Starting a show by visiting Studio 5 was always a lottery You never knew quite what (or who) you’d find. There may be a rendition of Bulldog, albeit with Dwayne and Andrea missing; or a few characters huddled, quietly chatting; or just Claude, sat, reading a newspaper at the dressing table.
Sometimes, it would just be you and the set, and a silent black mask stood by the door as you pretended to be intensely interested in the shrine to their left before scuttling off to your next destination as if you always meant for it to happen that way.
But, if you were really lucky, there would be Frankie. Just Frankie. Standing alone on the stage. Fixing you with a blank stare before chasing the ghosts of Alice and Claude down the stairs.
And this descent? This was one of my favourite ways to start a show. There was something so intensely threatening about discovering the dark corridors of the basement all over again in his wake. His cries of “Hello?” echoing between the walls and along the spot-lit stretches outside the Temple room.
He’d be half cocky, covering up his nervousness with occasional bursts of that laugh. Each light giving him an opportunity to pause, his bravado slipping to reveal that he was just as unnerved by this place as any first-time visitor to the Studios. And there was that time his eyes fell on me and he stumbled over his own feet, yelping in surprise - whilst I jumped a mile in the other direction.
The empty expanse of chequered floor, air thick with smoke, low lighting. Nobody around. Except the to figures laid out, face down in front of the mural. Seeing them through Frankie’s eyes in that moment was always to see them for the first time. They’re not… real? Are they?
He hovers over one, building up the courage to nudge it with his foot. Then… nervous relief. The laugh again. Ringing out across the space. Him looking up, to meet the gaze of a solitary masked figure beckoning him to the main room. Waiting. Silently. Expectant. Chilling.
That first initiation each night - Frankie starting out with charm and some kind of gratitude at meeting the boss. Before being dragged along the floor, beaten with bats, an orange forced into his mouth. The spurt of juice into the air as he struggles to breathe. Stanford holding his nose.
Then pleading, stumbling and the horror as he finds a gun pointed into his face. BANG. No confetti this time round.
As the initiation masks are removed and his tormentors break into laughter. He pretends he’s alright. It might even be funny. Except it’s clear he’s broken. The price of being in the spotlight.
Taking a deep breath out in the corridor and dragging himself up the stairs back to Studio 5. The look on Romola’s face as he sends her on her way to Stanford, voice thick with warning. Back at the dressing room table, swigging from a bottle of champagne, sunglasses on. His mood deepens. He snaps at the Seamstress. “It’s bright being a star”.
It’s only when Wendy and Andrea show up that he remembers he has a part to play. He’s going to be a star, right? “You’re my wife Wendy!”, “Don’t try to stop me!” as he falls through the window, onto the bed. “Andrea! You’re hot! Like a fire raging in the sky!”. He barks.
He’s desperate to get this right. His patience with Wendy paper-thin, but all smiles and sparkling eyes to the camera. He’s performing.
Then, there’s Claude. Predatory, slithering. Just plain commanding.
And Frankie crouched in the window frame, shirtless, one arm raised above his head, lit from behind. Eyes smouldering. But he just looks like a child, playing at seduction.
Then there’s the chase. Frankie skipping ahead, to stand arms wide in front of the shrine. Against the wall at the bottom of the first set of stairs, his head ducking out from underneath Claude’s arms. Sprinting ahead before letting Claude catch him at the top of the final flight.
He beckons him, dares him to try again. But that empty stare as Claude starts to lick, or kiss, or bite his face betrays any notion that this is a harmless game.
Then it’s through the double doors at the base of the stairs. The complete discomfort in stepping into that slim corridor to be immediately faced by a full blown, animalistic ‘kiss’ - any chance of it coming across as sexy destroyed as Frankie’s eyes remain wide open in a dead, cold stare. It’s downright unsettling. Strangely repulsive.
Throughout this whole chase - I find myself transformed - I may have been sympathetically at Frankie’s side before, but now? I’m playing the same predatory role as Claude. Chasing down this rising star, implicit in the studio machine.
But then Claude is gone and before you know it, Frankie is hanging in the corridor, silhouetted in white light, arms straight out, feet off the floor. One of those moments which is seared in my brain - a defining image of the studios. A moment so perfect it took my breathe away each and every time.
My heart is always racing again by this point, and Frankie is borderline panicked as he tries to regain composure in Stanford’s dressing room. Gazing into the mirror, swigging a drink, taking a jacket from the coat rack.
He peers through the heavy curtains as the party starts to kick into gear - he’s a star! He deserves to be here! He throws punches at the air, preparing himself for a grand entrance. Arms flung wide again - this time triumphant - greeting Stanford as if he were not the man that scared him half to death just a little earlier.
As the orgy reaches its climax (sorry, couldn’t help it), it’s Frankie who is stood centre stage, Claude at his waist. Staring straight at Wendy as he punches the air. BFFFFT! BFFFFT!
Maybe after this he feels he’s part of the club - maybe he thinks that his seduction of Claude (as he sees it) has won him respect, or that he’s owed something. Trying to carry on, it is him who ends up slammed to the floor, Claude slithering and sliding over his body. Frankie rejected. Alone. Broken.
A fearful dash back upstairs and onto Claude’s board room table. One of the most incredible, heart-wrenching dances in the show. He’s fighting someone, his body writhing, being flung to the floor between punches by an invisible force. Is it Claude he’s fighting? Or the unstoppable power of the studios? Or his own troubled demons?
There’s suddenly blood. It used to just be smeared across a hand. In the final weeks it seemed to increase in quantity, wiped over his face, down his chest.
A scene that it took me many, many shows to finally see, but was so utterly worth the wait. Frankie slumped momentarily in a cinema chair as the horse flickers across the screen. That seagull hanging below the red velvet of the ceiling.
Then he’s leaning across to me “Good luck” he whispers. An award is announced and Frankie is suddenly smiling again, shaking the hands of everyone in that tiny cinema. Returning back to me, grasping my hand and imploring me to not be disheartened, it just wasn’t my year.
And no matter which Frankie I was faced by - stood up there, squinting in the bright light, reeling off his speech as blood dripped from his hand, or later, down over his face - I’d start to struggle to breathe and tears would rise in my eyes. My face, underneath my mask, forming into a stony look of horror as his joy and excitement crumpled and broke as he struggled to see.
Some towns are built of marble / some cities built on schemes / only one is built of magic / only one is built on dreams / my world … my world of Hollywood.
My face would stay frozen in empty horror as we piled into the Seamstress shop. (I never did work out what was really going on with those two). And, I’m not sure there was any moment of eye contact in the entire show more intense than having Jeepers Creepers sang at you in there.
Haunting, desolate, Frankie’s face emptied of all life. Until the t-shirt was pulled over his head and just a little glint started to creep back into his eyes, and the tiniest up-turned corner of a smile. His singing growing from a broken whisper into something a bit stronger. A dash through the seamstress maze and suddenly, there he is. Brand new Frankie. Like nothing ever happened.
Except that I know it did, because I was there. Yet, even having been through that, by the time Frankie was throwing cushions at Marshall, giggling as he chased him round the trailer park, you couldn’t help but let yourself fill up with hope and excitement - even though you knew exactly where this story was headed.
But the story ends for me there - with throwing cushions at Marshall - because that was my favourite way to spend time with Frankie, from the start of the show, until he transformed back into his start-of-loop self. I never wanted to have to watch him descend again.
As a note: All of this is the smushed together memories of loops spent with Conor, Daniel and Anwar. And a confession, for some reason, it took (err…) tens of shows before I dedicated many loops to Frankie - although I made up for it over the last several months as he took a place amongst my favourites.
In most moments I’m probably imagining Daniel. Though, there was nobody else so capable of stealing a scene with a well-timed shout or by bursting into song than Conor’s Frankie. And it was his scene in the cinema in the final weeks that I think I’ll always remember most vividly.
What an extraordinary post. I’d like to meet you and give you a hug. Thank you for capturing so much of what I loved about Frankie.