Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Travel by Numbers 4: Ghent - Berlin

Distance: eight hundred and twelve
Duration: seven hours and eighteen minutes
Idiot drivers: none

I will not drive for 10 days now. Then it's off to Oslo for our adventure in Kanonhallen.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Travel by Numbers 3: Ghent - Cambridge - Ghent

On Saturday I went to pick up the set for Everything Falls Apart.

Distance: seven hundred and thirty eight
Duration: fourteen hours and forty five minutes
Idiot drivers: innumerable
  • one hour of fitting everything into the car
  • one hour lunch
  • half and hour waiting for the train on both sides
  • half an hour on the train on both sides
  • a lot of sitting in traffic
On the way back an English Land Rover backed up into a French Ford Ka in the queue for the check-in desk. I thought it was very funny. The driver of the Land Rover didn't. He looked like he would have punched himself in the face if that wouldn't have made him look even more stupid. He was third in line when a new booth opened and decided to change lanes...

The Eurotunnel is a fine piece of very cleverly designed machinery. If you haven't been on it yet, you should try it.

Tomorrow I will drive back home to Berlin.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Travel by Numbers 2 : Berlin - Ghent

Distance: eight hundred kilometres
Duration: six hours fifty minutes
Idiot drivers: three

Travel by numbers 1: Oslo-Berlin

Ferry Oslo - Kiel
Duration: twenty hours
Idiot passengers: one very big one

Drive Kiel - Berlin
Distance: three hundred and sixty five
Duration: four hours
Idiot drivers: one

Friday, 12 December 2008

Get ready for a new year

I found this years ago in a hotel in Stavanger, bought it, and stuck it on the wall over my desk. I think everyone should know this.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Christmas Break

After a very long journey we are now all back home, and this is the start of our Christmas break. On Sunday we played our last show and packed up our set, and Ray delivered our goods... He will never be forgotten now.

Getting back to the hotel, there were some stalls with food on the corner of our street, and Tom and some chicken and vegetables for 40p.

We all went to get some beers to have a last night drinks to celebrate a very long and great autumn season. Iva bought cashews to make us all 'new men'. It didn't really work. At least for me, it didn't.

On Monday morning, we started our journey at 7.30am (Shanghai time). Ray brought us to the airport and we said goodbye. Once we were all through security, the new airport game started again. And now that we all had the new Jianzi's Ray bought us, we had to start all over again, because they're different: better, but harder to play.

During our 11 hour flight to Helsinki, we passed over the Gobi desert.

And over Siberia. It was daytime throughout the flight, so there were some amazing views - only it wasn't that easy to photograph them through the tiny windows of the plane.

In Helsinki, we had very little time to transfer to our next flight (to London), but Iva and the kids still found space and time to get some more practise with the Jianzi.

By then, the sun had finally set. We went 6 hours back in time, and were about to go back 2 hours more.

In London, our paths diverged: the Moberg family went straight onto a next plane to Oslo, and the Mechacek family, Dave and I were driven to a Travelodge to spend the night so we could get on our home flights the morning after.

Technically this is the end of our season. But next week Kjell and Alex will come to Berlin to start some work on the show they will make in Stuttgart next spring, and between Christmas and New Year I will drive to Cambridge to pick up the set for Everything Falls Apart. And of course we're all preparing for the festival week we've planned in Oslo in January.

One last thing: for anyone expecting anything: I did not send any postcards from China. Sorry.

All that is left now is to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
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Sunday, 7 December 2008


This post will be a bit of a chaotic one, where I will put the pictures others have told me to post, and some video I didn't have a chance to upload before today.

First of all, how about hundreds of teddy bears instead of a shedding tree?

Today is our last day in Shanghai, so a perfect day for looking back.

This is the game people were playing all over parks in Beijing. Tom bought a couple of them and we decided to give it a go. As you can see, it's not that easy (in other words we were rubbish at it).

In the meanwhile we've been practising and we did get a lot better at it. I will film another session tonight, before our very last show here in China, and then post it so you can see how much better we are now.

This video is the pancake Dave and I had last week in Beijing. We were in a shopping area and there were loads of tiny food shops. We went for the one with the biggest queue, and this is what we ended up eating. It was very good.

On Friday we went for lunch with the people from the theatre. As usual, an enormous amount of food appeared and we tried and failed to eat it all.

This is the beginning - when we thought there was too much food on the table. As time went by, more and more food came. It may not look like there was space for more, but somehow there was.

At the end of the meal, the people from the Dramatic Arts Centre gave us a glass sculpture with the name of the show in Chinese.

This is how we left it: lots of food left. We felt a bit better about it when we saw Ray (our Shanghai producer) put most of it in boxes to take back to his office.

Today I decided to go up in the Jinmao tower. The Mobergs had already been and were very impressed, so I wanted to see it for myself. Coming out of the subway station I was immediately overwhelmed by the monster towers all around. And the fact that a lot more are being built. They're getting ready for the World Expo in 2010, and I'm sure that by that time Shanghai will look even more futuristic.

This is the one I went up. The 88th floor, 340m high.

This picture has a slight reflection from the window, but other than that the haze is the Shanghai smog. Don't let them fool you buy calling it fog. It's not.

This one reminds me of one of my homes: Berlin's TV Tower is similar to this building.

The river and the boats.

These guys are clearly not afraid of heights. They were at 340m and going up.

From the 54th floor up this building is a hotel. Reception is on the 54th floor and the top rooms are on the 88th floor (which doesn't make sense because that's where the lookout platform is, but since they have different sets of lifts, it's hard to decide whose numbers are correct). I went up to two 88th floors and they were definitely at different heights.

Looking from the top down on reception (with nothing but a wooden balustrade to keep you from tumbling down), you can see all the floors in between floor 88 and 54). It's a dazzling sight.

So, last show tonight. China has been great: we've had good audiences and they all seemed to really enjoy the show. We met some fascinating people and saw some amazing things.
At the moment I'm quite curious to see whether our man Ray has managed to source the 70 football shuttlecocks (I looked it up on the internet and they're apparently called Jianzi) we asked him to get for us. If he has, he'll be the man of the day.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

First show in Shanghai

This is a daylight version of the nightshot I posted a few days ago. It was early afternoon - the time of day is sometimes very confusing because the pollution filters the sunlight which makes it look like early evening.

Iva was released from hospital today and is feeling a lot better, so we performed tonight.

These are some pictures from our get-in yesterday.

The boys putting the wardrobe together

Working on the subtitles with Sky, our subtitle man. We had an interesting discussion about the differences between English humour and Chinese humour.

After getting in, we went to a fantastic tepanyaki restaurant next door to the hotel.

This was our chef for the night, who cooked what we ordered at our table.

Bara's very interesting soup. DYI.

Our table and the table behind us.

Today David and I went to the Science Museum (which was quite disappointing). The view was almost futuristic because of the smog and all the buildings that have been built in the last 10 years.

Some things we've learnt in China:
  • chopstick skills - we were rubbish on the first day and now we're a lot better. I wouldn't say masters, but still - there has been a clear improvement.
  • haggling - again, in the beginning we were quite soft, but now we're all quite tough at bartering. We probably still pay too much, but we are definitely very close to Chinese prices (I think).
  • crossing roads. In Beijing the issue was the very wide boulevards, in Shanghai the challenge is that traffic lights don't seem to matter at all and there are thousands of scooters and bikes in addition to millions of cars.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Getting in in Shanghai

The get-in in Shanghai was quite unusual. I was introduced first to the technical manager, then to the stage manager, and then to the lighting designer of the theatre, a very trendy looking man whose English name I forgot. But he was the one who'd be doing lights with me. He went through the lighting plan with me and then said he would get the workers to move some lights.

So three little old men appeared with a talloscope and a ladder and they moved some lights.

Then I wanted to get on with focusing lights, but apparently first the projector had to be installed by the three men. They rigged it (one on the talloscope, two moving it around at the bottom). Then another man focused it and wired it up.

Finally it was time for lights. The trendy man was nowhere to be seen, but the stage manager and a woman sat behind the lighting desk. The woman was also the translator.
I was one stage, asking for various lighting channels, the light would come on and the three little men moved the ladder and focused. They didn't speak English, though, so whatever I wanted went through the woman, who translated it to the stage manager, who told the three men what to do. And they carried on telling each other.

So there were constantly 5 people talking to each other in Chinese, and I would talk through them, into the darkness of the auditorium, hoping the woman could hear me. More often than not she did, and what I asked for happened, almost miraculously. Sometimes she didn't, and then I would just wait until I knew for sure that she hadn't heard me, and try again.

It might not seem like it, but it did actually go quite fast. And only once did I ask for something again when they had heard me, but where discussing what it was I asked for.

After a while I thought I'd understood what 'smaller' was in Chinese, so I tried it out, but it didn't work. It's clearly not as easy as that.

Today Iva got very ill and we had to cancel the show. She's in hospital with a stomach infection and we all hope she'll be better soon. The rest of us are fine, so we can't work out what it was she ate.
They offered the audience tickets for another night, so we hope everyone can still see the show later this week.

Monday, 1 December 2008

He's in Denmark, we're in Shanghai

Today we flew from Beijing to Shanghai. Shanghai is warmer than Beijing, and totally different. It almost feels like being in a different country.
It all started at 9am this morning, when they came to pick up our set, and the set of TNT, who also played in Beijing and were on the same plane to Shanghai.

Luckily, this was not how they transported the set to the airport. There was a bus at the end of the road to transport set and people.

At the airport, we had just enough people to push the trolleys we needed to get all of our stuff to the check-in desk.

In Shanghai, we were picked up by Ray and Tracy. (I should probably tell you that most of the Chinese people we've been meeting have English names as well as Chinese names - I think they do it to help us out - so Ray and Tracy are Chinese, and work for the Dramatic Arts Centre in Beijing). The space looks great and has a very nice bar on the 6th floor overlooking Shanghai.

After we checked in at the hotel, we went for a meal and afterwards Bob and I went for a walk to see Shanghai by night.

Shanghai has tree-lined streets and is a mix of old and new, but in a different way from Beijing. The new is very new, very American, and probably tacky and cheap. But very lively. Beijing is more serious, has incredibly wide avenues and feels more like a city you really need to know in order to know where to go. Shanghai seems easier. It's been compared to NY and Vegas, but I think that's not entirely right. It's much more a mix of the most unlikely combination of Europe, Asia and America. NY is a more likely mix. If that makes any sense at all.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

They are in China, I am in Denmark

While the rest of the group are in China, I was working on a project in Denmark.  This was the first workshop weekend for a show that I will make next year based on Charles Dickens book Hard Time.  These are some pictures from the rehearsal room.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The wall

Yesterday we went to see the Great Wall of China. It is great.
How it all happened was: Iva arranged for a minibus and struck a deal with the man who runs the company (Kevin) to get us all there for 700RMB. A bargain.
First of all, the minibus was almost half an hour late, also it was not the vehicle Kevin had shown Iva AND it didn't have seatbelts even though she specifically asked for them. The answer was: "we're not going very fast anyway, so it's ok".

Then the guide said she would take us to a jade gallery first, but as we needed to be back in time to get some rest before the show, we all said we wanted to go straight to the wall.
Big problem. We HAD to go to the gallery. So Bob phoned Kevin and was very firm with him, explaining that unless they took us straight to the wall, we'd all get off the bus and go with another company.
The phone got handed back and forth between Bob and Sophie (our guide), and eventually the deal was that if we didn't want to go to this gallery (for which they obviously got a commission or something), we'd have to pay 200RMB more.
So we stopped the bus and all got off.

More phone calls resulted in an extra 80RMB to go straight to the wall. Sophie kept saying 'more or less', and we kept saying 'no, not more or less, 80 exactly'.

Anyway, we got to the wall in the end.

On the bus.

Arrival at the wall.

Going up to the cablecar.

In the cable car. Great wall in the background.

And there it is, in all its glory. It is the most spectacular sight.

Sasha thought it was like a dream.

After the trip, we got back into the bus and started driving. Sophie seemed to have a plan to take us to a restaurant somewhere, but as soon as we said we wanted to go back to the hotel, she stopped talking. Then, as the driver was about to get on the motorway, she shouted something at him, he stopped and reversed and took another route. Tom asked Sophie why we weren't going on the motorway, and we all got back into revolt-mode. So she said: "we will in a few minutes". She shouted something else at the driver and 5 minutes later we were on the motorway (which has tollbooths). But not after there was another moment of stopping in the middle of the road and reversing back onto the tollbooth lanes.

When we arrived back into the city, we decided to get off because traffic was horrible and it would be faster by underground. Sophie then tried to raise the fee again, claiming we had to pay for parking and the toll road and god knows what else.
Bob and Iva are very strict negotiators though, so I think this time they didn't manage to pull a huge tourist scam.

After the show last night we were introduced to some young directors from Beijing. One of them explained to us that in the whole of Beijing, there were only 20 young emerging artist (in theatre, that is). The strange thing is that he used the term 'emerging artist' as an official title, which I guess could very well be the case. The difference about them was that they are the ones who want to make theatre their own way, possibly influenced by western theatre, but definitely not following the rules of traditional theatre.
It was a very interesting evening, and I asked them a lot of questions about what they thought about all 4 Edinburgh shows that have passed through Beijing in the past 4 weeks.

We met about 8 of these emerging artists, and they each have their own style and don't necessarily have very much in common other than these organised events.

One of them invited us to a party tonight, where there will be live music and young Beijing artists or art students.

Today David and I went shopping, and stumbled on a street full of shopping centres. Yes, not a street full of shops, but a street full of 8 floor shopping arcades. One of them was incredible: a maze of tiny stalls selling pretty much anything you might want or need. With ample opportunity to haggle.

For lunch we had a very special crepe, and joined the Chinese who were having their lunch sitting on a wall.

My feet hurt.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Life is good in Beijing

Last night we were invited to have dinner with the people from the British Council. We ate a lot (as you do in China) and had a great night out. The British Council people had been living in Beijing (or elsewhere in China) for a while, so we could ask them a lot of questions.
They all spoke Mandarin, which I thought was very impressive.

Today, Dave, Bob and I went to the 798 Art District, at the edge of the city. It is an industrial complex built by the East Germans in the 50s that has been turned into what is probably best described as an art village. Gallery after gallery in the most amazing spaces.

This is the Originality Square.

And this is some of the art we found there.

After that we took a taxi back into town (taxis are incredibly cheap here, in fact so is food), and went for a walk along the artificial lakes west of the Forbidden City.

The path along the lake was very peaceful for most of it. At one point there were a lot of tourist tat shops, but we ignored them all.

This was the peaceful bit.

And this was one of the lakeside guidelines. We were good children and obeyed the rules.

Then Dave tried out some of the fitness equipment. The Chinese really work on their physical health, they go jogging, stretch, and use these kinds of adult's playgrounds to keep in shape.

This is the entrance to where we perform. Only, it's not where we play. On the first day we all got confused, because what happens is you have to walk around this theatre to get to where we play.

This is where we play. It's a great space and suits us to the bone.

Today the warm-up game was Chinese football, which is with a big shuttlecock. We were rubbish at it and all the ushers laughed at us.

Musical warm-up.

Some subtitles.

Some more subtitles.

After the show we went for dinner and ate some pigeon. This is the pigeon's head.

It's the second time we went to this restaurant - it's really good and close to the hotel. The woman who waits at the door to let people in wears a fur coat.

Yesterday I got a Chinese haircut. I like getting my hair cut in strange places, so I decided this had to be a winner. We all joked beforehand that because the Chinese are not used to curly hair, I might end up with straight black hair.

It didn't end up black, but boy was it straight. The hairdresser worked very hard and got an incredible result: I've never seen my hair like this before.

The next morning, however, it was back to normal.

I would like to add that this is probably the best and most precise haircut I've ever had. But I prefer my own curls.

Tomorrow morning we will leave at 8am to go to THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA!