Tony Penultimate

There's a bit in Michael Jackson’s Thriller where he turns to his girlfriend and says “I’m not like other guys” and I’ve often felt the same way, when I board an aeroplane. 

Let me explain….

I work as a musician, I play the ukulele and I sing with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain - we play over 100 shows each year all over the world. During the past ten years we’ve played at Carnegie Hall in New York, the Albert Hall in London and the Sydney Opera House in, well, Sydney; - in 2016, we even played for the Queen’s 90th private birthday party at Windsor Castle! 

I love playing and singing, but I find travelling very BORING, its also very UNCOMFORTABLE as I am very tall 6’8” (2.05M) and we spend a LOT of time on planes. 

In 2015, while touring the US, I decided to remake Bob Dylan’s famous Subterranean Homesick Blues entirely in airline toilets (its the one where he peels off the signs). It took 14 flights to get enough footage for the film and making it was fun, but even when it was finished, I felt there was more work I wanted to do in this particular ‘area’.

So I founded my own theatre company, the Airline Toilets Theatre Company (ATTC) and started filming myself, in airline toilets, performing famous speeches, songs and soliloquies. Every time I took a fight, I would head to the toilets after takeoff and get to work.

It was a cramped space to work in . As far as film making goes, it was pretty basic, an iPhone stuck to the mirror, no lighting, no retakes, no make up and certainly no star tantrums. But I enjoyed the challenge of making my own entertainment, especially while others were supinely staring at their cigarette pack sized tv screens. It wasn’t easy and involved a lot of planning: - there are few environments in the world more tightly controlled and regulated than that of a commercial aircraft and I really wanted to do a project around constriction, restriction, authority. 

And the results were what you’d expect; funny, stupid, sweet, sad, boring……….but hanging over it all was the threat of being busted, the chilling thought of the door being broken down, and being seized by the scruff of the neck and frogmarched up the aisle (dressed as Elvis or Shakespeare) to be questioned by the captain and the ignominious shame and disgrace of my fellow passengers. You’ve heard about people who have a phobia of flying, well I had an entirely different sort of paranoia.

After a while, I discovered that, the riskier the project (i.e. dancing with an inflatable partner, riding a horse)

the better the results, thus confirming what a writer friend had told me, that the project “contained all the thrills of being a suicide bomber, but without the deaths”.

It was also appealing, because it harked back to an earlier era where people had to make their own entertainment and while the project may have been mischievous, technically, I wasn’t doing anything illegal. A quick search on the internet revealed another artist working in this ‘field’  Nina Katchadourian who had made superb montages of 17th century Dutch paintings from toilet paper in toilets on her travels from New Zealand to the US. I however, would be working on shorter European hops where speed was more important than acting chops.

As the months passed and more films got made, I realised the project was a kind of jet set mid life crisis that involved several interesting metaphors: hadn’t plain old Clark Kent, used a telephone kiosk to undergo a metamorphosis into Superman?  Hadn’t Ancient Egyptian initiates enacted the rebirth of Osiris in a small chamber? Hadn’t the alchemists of old used a crucible to transmute base metal into gold?

Whoa horsey! Steady on!

I was definitely witnessing a change in myself, for a start, I was becoming a smooth and practiced liar: - upon the discovery of a plastic skull in my hand luggage (a prop for Hamlet) at Zurich airport, I smiled reassuringly at the security guy:- “I’m a doctor”.

When challenged by a steward, why I was taking a large bag of clothes into the toilets (The Impossible Dream - five costume changes) I fixed him with a stare and said:- “I have haemorrhoids and need to change my trousers FAST!”

Even exiting the toilet (pre takeoff) with an un inflated horse costume under my track suit, plus as I later discovered - a wire hanging down from my trousers (for the battery pack to inflate the horse) I came face to face with a stewardess, who smiled quizzically? 

I remembered a college friend, a smooth charmer who had told me the secret of his success with women lay in the simple fact that he would look right into their eyes and smile……..BUDDAH BING! I made it back to my seat without a problem. 

After almost a year of filming, I had made 12 short films to which I added a trailer and a “Making of” and thats what I put up over Christmas 2016 . I also made some money for Streetlink a homeless charity that uses mobile technology to locate and help rough sleepers access services to which they are entitled.

So there you have it.  

Part performance art prank, part mid life crisis, part comment on the madness of modern day touring.  Thank you for watching.

CLICK HERE to view the complete Airline Toilets Theatre Company Playlist

I wrote a short piece about my latest film