Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 21


Orgy. The word conjures up a mysterious room filled with bronzed naked bodies bathed in pools of amber light, writhing in serpentine ecstasy in an ambience warm and heady with exotic perfumes, while slaves offer grapes, and wine in silver goblets, and naked youths sway sensuously to languid harmonies from lute and flute.

Hazel was a demanding employer. The naked butler was to be a 'catalyst of liberation' for the guests from the moment of entry into the mansion. Therefore, if possible I should be at least partially aroused on greeting them, thus giving them 'permission' to do as they liked from the word go. Then directly after dinner I had to 'disport' with the maids on the dining table to set a suitable tone for the rest of the evening and remove any lingering inhibitions in the guests.

Despite my reservations it appeared to work; guests who arrived irritable, pinched and nervous, perked up remarkably; although it's just as likely their sudden rush of bonhomie was relief at entering a warm house after trudging through freezing sleet. Whatever the cause, by five o'clock twenty relaxed and increasingly frisky strangers of both sexes between the ages of thirty and fifty, in a bizarre assortment of "twenties" style beaded, fringed, low waisted skimpy frocks, dinner suits and tails were sipping cocktails in the drawing room, served, like Katherine Mansfield's somewhat more literary crowd, by a nude butler and, unlike Mansfield, two maids in nothing but frilly aprons.

Dinner was a decadent affair of a dozen courses around an immense, candlelit table glittering with crystal and silver, during which the maids and I endured timid groping from both sexes. Hazel was absent the entire evening, apparently attending to the catering while leaving it to her right-hand-man to preside in his dinner suit from the head of the table. His wife, a buxom woman in jewels and little else, held court at the foot.

After the fruit and cheese were removed and glasses refilled, the maids and I 'disported' on the tabletop. They pleasured each other while I stood over them with an ineffective toy whip; a sort of impious umpire.

Leaving the sumptuous dining room we descended to the 'dungeons', where, reclining on low couches in the well-heated, blue-carpeted, dimly-lit cellar, clients were plied with cheap wine and entertained by the brutish copulation of the naked and hugely hung right-hand-man and his bejewelled Frau, which prompted in their enraptured audience a frantic abandonment of clothes and inhibitions in unconstrained orgiastic frenzy.

As Rudyard Kipling didn't write: - If you keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, then you'll be disgusted!

The writhing, cavorting, grunting, heaving, fucking, and licking in a miasma of smoke and intoxicating fumes would have turned the stomachs of a cage of randy baboons. That all participants, both male and female, expected others to lust over their unlovely carcasses indicated either egregious conceit, or unmitigated insensitivity – or both.

If I had resembled any one of them I'd have hanged myself! Active pimples, varicose veins, bruises, sickly white flab, dirty toenails, sagging tits and bums, scrawny arms, thin legs, bloated bellies, body odour, bad breath… It can only have been the befuddling effects of alcohol and the white powder some were sniffing that permitted them to parade their degenerate corpses and take pleasure from the touch of others equally repellent. Orgies, I realised, are for those too unattractive to find partners in normal circumstances. An exceedingly valuable lesson.

Poor Katherine Mansfield; used as an excuse for debauchery. She paid for her naughtiness with the physical and mental agony of gonorrhoea and a long and painful decline from tuberculosis, which, perversely, seemed to ignite her creative drive, as her best works were written during those sad days.

By the time they ran out of energy in the small hours, the floor was littered with comatose bodies – even more disgusting in repose. I grabbed a few hours' sleep in the Butler's room. Only five guests appeared for breakfast, the others let themselves out and disappeared. My announcement when Hazel handed me my wages that I would probably not be available again, sparked no outpouring of grief. She merely nodded and turned to greet three head-scarfed cleaning ladies who had arrived to mop up the vomit, stains, spilled food, semen, and wine.

Jeremy's tastes did not coincide with mine. I sat in awe before Turner's paintings at the Tate Gallery while he practised seduction on a spotty youth who'd come in out of the rain. Joan Sutherland in La Traviata at Covent Garden triggered a spasm of yawning in Jeremy; gooseflesh and cascades of tears from me. The bombast of Beethoven at the Albert Hall thrilled him but had me checking my watch. Jeremy arrived home ecstatic over a Beatles concert that I couldn't be bothered to waste money on. I worshipped the enduring beauty of the classics – he adored the ephemeral thrill of superficial emotion.

Naturally, being Goon Show fans we both enjoyed to the point of hysteria Spike Milligan in his own play, The Bed Sitting Room. Not surprising considering the cast: Ralph Richardson, Arthur Lowe, Rita Tushingham, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Michael Hordern, Marty Feldman, and Harry Secombe.

Harry Secombe in Oliver, however, failed to please either of us, although the set was very clever, and the boys sang well.

Unlike most of today's young people who have never been asked to clean their rooms, do their washing, mow lawns, dig gardens, or contribute to family welfare, Jeremy, like me, had been expected to take responsibility for himself. Not for us an allowance without having to perform sometimes onerous tasks around the house and garden. He was truly independent and prepared to take responsibility for both his successes and failures.

On condition this was a one-off and merely to gain insight as an actor, Jeremy suggested he go dancing dressed as a girl. I could see no harm in that, so we stitched together a mini skirt and found high heels and a suitable top in the theatre wardrobe. Natural shoulder-length dark blond hair and a minimum of makeup turned him into a presentable, if not beautiful young woman.

Blokes fancied him, pressing their crotches against him and massaging his bum while dancing. He didn't like it, and neither did I. It had been a stupid idea. Guys had been seriously beaten up or thrown in prison for pretending to be girls. Fearful some randy male would go too far, I took him home. He reckoned he was very pleased not to be a girl!

By the time we were ready to leave for Bristol he had mastered words and moves for Tempest, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Merchant and Midsummer Night's Dream, as well as our new 'adult' play, The Apollo of Bath, which was Alwyn's very free translation and adaptation of L'Apollon de Bellac by Giradoux.

Set in the foyer of a large corporation, Apollo revolves around a young girl's failure to be taken seriously by her male employers. In the original, 'Apollo' is a down-and-out tramp-like figure (therefore 'invisible' to the businessmen) who instructs the young woman to say with sincerity to every man she meets, "How handsome you are!" She follows his advice and all men become putty in her hands.

Alwyn, in his inspired pursuit of bums on seats and therefore a suitable vehicle for nudity, replaced the vagrant with a naked statue of Apollo that miraculously descends from his plinth at the side of the stage, befriends Agnes and dispenses advice, while every other actor remains oblivious.

Alwyn maintained the light-hearted, almost fey air of the piece, while never losing sight of the underlying truths. Always careful to be even-handed in apportioning roles, he offered Terry the part of Apollo. Although grateful, he refused, well aware that his steroid enhanced muscles had been built at the expense of his genitals. Hal jumped at the offer until Alwyn told him to strip. There were only the seven of us sitting around the room, but Hal was suddenly overcome by shyness. The ability to feel relaxed and correctly dressed when naked among fully dressed people in drawing room, studio, or theatre, is not a gift that everyone enjoys so, as intended, I was the one to be shaved smooth and swabbed with bronze body paint.

When in Bristol we stayed in the old gaol – up the hill from the city centre. It had been converted into a hostel but remained bleak. Small barred windows in bare rooms that opened onto the echoing central well. I kept thinking of the misery of past inhabitants.

The city itself was dull. It would be another few years before there was enough money to clean up and prettify the town. Shop facades in need of paint, shop windows small and unattractive, a large messy and dim arcade. Nothing remained of the romantic, bustling port city of old except for several large metal bollards in the marketplace that Alwyn said were the original 'nails' where merchants would pay their backers – giving rise to the expression 'pay on the nail'.

Alwyn found a somewhat decaying hall with a nice little stage that the council was renting to anyone who could pay the rent. Apollo was only a moderate success because instead of the ribald romp that nudity promised, patrons were presented with a play that took an amusing and intelligent swipe at many social stupidities.

Our audience numbers were not on a par with the Bristol Old Vic, the oldest theatre company in Britain and one of the most prestigious theatres outside London. In those days the Company inhabited an unimpressive building that has since been remodelled. We saw Ibsen's Hedda Gabbler. Well-acted, of course, but it confirmed my opinion that 'free' humans are, for the most part, the authors of their own misery. When I expressed that opinion to Alwyn he said I was too stupid to understand the beauty of the work. He was probably right. One day I'll read it again.

An all-male environment is relaxing. Men get absorbed in their work and seldom start arguments. They're also less demanding of food and comfort. We were happy to grab a pie and bottle of Coke and sit in a park, or even go without food if we were late. The schools were spread far and wide so we frequently spent days away from Bristol. I slept in the van, or, if it wasn't raining, under the stars. No one gossiped or created tensions by playing one off against the other. All jobs were shared equally, and it was surprising how much time we saved by not having to find toilets (we just slipped behind a hedge) or wait for the 'girls' to make themselves presentable in the morning.

Jeremy soon learned how not to get himself upstaged or to upstage others. Rolando's old women, maids, and similar characters were thoroughly convincing and neither actor overplayed their roles. All teachers were pleasantly surprised. Shakespeare's women are as determined, courageous, and 'worthy' as any man, and therefore not demeaning to play. And there's no sex. No one kisses, smooches, or fucks on stage so there was nothing to complain about.

Deliberately looking butch after a show, Jeremy was asked for as many autographs as any of us – which settled his nerves. He had no need to worry; there was nothing camp in his performances. The female caricatures that drag queens love to portray bear no resemblance to real women – which is why so many gays (including me) dislike them.

More stone and less red brick was the main difference between West Country schools and those of the Midlands, and the season passed without hitches until our entry in the West Country Shakespearian Festival had us denounced from several county pulpits and threatened with closure by the police.

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