I’m sitting in the BFI. The guy to my left is on a string of conference calls. He has a little moustache and a tie and ironed shirt tight to the flesh under his lambskin jacket. He looks like a finger puppet.
“Unique” he says, frequently. “Head up communications in a unique context accessing enterprise market pots.” Sometimes he laughs, but it’s a dry sound devoid of meaning, like someone dragging a stone on a bit of driftwood. It involves the word “ha”, but it’s like he learnt it by rote. Usually this dead laugh is triggered by his own content.
I’ve heard a lot of people talking like this recently. It’s a sort of learnt groupspeak. Signalling membership of some bullshit club. There’s always these pockets of linguistic consensus. It’s abject. But I suppose we all want to feel like we belong. And there’s money in this language. People pay for conferences where they all talk in it. It’s an industry. But this little fool somehow catches my interest.
Now I’m downstairs in the bowels of a hotel, dressed as a New York cop. There are plenty of real cops here as well. “I want your uniform,” one of them tells me. They have spaniels to sniff out explosives. Some of them are going under all the tables with torches, rifling through plants, checking the artworks. These burly professionals look towards safety whilst musical theatre actors pretend to kill one another with knives to a beautiful wash of sound. “Bernstein’s a genius,” enthuses a stocky police lieutenant. “The sound. The tension within it. God I wish I could do it.” He’s not wrong. This is twice in a year I’ve been a cop in West Side Story. Last time I was psychotic Schrank. This time I’m ineffective Krupke. Inspired partly by the bullshit guy at BFI I’ve shaved down to a little vain moustache for the evening. Everyone is trying to get things rehearsed. The tech guys are exhausted. But it’s coming together. It’s an ambitious call, for dinner entertainment, putting on a musical with all these big numbers. But it’s a big dinner. There are some serious names on the guest list. Some major league players selling in the silent auction lots. I’m going to have to be charming, but the uniform is an open goal. It does a huge amount of work for me.
More time has passed.
A buzz of excitement. Every corner has someone spraying deodorant or adjusting makeup. People are busy even if they look relaxed. Someone asks me which aftershave they should wear. Others are rolling their r’s, sirening, regulating breathing. “I feel much better for that smint,” says someone. The Puerto Ricans practice their accents. “Fifteen minutes,” calls the stage manager, and the director is giving notes about positioning in the fights. I’ve checked my props, checked my costume. Having a moment of calm. I glance up and there’s someone in their pants directly in my eyeline. We are sharing this room with the police and people have been waiting for them to leave before getting their showpants on. It smells strong in here. Chemical. Familiar. This buzz. This weird community. It’s what I signed up for. Helen will be at the van by now, about to be me for Pantechnicon. I’m going to get my Krupke face on…
And I did.
I know I lied to an Imam last summer, but now I’ve gone one step further and lied to royalty. “Are you really an American?” asked the surprisingly disarming heir to the throne. I had been unexpectedly put in a lineup to talk to him. I’d been briefed to remain in character as Sergeant Krupke. “Yessir, born and raised,” Krupke responded. He was very pleasant. He loves the musical West Side Story. Later on, speaking to production, he apparently said “It’s so great that you’ve even got an American actor playing Krupke.” It’s probably the ‘tache. But I was surprisingly disarmed by him.