Now, let’s establish something first: I’m not a great supporter of the theatre or, for that matter, a regular attendee of plays or performances. It’s not that I don’t appreciate plays, I just don’t go that often.
So when Lady BSM suggested that we go and see the latest production starring her youngest brother, the esteemed actor John Norton, I was more than happy to oblige. However, having read the blurb, so to speak, the ‘play’ involved walking around the streets of Cardiff and pretending it was Paris. On a Sunday night. Before a bank holiday. Amongst the professional party goers, clubbers and general good timers of the capital city of Wales.
Number one. I like to watch plays where only the actors have to pretend.
Number two. I prefer to sit in one place whilst watching it, preferably with a box of Maltesers and a regular cola to consume. Though, to be fair, I’m probably confusing theatre with cinema. If you slurp your cola or rattle your Maltesers during a film, only the other viewers scowl at you. It’s more intimidating when the people you’re watching do. Believe me.
Number three. Will this play be so abstract, surreal and self absorbed that I completely lose the thread half way round? Would it involve lots of budding Damien Lewiss (Lewii?) and Keira Knightleys trapped in imaginary boxes or walking in a strong wind?
So, making the trip to Cardiff was full of trepidation, especially since it involved a detour to John Lewis to look at fridge freezers with Lady BSM.
It turned out that all my prejudices, fears and doubts were in vain. Even about the fridge freezer thing.
Having settled us into our seats on the first floor of Le Monde and providing us with large spectacles and different coloured badges, My Life in CIA started at 7:37 precisely. This was to comfort us (the audience), who were all apparently chronologically dyslexic and therefore were required to organise their lives around palindromic time structures. Or something like that. Oh, it was also 1973 and we were in Paris. OK.
John Norton, who played the lead role of Harry Mathews, was mesmerising from the very beginning. Soon, we were spilling out on to the streets of Cardiff, having been split into groups according to our aforementioned badges. Each group were then given a tour of Paris (Cardiff?) by a different character.
Our group were expertly led by Patrick Burton-Cheyne played by Dean Rehman, again, an actor I could watch and listen to all night. The sheer courage and improvisation of breezing past Cardiff bouncers followed by over a dozen bespectacled, anorak clad (it was pouring down) individuals was a real experience. So confused were several doormen, they were seen to be banging the sides of their heads to get their brains back in the right place in their heads.
This involved a tour of Notre Dame (Wetherspoons), a car park and several hotels in the centre of Cardiff.
Patrick then moved on and left us in the capable hands of Marie Chaix (Hannah McPake), who revealed herself as Harry Mathews’ wife. By this time, I was totally immersed.
As Marie described Le Louvre (The Sandringham Hotel), a local reveller appeared at the side of the group. It was nearly 9 o’clock (I only wish it was at 20:02) and this young man hadn’t paced his alcohol intake.
He put his arm around one of the audiences shoulders and slurred, “What’s going on yere, mate?”
“ We’re on a tour of Paris,” said the audience member, quick as a flash.
The reveller nodded sagely and continued to listen, swaying gently in the rain. After a couple of minutes, his brow furrowed.
“’Ang on, we’re in f***ing Cardiff, not Paris!”
“Ah, but it will be soon,” replied the audience member.
“Oh,” replied the inebriated local, who continued to listen, sway and lean against his new found friend.
After a scene in the Sandringham, played beautifully by the captivating and flirtatious Katy Owen and an unsuspecting member of the audience, who managed to play the part of being shy, awkward and slightly embarrassed with consummate ease, we then moved on to a scene I never thought I would see in my lifetime.
Imagine entering a ‘gentlemen’s club’ with your wife, daughter, niece and in-laws. Then having to witness your father-in-law be compelled to read out tantric sex positions that were duly re-enacted by John Norton (his son) and Joanna Simpkins as the sexy, sultry Marie Claude Quintelpreaux. I’m still unsure whether this actually happened or not.The Marquess insists it did, and maintained his honesty when Marie Claude asked him if he was imagining her naked, despite being flanked by his wife and grand daughter at the time.
More alarmingly, we returned to LeMonde for a scene that involved Harry Mathews in his underwear. After seeing John Norton in the brilliant short film ‘Funday’, I’ve just about had enough of seeing him only in Y fronts. His skill at wordmanship still hasn’t left him, having to compose a rhyming poem on the spot involving the words swastika, Toulouse and oleaginous. All whilst a coked up, linen suited, potty mouthed gangster held a revolver to his Jacobs (testicles, for the uninitiated).
Returning to the streets of Cardiff, things were warming up; the revellers were starting to feel less inhibited and moving about more, a bit like bluebottles that have been frozen and then defrosted. Lots of tanned skin and sparkly dresses weaved across the streets; young men in capped sleeves with interestingly coiffured hair. It appears that if supplies of hair gel, ammonia and casein ran out in the capital of Wales, no men under the age of 29 would ever be able to go out again.
The drama reached a tense and clever climax, being played out on the rooftops, awash with rain, all of us with walkie talkies ( I love walkie talkies!).
An amazing final scene, then … it was over.
As we returned to Le Monde, congratulating the superb actors on our way, I realised what a wonderful 3 hours of entertainment I’d just had. It was funny, exciting, daring and involving. Let’s do it again!
Unfortunately, it was the last performance. But no doubt this wonderful company and group of actors will be back with something else and I’ll be there to see it.
Visiting a chip shop at 12:30am on a bank holiday weekend in the centre of Cardiff when you’re completely sober is quite interesting, too, but another story, methinks…