My Saturday nights out in Lanzarote rarely reach a cultural peak like last night’s. A chance sighting in the island’s ‘Gazette’ meant a late decision to go along to the wonderful ‘Camel House’ concert venue in Macher. Barrie Rutter, the well-known actor and theatre director would be entertaining us for one night only. I had always been a fan of Barrie’s and had seen him perform in his early days at Nottingham Playhouse in the late sixties and early seventies, so I knew we were in for a treat.
We had never visited The Camel House before and the venue was the first surprise of the evening. After checking in we were invited to buy a glass of wine and then wander freely around the estate. The pianist and entrepreneur Sir Ernest Hall owns the house, which he rescued from being a complete ruin and, with his wife Sarah, turned into a cool and spacious residence.
When the house next door came up for sale and Sir Ernest saw the double-height sitting room he knew it would become a concert hall. It tuned out to be an ancient camel barn and the rest of the old buildings had the potential to be converted into houses for visiting artists and public spaces like the bar and lounge. Sir Ernest says on the website that, “It was like discovering Sleeping Beauty under a muckheap.” The finished product certainly has a fairytale quality. Wandering through the cool courtyards, with an Egyptian theme, and further into the Moroccan-style gardens we had to remind ourselves that we were in Lanzarote. The effect was magical.
I was lucky to find Barrie enjoying a pre-performance glass of wine, in one of the cool lounges. He was very happy for me to have my picture taken with him and I enjoyed a short chat about his early theatrical days in my home city of Nottingham. Barrie had performed in ‘The Tempest’ with Hugh Griffith at what was then the new Nottingham Playhouse, under the directorship of Stuart Burge. From the age of nine when my mother first took me to the theatre to see ‘The Merchant of Venice’, I was hooked and rarely missed a production.
The day had been hot and humid and in Macher the temperature seemed even higher than the 33 degrees we’d experienced in Playa Blanca. We were a little apprehensive about being stuck in a hot auditorium with no air conditioning, but we needn’t have worried. It was certainly warm but the spacious room, designed to seat up to a hundred people, allowed air to circulate freely. The main door was kept open and we settled down for an entertaining ninety minutes. Sir Ernest gave a brief introduction and an explanation of his friendship with Barrie and sponsorship of his theatrical projects. He too was clearly looking forward to the evening’s entertainment.
Barrie’s dry Yorkshire wit and theatrical presence held our attention to the last minute. He gave us readings from Shakespeare, poems by Ted Hughes and W.H.Auden and naughty limericks, with sprinklings of anecdotes about the theatre and his early life in Hull. A story about his paternal grandfather throwing the young Barrie’s homework book on the fire in a fit of jealous rage, brought Barrie to a sudden stop at the memory, but he quickly recovered himself when he recalled that this incident had driven him to join every possible extra-mural activity in order to avoid his grandfather’s wrath. “Eventually”, he said, “the Drama Group found me!”
His English teacher thought Barrie should put his ‘big gob’ to use and that’s what he’s been doing ever since. And what a voice he has; once described*as being capable of drilling holes in millstone grit, it boomed out across the room as he regaled us with a funny story about singing rude limericks outside the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, only to be ushered in and made to perform it repeatedly to the delight of the drinkers in the bar. At other times we were transfixed as he told us of his acquaintanceship with the late laureate Ted Hughes, who was to bequeath one of his manuscripts to Barrie. He then performed Hughes’ poem, ’Bride and Groom Lie Hidden For Three Days’ extolling the beauty of its language, and at the final words of the poem a hush fell across the room so transfixed were we.
Barrie is passionate about Shakespeare and explained to us his rationale of actors using their own voices in his own company ‘Northern Broadsides’ which recruits actors solely from the North. Words, he told us were his meat and drink, and his love for them shone through the evening.
“Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish;” he began.
A vapour, sometime like a bear or lion,
A tower'd citadel, a pendent rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon't, that nod unto the world,
And mock our eyes with air: thou hast seen these signs;
They are black vesper's pageants.”
And for those few seconds this blunt Yorkshireman was Mark Anthony and we felt his sense of worthlessness and betrayal, before he called on his friend Eros, to end his life for him.
Barrie ended the evening with questions from the audience and then we all filed out into the balmy Lanzarote evening having enjoyed an evening that was “all about words”
* Andrew Dickson in ‘The Guardian’