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Behind the scenes: Working lunch - where the stars really dine out; Forget The Ivy or Le Caprice, when the nation's favourite entertainers have been acting up a storm, the on-set canteen is their refuelling stop of choice. From a circus to a top soap, we join the dinner queue and find out what it takes to satisfy a celebrity's appetite.

Byline: Beatrice Newbery

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

Where are we? In the temporary home of the wildly popular Cirque du Soleil, a travelling circus of people who do strange things with their bodies.

Why? We're here to hang out in their canteen, which is located behind the `artistic tent' (several mats occupied by bendy people surrounded by wigs, drums, hats, skipping ropes, bicycles and balloons) and to the left of the physiotherapy and laundry vans. The canteen, of course, is the most popular location.

What does it look like? The kind of marquee you might find at a low-budget wedding reception with, at one end, over-made-up `artistes' queueing for food.

Who's there? A stream of scary-looking performers, hungry after their two-and-a-half-hour matinee. Most are in dressing gowns to protect their costumes.

Any problems? The most difficult thing, apparently, is not smudging their make-up before the evening performance, so many of them look a little odd as they eat - mouth wide open and chin forward. `I have four colours on my lips so I have to be careful,' says the Master of Ceremonies. `I can't touch my hair either. It takes an hour to prepare. First I spray it white, then I paint it purple. It's rock solid.'

The contortionist has concerns of her own: `I throw up if I eat anything but fruit or salad. Sometimes I get greedy and eat pasta. When I put my legs behind my head, I feel my stomach turn...'

So who is the most bizarrely dressed? Probably the four Chinese diabolo throwers (a diabolo is a sort of top, thrown and caught with a rope) in silver leotards and tiny silver pointed hats, their faces painted white.

Celeb spotting? Er... a man who claims to have directed several episodes of Monty Python, who begged to go backstage after the show. But that's it really.

What's on the menu? Braised Dutch steaks, poached pork with horseradish, rice or penne with a veggie sauce, creamed leeks, green beans or celery, polenta or pumpkin and lentil soup. Note the absence of anything delicious or fattening. No wonder they all look so healthy. And depressed.

And the dish for the dog? One of the clowns complains that, `Ze pastries 'ere are dizguzting.' And the Chinese performers once marched into the kitchens to roll their own dumplings.

Who does the dolloping? The chefs are Dutch and move around with the circus. `We try to please 19 nationalities here,' says one, `but it's not easy being exotic when you have to cater for more than 150 people a day.' Dutch herrings, however, have been banned.

What about table politics? It's a bit cliquey. The French clowns sit together, looking exhausted. `If I sit wiz ze Russians, I get tired because I cannot understand a word zey say,' says one. `All zey do is play cards, but zey do 'old good vodka parties.'

Any other titbits? There are dark mutterings about a contortionist's `attitude problem'. She shouts at anyone who interrupts her warm-up - which seems fair. Why should she want anyone getting up her nose when she can feasibly do it herself?

How did they work up an appetite? The Russians were throwing one another into the air onstage, the Chinese juggled diabolos on bits of rope, two Canadians called Isabel were hanging from red ribbons high above the ground, while the clowns clobbered one another.

How does it compare with other canteens? `This is the best circus canteen,' says one clown. `No other circus has cooks who go everywhere with them. Normally people cook in their caravans. Here, we don't even have caravans - we're put up in hotels.'

Most popular meal? `Oh, probably the green salad with French dressing,' says a chef. `Stodge and acrobatics just don't mix.'

What are they going to do after lunch? Stay warm in the canteen, smoking (it calms the nerves and keeps the weight down). `I leave after my meal,' says one clown. `I need to sleep.' How he plans to do that with a twelve-inch quiff sticking out at right angles to his head is anyone's guess.

BAD GIRLS

Where are we? In a prison in Oxfordshire.

Why? We've been framed. No, not really. It's here that a new 16-part series of Bad Girls is being filmed.

What does it look like? Well, the derelict prison is made to look lived- in by the laundry hanging from the barred windows. The canteen looks like a couple of double-decker buses. Largely because it is. The food is dished out from a huge lorry trailer.

Who's there? Seventy crew, 26 extras, 11 members of cast and three directors. That's 80 people for breakfast and 100 for lunch. The caterers are relieved. `I did 1,500 when Ivanhoe was being filmed,' says head chef Karen.

Any problems? Lunch is late because a camera's broken down and filming has been delayed. The gas heater on the bus is leaking, so nobody dares light a cigarette, and it's freezing, so everyone's desperate for hot food.

Who's the most bizarrely dressed? Considering the whole thing looks like Porridge meets On the Buses, the award goes to an attractive young woman with black eyes and open sores on her face. She's an extra, playing a new inmate going through cold turkey (and she won't be the only one if the heater isn't fixed soon). The sores are Rice Crispies.

Celeb count? Oh, yes. There's Simone Lahbib (who plays lesbian officer Helen Stewart), Jack Ellis (the corrupt officer and bad boy, Jim Fenner), Josh Mitchell (the odd-job boy) and, of course, Tracey Wilkinson, who plays Di Barker, the mad prison officer who has an unhealthy obsession with her colleagues.

What's on the menu? Not porridge, surprisingly. Rather, fish pie, pork- and-leek sausages, beef stroganoff, cheese-and-spinach cannelloni, mashed and sauteed potatoes, peas and cabbage. Along the wall are vast bowls of colourful salads, fruit and bread. For pudding, try strawberry cheesecake or passion cake and custard.

And the dish for the dog? Instant coffee. As Jack and Simone finish their lunch, they slope off to the make-up artist's van to beg her for some real caffeine. `She's got a secret coffee machine, and we all go to her, the instant stuff is so disgusting,' says Jack.

Who does the dolloping? An all-girl team. `Men are surprised that we lug gas bottles and drive trucks,' laughs Karen. `We're like the A-Team.' But that's not all. Today, they were up at 6.30am and won't leave until 8.30 tonight.

What about table politics? One bus is for cast and crew, while the other is for extras. But separation isn't enforced and everyone piles in. `We all love each other,' says Tracey, almost meaning it.

Any other titbits? The best gossip revolves round what's happening in the next series. We can't say too much except that someone wipes the evil smile off Jim Fenner's face. But not for long. Oh, and in real life, Jim and barking Di are best of friends (if their habit of feeding and hugging each other is anything to go by).

How have they worked up an appetite this morning? A new inmate, an `It girl', arrived with a dozen paparazzi in pursuit, complaining that her expensive shoes hurt. Her pounds 700 Prada outfit is also `falling apart'. Bless.

Tracey spent 40 minutes having her straight hair curled (`Each time I get a little madder, my hair gets a little curlier,' she laughs), but in today's wind it's hard to keep anyone's hair under control.

How does it compare with other canteens? Favourably, even though most canteens don't have a steering wheel at one end, or a handbrake next to the dishwasher.

What are they going to do after lunch? Tracey's off shopping (`It's great having time on your hands between scenes to check out the shops'), while Jack Ellis is heading to the costume van for a new uniform (`Rather fetching, don't you think?') before going back to his hotel to learn tomorrow's lines. `I'll probably be lazy, though, and end up having a snooze and watching TV,' he says. Well, he is the Bad Girls' bad boy.

BROOKSIDE

Where are we? Number 43 Brookside Close, Liverpool.

What's it look like? Well, it's a real house of bricks and mortar which, like the other houses in the Close, was built solely for TV. Although the exterior features in the soap quite often, there's a big, bushy tree in front of the window so viewers can't see it's a fake.

Who's there? Loads of crew (naturally) and the soap's Murray family (the newest on the Close). `It's a Murray day,' says Diane, er... Murray (played by Bernie Nolan who, yes, is one of the all-singing, all-smiling Nolan Sisters). Anthony (Raymond Quinn) did the early-morning shoot and Adele (Katie Lamont) just turned up for a scene. Long-standing Brookie resident Jackie Corkhill (Sue Jenkins) makes a fleeting appearance.

Any problems? Eating anything that's vaguely slimming - which makes it difficult for Bernie, who says she's on a diet. `I try to bring in my own food and heat it up in the costume-room microwave,' she says, ordering more pie.

What's on the menu? It's stodge day, with beef-and-veggie pie, chilli con carne, chicken cordon bleu, mushroom ravioli, chips, chips and more chips. This is Liverpool, after all.

And the dish for the dog? Over-boiled carrots and dried-up sweetcorn. It's back to school for the cast of Brookside.

Who does the dolloping? Kathy and Irene, who have dolloped for Brookside for the past eight years. They've been required to cook in the dark (no lights allowed on in no 43 while they shoot), to cook in total silence (while they film next door), and to leave by running from tree to tree so as not to be caught on film.

What about table politics? The Murrays always sit together. `We all started on Brookside at once and spend most of our time filming together, so we're like a family in real life,' says Bernie. `I even feel maternal towards my fictional stepchildren.'

Any other titbits? How about when Susannah Morrissey died and had a body double made-up as though she had rigor mortis? `Every time she came into the canteen, she looked a bit more decomposed,' says Kathy. `It put everyone off their lunch.' Or how Marty and Diane Murray's real-life spouses try not to get jealous when the pair canoodle on camera. `We have lots of sex scenes at the moment,' says Neil Caple (Marty). `If I don't make my wife jealous, I think I'm not acting well enough.'

How have they worked up an appetite this morning? `I've been acting in episode 2,514!' says Neil. `It took three hours to film three minutes. We only have one camera, so if a conversation is seen from three angles, it means we've done it three times.' And something that needs to be exposed here: the path between Brookside Close and the Parade is a dead end. When characters walk down the path and then appear in the Parade, they've actually been driven halfway across Liverpool.

How does it compare with other canteens? Most of the cast can't remember any other canteen, they've been in Brookie so long.

Favourite meal: Chips and gravy.

What are they going to do after lunch? `We've only got two more scenes,' says Bernie. `We're so at home together it never takes long.'

CAPTION(S):

From far left: no, it's not a freak show, it's lunchtime at the Cirque du Soleil; after all that clowning around, a glass of wine is in order; the Master of Ceremonies chooses carefully - he's got make-up to protect. Below: try pulling this pose after a heavy lunchThe coffee's only instant, but at least it's hot. Far left: lunch is on the buses for the cast of Bad Girls
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 24, 2001
Words:1975
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