The Pip Simmons Theatre Group is just that: it’s a group. They have no theatre and are on the last leg of a six-month European tour. So far: France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Rod, who is Dracula, and Roderic, who is Ridiculous Man are also transport, they take turns driving us in the blue Mercedes van whilst we — Meirave, Dick, Chris, John and I — throw paper pellets at each other and squabble over where to sit. Chris has the best seat in the front because he speaks a bit of French and German — useful when going through the many border crossings. We call him the Carnet Führer.
Roderic is transport and Chris is Carnet Führer.
Each border has to have the carnet stamped. 50 pages duplicated 3 times. One to keep, the other two for the customs officials of the two countries we are leaving and entering. Everything in the van has to be accounted for with a special theatre licence for the gun to prove it isn’t a weapon plus special papers for three doves and Dave the cockerel. We have our passports that Chris takes along with the carnet to the border police. These borders take time, loads of time. Norway/Sweden – Sweden/Denmark – Denmark/Holland – Holland/France – France/Belgium – Belgium/Germany and so on!
If it’s getting late its a race to join the back of a queue of lorries before the border closes. Money has been known to change hands. If we don’t make it in time, we have to find a hotel, stay in a place we don’t want to be, and then start queuing at border control the next day. We sit quietly, best behaviour. It doesn’t take much for border control guards to find an excuse to haul us out the van.
Our van is the small one but size doesn’t matter, this van takes us along perilous icy roads to freezing places, traveling along endless autobahns to hot sunny places and then back again. Everything we own is in this van!
Loading the van: Dave the cockerel and the doves (nearest the doors) who need to be fed and watered; Emil, John, Roderic, Meirave and Dave.
Chris, John, Dick, Emil, Pete, Pip, Roderic, Rod and Olly waiting, waiting for theatre to open
We arrive in the afternoon and wait for the theatre to open. Then we unload, choose a dressing room, put the kettle on, set up, do a sound check, iron costumes, set the props, feed the livestock, go for a walk, look around for somewhere to eat, buy a postcard. If it’s Sunday, we stay in the theatre as nowhere is open, EVER.
If it is not Sunday, we go for a walk, visit the town, eat and shop and see what is around the corner, get back a couple of hours before the show, warm up, do hair and make-up — not that there is much of that — check props, change into our costumes, check the stage for nails, holes and uneven surfaces, check exits and entrances and wait for an audience.
Olly and Meirave wait in the wings for something to happen
The tour is coming to an end. The van careers towards Nice and as soon as we see the sea a bottle is opened and passed around. We perform at the Palace Theatre, then a short walk to a small hotel which is a short walk to a pebble beach and a short walk to the hills behind the hotel. The walk from theatre to hotel at night seems to be a reddish light district with the pretty prozzies in white thigh-high boots sending out signals. The boys linger. The tour ends in Avignon, we are bushed.
Olly, Sheila and John, homeward bound, Calais – Dover.
Quarantine laws don’t allow dogs, cats or ferrets into the UK, this includes Dave. Dave has to have a lethal injection and someone has to witness it. That someone is Roderic who is traumatised watching the demise of the 13th member of our group. The border police thoughtlessly carry Dave dead in his cage past us as we wait to get on the ferry. The doves get away scot-free ready to perform another day. Sadly other members of the company are leaving. Goodbye Emil Wolk. Goodbye Meirave Gary. Goodbye Pete Jonfield. A new show, a new team a new experience is on the horizon.
All photos and blog © Sheila Burnett