As I stand backstage, in a quirky old theatre with a working watermill running through and underneath it I think to myself ‘These are the nights I live for’.
It’s night like these that make you glad you chose this job (or possibly the greater truism that it chose you) rather than something that requires sitting at a desk more frequently. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of nights I’ve wished I was home watching TV after a day at the desk, it’s just that tonight isn’t one of them.
I’d woken up at 10am that day feeling uneasy. I was excited for the show that night but my stomach was rumbling in a way that suggested trouble. The previous night our good friend (and magician) Darren Mac was staying at our house. He decided he wanted to take us all out for dinner and so, having been taught never to look a gift horse in the mouth we happily acquiesced and headed out to Solita in Preston. Once there we spotted an item on the menu labelled ‘Cry For Help Wings’.
They should be renamed to ‘Call For An Ambulance Wings’ due to their being coated in Naga Chilli, which comes in at 1.5 million scoville’s. Essentially that means it’s at least 5 times hotter than tobasco sauce AND these things are smothered in it. All 8 of them.
Why would you eat such a ridiculously hot plateful of wings you I hear you ask? Well, immortality and eternal glory of course. I’m told that in the 18 months Solita has been open, only 7 people have managed to complete this challenge. Well, you can add one to that number as I now also have my picture up on their wall. Which is the reason I’m feeling unsettled 15 hours later. Immortality comes at the price of feeling extremely mortal.
Once showered and back on form, one Darren (Mac) leaves and another Darren (Robinson) arrives. We head down to the gig and a pleasant and easy drive of 3.5 hours ends with arriving in a theatre that look like this…
I’m now firmly wearing my happy face AND the show is still three hours away. Following a smooth sound check we hit the restaurant where food is provided. My second free meal in as many days. Sitting around the table we have Dan Hudson, Richard Griffin, Darren Robinson and Thom Peterson. If you know these guys, you’ll know this is good company. Sitting around a dinner table chatting about magic and showbiz in general with other performers is just about my favourite thing in the world.
Having had dinner we headed backstage to the warm, comfortable and amply appointed dressing rooms and green room…
Check 3 off the list. Theatre, company, nice dressing room… Last but not least for 4, AUDIENCE….
…and what an audience they were. This is one of those ‘if Carlsberg did’ moments. They laughed, they clapped, they cheered and they even joined in. Dan opened the show with a killer trick involving a lemon and a bank note before introducing Thom Peterson. Thom is one of my favourite comedy magic acts and never fails to win the audience with his dry but charming style. I’d seen his act twice already in the last few months and even on this third occasion he had new material to show. I loved the new stuff as much as the older and suddenly the audience and I had one thing in common, we knew we were in for a great time. Thom killed, really killed, and so did Richard Griffin.
Only a couple of weeks ago I worked with Richard at a show he hosts near his home in Wisbech. On that occasion Richard was the compere and having done a stellar job then, I was looking forward to seeing his ‘act as known’ as I hadn’t seen it in a few years. It was everything I remembered and expected. Polished, professional, amazing and hilarious.
Next it was my turn. Closing any variety or magic night has it’s pressures. It’s a worry, and it’s great. In equal measure. The audience has a natural inclination to expect they are building towards something. Having already seen two of the very best acts in the business I had firmly settled myself on trying to keep up, rather than kicking them over the proverbial fence. I knew within the first few seconds of walking out that I had nothing to worry about.
The applause was warm from the very beginning and having already been whipped into a frenzy, I only had to keep that plate spinning. As all plate spinners know, this is actually the easy part.
As you can see from the video above, I was probably having more fun that the crowd. 29 minutes later….the show ended , the curtain came down and we all packed away and drove home.
Darren and I started getting pretty hungry about two hours from home and having gotten lost on our diversion to a food place I’d heard of, we ended up standing outside of Big John’s in Birmingham.
Big John’s is a multi cuisine eatery with a focus on cheapness and choice. I left with a burger, a pizza slice and a bag of wedges with drink for £6. Not the greatest choices at 1am but the mood was high and we were tired.
This is where the problems begin. I knew I couldn’t make it the whole way home. I absolutely NEVER drive when I’m too tired to concentrate properly. It’s a slippery slope that can only lead to accidents and so we pulled in to a services an hour from home and slept for 45 minutes. Upon waking I took a quick walk to grab a coffee and the last hour of driving sailed by. I finally climbed into bed at 4am.
Before closing my eyes I checked the feedback on the ‘selfie’ I take at every show….
Finally I closed my eyes.
Full of food, full of joy, and full of hope that variety theatre still has plenty of life left yet.