Vaudevillian Iestyn Edwards regularly performs all over the world. In this blog detailing his adventures as stage persona “Madame Galina”, he takes coaching from actor Diana Quick on “playing the truth” and recalls his experiences doing just that during a Combined Services Entertainment show in Iraq and Afghanistan…
During a run of Jacques’s “Seven Ages of Man” speech [from As You Like It] being coached by Diana Quick this week, I ended the ‘sans eyes, sans teeth, taste’ line looking at the ground.
‘I like that angle of the head,’ Diana said. ‘It’s natural – and you have been tending a little towards ‘peering through imaginary bi-focals’ head positions.’
‘And if I’m not looking at the audience,’ I said, ‘they won’t be self-conscious and can burst into standing-ovationary applause at the end of the speech.’
‘Oh, you’re such a showman!’ She was smiling. ‘But here we’re playing the truth…’
Which made me think of the time when I probably most played the truth, against all the odds. I went out to Iraq with Combined Services Entertainment to perform for Combined Services Entertainment as Madame Galina Ballet Star Galactica.
‘Madame Galina has to be the result of a one-night stand between Anna Pavlova and Captain Mainwaring. Part panto dame, part stand up, part classical ballerina. Takes the “I need a volunteer from the audience” tradition and knocks seven bells out of it! – Liverpool Post
‘A rare and perfect synthesis of art and larkiness!’ – The Times
‘Madame Galina…frankly, who gives a shit?’ – Three Weeks
Final preparations for the trip had passed in a panic-haze of the shopkeeper in the Camden Household Stores laughing at me in the sunhat I had just bought from him; of watching YouTube clips of a camel spider winning fights to the death against all comers – rats, snakes, the thirty-five-kilogram dumb-bell dropped on it by a Coldstream Guard standing screaming on a bench in the Kandahar gym – of the pharmacist in College Road looking up from collating asthma inhalers to tell me that I wouldn’t need Malaria tablets for Iraq in January as it wasn’t mosquito season, though he’d heard that beheadings were rife just then.
And do you know that when you get over Iraqi airspace, you have to put on full body-armour and a Kevlar helmet, before they switch the lights off in the Tristar and helter-skelter it down in pitch dark onto the runway at Basra airport? And that, yes, that noise was a flak-attack?
I didn’t sleep the first night out there; it was all so strange. Peeling white prefabs in the winter son reminding me of Torquay off-season. The impact on a Saracen from a shell looking like an entry wound. Fires everywhere on the horizon – the insurgents burning the oil to stop the infidel getting it. The constant roar from generators not quite drowning out the sound of the locals just across the wire at wedding receptions playing the Greatest Hits of Demis Roussos.
As the Royal Marine looking after us, Stacks, commented: ‘Going out to Iraq or Afghanistan is like you’ve been beamed down off the Starship Enterprise and Scotty’s well and truly fucked up the coordinates this time…’