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Chris Bruno gives an affectionate account of touring the UK with Fittings Multimedia's Raspberry / 6 May 2010

Those of you who’ve been following Raspberry in these pages for the last two months, know the character of Rita is played by an American; specifically an American from the bustling, cacophonous, overcrowded metropolis that is New York City.

Obviously, then, reserved is not a word I’d use to describe myself. More like “opinionated with a big heart.” So performing in cities, large and small, around the UK, I’ve often felt as though I stick out like the proverbial sore thumb – but in a good way.

Touring creates this funny kind of bubble. You spend months at a time with a handful of people. An instant family whose make up at first seems wholly implausible and foreign. Before you know it, you feel as though you’ve known your new family forever and find yourself asking how you could have ever lived your life without them in it. A completely unnatural construct that any artist will tell you is vital to the creation of the art itself. 

So when the outside world invades this bubble - as it inevitably does, and sometimes sadly - must, those experiences often take on a surreal quality. Particularly so, for this assertive New Yorker 6,000 miles away from the comfort of 9 million other opinionated inhabitants of the Big Apple.

There was Dundee. Ah Dundee, where the fiercely independent (dripping with sarcasm) Sally Clay was denied access to a music club because she’s blind. Security were afraid the fine young and pissed Scots of Dundee would trip over her white stick! You can’t make shit like that up!

And there’s little ole’ me standing with the rest of the Raspberry posse shouting, “In America, Sally Clay would own this club after tonight!” Yes, I admit, Americans have a well-deserved rep for being a bit on the litigious side (although, I myself have never sued anyone).

Saunas and steam rooms have become my friends on this tour, particularly in Halifax and Liverpool, where I sit writing this blog. Or more precisely, middle-age men have become my friends in them. They congregate there, to discuss and debate everything from childcare to immigration to gastrointestinal distress.

You would think in such situations, I’d heed the words of my grandmother - something about being seen and not heard. I never could master that particular skill, so I found myself sitting amongst what must have been some of the broadest, hairiest, baldest and to my surprise, loveliest, blokes in England.

We got into a heated (pun intended) debate about immigration. We each said our piece and I emerged from the steam with a smile. If I had not spoken up, it would have been just another day in the sauna with a bunch of proper Yorkshire blokes. As if!

Manchester was a strange one. We played to sold out, enthusiastic audiences, one of whom was my soul sister in America, an actress/flight attendant who switched a trip to Paris for Manchester with another flight attendant so she could see the show.

Enter the volcanic ash cloud over England. All flights cancelled. My only connection to home was now grounded. Murphy’s (or Sod’s, as you say) Law. Oh well, the show must go on, right? The show begins, I look out into the audience and see my soul sister sitting third row center! That night the cast learned lots more about their feisty Yankee Raspberry. Be careful what you wish for!

Manchester will be forever etched in my memory, though, by the posh haircut Rupert gave me in the car park of the Premier Inn! In true NYC-girl form, I badgered him for weeks to come out of hiding—and I’m glad I did.

My hair is fab, albeit shorter than I had expected, and I think he may have even gotten a few requests the next morning from curious onlookers who saw the final results. Thanks Rupert—and Manchester!

No tour would be complete without a bit of drama, or in my case, trauma. Lesson learned: if you’re a spazz with knees that don’t bend, use extreme caution when being dumped from a rickety metal trolley onto a cold metal bench face first. If you’re not careful, you could end up spending the day in A&E trying to explain how you think you’ve broken your foot and why you can’t possibly go for an x-ray because you have a show in a few hours.

“Just wrap up my foot and I’ll come back tomorrow.” “Well, alright love, but we’re 99% sure your foot is broken and if you don’t get it sorted, you’ll have problems for life.” No irony, there, eh?  And so much for positive thinking.

I did go back the next day, had an x-ray, and didn’t break my foot. The best part? My first experience with the NHS was pretty damn good. Take that, America! And speaking of feet, to the lovely guy in Glasgow who felt cheated when he discovered after the show that I wasn’t “faking” but am really disabled (despite the fact that two of the other members of the cast have disabilities), I apologize that my droopy big toe was just that, and not a piece of brilliant acting. We can’t all be Daniel Day-Lewis, now can we?

With just five more shows to go until I say goodbye to Rita for now, my thoughts are down to two: to my Raspberry family – Alan, Andy, Deb, Garry, Gordon, Jamie, Jem, Jess, Liz, Liz, Sally, Stickman and Tanya.

Thank you all for sharing your immense talent, spirits, generosity and love with me. It has been a joy working with you and I’m truly honored to call you my friends.

And finally, on this, election day eve in this fine country, this assertive New Yorker is going to offer her humble opinion one more time. I’m keeping my fingers and droopy toes crossed for Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems!

Lots of Love,

Christine xxx

Keywords: access issues,disability art,theatre