So tonight we open in Chesham with “The Unexpected Guest” by Agatha Christie.
I am playing a dreamy poetical Welsh police sergeant who is, naturally, investigating a mysterious murder. Aside from reading poetry (not the first time I’ve done that in a play recently) I am also caught writing it, but the audience is delivered no more than a couplet of this (fine?) poem.
I was given a challenge (by James of course) to finish the poem and I have done so in a way I think my character would have created it.
Of course, if you want to know who the murderer actually is…well you’ll have to see the show because I am certainly not going to tell you.
Tis misty in November
But seldom in December,
The fogs that fill the valleys soon disperse.
After the mists of midnight
They fade away in sunlight
Only to be replaced with something worse.
The deeds of men inspected
Too dark to be reflected
Are revealed to us when the fog has gone.
We seek the true solution
To give people resolution
And let the injured parties lives move on.
© Sergeant Cadwallader (CMB)
It’s such a fearful play.
– It’s a marvellous part.
While I have mentioned this show already, it certainly deserves a post to itself.
It was suggested* to me that I go to the audition for this, which was being put on by a group I knew nothing of but was reasonably nearby.
To my amazement I walked away with a part, playing ‘Sorel’ the daughter of the retired actress (Deja vu anyone)?
What a lovely opportunity to work with the most friendly and welcoming people, to improve my Parisian geography (the Rue Saint-Honoré does not lead into the Place de la Concorde) and to have the fun of being a stroppy and rather sarcastic teenager every night.
The set was wobbly but functional (and importantly the staircase was rock solid) and looked great. The costumes were lovely (I had two beautiful dresses and got to wear my silky pyjamas in act three) and thankfully there was a lovely makeup lady to make sure we all looked great.
Thanks too, to the Stage Manager, particularly for their liberal use of white gaffer tape and ever entertaining dressing room calls. It was all much appreciated.
What fun then to act in such a wonderful play.
Of course, while the cast were wonderful and the audience clearly appreciative they reserved the biggest laugh every night for the comedy moment with the barometer, a feat of comedic timing performed by the youngest member of the crew (who may just happen to be my daughter).
So what a wonderful time, putting on a great play, and how lovely to make new friends, who were so welcoming to the very shy newcomer to the group.
*Insisted is far more accurate. But James dragged me to the auditions and got made Stage Manager for his trouble, so that seems fair. 😉
Taming of the Shrew was always going to be a challenging show to put on but we were fortunate to have a great team to do it with. Our leading protagonists were fantastic, our technical team likewise. The cast were all enthusiastic and involved, and the costumes were amazing.
We were fortunate too, to have a professional actor come and run some acting workshops with us including working on specific scenes.
As a servant (Curtis) I had little to do other than one gloriously slapstick scene however any thoughts of putting my feet up in the dressing room for the rest of the night were scuppered when (to my delight) I was asked to help with scene changes along with another of the servants (Biondello).
The set was minimal, although one set of those of shutters actually opens. My job was largely to move chairs, tables and the occasional signpost (which way is Pisa)?
Thus my evenings were full from walking on in the opening number to the final bows.
Yes, I did say “opening number”. To replace the original framing which sets the piece as a play within a play we opened with “Another Op’nin’ Another Show” from Kiss Me Kate. Thus as a troupe of travelling players we put on a show.
Singing, dancing, acting, crewing; I had a little bit of everything to do and what fun it was.
©James McCann (@MovingScenes)
I’ve just got a part in my next show. It’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.
Now before I go on, I should point out that the last Shakespeare play I was in, I played the part of a servant. Then of course there was my role in the pantomime where apart from the joys of being a dragon I was also, yes, yet another servant; this time a boy. Well it was pantomime after all.
So here I am, fresh from audition, cast as…yes, a servant and (this being Shakespeare) a male one at that.
Now, I’m actually quite happy about this. It’s going to be a lot of fun to do and I intend to enjoy every second; but it does tend to make one wonder.
At what point do I start to question why directors look at me and think ‘servant’ and even more interestingly ‘boy’. I did, admittedly, want to be a boy when I was eleven but nature made it quite clear that I didn’t have the genes for that; or, it turns out, the singing voice, although I guess an alto isn’t the ‘girliest’ of voices either.
Indeed what with my geeky tendencies, short hair, lack of makeup and general failure to wear dresses (unless they are ball gowns) maybe I fit the ‘boy’ mould better than I thought.
Hmmm, maybe I should worry more about ‘servant‘!
This year’s pantomime was a slightly unusual Victorian style affair. The songs were old music hall numbers, surprisingly tricky to learn and sing. The run started with a degree of apprehension, even the director seemed less than one hundred percent confident in it all after the last dress rehearsal.
Yet, somehow in front of an audience it all came together beautifully. Lines were remembered, cues delivered. The village idiots built their part every night providing wonderfully light relief. The audience actually joined in with some of the songs. The special effects, especially the flying car drew applause and even more importantly proved that there is a good use for PowerPoint!
I found myself playing an interesting array of parts. In what might be considered typecasting I was once again a servant (this time male – yay for panto) who spent most of his time running away from the Dame. One hundred years in the future (you remember the plot of Sleeping Beauty I hope) I was a futuristic senator with the ability to produce a surprising array of items from up my sleeves.
Best of all though, I was the head of a wonderfully impressive dragon although sadly I lost the fight with the Prince every night. How is that fair?
And so, with a happy ending every night, a happy cast and crew and an equally happy audience, we put on quite a show.
Header photo ©James McCann (@MovingScenes)
While as a theatre company we are temporarily homeless (while the theatre is refurbished) we have made the most of it by putting on an outdoor production of Much Ado About Nothing.
© David Bright
We’ve certainly had fun with it. The director chose to play up the physical humour of it, leading to my best moment as the servant (a minor part cobbled together from odd lines from the boy, messenger and Ursula) having been sent in search of a book which Shakespeare seems to have forgotten to mention again. In our version I returned with it and attempted to give the book to Benedick while he was hiding and he mouthed something quite rude at me in response. Proving that a reasonable number of people in the audience can lip read swear words! In case you’re wondering, the book in question is a ‘Complete Works of Shakespeare’, what else?
Mine was not the only character playing up the humour though and the resultant effect was to get laughs throughout, as well as boos for Don John (the villain) and some lovely ‘ahs’ for the main protagonists’ kisses.
Surprisingly the rain held off the performances (more important to the actors who would have got wet than to the audience under cover) and the weather was kind. Although it is still, I point out, possible to get very cold while standing around outside in the dark waiting to go on.
The audiences were kind, appreciative and plentiful. The crew were amazing, given the extra effort required to build seating and cable up a huge area from generators to lights and sound plus the extra demands on front of house when it is suddenly several hundred yards from the entrance to the auditorium. The director was wonderful and much appreciated.
It was an amazing thing to be part of. I’d got involved because I’d never ‘done’ Shakespeare and I wanted to give it a go. Having had an amazing time I’d definitely do it again, even outdoors, or possibly especially outdoors.
Curtain call photo © elmspetition.org.uk
I always enjoyed doing exams. There’s something tangible to aim for, a time to perform to the best of your ability and then it is over and you can relax.
Exams seem to bring out the best in me, to the extent that I recall being returned one of my marked exam papers in middle school and reading through the neatly written, and ticked as correct, answer to one question and thinking “but I don’t even know that”.
It occurs to me that drama is very similar.
For each play you work, learn and revise but in the end there is one chance to get it right (even where that chance also occurred yesterday and will occur again tomorrow). There is one moment to entertain that audience, many of whom will see only that performance, and what matters is that you give them the best show you can.
There’s also a similar pressure to auditioning. I recently auditioned for some Shakespeare. I’d prepared for the audition, pored over the script, and went in keyed up, wanting to do my very best.
After the audition was over I felt such a wonderful sense of happiness and calm. I’d done my part, and I felt I did myself justice, but now it was down to the director.
So I waited to hear, as I have waited for exam results over the years, untroubled but hopeful.
As it happens, I have in fact been given a ‘bit part’, so that’s another chance to perform under (a little bit of) pressure to come.
Which one of you lot is going to tell me the end of this fairytale?
It Runs In The Family is a fantastic play. Incredibly well written, the script had us chuckling from the first read though. Add in the exuberant physical comedy of a farce and you have something truly wonderful.
The set was awesome. Solid enough for several cast members to climb on, over and through, and with the constant battering of a wheelchair and a hospital trolley we did more harm to the theatre (ssh!) than the set. It looked fantastic and gave us a real sense of place; plus the attention to detail was delightful. For instance, it was hard while on the phone not to be distracted by the fascinating contents of the noticeboard. Especially as some of those Christmas cards are actually addressed to me.
Although words had been a constant challenge to some of the cast throughout rehearsals, for the performances we all pulled together to keep the show flowing smoothly. The audience laughed and laughed and in some cases joined in with the joke (‘hello, hello…’).
Really, I cannot adequately express how much fun it was. With a friendly cast, a great crew and a fantastic director, it’s been an absolute joy from beginning to end.
Our pantomime is over,
This story of Snow White…
And before you know it, it really is over. In the way of all shows the run has gone by incredibly quickly but there are some things that make this panto very special:
- It was my first performance in a pantomime.
- It was the longest run I have ever done (12 shows). I would happily have done more.
- I was less nervous than I have ever been about performing. Having only four lines meant I was almost completely free of stage fright. Singing and dancing is somehow different from acting (probably because it wasn’t solo).
- I loved the non-performance parts of my role, both being a ‘cauldron wrangler’ (while simultaneously being a dancer) and managing the microphones backstage.
In short, I had fun and that makes all the effort worthwhile. That and the enthusiasm of our audiences of course. I think they had fun too and that really makes it worthwhile.
Somehow the year has flown by and here we are less than a month away from Christmas and, even more scary, only a week away from our pantomime.
Pantomime fascinates me. It relies so heavily on the enthusiasm and involvement of the audience, which makes rehearsals the only ones in which shouting from the stalls is actually encouraged. It also involves so many different components, not least of which for me is the singing and dancing.
I am occasionally frighteningly aware that I haven’t danced ‘properly’ in nearly a quarter of a century and I can’t help feeling that my memory was better then. Still, I’m having a wonderful time. Dance rehearsals are tiring but incredibly satisfying. Add in the singing and I appear to have taken on an immense challenge but it’s one I’m enjoying.
It remains to be seen whether I can simultaneously dance, sing and smile on the night, but believe me, I’ll be having fun. Oh, yes I will.