Quite a contrast from the vista of the Devon sea from my back window was the view of Rotherham City Centre. The change is always interesting. It’s like a film I’m watching from the same seat as the landscape outside my window changes from day to day. The architecture of Rotherham is grand and epic. Built when Yorkshire had industrial money to spend on its proud heritage, but now somewhat neglected and with too many shop windows with trompe d’oeil painted frontages and to let signs.
Symbolic of it all were the three men I watched plying their strange trade on a corner under the impressive stained glass window of the old Town Hall. They were probably Polish but maybe another slavic country. They looked at my stage and unicycle “Circoos?” they asked. “Theatre” I replied. They nodded, uncomprehending. Three heavy bags of sand and a bottle of water and a plastic sheet were their raw materials and a recumbent dog with a puppy on its back was the subject, recreated daily on the same two yards of Rotherham pavement with the same three bags of sand. It wasn’t art – the dog had an almost human face and there was no change (or life) in the sculpture from day to day. It was just mindless repetition of something done thousands of times. I saw two day’s sand dogs and watched as one or other of them occasionally brushed sand from part of the canine construction. I seemed that one man did the actual sculpture then left and the other two took turns in minding it, collecting the pennies and five pence contributions and then scraping the sand back into the bags for tomorrow. Perhaps the lead sculptor tours the north of England doing the same sculpture, leaving it for the minders, doing the job for a set fee in each town. I have certainly seen a similar sand dog in several British city centres.
It was this strange, sad and slightly futile occupation that seemed to reflect the efforts of those who still ply their trade in the town centres of Britain. At 5.30 pm the place dies. By 6.30 the place was deserted and strange, like Zombie Apocalypse town, the sand scraped back into the bags. No-one lives there anymore. All except me last Friday night, the last little showman at the end of the world, plying his trade then moving out, like the men with the sand dog, leaving the vacant shops and deserted doorways to the broken eyes of the CCTV cameras.
The shows went OK considering all the above. Well-attended but reticent audiences cowered into the street corners in case I brought them up and asked them to do something. But the eventual response was warm and genuine, except when it started to rain, giving them an easy excuse to leave early, running back to the kind of entertainment they understood. A Saturday night of Britain’s Got Talent perhaps. Or a Football final.
Am I being hard? Possibly, but it felt like the Last Little Show at the End of the World in Rotherham on Saturday. The one saving grace was a guy who had come to take photos and was obviously adept at the job. I thought I had seen him somewhere else so I assumed he was a press photographer. It wasn’t until he asked me to pose at the end of the show and a card notice dropped from the bottom of his camera (see below) and I recognised him from one of the audiences from Crich Tramway Museum and put two and two together and ended with the realisation that he was the guy who had written eloquently about the audience reaction at Crich (see my previous blog). I laughed and thanked him. He has become a one man movement trying to persuade me to carry on performing to audiences who often seem not to understand what I am doing or why I’m doing it.
He made my day.
All the best from a road near you,