Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 28


The trip had been fun and much more useful than I'd expected. I was now familiar with every major city and country of Europe, had discovered that England was not the most civilized land on earth; London was not the most beautiful, interesting, or cultivated city; and the English were not as well educated, friendly, or attractive as most Europeans. In fact, I had felt more at home in Europe than the UK and was determined to move there immediately after my stint as a drama teacher.

Eight youngish actors had joined us to prepare for our Edinburgh Fringe offering of Macbeth, probably hoping to emulate the success of Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore whose revue continued to amuse worldwide. Beyond the Fringe had reduced me to tears of laughter in London, but I couldn't see Macbeth receiving similar accolades. I'd been promoted to the title role because I was the tallest and looked the fittest and Alwyn knew he could trust me.

I stayed with Alwyn and Edgar in Chiswick in the week preceding our trip north, and we rehearsed in their parlour – a hell of a squeeze! Positive audience reaction to the nudity in Apollon and Sweeney, and the London performances we'd given of Tempest, gave Alwyn the impetus to pull out all the stops in the costume department.

The extra actors were in their twenties and thirties, lean and pale, not handsome, but healthy with fine legs and good bums. They looked manly and tough in coarsely knitted G-strings that Edgar had dipped in metallic paint, so they looked as if made of chain mail. A dagger at the belt and a broadsword completed the costume for Warlords. Nobles added a narrow red cloak slung back from the shoulders, servants wore a simple short shift, and Valerie stormed around magnificently in an ankle-length, semitransparent embroidered gown.

Instead of the customary tormented soul vacillating between noble urges and amoral lust for power, Alwyn demanded that my Macbeth be pure evil. In the soliloquy; "Is this a dagger which I see before me…" there was no ambivalence about regicide; instead, Macbeth revels in the prospect. And in the famous speech when learning of his wife's death that ends… "Life's but a walking shadow… a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!" that had moved me so deeply when declaimed by Terry, I maintained a tone of sneering contempt for humanity from start to finish – no pathos for my Macbeth, and the more I learn about human history and politics, the more I think it's an accurate portrayal of the sort of leaders most humans admire.

We rehearsed in the afternoons, so I was free at night to top up the treasury. I visited my old boss in Mayfair. He was pleased because Colonel May had been asking for me. I phoned him, and we arranged to meet at his pied à terre in Soho the following night. That evening there were two stripping jobs – a bevy of Bayswater queens who were thrilled when I gave them a little more than the simple strip they'd paid for, and a middle-aged heterosexual couple in a private hotel who needed a naked young man to perform, and then watch them; otherwise they couldn't screw. Heterosexuals are no less odd than queers.

Felix May's invitation surprised me. Perhaps he wanted to set me up in a flat and give me an allowance? I'd often wished I had someone to take care of me when lonely and depressed, and wondered if I'd give up Macbeth and Scotland for security.

Felix answered my knock with a sharp, "What are you doing here?" I told him. "Silly old fool got his names crossed." I felt an idiot and turned to go but he took my arm and, as if he'd been delivered the wrong flavoured pizza, said, "You'll do instead."

Cheap and ashamed was something I'd never felt before, so I pulled my arm away and left. His look of wounded incredulity went a small way to restoring my self-esteem. After that, I stuck to stripping until it was time to go north.

Driving the old van again transported me back to when I first joined the Company. I'd been happy with Alwyn and Edgar, sharing their cosy flat, talking, laughing, solving the problems of the world. They were, I realised with a shock, the first gay couple I'd ever known, the first real friends, the first people with whom I felt totally relaxed and free to be myself. I liked them both and felt guilty at leaving the Company, worried about the new job, and so miserable at giving up acting it felt as if my heart was being torn out.

I think the most worthwhile human occupation is Public Art, which is another name for entertainment whether it's writing, dancing, painting, making music, or acting. By worthwhile I mean entertainment that amuses, informs, and stimulates ideas for the improvement of the human condition, by positing an alternative universe where things are better arranged. In this way it gives respite to burdened spirits, and the impetus to go on.

But to be a good entertainer required sacrifices I wasn't prepared to make. I needed financial security. I had to be able to refuse roles I deemed not artistic, and I couldn't sacrifice all my interests simply to excel at one. Also, I wanted to be the judge of my own worth. An entertainer has to please the critics, not himself, or he's out of a job. And perhaps the most important objection of all is that I hated wasting sunny days in a dark, cold theatre. I've always been a child of the sun.

The real Edinburgh Festival features grand orchestras, ballet companies, operatic ensembles, famous theatrical companies, and famous solo performers. The 'Fringe' is about alternatives; new and challenging works or ways of looking at old ones. Among the scores of offerings that year were poetry reading while dancing to bongo drums, a play extemporised from shouted audience suggestions, a living sculpture exhibition, patron participation in the production of expressionist painting, jazz on skipping ropes… and dozens of similarly fascinating and bizarre productions. The competition for audiences was fierce.

Macbeth in chain mail G-strings was pretty bizarre but was it oddball enough to attract interest? … Alwyn held up one of our flyers ready to be distributed - a photo of me taken from behind; apparently naked with sword raised and the words: "Macbeth – Naked Lust for Power".

"Macbeth and Banquo were Warlords,' he said quietly before our first run-through. "Scotsmen frequently went into battle naked, so…" he looked at the actor playing Banquo. I knew what he'd planned, it was I who put the idea into his head, but the short, chunky actor playing Banquo shook his head.

"If they both wear G-strings the Warlords will be confused with Nobles," Alwyn stated. "There's a nude ballet down at the Haymarket. Don't you want an audience?" Banquo caved in on condition he was naked only in the first scene where we'd just finished a battle. He refused to believe that I felt more relaxed before an audience naked than dressed. But then he wasn't me.

The performing space was a small, amphitheatre type lecture room on the ground floor of a tertiary education institute. Five semicircular tiers of seats looking down on an acting area about twelve paces across, could seat a hundred. It would be an intimate experience, but I was used to that. Our portable set concealed the electrics and sound and provided entrances and exits. Lighting was full strength spots with straw filters, creating strong, warm highlights, deep shadows, stark contrasts, and discrete acting areas. Scene changes were indicated by very short blackouts that barely interrupted the flow.

Bodies oiled and polished till they glistened, we presented our final rehearsal to a long-haired representative of the Fringe committee, who stamped our permit, said something about us looking like "well-oiled cogs in the machinery of state", handed us stickers to paste over the flyers proclaiming our production to be 'adults only', and left. It was a relief as rumours of Scottish Puritanism were rife and we'd almost expected to be refused permission.

The first performance went without a hitch. It was very warm on stage so fears about a derisory, cold-shrivelled penis didn't materialise. My cock hung loose and full, slapping reassuringly against my thighs as I trod the boards plotting, murdering, and brawling over power until the final humiliation. It was a revelation to the other actors that a naked body can be at least as expressive of both power and despair as one draped in expensive costumes. It permits the actor to use his entire body, not just face and voice. It was the absolute highlight of my 'serious' acting career, and the memory still thrills a little. The audience of mainly students took it even more seriously than we did – not a snigger at our entrance! And the final applause was loud and genuine.

The review in the newspaper supplement reporting on Festival events wasn't so complimentary; 'Sassenachs arrogantly bringing Scotland to Scotland in a somewhat hysterical production, rendered absurd by needless nudity." No mention of our interpretation, or Vivienne's stunning madness. The word 'nudity', however, was exactly what we needed to ensure good houses for the rest of the short season.

When not performing, the other actors 'networked', drank, smoked, brawled, and sought work. They and "The Westminster Shakespearian Company" could now put Edinburgh Festival on their CVs, boosting chances of work. I went sight-seeing.

The Royal Mile below the castle and adjacent areas that are now the most expensive and gentrified real estate in the old city, were at that time riddled with ancient tenements without running water or services, inhabited by poverty-stricken families the like of which I hadn't seen since Naples. Skinny, ragged kids who must be freezing in winter. Beggars, prostitutes in dark corners, dirty, grimy cobblestone streets. I couldn't find the city beautiful.

The railway line through the middle of the city cuts off the old town from the newer, elegant Georgian terraces, parks, and gardens. The Art Gallery is very fine and exhibited a Renaissance St. Sebastian whose superb torso is pierced so realistically with arrows that I felt physically sick. A guard came to my assistance but he wasn't young and handsome so there was no point in fainting.

Edinburgh (Dun Edin before the name was anglicised) thinks of itself as the 'Athens of the north', and a hill above the town is sprinkled with pseudo Greek follies. While munching there on my butty (Scots for sandwich) I was approached by a ragged, pale, ill-looking kid who asked if I wanted a fuck. Only five shillings. I took him for a meal in a pie-cart, to C&A to buy a windcheater, gave him a pound and advised him to stop before he caught the clap. My charitable behaviour surprised me; I'll usually give time but not money. And the kid wasn't even grateful. I think he thought I was mad.

The morning after our final performance, Alwyn grumpily shook my hand, Edgar gave me a hug, and with a lump in my throat I waved goodbye. They had been the most influential and important people in my life to date – apart from my parents. Through them I'd gained independence, insight, and the courage to accept myself. I promised to keep in touch, but never did. I've always had to keep 'closing doors' because the present is as much as I can handle.

Life is like hitch-hiking. You're on your own, not sure where you're going or if you'll get there. Everyone else seems to know who they are and where they're headed as they zip past. Then you get a ride and you too are travelling with purpose, in company… until the car stops and you're again out in the cold on the roadside, on your own…

I'd seldom felt more alone than on the train rattling across the Forth Bridge on its way to Alloa. I was one of the last travellers on that train – the following month the line was shut down.

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