Pimping the Friends Roadshow

Eén van de eerste grote succesprogramma’s in Shaffy was dat van de Friends Roadshow (Londen) met aanvoerder en gangmaker Jango Edwards (USA) en vaste gast mime speelster Nola Rae (Londen).

Dit programma stond enige seizoenen achter elkaar in Amsterdam. Nola gaf ook solovoorstellingen in Shaffy net als niet veel later Jango zou doen die daarmee uitgroeide tot publiekslieveling van veel Amsterdammers.

Herinnering van Nola Rae

The Shaffy Zaal was my favorite place to play in Amsterdam. I fell in love with it when I first walked in as part of Friends Roadshow. It was cosy, seats upholstered with carpet giving an impression of plushness. I am a sucker for opera houses, especially if they are red and gold,
(not that the Shaffy is an opera house). It had a small cramped dressing room stage left and a balcony where the technicians lurked. It also had a bar behind the auditorium where after show Heinekins were guzzled. It was hot and sweaty and magical.
Of course a theatre is only as good as those who run it. Rob Weber and Steve Austen and the rest of the Shaffy staff became our friends and sometimes let us get away with murder.

We are talking 1972-3, the era when Holland supported English fringe theatre better than the English did. Amsterdam was our second home then. In those days home was where the show was. We all slept in a cracked house nearby the Shaffy. Hotels were out of the question for big groups like ours.
We took turns to cook in the Shaffy kitchen and some of us were better than others. One day I found myself alone trying to be clever and make beer fondu. I made the big mistake of buying old cheese which would not melt, sank to the bottom of the pan and turned into chewing gum.
I was in the doghouse for quite a while after that. We all had big appetites and lived mainly off muesli, vla and brodje van kootji to top up. Once a fisherman called Jan turned up at our squat and repaid us for putting him up with a bucket of nieuwe herrings. Only Matt and I liked them and ate as many as we could. We were the only ones who didn’t get colds and flue that season. Other squatters gave us nothing, but ate our food and occasionally stole from us, like the lady kleptomaniac. We usually retrieved our stuff from under her bed.

Warm ups before the show where generally table football matches in the bar downstairs after supper. My table football partner Fanny and I were pretty hot, even if we cheated by spinning the rods. Fanny played “I vill not fart for you tonight” Madame Petomane, who stood in a spotlight at the top of the stairs in a tight cocktail dress and twitched her right tit.

It was a tradition in Friends to give some of us a rhyming name. I was Nole the Pole (as I was skinny in those days). There was Jude the Prude, Matt the Prat, Tony Spumonie, Janet the Planet, Marshall the Parcel and unaccountably John the Plummer or Plummer for short. Jango introduced him as John..er…The Plumber! once. Even Jango didn’t know why, but it stuck.

Jango Edwards was known as The Pimp because of his penchant for pimping us, which was not what it usually means. Pimping was improvising to try and put someone off during a performance. Conspiring in small groups in the corner of the dressing room, the company got into pimping in a big way, We pimped Jango playing Weeny, Son of Swandini when his magic assistant, usually known as Betsy Bunny, boiled eggs he was supposed to crack for a magic trick. This made Jango mad and thinking he would retaliate by knocking over all the stuff on his magic table, he pulled the table cloth from under them and left everything standing. It was a perfect finish, one he had not practiced and one we don’t think he ever tried again.

Our shows, were called Follies 73 and then 74 and consisted of silly sketches, somewhat along the lines of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but without the intellect. We were all spasmodically educated and I don’t think many of us went anywhere near a university, except to play in one. Jango was also influenced by Busby Berkley, hence the Follies title. We could never get anywhere near the work of Busby Berkley, but the joke was that we tried. Silly dance routines were our speciality, though only two of us were trained dancers. These routines rejoiced in the name of Winged Feet. Jango and I did a dance routine to the delicate “Glow Worm” music where I threw Jango against the walls and into the audience, having made my entrance dressed like Fred Astaire bouncing onstage via a small trampoline. Jango was on roller skates dressed in his trademark female drooping tutu – hair tied to look like a palm tree. We did a ventriloquist act where I was Seymour the dummy who refused to say anything. But my favorite sketch with Jango was simply called Chairs. It was a classic clown duo where we both wanted the big bar stool as opposed to the milking stool.

We did variety acts too, the principle being to over present a skill without actually doing it. Hence the Flying Spumonie Brothers (tumbling), The Great Swandini – the World’s only Magical Duck, The Great Retardo (juggling and mind reading) and of course The Snozzes based on Groucho Marxs with false noses, glasses, moustaches and white coats. There was also black light puppetry where I played a striptease skeleton, removing my bones.

Our “political” sketch was Mexicans running on stage yelling “I am El Presidente!” and getting shot. The Ninnies was our “surreal” sketch with everyone bourreeing round the stage stiffly saying “ninny ninny ninny”, bumping into one another and falling over. Most sketches ended with a face- fall and blackout.

To contrast with this mayhem I did mime sketches including: The Ballet, The Typist’s Dream, The Fox and the Crow,The Strongman and Red Lights inspired by walking in the red light district and of which Marcel Marceau commented “Zis iz not art!” He was right of course.

Jango did a sketch called The Mouth where he yawned and then couldn’t get his mouth shut. Girls in the front row were in tears one night, moved by his pathos.

We had a rock band led by O.D. Norkett. Friends Band generally numbered around three to five musicians. They had to be quite versatile, but more than anything they had to be company members who pulled their weight in other ways like cooking and carrying equipment. This is not easy for a rock musician and some didn’t come up to the mark.
Remarkably we had very few bust ups. The Shaffy age was an age of tolerance. We loathed fighting and generally didn’t.

The Shaffy was a venue where audiences were laid back without being comatose like those at the Melkweg and the Paradiso. It was a perfect place to hone material. We felt we could create new work and improvise without fear.The fact that we played a season in the same place was almost like a holiday from one night stands we mostly performed.
These days I miss the freedom to be truly silly. Sillyness was what the Shaffy seemed to smile upon. We were very serious in our silliness. If performed with heart, even slight material can be moving. It was a time of happy hippy innocence.

We loved our Shaffy audiences and they seemed to love us. We enjoyed full houses except the night Ajax played Feyenoord and nobody came. We went out as clowns and mingled with the crowds.I don’t think any of us were interested in football. I can’t remember who won.