually doing “what it says on the tin,” and inserting it, without precaution. I tried it once, for point one of a second. Then I recovered my sanity and tried putting the metal into a cork before it hit the exit door. So after a pleasant evening with an online date and a bottle of Rioja, I sent the date home, dropped my trousers (in that order), and set about myself with the freshly corked cork.

I was about to continue my anatomical experimentation, in the privacy of my own kitchen, when it struck me there was a reason why I never owned a car past three unfortunate write offs, and cycled everywhere for the past thirty years. To tighten my buttocks to a vice like grip, so they could squeeze a cork in performance conditions, that’s why.

So that’s what I do every show. I keep the cork in a sterilized Tupperware in my dressing room, strip off, pat black powder over my chubby bits, wrap my “duvet and pillow warehouse” luxury towel around my midriff, pick up a lighter from Bryony, the stage manager, and four lines before my entrance, as it were, shove the lit sparkler-in-cork between my butt cheeks just below my back entrance, as it were, cup both hands around my front entrance, as it were, and run full pelt through the audience, ad-libbing “Oh lordy, halelluyah, praise the lord, my arse is on fire” before meeting Charley, the other stage manager, at the back exit, as it were, with another towel, a bucket of water, and a sterilized marigold. I try to take charge of the cork, for health and safety, and together we walk solemnly past the ushers with the toffee and popcorn, to my dressing room where I have a pastuerising hot shower before replacing the cork in the Tupperware.

It brings the house down I’m told, but I’m in a trance state for the duration, so I can’t tell. All I know is it didn’t light once in Newcastle. As I ran past the liberal intellectuals of the North East I was conscious of a growing question as to why a professional actor would allow himself to run naked in public without good reason. To be honest, Chris Myles and I have been doing that at the Watermill since 1997, racing to the Blackbird and back in a pair of plimsolls and a birthday suit shortly after closing time. But as I explained to Nick, our company manager, “If there’s no fire coming out my arse it’s gratuitous.” The same might be said of Chris’s penchant for veggie curry.
Chris and I are sharing digs in Coventry this week, for the first, and last, time. I really feel for his wife, he’s so grumpy in the morning. He assures me this is because he’s waking up with me, rather than Rachel, but I think that’s a feeble excuse. We’re not in the same bed, you understand, just the same house. He’s got the front lounge and a camp bed, I’ve got a desk, a double bed, and an actual bedroom. I thought Chris would appreciate the cheaper room, being a family man and all, with shoes to buy, and porridge, but he’s not happy. He’s confiscated the front door key, because, and I quote, “you’ll come home drunk, and crash into my bed.” The front door opens directly into the front lounge, so if I was going to come home drunk I would probably crash into Chris’ bed, but as Chris is the one doing the coming home drunk bit, and I’m the one doing the go home early with a bag of chips bit, he’s more likely to do the crashing into his own bed bit. Whatever. There’s still no excuse for his constant moaning: ‘Seventy quid for this, it’s outrageous. Have you got my coffee? Where are my bananas?” On and on, every time I wake him up with a lovely mug of tea and a soggy biscuit. He rang me yesterday while I was charity shop shopping – “Where are my bananas?” “They’re in my hand Chris.” “Well bring them here, I want my breakfast.” “I’m in the charity shop.” “What for?” “I’m buying a fish steamer” “What for?” “Because it’s a pound if you buy a fruit slicer.” “What am I going to do about breakfast?” “I don’t care.” “I need my bananas.” On and on it goes, it’s like his bass drone in Richard for the Gregorian chants. Tuneless and unnecessary.

But I digress. Back to the sparkler. And the bottom. My bottom. Let’s not worry about Chris, or his bottom, or his sodding bananas. My nephew came to the matinee in Newcastle, and when I ran across the middle aisle he shouted “That naked man is my uncle.” He’s obviously very proud. It warms my heart that we have the kind of relationship where he can tell complete strangers about me, even when I’m naked with a sparkler up my whoopsy. That’s lovely, that is, and I have to say it was so much more fun staying with him than Chris. He wasn’t grumpy. He used to come and play violin to me. At six in the morning. And he asked me if I wanted a banana. Now that’s what I call a friend.

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