running away with the circus…

We recently caught up with David Carr, our Box Office Manager, who earlier this year spent a month working in France with a French circus company, Cheptel Aleikoum – their name simply translated to ‘welcome to the big top’. The work that David did was organised through PASS – a three year collaboration with eight French and English creation centres designed to support the development and touring of new contemporary circus funded through the Interreg programme.

David Carr
Credit: James Millar

Describe an average day working at Farnham Maltings.

It changes every day. I am always the first of the box office team to arrive at around 8.30 am. I open the shop, get the tills and floats ready, and clear the messages from the phone. Then we see what the day throws at us, it can be anything from a quiet day to a completely hectic day. The job isn’t just box office; it’s a reception and a general information point. People who don’t even use the building come to us as a sort of tourist information wanting information about the town which we happily give to them. Every day is different!

How did you become involved with the Cheptel Aleikoum?

I was asked by Fiona Baxter (Producer at Farnham Maltings) because they were looking to collaborate with British artists to join them on the last leg of Le Repas tour. They needed someone who could speak French and someone who was either a chef or keen on cooking. Fiona knew I loved cooking, knew that I loved France and knew that I like a challenge, and she asked me if I would like a go at being in the circus. At the age of 45, I thought why not?!

What was your role within the company?

I was one of the chefs in the show. A year before working on the show, I spent a week working with Frank, the head chef in the show. My first task was to change the menu, which is quite scary when you realise the ingredients in the menu are used in the show. I had to find a new recipe using virtually the same ingredients; I could add but not take away.

Can you tell me a bit about Le Repas?

Le Repas is French for ‘the meal’ and it’s an interactive circus show where everything revolves around food. During the show, the audience chop the ingredients to give back to the chefs who cook a meal whilst the show continues. At the end of the show, after the audience have had their three-course meal, they are all invited to help wash up. The acrobats are still performing above their heads, music is playing and Tricity, the other British company member sings and plays the ukulele, entertaining the audience while they wash up.

 Cheptel Aleikoum
Credit: James Millar

What meal did you cook for the audience?

The first course was typically French, a beetroot soup with a floating island of cream which gave us the theme for the menu, ‘the Tudors’. The beetroot represented the red rose and the cream for the white rose, with sprinkles of pine kernels representing the thorns of a rose, we called it ‘Tudor soup’. The main course was my own recipe, a Mediterranean chicken casserole but containing potatoes which Walter Raleigh brought back to Britain in the Tudor times. We called it ‘Poulet Walter Raleigh’ and it went down very well. The dessert was very French ‘mousse de patate douce’ which is a sweet potato mousse but we anglicised it. We called it ‘Eton mousse mess’ because it was a mixture of a French and English dessert, and also because Eton College was founded in the Tudor times.

What was your favourite moment of the show?

There was one artist called Toto who is a strong man and he had a solid iron ring which he would flick up and roll around his neck like a hoopla. This was a solid iron ring that took two other people to carry it! The skill was extraordinary; I always made sure I was in the big top to watch it.

What was it like living in a caravan for a month?

I hired a motor home in the UK and I picked up Tricity, the other British artist, and we drove over together. I am not a camping person; I’d never stayed in a mobile home or an anything like that before. It was a great experience and it became my little office for the month. I took my dog, Binky, with me. I still don’t think I roughed it though because we were well looked after; there was a separate tent for the whole troop to use which housed a kitchen, dining room, washing facilities. I only really used my motor home to sleep in.

Cheptel Aleikoum
Credit: James Millar

Where did you tour with the company?

There were four sites and the first three sites were in Normandy. We started off in Quettehou which is a little coastal village, really pretty and that’s on the North side of Normandy. We then drove to La Haye-Pesnel which was in the heart of the equestrian area so there were horses all around us. The last place in Normandy was St-Hilare-Du-Harcouët which was about another 70-80km further South. The very last date was not actually in Normandy at all, it was in Picardy in a place called Clermont. We travelled in convoy and the minute we went through any town the traffic came to a standstill because the lorries were so big. Another party had already planned the routes we could take. When I was out there I was talking to Toto who doesn’t speak much English and I said that in England we would call this a ‘well-oiled machine’. He loved that phase.

Was it helpful that you could speak French?

A lot of the company didn’t speak English. One of the members was from Quebec and spoke Quebecois, and also English which was very useful when we got a bit stuck. Tricity and I both speak reasonable French but for the first two weeks we tried to speak in French even if it was just the two of us. In the first couple of weeks, a lot of the peripheral talking especially around meal times was a bit like white noise. But after a week or two, you suddenly realise “ooo i know what they are talking about” or “I remember that”. By the end of the month, I felt totally confident with the language.

What’s next? Will you be working with Cheptel Aleikoum again?

I spoke to Mathieu (Mathieu Despoisse, Director of Le Repas), who I got on really well with and I jokingly said “if I am over in France and I see the show Le Repas, maybe I’ll do a quest appearance” and he said “You’d be so welcome!” By the time I left, I genuinely felt part of the community. I have made some great friends, people I will definitely stay in touch with. I certainly wouldn’t feel the slightest bit of hesitation in going back if they needed me.

6 thoughts on “running away with the circus…

  1. Well done David – a most interesting interview if you are going to do the cooking at a French evening with some music or something – we will be there in the Riverside cafe –

  2. June Chilton
    on said:

    David, your talents just seem to go on and on. You appear to have had a great time with the French circus, and they would be mad not to invite you back. You do indeed make a fantastic ambassador for the UK.

  3. elly kellard
    on said:

    So interesting to hear of this project.Who’d have thought David,we see you most Wednesdays and had no idea.Very inspiring for a 48 year old cooking enthusiast and her French speaking friend!

  4. h.dumoulin@talktalk.net
    on said:

    Most interested David, thanks for sharing your story with us- Hans

  5. What a wonderful experience. Perhaps Cheptel Aleikoum could come to the Maltings sometime in the future?!

  6. How fantastic! Well done David! We missed your cheery smile while you were away. Will Le Rapas be performed over here?