1971 Macbeth Tour

Rehearsals for Macbeth had started in April 1971. These coincided with me having to revise for ‘O’ levels but as I was playing the Porter (and a spear-carrying soldier) the schedule wasn’t too onerous and I managed to juggle both commitments without mishap – in at least I passed the ones I took. But the Macbeth’s jinx did strike others: shortly before our departure, the Chief Electrician put his hand through a window, slashed a tendon and was unable to travel. We were also told – at the last minute – that the brand new coach taking us to Germany had been designed with footrests under the seats. Very comfortable for passengers but a disaster for the packing strategy that had assumed that all the scenery, technical equipment, costumes and props would go either in the luggage-hold or overhead rack whilst our minimal luggage would be stowed under the seat. A parent, a commercial pilot, saved the day by showing us how we could efficiently pack the interior of the coach, don our life-vests and reach the safety exits. This left little room for the cast and crew but at least the gear would get to Germany in one piece.

And who was it who lost their passport? – if they ever had one.

My performance as the Porter had one controversial element to it: Gerard asked me to piss on stage – well to pretend to piss – an act that would have caused murmings in the professional theatre let alone in a school production. Not that I demurred at the thought.

Our tour to Germany was the third that the school had undertaken and, as it turned-out, the last. Whether our behaviour was precipitous in this decision I daren’t judge but thirty or more years later I can only admire the courage of three teachers taking 38 boys and 3 girls on our own mini rock tour. However we were given a foolscap paper of rules which included:

*Shake hands with Germans

* There are only 8.45DM = £1 so please be careful with money.

* Do not swim in lakes unless accompanied by hosts.

* Colin McIlveen will be in complete charge of the performance; John Fulkes will be responsible for seating, storage and general conduct on the coach. Their words will be law.

*You are going to be ambassadors for Britain at a crucial time. The enclosed notes on the Common Market should help you if and when you discuss the issue with your hosts.

We gathered outside the School on a sunny Sunday – the 4th July. We didn’t have to wear uniform and so I was wearing a nifty purple polyester proto-polo shirt. As mere 5th formers, Willie Paterson and I could only find seats half-way down the coach as the 6th formers had already blockaded the back, taken out a guitar and were singing some terrible Bob Dylan song. My request for Brown Sugar was ignored with sneers. The seating hierarchy was maintained with a vengance during the whole trip: juniors at the front and the big boys at the rear.

We left for Dover at 4.00pm and on the way stopped for a ‘chips with everything’ dinner before boarding the Ostend ferry at midnight. Out first stop was the bar.

5th July: Last night we had to sleep in couchettes – smelly things – and what with this, the bad jokes, farting and the constant thud of the engines I hardly slept. We had a Continental Breakfast in Ostend and then drove across flat Belgium into Germany. Our first stop was the spa-town of Bad Homburg. Our hosts were waiting – pupils from the Gymnasium where we were to perform – and once I’d unpacked my suitcase, Frank (my host) took me to a disco where many of the cast were already on the floor. (Not too sure about German dancing though…jive seems popular.) The jinx had struck again: apparently Colin McIIveen had become seperated from his host and was lost somewhere in town. There was talk of sending out a search party but no one was keen to volunteer. In the end it was agreed he was old enough to find his own way home.

6th July: in the morning I was taken to one of the spas for swimming and a taste of the vile spring waters – like drinking liquid salt. Frank also insisted that I go into a sauna and for this I had to remove my trunks…with trepidation initially. I kept my hands dangling over my bits and then thought ‘what the heck.’ Whilst I was enjoying myself, the crew (including Colin who, disappointedly had been found) were rigging the set and transforming the school hall into a theatre. Only in the afternoon, once they were done, did we start voice rehearsals and the process of familiarising ourselves with the stage. We knew already that at every stop the two most important scenes to rehearse would be the witches’s dances and the sword fights, and so we got our scenes out of the way and then the important ones were rehearsed over and over again. Meanwhile, the rest of us slowly put on make-up and costumes. And then our first performance! Whether the German audience really understood what was going on was a moot point but then the performances have been made very visual – and they laughed loudly and clapped at my routine. So far as I could tell, it in fact all did go well and there was a clear sense of relief among us all.

7th July: we left pretty Bad Homburg at 9.00am and travelled south down an autobahn to Freiburg. On the way, Willie and I wonder whether this time we’d snag an attractive girl as a host. We could already see that at every stop on this trip some game of fate would take place. This time, I lost out again as my host was perfectly pleasantly plain and the daughter of Dr Gerhard Stutzer. Nonetheless I was staying in a fabulous house and my bedroom had its own stereo system, television, telephone and tape-recorder. (A dream.) They’d even left out bottles of beer and cigarettes that immediately I took advantage of. Later, my host held a small party and Mike Smith, Alan Franklin, Baz Ward and Ian Thompson came round. I had this sense that perhaps our hosts were expecting us to go wild but in the end nothing untoward happened at all.

8th July: the morning was free so I walked round the town and into the cathedral. In the afternoon I was lent a moped to ride to the school for a rehearsal. Oh yes, I can ride one, I lied. As I’d never been on a public road with a moped I took the chance to bomb round the town and was then late for the rehearsal. And then, having returned to my host’s home, I wanted to go out again on the moped but she wisely insisted that instead she take me to the local swimming baths. We mucked around in the pool but I was still not turned on. The performace went well, my peeing went down a storm, and afterwards I felt elated. Thats the great thing about the role of Porter: no matter what happens during the rest of the performance if mine goes well I get a real buzz. The downside is that if the laughter doesn’t come I know that it’s all gone wrong somewhere and there is no hiding that fact. Afterwards, Baz Ward and our hosts came to my bedroom, we got drunk but before they left I fell asleep. (Some party animal me!)

9th July: I was still in my clothes when I woke up and feeling slightly the worse for wear but the drive to Immenstadt past Lake Constance was beautiful. Our hosts were the Maria-Stern Convent School and I was certain that this time I would strike lucky. What jinx is this? A perfectly nice girl but only thirteen years old. Fortunately when I arrived at the Fam. Werner’s house in Buhl am Alpsee, I discovered she had a 21 year old sister; who I then learnt was married.

10th July: my host wanted to take me swimming on the lake. (What is this craze for swimming?) Her sister came with us. We took a boat and rowed into towards the centre of the lake; as my host rowed – I took my turn as well – and leant forward, I was able to see a flash of nipple. Afterwards, we sunbathed on the grass, and the elder sister asked me to help translate an Old English text into modern English. I didn’t mind laying side by side with her, our skin sometimes touching, and I took my time – not least because I’d never read any Old English before and had to make it up as I went along. After lunch, we went swimming (again!) and then to the convent for a thorough rehearsal – critical as the stage is really small and the set has had to be drastically reconfigured. The performance was excellent but I was unhappy that my peeing was cut – inappropriate for the nuns, I was told – and I had to tone-down the lurid pumping and scatching actions that mimic my leacherous thoughts. Afterwards the whole cast and crew went to a restaurant and drank and drank. I tried unsuccessfully to get off with Martin Corrall’s host. Let me show you the bits I missed out in my performance, I slurred but she ignored my invitation, and Martin was pissed-off at my encroaching on his territory.

11th July: our next stop Obersdorf was only 22km away. Arriving at the Gymnasium, we found a huge stage in a huge sports hall. This time I’m staying with hosts who run a small chalet-style hotel on a steep mountain-side across the border in Austria. In the afternoon, I went…swimming in their pool and in the evening we gave the performance. Many of the cast enjoyed the space and the addtional freedom this offered but for some reason my performance was off-colour and I returned to the hotel unhappy.

12th July: guess what? I went swimming again. Dave Tomlinson joined me and then afterwards we went up the mountains in a cable car and then walked down. Or should I say staggered down as our hosts introduced us to a drinking game that we played in a small cafe. I was pissed because I thought it was clever to deliberately lose the game and at one stage climbed a cable car pylon and refused to come down. Only after the rest of the party walked -off did I stagger after them. The drinking continued in the evening when about a third of the cast gathered on the edge of Lake Buhl, we lit a fire, formed a circle, out came the guitar, and drank too much wine and beer.

13th July: despite last night’s party most of us made it on time to the coach and so there was a lot of discontented murmurings as Dave Tomlinson arrived late. But worse was Sue Eby who was an hour late. Rumours whispered rapidly round the coach as to why this was the case. We had arrived in Germany with brilliant weather but now it was bucketing down. In Marktoberdorf, everyone was staying at the boarding house of the Peter-Dorfler-Schule but we were playing in the town’s professional theatre. This was a thrill. This evening some fifteen of us went to a disco called the Apollo 11. If the local’s can’t dance at least they have good taste in music and all my Rolling Stone requests were played. I managed to grab a few dances with Margaret Evans – and did my best Mick Jagger impression – which made my evening even if it was all wishful thinking on my deranged part. Others hit the bottle and were much the worse for wear – neither Geoff Brown or Adrian Jackson could hold their drink.

14th July: we rehearsed in the afternoon, I gave a very average performance in the evening and I thought that was true for most people – perhaps some tour fatigue had set-in. Afterwards, we had 30 minutes to strike the set, succeeded and then collapsed in a near-by bar for a drink. I found it surprising that a rum and coke was cheaper than a plate of chips.

15th July: today was Nicky Clapton’s birthday and also the day when we went to Hohenschwangau, the town with the two amazing castles built by the mad Ludwig something. We performed at a mixed school with a boys boarding house so we stayed overnight. Before the performance, we played World Cup football against some of the local boys and won, then we did the performance which tonight went well. Afterwards, we were supposed to stay in the boarding house and go quickly to bed but Martin Corrall, Russel Kilmister and I climbed out over the roofs, down a lightning conductor and sneeked into town to buy bottles of beer. Climbing back proved to be more difficult.

16th July: our third performance in as many days, this time in Memingham’s Stadttheatre. A magnificent 17th century building: we walked round in awe and imagined we were real actors. There were proper dressing rooms and we could make-up in comfort. This inspired everyone to give their best performances of the tour and I had a sense that no-one wanted to leave the stage when the final curtain came down and we could still hear the audience cheering and clapping.

17th July: it was raining when we left Marktoberdorf for the last time and continued our journey to Kaufbeuren. We unloaded the coach at the ‘Nervenkrankenhauser’ in other words the hospital for the mad! We were playing in their hall, which is apparently used for all major civic functions. The headmaster of the host school was there to greet us and then we had meet the mayor in the Rathaus. (This was the time of the town festival and we were honoured guests and part of the entertainment.) Then, once again, we had to stand in a group like POWs, wait for our names to be called out and be collected by our hosts. Yes, I had a girl of my age but she was too plump for my taste. But the family were really great. Beate Hegel’s father, Dr Heinrich Hegel, was a surgeon and he had gone out of his way to make me feel at home – including stocking-up with Kellogg cornflakes as he had heard this was a staple of the English diet. In the afternoon, instead of insisting that I go to some of the festival events (a fate bestowed on many of the party), he took me to a club where I joined Russell Kilmister, Baz Ward and Paul Squires. At 5.00pm we had to rehearse and then we played in front of a huge audience. Afterwards, we found that loading the coach was a pain as it couldn’t drive up to the hall and the rain was bucketing down again. Once finished, I went to the Ranchbar without my host – who said she didn’t drink. When it was time to return to their home, I phoned-up but was incoherent and they didn’t understand where I was. It took them two hours to find me by which time I was even more drunk.

18th July: a rainy Sunday so all we could do was spend the day in cafes and an afternoon disco – hair of the dog time. Everyone was drunk by the time we arrived at a vast beer tent in the evening. Here, we drank huge foaming litre glasses of beer, listening to a Bavarian umm-paa band dressed in lederhosen, and were generally noisy, silly and obnoxious. I returned to my hosts plastered.

19th July: I was out of my hosts house as soon as I could, saying I had no time for cornflakes and had to be at the coach. Sometime last night, I’d woken up in a confused drunken stupor, had knocked over a pot-plant in the bedroom, pissed on the carpet and trodden the compost into the thick white pile. I left before they discovered it and then with relief I was on the coach to Munich. On the way, Piers Henschel complained of chest pains and looked awful. There were jokes about him being ‘the ghost’ and I wondered whether he’d been in the beer-tent with us but he was too young and I couldn’t remember him there. We stopped at a town, a doctor diagnosed a touch of pneumonia and when we arrived in Munich he was admitted to hospital and was left behind. Then, after a quick walk round Munich, we went on to our last date at Wilheim. At last I have a pretty host but have now given up any dreams of a tour romance. In the evening, we went to another outdoor party, sitting round a blazing fire, with everyone present except John Saunders and Dave Tomlinson.

20th July: I was up at 6.45 as my host had a 7.45am maths lesson. I went to the lesson but had no idea what they were talking about. Once this was finished it was time to unload the coach before we went into town to distribute leaflets advertising the performance. I also bought presents for the family. This was our last show and the audience were fantastic – though I didn’t think they laughed enough in my bit. Afterwards the cast went their seperate ways: I went home with my host who had also invited round two sweet Japanese girls who were wearing national dress and another attractive girl. We just chatted and drank until exhausted I fell into bed. (Had I missed out on something here?)

21st July: there was a heavy cloud of despondancy in the air as we started our long journey back to England. By the evening, we arrived at Frankfurt and stayed in some crummy hotel, having to share a room with Baz Ward and Bob Overell. At least I got the sofa bed whilst they had to share the double.

22nd July: the journey continued across flat Belgium, as boring as all the jokes we were re-making up. Once again we were taking a night crossing from Ostend. We arrived with time to kill so we ate a steak and chips dinner and then a group of us went on a noisy walk round the harbour, with the idea of sniffing (or snurding) as many female bicycle seats as possible. By the time the boat had left, I was well on the way to being drunk and this state degenerated further on the crossing as I raced with David Tomlinson to see who could finish a bottle of rum first. I have no idea who won as I collapsed in an unconscious heap and the rest of the trip to Thame was a queasy blur. At some stage, Pete Garner took me to the bogs and made me spew. I had a vague recollection of Clive Ricketts at customs and then spewing again on the coach into a bag held by James Warnock. I slept all the way from Dover to Thame and arrived wearing an orange shirt that wasn’t my own. It was midday, Dad was waiting for me, I was handed my end of term report and then in the afternoon I slept. In the evening, I went for a drink at The Fox, and then on to the Frisco Disco at the Ampleforth.

‘The Macbeth performance by pupils of the Lord Williams’s School in Thame, England, provoked a storm of enthusiasm. In the gymnasium of the Weilhiem Grammar School they offered audiences three unforgettable hours of Shakespeare-English. Visitors witnessed a theatrical experience which made it quite clear how great English enthusiasm for theatre and drama arts is.’ (From Weilheim Tagblatt 24/7/71)

‘Astonishing dramatic achievement by a school-group.’ (Freiburger Zeitung.)

Cast and Crew

Duncan – Paul Squires, Malcolm – William Cooke, Donalbain – Adrian Jackson, Macbeth – Martin Hutchings, Banquo – Peter Garner, Macduff – Clive Dickenson, Lenox – David Tomlinson, Rosse – Michael Smith, Menteth – Stephen Newbitt, Angus – Charles Boyle, Cathness – Gordon Hannah, Fleance – Ralph Kiggel, Siward – Richard Baskerville, Younf Siward – Stephen Ward, Seyton – Piers Henschel, Macduff’s Son – Timothy Kiggel, A Lord – Anthony Ireson, Porter – Graham Thomas, A Captain – Geoffrey Hayward, An English Doctor – Ian Thompson, A Scottish Doctor – Jonathan Wynn, First Murderer – Harry Burdon, Second Murderer – Peter Hayes, Messenger – Alan Franklin, First Witch – Richard Baker, Second Witch – David Parrett, Third Witch – Russell Kilmister, Lady Macbeth – Margaret Evans, Lady Macduff – Nicola Clapton, Gentlewoman – Susan Eby. Soldiers and Attendants – Neil Datson, Harry Burdon, Geoffrey Haywood, William Paterson, Graham Thomas.

Director – Gerard Gould, Designers – Charles Boyle, Martin Hutchings and Peter Bailey, Costumes – Angela Fletcher, Music – Robin Nelson, Dances – Jackie Keirs, Fights – Malcolm Ranson, Stage Director – Colin McLlveen, Stage Manager – John Saunders assisted by Robert Witney, Patrick North, Clive Ricketts, William Paterson, Lighting – James Warnock assisted by Robert Overell, Geoffrey Browne, John Clark, Sound – Martin Corrall, Make-Up Gayle Grove-Palmer, Business Manager – P A Kendall.

Postscript

School restarted on 6th September. When we had undertaken the tour we were still a single-sex Grammar School, now we’d become a Comprehensive and when I arrived back the number of pupils had doubled with almost half being girls. A few days later, we started rehearsing the play again and on 13th September, a preview night was held:

13th September: nothing special was happening at School so during the afternoon when I should have been doing Private Study, I went and slowly ate scrambled eggs on toast at the Bay Tree. Janice Bowles was enjoying a cup of tea and I shared a table with her and she walked back with me. This was the preview night of Macbeth and the audience was made-up of school parties. They turned out to be a fantastic and receptive audience and I really let rip – but also teased and played with them. The Thame Gazette took my photo, and Radio Oxford were present to do a review.

14th September: Once again I scived off PS to have tea in the Bay Tree. As I was leaving Bullet drove past. That’s the problem with two sites – the teachers will now be forever driving through the centre of Thame. Anyway he honked his horn, stopped and asked if I wanted a lift up to School. As I was about to go to rugby practice I could hardly ignore him. After practice I had to shower and then start make-up. Tonight was the first night-proper and whilst the audience were more refined than yesterday, the performance went well.

15th September: Played for the1st XV against a Headmasters XV. Last season I played wing. This year I’ve switched to prop. I can’t think of a more bizarre move but there are no props coming through at the moment and I rather perversely volunteered to fill the gap. To be frank I’m hating it. Anyway, we lost in the last few minutes and we all felt that the team wasn’t clicking at all. This was the second night of the play. I had been mentioned on Radio Oxford as having good control over the audience. Overall the performances went well other than in Act 5 when our whole side arrived late by 10 secs leaving those on stage to improvise.

16th September: we only had morning school because of Thame Show. So after lunch, I jumped on the back of Malc’s AJS 650 and we span and veered round the lanes of east Oxfordshire and then eventually ended up in Oxford where we had coffee at Maxwell’s coffee bar. He then took me to back to school and the play went off uneventfully. The audience were particulary taken by my speech on leachery so I was happy to give them as much lewdness as they seemed to want.

17th September: because of Thame Fair there was no performance tonight. After spending the day at home, I hitched to Thame and walked round the fair with Terence Fulkes, Chris Giles and Andy Mathews. Barbara Osbourne was hanging round. I fancied her last year but didn’t feel so keen now.

18th September: written at 1.30am Sunday morning after the play party. Played rugby in the afternoon against Aylesbury. The weather was belting and we lost (whereas last year we beat them 42-6). Returning to School, I walked down to the Fair and then went for a pint in the Abingdon Arms with Dave Durrant. Everyone had a fantastic evening. The performances took off and the audience were raptuous. There were lots of congratulations and back-slapping afterwards. I piled seven people into the Mini and took them to the play party hosted by Clive Dickenson. Unfortunately, some of the boarders had been gated which rather put a damp squib on the affair.

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