Bath Chronicle

Through the key­hole into the hyp­no­tist’s boudoir...

- On­line: bath.live | twit­ter: @bath­live | face­book: fb.com/bath­live Ralph Oswick was artistic di­rec­tor of Nat­u­ral Theatre for 45 years and is now an ac­tive pa­tron of Bath Com­edy Fes­ti­val Papua New Guinea · Guinea

I’m run­ning out of things to do at home dur­ing this semi-lock­down. I’m down to my very last box of pre-com­puter files.

By which I mean doc­u­ments made of pa­per. Re­mem­ber those? Yel­low­ing and dog-eared they may be but at least they don’t sud­denly float off into the ether when some ob­scure but­ton is touched by my sausage fin­gers. The only way th­ese ba­bies can be deleted is by fire, flood or bur­glary!

I’m in a re­ally cob­webby re­gion la­belled 1988. I was di­rect­ing a street theatre pro­ject at the World Expo in Bris­bane, train­ing ac­tual Aus­tralian per­form­ers to get up to the ter­ri­bly Bri­tish an­tics of the Nat­u­ral Theatre Com­pany. And jolly good at it they were too!

You couldn’t tell the Oz nan­nies in their crisp uni­forms from the real thing and their bowler-hat­ted busi­ness­men would pass un­re­marked at Water­loo Sta­tion circa 1953.

Any­way, I found a lit­tle note which re­minded me about our rather snazzy dress­ing room ad­ja­cent to the main arena. From there we had a bird’s-eye view of the spec­tac­u­lar in­ter­na­tional events tak­ing place therein, from Maori hakas to syn­chro­nised Amer­i­can ma­jorettes.

One week the main at­trac­tion was a hyp­no­tist, which we thought rather low­ered the tone. His im­pres­sive re­sults, how­ever, had the huge crowds bay­ing for more.

At the click of his fin­gers he could get se­lected in­di­vid­u­als to run around like chick­ens or sit on a lady’s lap and cry like a baby and count­less other seem­ingly in­vol­un­tary em­bar­rass­ing acts.

Af­ter watch­ing the show twice daily for sev­eral days in a row we be­came con­vinced he was us­ing a se­ries of stooges. We de­cided to do a Fa­mous Five and one evening we dis­patched the ac­tors to fol­low each of the hyp­no­tist’s vic­tims and re­port back.

Over the next few hours, the ac­tors drifted back in to re­port that rather bor­ingly all their un­sus­pect­ing quar­ries had done noth­ing but pur­chase a few re­fresh­ments, watch the fire­works and gen­er­ally mooch about be­fore head­ing for the exit.

Just be­fore clos­ing, how­ever, with just the two of us re­main­ing in our dress­ing room, we heard a click at the end of the cor­ri­dor as the fire exit slowly opened and two shad­owy fig­ures slipped into the hyp­no­tist’s boudoir.

My col­league, who was some­what braver than I, sprinted along the pas­sage and to my hor­ror placed her eye against the large key­hole in the dress­ing room door. This was of course a sackable of­fence, but luck­ily there was no CCTV cov­er­age in the im­me­di­ate area.

Rush­ing back, she re­ported that the vis­i­tors were in­deed the two gents who had started off that evening’s show with a par­tic­u­larly en­thu­si­as­tic ren­di­tion of The Birdie Song with all its ac­tions. Fur­ther­more, money was chang­ing hands.

In the end we de­cided that the act was gen­uine. The guy was a bril­liant prac­ti­tioner, but he ob­vi­ously needed a cou­ple of stooges to get the au­di­ence go­ing.

We had many Expo ad­ven­tures. Once we al­most got mur­dered by a Pa­pua New Guinea mud war­rior. But that’s an­other story!

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