I don’t mean to be critical but –

Colin is a shambling, lumpen, uncombed, badly stuffed mattress of mostly springs in a tweedy jacket and Rupert the Bear yellow trousers. He doesn’t so much walk as roll across the floor, as fashionably or unfashionably late to the theatre tonight as he wants to be and bugger anybody else’s opinion on the matter. Peering out from under his curdled-butter-hued Boris Johnson fringe, he doesn’t meet so much as one other pair of eyes in the foyer, not even the director’s, a man so keenly trying not to be noticed that he currently occupies a space just in front of the concessions stall where, he seems to have decided, he will serve popcorn to the audience before making his escape for the Low Countries soon after curtain up.

Our lumpen friend, though, looks round, through, over and under him. Mostly under. Which is easy, given his stunted height. And then, satisfied with that much at least, he rolls towards the stairs down to the auditorium, serenely descending without noticing others coming up or going down. It is as if he occupies a different timestream from them, which, to an extent, he does, having been regurgitated from somewhen in the late 1950s.

It is easy to imagine Colin in the back seat of the once-famous David Frost’s Rolls Royce, as he has recently boasted about to our now exile-fancying director, at tremendous length, and for no discernible reason other than he was sure the director would never share such an august seat. Even while fawning and talking primarily about himself. This story had been offered up whilst interviewing the director prior to performance week. An interview for an unregarded local paper that was largely taken up with talk of mail-order silk ties received through the post in wooden boxes. The kind of proud boast that leaves people who don’t receive mail-order ties through the post in wooden boxes entirely cold. Which is precisely how Colin likes then. Receiving mail order ties in wooden boxes means that he has the kind of status that could only be questioned by those who have no idea who this Houndstooth-checked bag of fidgeting weasels topped with a comedy ginger Three Stooges wig is. Which is their own look-out, and certain proof, in his eyes, that they are not worth his noticing anyway.

Arriving at the door to the Basement stage area, and sniffily regarding the black T-shirted, loo-brush faced, 20-something, with the emphasis on something, standing at the door expecting either ticket or remuneration, he does not try for a variant on “Do you know who I am?”, although he has plenty of tales of being with people who would ask precisely that. And too many tales of people who would answer his own query with a cross-eyed look of incomprehension. Even if they do like his tie.

He proffers his ticket. He takes his seat. Precisely ten minutes after curtain up. The director, meanwhile, hopes that his passport is safely in his pocket and his Bolivian Unicyclist disguise kit is ready for use as soon as he has crossed the channel.

I don’t mean to be critical but –

In this moment before curtain up, and with every anxiety running through me about my ability to write and direct and even operate as a human being, Colin might think he is the critic here, even if only a very, very provincial one –

But I’m betting he’d be very surprised to hear my thoughts and realise precisely which one of us is the most critical.

Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, the Potato Soup Journal, and the Trouvaille Review.

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