1st September 2022
Part Ten. Berlin. January 1996
Chris trudged through the snow and slush of Rigaer Str, lifting his legs high and carefully choosing where to put his next step. He thought about how much dog shit he must have been walking on, lying beneath this filthy, grey sludge. He thought back to his recent stop over in London, buying new boots. The sales girl had asked him if he wanted leather or suede. Suede wouldn’t last five minutes here, not in these endless winters. At the airport he’d bought a T-shirt, more to pass time, because it would be months before he’d be able to wear it, and been asked if he was going anywhere nice. “No,” he’d replied, “only Berlin.” He also thought about Richard and what the hell was wrong with him. Just then he felt a powerful blow to his stomach, pain and shock that brought him back to the reality he was tying to avoid. He heard Daniel laugh and realised that this overgrown kid had just thrown a snowball at him. There was a filthy, damp patch, clearly noticeable in the middle of his tightly-buttoned coat, despite the dark, a darkness that had been sapping his energy since mid afternoon.
“What the fuck … ?”
“Welcome back, cunt-face. Wanna drink ?”
Fuck, thought Chris. I’ve come back . . . for this ?
Inside the cold and almost empty Czar Bar, Daniel got the vodkas in.
“Where’s Richard, then ? ‘is bloody idea in the first place.”
“I don’t know,” answered Chris with concern. “I haven’t seen him yet.
“Better be worth it. Not really my thing, but wanna see ‘ow this poetry lark works. That Jeanette bitch wants me to ‘ave a go at poetry . . . “
Chris was tuning Daniel out. It brought back memories of the Sawhead days, when he was acting out the rock star. Now he was acting out the street poet, deliberately exaggerating his accent and talking about his favourite subject, which was himself. Chris nodded along, absently, as he tried to find some sense in what his life had become. He hadn’t felt at home in England, but the thought of spending more time working this bar, listening to people like this was equally intolerable.
While he tried to find some sort of answer, he ordered another vodka.
A short distance from the Czar Bar, Vincent was preparing for the stage. The noise from the bar, three floors below, was clearly audible. He asked Julie to help him with his make-up and she agreed, but only after she had applied her own. The atmosphere upstairs was uncomfortable and Alan was unsuccessfully trying to find something to do. He would go to the stage, make unnecessary checks and ask unnecessary questions to the bar staff.
Vincent felt Alan’s presence was superfluous, not just backstage, but in the entire building, and was doing his best to impart this to his director. Alan’s job, Vincent proclaimed, had been to adapt the material but otherwise he was out of his depth, knowing little of directing and less of staging. Consequently, he had chosen to ignore all suggestion and merely act as he felt. It was he who held the stage, mostly alone, he was the professional actor, he who knew his audience.
Alan, sensitive in the extreme, soon realised that his role was merely to start and stop the rehearsals. Vincent wouldn’t discuss or argue any point. He would simply look away, wait until Alan had finished speaking, then carry on. If he was told not to do something, he would do it even more.
Unlike cinema, Alan would have no control over the final product; it was down to the actors what they did on stage, no chance to cut or fade or wipe or overlay, and Alan, who tried to remain a total professional, nearly walked out on opening day.
It had been the final rehearsal. Vincent had suddenly decided to wear some hat that he had found in a old prop box. It was too big, and covered half his face. Alan, knowing that a show-down was inevitable, asked him in the most polite way if he was really going to wear it.
“Alan, you just direct, I choose my costume.”
At first Alan had been too shocked to respond, but under his breath he couldn’t help letting out some expletives. From that point the two had hardly spoken. And, of course, Alan lived in the same Wohnung (flat) as Vincent’s girlfriend, so it was almost impossible to avoid him. But after this, Alan told himself, he would never talk, let alone work with Vincent again.
Julie, meanwhile, had given Alan a look of support but was remaining aloof, focusing on her role and blocking out everything else. Alan had seen her a lot during rehearsals, but there had been none of the intimate coffee dates or cinema visits that he had envisioned. It seemed that as their professional relationship grew, so diminished any possibility of a personal one.
The first two nights had been moderately successful in terms of audience numbers. Vincent had expected more people to turn up and loudly blamed the poor turnout on the choice of material. Julie, almost as an aside, mentioned the cold and the obscure location of the theatre as possible reasons. Vincent merely replied in German, which Julie made no attempt to translate for Alan.
“They are all waiting for the last night. You’ll see,” she said, and it proved to be true.
As for the piece itself, Alan practically washed his hands of it. It was so different to how he’d imagined it, that he didn’t even feel a part of it, and wished that he could remove his name from the credits. The only thing that made it bearable was Julie’s section, but here, too, Vincent was spoiling it by remaining on stage, encroaching on her space, as if knowing that she was stealing the show from him.
When the final curtain fell, Vincent looked as if he would never leave the stage, coming back for encores that the audience hadn’t demanded and even stopping the house music, with theatrical gestures, to deliver the extraneous information that drinks were available at the bar.
Alan could easily have left, but had to stay to clear the stage and wait for the takings to be divided up. Vincent was delighted as there had been a good turn out, especially of young women who had stared at him, mesmerised, (so he believed). Julie seemed content, too, though Alan was worried that this was due to the fact that it was over, thinking back to her comments on the Baal production.
It wasn’t long before Vincent had removed his make-up and half the costume, and made his way to the bar, which he entered like a conquering hero, to the cheers of his little appreciation group.
Alan waited quietly, looking for Julie, but felt the biggest disappointment of the entire project when she walked straight over to a group of men who exuded an atmosphere of wealth and success that Alan could only dream of. Alan looked at her, allowing herself to be kissed on both cheeks, laughing ostentatiously, waving out to others across the grotty, smoke-filled bar.
Vincent, too, appeared in his element, as Alan overheard him explain the hidden depths and the intricate symbolism of Rimbaud’s poetry to a couple of English guys, whilst caressing the hair of a gooey-eyed teenage girl.
He couldn’t care about Vincent, though he had to smile when he overheard him regurgitate lines that he himself had told the actor. He was getting facts wrong and missing the point entirely in some cases, but his audience wouldn’t know either way. But Julie’s behaviour was more hurtful. She was posing for photographs and hugging everyone and just acting . . . like an actress.
Alan took another beer, but wasn’t feeling drunk or happy, just bloated and depressed. He had never felt so alienated from another person. He knew that there was absolutely no way to get to Julie. She belonged in a another world. And before long, after working the room, Julie stopped by Alan, thanked him for everything, gave him a meaningless hug and left, in the company of three men.
Vincent meanwhile was in a corner, with a girl who was quite enthusiastic in her appreciation of him. And that was exactly how Kelly found him. Not even the loud music was adequate to drown out all the screaming and cursing.
Alan finally smiled, took a long swing of beer and thought to himself: haha – revenge !
Then he felt a tap on his shoulder. The barmaid was giving him another beer.
“I really liked it. Do you have any other projects ?