I Have Always Depended On The Kindness Of Strangers!
‘I have always depended on the kindness of strangers’ is the heroine’s famous final line of the Tennessee Williams classic , ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ Blanche Dubois speaks it to the doctor who gently takes her arm to cart her off to the loony bin in the play’s tragic denouement. Her freedom taken from her – Blanche is forced into lockdown. Much like Paul and Andrew and the rest of the world had been recently. Like poor Blanche control had been snatched from them, unlike Blanche they hadn’t yet gone entirely mad.
Well – Not quite yet.
He and Andrew were both very fortunate that the kindness of strangers had helped them to escape from their paradisiacal prison in the The Philippines.
They currently had good company hunkering down with Paul’s mum Linda in Brighton. They could be socially distant and meet with their sister Tina and nephew Bill, as long as they remained two metres apart – physically if not emotionally. This was more difficult than it sounded.
But the boys had access to wine, women and song. So the lockdown seemed entirely doable.
Of course, the wine was often Voddy.
The women often men.
And the song was not sung.
Well not live anyway.
There was nothing ‘live’ in the entertainment world for the foreseeable future. This was already impacting on ‘The Lola Boys’ financial position yet it was their mental stance for which they were most concerned. A world without theatre or cabaret was difficult for them to imagine.
Paul and Andrew had always worked in the arts in one form or another. They couldn’t really do much else. Nor was anything else something they desired to do. Their world came alive onstage. How would they stay sane without a laugh or a clap? Like so many performers applause sustained them. Paul knew it to be somewhat egotistical but a dose of the clap was better than any pay cheque. And he knew it had kept he and Andrew afloat through the most difficult of times.
Being a member of an audience was also an experience much missed by the boys.
It was wonderful to watch as well as be watched.
They had always both shared a passion for the stage. So it was brilliant to have ‘The National Theatre’ streaming past productions, which were recorded live, on Youtube.
Paul had forced his mother and Andrew to sit through their latest offering, the aforementioned ‘Streetcar’, just the other night. Although once it was curtain up, neither had taken much persuasion.
The piece was brilliant. All anyone could desire from a ‘Streetcar.’ Sex, booze and a obscene measure of steamy tragedy. They had all loved it and been moved by the brilliant Gillian Anderson, who, when not knocking around with aliens, was able to knock out an out of this world performance.
The three and a bit hours had whizzed by.
It was almost like being there. A brilliant illusion conjured up by the magic of ‘live’ theatre filmed.
‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ had been one of Paul’s dead nan’s favourite films. Before Paul was even big enough to hop onto a streetcar, she had enthused to him about it’s stars, Vivienne Leigh and Marlon Brando. He’d been too young to understand it’s darker themes then, but he had loved the histrionics of Ms Leigh’s Blanche, and the sight of a smouldering Brando sporting a torn white vest had excited him even more. Although he didn’t let on to his grandmother about that aspect of his artistic enjoyment until years later.
When he was quite sure what it meant!
But it was one of his first meetings with a proper playwright – and Paul had been obsessed with Tennessee Williams and the theatre ever since. Eventually becoming a professional actor at the ripe old age of 22.
Paul’s first job had been at the famous ‘Leicester Haymarket’ repertory theatre. A lead role in a leading venue, he couldn’t believe his luck. Although. he was quite certain he was going to be a star, he hadn’t expected the journey to begin quite so quickly. Decades later, after many years in the theatre and a long stint at doing cabaret as one half of ‘The Lola Boys’, he was not a star. But he knew enough of them to know it probably wasn’t something he really wanted. Not really. He and Andrew were far too naughty, they’d probably never be off of the front page of ‘The Daily Mail’ were they famous instead of infamous. Paul could only imagine the headlines.
‘Lola Boys Sex Scandal As Drunken Priest Drowns In Pool During Twelve Hour Drug-Fuelled Orgy!’
He knew it was probably best if he and Andrew stayed beneath the radar. At least that way nobody could sink them with a tabloid torpedo. Although a couple had tried tossing a few malignant mines in their direction. Relatively speaking that is. They cruised on. If they sank it was entirely down to them.
Besides they didn’t have a pool!
Paul had great recollections of being in the ‘legitimate’ theatre before he and Andrew had taken to the dark side, performing cabaret in a pair of five inch stilettos and a gallon of guy liner. He had fantastic memories of meeting up with his partner on Waterloo Bridge post show. Andrew had been playing the lead in ‘Miss Saigon’ and Paul was typecast as a psychotic prison guard in Kander and Ebbs’ new musical, ‘Kiss Of The Spiderwoman’. Unfortunately the show suffered the kiss of death after audiences failed to take to it in the same manner as the critics. They had closed rather abruptly, and very soon afterwards the broadway production garnered seven ‘Tony’ awards.
Some people have no taste Paul had mused back then.
But he was unsurprised that, post the recent A.I.D.S. epidemic, audiences were not hungry for a tale of a gay window-dresser and a revolutionary banged up together in a south american jail contemplating banging each other. Still it was a a travesty the show had bombed. It still remained one of Paul’s favourite experiences treading the boards of The West End..
And one of the best opening night parties ever.
He had found himself in a ballroom on Park Lane doing an impromptu cabaret with the gorgeous Bebe Neuwirth from ‘Cheers’ fame. Bebe whispered the lyrics into his ear as he regailed the crowd with impressions of Carol Channing and Cilla Black, singing the songs from the show to a drunkenly beguiled audience. Andrew too remembered it as one of the best theatrical ‘do’s’ he had attended. Paul should have realised then that his future was better suited to cabaret.
Instead, he continued on with his serious career, and found himself in ‘Hair’ at ‘The Old Vic’, cast alongside the very naughty John Barrowman. He knew it was unwise to talk of all the antics which had occurred during that run, he could easily cause most of the surviving cast to start pulling their hair out. He certainly wasn’t going to mention the incident involving the pot of banana yogurt which occurred in his dressing room during the long break between a sweaty matinee and the evening show. Suffice to say it was the ‘sixties’. Kind of. And everyone was kind back then – with all manner of strangers. Weren’t they?
So much of his theatrical past was flooding back to Paul during lockdown. He found the stillness made one quite nostalgic. He thought of his first meeting with Andrew at an audition for a show starring Alvin Stardust. The cute auditionee had made such an impression on Paul that when he’d arrived for the first day of rehearsals to see Andrew had also got the job, he’d had butterflies just below his tummy.
Sparks flew! And after the opening night of the show, at The Theatre Royal in York, let’s just say the seed of The Lola Boys was planted. They were no longer strangers but one of a kind.
Over twenty eight years later and the seed was still alive. A little gnarled and spiky in places, but definitely still growing strong.
Paul remembered the occasion he was offered a role in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at a very prestigious theatre in north Wales. He would have to leave Andrew and they would spend their first Christmas together, apart. It was a wrench, but he was promised by his agent that he would have a fifteen minute scene involving just Scrooge and himself on stage as the show’s climax. How could he refuse such an opportunity?
He’d travelled in the depths of winter all the way to darkest Clywd to find himself playing the no other than the ghost of Christmas future. Not a role he’d ever coveted.
It was hardly Hamlet.
He was fully masked and shrouded in a black cape throughout. His main role was made up of pointing here and there and without a line to speak of. That was his fifteen minute scene. He was quite invisible. Not to mention very hot and unbothered. He’d also played a miner, a philanthropist, and the love rival to Scrooge’s nephew Fred! All of his bit parts unrequiring of any dialogue.
He’d been in bits!
And very alone.
It had not been his happiest moment. Especially as the run had often constituted three shows a day.
The first at 10am. Humbug!
Paul was not a morning person.
He had hated the director Chris Sanford for bigging up his role. He’d obviously taken a fancy to him. Paul couldn’t wait to escape the depressing ‘Theatr Clywd’ in Mold. A hideous place where the locals resented anybody English arriving to perform at their famous repertory theatre. Ironic really, as the majority of the audience travelled over the border from Chester to pay for tickets. Most of the parochial population stayed in the pub swilling cheap lager and unkindly pretending to speak Welsh when any stranger entered.
Paul had toasted a huge ‘Lechyd da’ when he eventually escaped the gloomy and unfriendly place.
It was nothing like performing at The Swansea Grand – which had always been a joyous experience. Sometimes too enthusiastic. He was reminded of one memorable evening when touring in ‘ The Rocky Horror Show,’ the dress circle had almost collapsed as the pissed- up audience did a particularly energetic ‘Jump To The Left’ whilst dancing ‘The Time Warp’! Paul had felt partly responsible as he’d been playing the role of ‘Riff Raff’ so was the one giving the instructions.
It had been a riot.
He loved Wales. If not Mold which spored only malcontent.
Time warped in the present too as the curfew continued, it was difficult to differentiate between one day and the next. There was little else to do. Other than eat, drink and attempt ‘The Times’ cryptic crossword. His waistline was expanding as exponentially as his brain. He, Andrew and his mother had now decided to adopt the 16/8 diet in order to stop them looking like Michelin Men before the end of the vile viral measures. They were allowing themselves to eat during an eight hour window and then were supposed to fast for the 16 hours in-between. During their fasting period, Paul couldn’t help but notice, all of them were too fast in getting to the cocktail cabinet. Not quite correct he knew – but it was diet tonic they were using – so it couldn’t do too much harm. And it wouldn’t last forever – would it?
Paul hoped the now famous ‘R’ number didn’t take a little jump to the right after all of the balmy weather they had been experiencing. The beach had got horribly busy of late and some idiots obviously had no idea what the size of a small elephant was. (One of the ways Paul had heard of gauging the safe two metre distance!) He thought perhaps the length of a coffin would focus folks minds more effectively. When out, he constantly found himself reminding people of the importance of social distance. He usually shouted at any oncomers, but occasionally a bout of coughing was needed it they hadn’t responded to his coffin instructions. That usually seemed to do the trick and the ignorant gits shifted.
Paul was well aware that if any of them were to get out of the tricky situation in which they found themselves, it was up to everybody to play along with the rules. There was an honesty that was needed from society in order to get back to normal. People needed to be considerate and caring. It wasn’t just Blanche Dubois who relied on others to get through. In these strange times, with the virus still amongst them, they were all depending on the kindness of strangers.
As he leapt into the road to avoid a head on collision with a selfish git on a skateboard, he blanched at the thought.
He still had faith in humankind, but he knew there to be an element who would forever be unkind. Always putting themselves before any stranger.
Paul hoped in the near future he’d once again be able to hop on board a streetcar named ‘Desire.’
Or at least the number nine bus!
But for now he was sure he’d have to wait.
Doubtless, until three came along at once!
Until then he and Andrew were entirely dependant on the kindness of strangers.
And his mum!