Grand Theatre

2007-12-01 00:00

I mean this was no theatre in Shakespeare’s sense of the word, hey, this was a bioscope, man, and a mighty big bioscope too, bang in the centre of Pietermaritzburg. A vast white windowless cube, like the Great Wall of China it could be seen from space. Indeed Neil Armstrong when departing Earth’s orbit for the moon took the Grand Theatre for his navigational prime point: a laser beam exactly vertical to the middle of the huge roof triggered those rocket motors that flung the Apollo out of Earth’s grip for the three-day trip to the Sea of Tranquillity. The Grand was vast inside too, of course. You could seat 3 000 people in there, I reckon. Divided by class. The screen was the size of a tennis court, roughly speaking, those in the cheapoes at the front would gaze straight up into a blinding thunderous visual storm, with cotton wool stuck in their ears, whilst people in the half-crown reserved front seats upstairs donned full evening dress of a Saturday night, both ladies and gents, and took an early supper at the Imperial Hotel before the cultural part of the adventure: Ronald Reagan armed with righteouness and multiple six-shooters.

Well for his birthday I took my cousin Gus to the Saturday late show, the posh one. We had half-crown reserved seats okay, but right in the middle downstairs because his hearing wasn’t all that good. Mainly we were fishing buddies, see, this was a bit special for us, on a normal weekend we’d be off to rock and surf and the wild rough bosom of Mother Nature, sleeping in the coastal bush ’neath the Milky Way, waking when the shad awoke, with rumbling intestines, hungry, both species. Don’t bother to bring your alarm clock, Gus would say, it’s more relaxing to awake the natural way. REM sleep, rapid eye movement, starts about four, just prior to waking, said he. My false teeth get sort of rapid tooth movement too, along with the eyes, you see, kind of loose when I’m sleeping, and when I reflexively clamp them together with my gums it makes a sort of loud CLACK right inside my head, and that’s better than any clock. But don’t you put your dentures in a glass of water at night like other folks, with that special bleaching powder? I asked. And lose them in the beach sand; have the monkeys pinch them? cried he. Never!

So here we are in the Grand, then, all set for a nice singing-type love flick with Dean Martin and a dark-haired sex-godess as they were called in those days, days when you didn’t just grip your man by the ears and lay a molluscuous schmoo on his cakehole, things were done nice and slowly for the nuances of love, you know, and ol’ Deanie Boy is just getting round to the kissing bit on a park bench whilst singing about what might happen if their lips should meet. Our sweethearts are about half-an-inch apart, the noses are already overlapping and the tension is near breaking strain, when from the middle of the ground-floor auditorium there arises a fearsome falsetto hundred-decibel shriek, and I realise cousin Gus has been dreaming of shad again, his mandible has clamped all cockeyed on his teeth again, and he’s seriously bitten his tongue. Again.

The lights come up, the projector shuts down. Women cower. Strong men clench their fists. All retreat from the epicentre of the unfolding drama. A stocky frowning woman thrusts her way forward. I am a qualified nursing sister! she cries, step aside, please! She opens Gus’s shirt and claps an ear to his sternum. The man from the ice-cream cart in Commercial Road bursts in; I was a medical orderly in the war! he cries, I am ready to assist in any way, your wish is my command! He and the nurse lift up Gus’s eyelids and look inside with an usherette’s torch. Anybody know this man? they call. Ja, I do, say I, he’s my cousin and he’s kind of deaf. Auw euw iuw ouw uuw says Gus, to confirm that he’s kind of mute too, and I know he’s leaving me to sort out his mess, the bastard. A bearded young man from The Natal Witness elbows his way in. Who is your cousin, sir, and what does he do? He does shad angling, say I, and psychology at the university. Inevitably: at the time, he asks: And what are his political views, sir? Well, as a matter of fact, say I, he is from the Liberal Party. Even more inevitably, all chorus: YOU MEAN HE WANTS COONS TO VOTE? Well, ah, say I, that is to say, er, yes. Just lucky they think Gus is deaf, forsooth; I haul him off smartish and seat him in the bar at the Plough Hotel and order beer at his expense. You bastard! say I.

Next day the lamp-post placards announce RADICAL LIBERALIST PSYCHO BITES TONGUE IN BIOSCOPE. I’ve always thought you were bloody daft, say I.

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