Friday night was the 10th Cabaret du Coeur at the Curemonte Salle Polyvalente. The first cabaret, old chum, was mounted in response to the tsunami – which happened, if I remember correctly, in 2003. 2012 minus 2003 seems to be nine, but it was definitely the 10th one. So it is now officially a local tradition.
This time, I was too busy to take part either as a writer/performer or a Master of Ceremonies (modelled closely on Joel Grey in the musical). Which meant that I could go with my dear wife and a bunch of friends and giggle stupidly in the audience. Nothing induces naughtiness like amateur dramatics. I remember going with a workmate to see a mutual friend and colleague during my days in the Civil Surface. The pair of us behaved like a pair of seven-year olds and Debs must have wondered whom she had recently married. An upset stomach this time meant that my behaviour was somewhat more in keeping with my years.
The idea of the Cabaret du Coeur is that members of our local association – which exists primarily as a means to order wholefoods at slightly less than the outrageous going rate in France – their children and assorted hangers-on perform music, dances, sketches and other turns. In return, the audience pays for their tickets and all the drinks and comestibles provided by cast, crew and families that it can consume in the name of some ‘cherridy’ of democratic choice.
Each year the mayor of Curemonte, l’un des plus beaux villages de France, a medieval marvel perched on top of a hill), lets us use without charge the communal hall for rehearsals and performance. It’s the perfect venue: an ante room that can house a ticket office, an intimate auditorium that houses just enough people to create a good atmosphere, an offset vaulted corridor where the buffet and bar can be set up, a raised stage and a backroom that serves as a dressing room for the stars.
Things have escalated over the years. The first cabaret was on a solitary Saturday night. This year, Friday night’s performance was the first of three this weekend. Perhaps it’s testimony to how little there is to do round here in the deep mid winter, but each one was sold out a good fortnight ago. In the past we’ve had to bring along a table and chairs to help seat the audience, but this year two handy members of the association had fashioned some scraps of wood into round tables – which meant that we could beat a hasty retreat at the end rather than hang around to recover our garden furniture.
Some things, you see, haven’t changed. It still went on for at least an hour too long due to the customary reluctance or inability to start on time, little or no stage management and a tendency for acts to outstay their welcome. But that, I guess, is half the charm of amateur dramatics. So was the juggler who dropped his batons, the kids who consistently muffed their punch lines, the dancers who were just out of synch, the clowns who weren’t particularly funny and the serious performers who were. It doesn’t matter: everyone knows everyone else and, when you’re among friends, you can make a spectacle of yourself without fear of hecklers.
So it was fun. And there were some welcome surprises this time around. The troupe of djembe drummers opened rather than closed the show, banged their drums in time and didn’t go on interminably. My good Canadian friend, a computer technician by trade, didn’t fluff his lines and created a musical piece with his girlfriend that was surreal and achingly funny. I was proud of him. For years, his very idiosyncratic sense of humour has bemused French and English alike, but this was like the apogee of his art – almost as if his whole public life has been leading up to this one marvellous moment of triumph.
The crowning moment was reserved for last. Anna the MC, who emceed with considerably more professionalism than I last managed, was half way through her thanks. She singled Christophe and Chantal’s son, Hélios, for his sterling unseen work at the edge of the stage, operating the curtain. Cue the applause. She moved on to the next credit and half way through it Hélios appeared, looking bewildered and sheepish. He took a diffident bow and beat a hasty retreat back to his unseen spot behind the curtain at the side of the stage. As TV types have a tendency to say these days, you couldn’t have scripted it.
We’d taken bets on taking our seats as to whether we’d be able to leave for our beds before midnight. Well, we made it with a quarter of an hour to spare, which meant that we could take our friends back home and pick up our daughter, who was babysitting for their two young children, and get back home and under the duvet by 12.15. I knew from bitter experience that we had left the performers to stay after the auditorium had emptied and tidy up for the next show. I didn’t feel guilty because of the simple act of having paid for my ticket. You might call it spectator’s privilege.
Next year, like every year before it, I’ll have to weigh up the pleasures of camaraderie and showing off as part of a show on one hand with all the hard work and commitment on the other. Now that I’ve seen it from an audience’s viewpoint, I’m leaning more towards absence rather than participation. I might just exercise another of my spectator’s privileges and leave it all up to the amateurs.