Putting the memories to bed

“All this will be gone soon… the room will go probably.”

And so it did. On Sunday morning, after just a few hours sleep, the cast and crew of The Memory of Water assembled at the theatre to take down the set; dismantle the now infamous bed that has dominated my recent posts; strike the green tin box with chrysanthemums on it, the joints and the other props; tidy the dressing room; clear up the bar and clean the toilets. Yes, really – that’s what being part of a production at The Priory Playhouse in Arundel is all about.

I feel so fortunate to have been involved in The Memory of Water; being drawn into it through a whole series of coincidences.

I found out that it was being produced locally when talking to the director at another production at The Priory Playhouse. I asked to read the script, prior to auditions. It only took a few pages of reading to fall in love with the play, and specifically with the character of Mary – the challenge of such an intense yet still comedic role would be such a contrast to my usual portrayal of the ditsy or – in the words of Mother-in-Law of Mine – tarty, character in any piece.

Just two days after devouring the play cover to cover, the monthly e-newsletter from the fabulous Theatre by the Lake in Keswick arrived in my in-box. Keswick, in Cumbria’s Northern Lake District, has always been a favourite place of mine – it’s where Husband of Mine and I, and now The Family, do most of our ‘serious’ walking. We had already booked a week in August, going with In-Laws of Mine and staying in a Victorian house in Stanger Street. And The Memory of Water was on, for just the one night, during the time we were there. I think I phoned the box office straight away. And then asked (nicely but firmly) if the In-Laws could stay in that night to look after Children of Mine; fortunately they said yes.

So I saw the play for the first time in the intimate atmosphere of the Studio at TBTL, and laughed and cried alongside the rest of the full house that Monday night. Then in the interval, there I was, three hundred and sixty-five miles away from my home town, part way through watching a play that I knew I would be auditioning for in the autumn, and I bumped into a couple who I have acted with, and been directed by, at The Priory Playhouse. They were seeing the production in the main house that night, but were going later that week to see TBTL’s The Memory of Water.

Audition day: I read for the parts of both Mary and Catherine. At the end, the director asked if I had a preference for either part. I gabbled something about really, really wanting to play Mary, but that as I already loved the play so much, I just wanted to be in it, so not to let that rule me out completely if she saw me as one of the other female characters. I got the part of Mary, and the other roles were filled by wonderfully talented actors – and friends – old and new.

Rehearsals were hard work, but immensely fun, with some deep discussions with the cast and our fantastic director about characterisation really making the whole process emotional, thoughtful and creative.

“You do this deliberately, you wilfully misinterpret what we do because you think it’s funny or something…” – Teresa
“You put words into my mouth… you in particular, you mangle everything into something else.” – Vi
“And you just look irritated. You’ve no patience with me. No tolerance.” – Vi
“Sometimes when I’m talking and I know you’re not really listening…” – Vi
“…looking so bloody superior.” – Teresa
“…her breathtaking, fucking arrogance.” – Teresa

For me, it was as much these comments about Mary by the other characters, as it was her own dialogue, that gave me a huge head start when thinking about the characterisation – I was able to draw on my recollections of someone in my past who I think had traits that I wanted to bring out in my interpretation of Mary. Not, obviously, someone I’m in touch with now.

Saturday night’s final performance brought a strange mixture of emotions – the ‘high’, that any performance gives; the ‘low’, when it actually sinks in that the current production has come to an end. I hung around at the theatre that night until the last possible moment, drove home incredibly slowly (for me) and, after banging on all week as Mary about just wanting “another hour’s sleep”, felt wide awake and unable to go to bed.

Which brings me to the next set of coincidences. Saturday, 27th March was World Theatre Day and I had been following the folk at the World Theatre Day blog on Twitter. So Saturday I joined in with tweeting by mentioning how I was celebrating WTD10 – by appearing in The Memory of Water. Within minutes I had a good luck message from them, and later that day I was exchanging thoughts with an actor and director in Canada, Trilby Jeeves, who was fresh from directing her own production of the play.

Checking Facebook at 1am is probably not a great idea, but it did mean that I also saw that the Theatre by the Lake had succumbed to Twitter. Another coincidence, which meant I couldn’t resist sending a 140 character version of the story above to them, resulting in a lovely reply on Sunday.

My final glance at Twitter led me to the final coincidence and back to my new-found Canadian tweeter to read her blogpost for the day – World Theatre Day and More! – in which she salutes her own cast and crew for The Memory of Water. Spookily, she was celebrating with them that very night; I posted a comment, and discovered the next morning she had read it out to cast and crew. As she says in reply: “… how fitting we meet on World Theatre Day with the merging, across the nations, of our experiences of “The Memory of Water.”

And as for the tin box, full of memories from another generation, well I’m not sure it’s green or has chrysanthemums on it. It’s probably not at the back of the airing cupboard either… but I know it’s waiting for me to open it. One day.

A Fisherman’s Friend or a Drunken Sailor?

Husband of Mine bought me some mints the other day from Café Nero. He said he’d been on the look-out for small, flat mints for me for some time now, to refill a beautiful, but very thin, art deco tin that was given to me as an after-show present for a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. It’s the kind of thoughtful thing he does well; seeking out things that I’ve mentioned in passing. Take The Monolith Monsters DVD, for example.

Anyway, the mints are thin enough to fit inside, so there I was last night shaking one out of the tin during the interval at the dress rehearsal for The Memory of Water. Now, mints might come in handy for this play, for obvious reasons in Act I; but are definitely a necessity during the interval to get rid of the nasty taste of the herbal tobacco that is in the roll-ups that are passing as our spliffs.

Charming On-Stage Lover asked me if they were Fisherman’s Friends, probably, I thought, fearing that I was germ-infested, but actually because he’d seen earlier on in the day that I’d become a fan of a Facebook group for Fisherman’s Friends.

Ah, but those little menthol lozenges are singular – Fisherman’s Friend – which probably refers to the fact that one can’t stomach more than one at a time. You can probably guess from that comment that I would never become a fan of original extra strong Fisherman’s Friend, singular.

No, the Fisherman’s Friends, of whom I have become just one of their 850 fans (and counting), are most definitely plural – a 10-strong group of male singers from Port Isaac in Cornwall who I saw on BBC Breakfast yesterday morning. They have been catapulted into the spotlight because of a £1m recording contract for their harmonic sea shanties and folk songs, with which they have been entertaining Cornish pub goers for the last fifteen years. 

Good for them, I thought, when I saw the interview. I hope their story will be inspiration for The Renegade Dogs, who last week returned, flushed with success, from their first proper gig at the village local.

I will be buying their music.  The Fisherman’s Friends, I mean.  Not The Renegade Dogs – I get that played to me live, for free, and pretty much on request. But I do want to get the music of Julian, John, Jeremy, Trevor, John, Billy, Nigel, Peter, John and Jon from Cornwall, as I am a sucker for male voices singing in harmony. I’ll also probably be buying it on CD, even though I have just read an article online that suggests that the only people who buy CDs in preference to downloading their music are the over-50s (and I’m not there yet).

There’s something satisfying about a CD collection particularly in the genre that most of mine fall into, namely musicals. Satisfying I suppose in the same way that folk of a different certain age reminisce about their collection of LPs and 78s. Where’s the satisfaction in owning just the digital music files to a musical without the associated blurb so often found bundled with the CD: lyrics, synopsis, director’s notes, cast list? Okay, so one could argue that it’s all available online, to look up at a moment’s notice. But it’s just not the same, is it?

Yet I’m not denying it is useful. Now that everything is online I was able to check instantly that thankfully the forthcoming CD doesn’t feature a Fisherman’s Friends rendition of ‘What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor?’, although there is a YouTube clip of them performing this very sea shanty.  Husband of Mine has an as yet unresolved aversion to that particular song – he doesn’t know why he can’t bear it, but it sends a shiver down his spine if he hears so much as one bar of the refrain.

As a song, I’m rather indifferent to it really, I can take it or leave it.

But if forced to choose? I know I’d rather have my very own minty version of a Fisherman’s Friend than a Drunken Sailor.

Snogging, blogging and online trainspotting

The last week of rehearsals for The Memory of Water is in full swing now and the cast is working hard to perfect the finer details for the already sold out houses.   I think I’m right in saying that Charming On-Stage Lover and I even got a ‘highly commended’ from the Director for the finer details of the new, unrehearsed action on page 30 last night.

I just feel there’s something missing from my off-stage relationship with Charming On-Stage Lover.  It’s been reduced, not in a detumescence kind of way, but in the ‘how-was-your-day-have-you-seen-any-good-films-lately-how-are-the-Small-People-and-Her-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed’ kind of way.  There’s just not the time for normal conversation; no time to chat or exchange pleasantries before 25 pages have gone by and he’s knocking at the window like Heathcliffe (or was it Cathy?). 

Hence why snogging and blogging seems to be our only contact at the moment.  We haven’t even had time to discuss the blogging face to face – the conversations have all been keyboard to keyboard like online trainspotters who sit at their computer wearing grey shoes, drinking something alcoholic with a deranged look on their faces.  (Yes, there is actually a site for online trainspotting – why not try it out?  There’s no alcohol though, just a nice cup of tea on offer.  Accept at your own risk.)

Ah well, maybe we’ll have time to talk after The Memory of Water.  And before this year’s 24 Hour Musical, when we’ll both be awake from Friday morning to late on Saturday night in the name of raising money for a very worthy charity.

My hope for this year’s musical is that it’s about what I’m used to.  A bed.  That way I won’t even have to get up.

So how about Bedknobs and Broomsticks?  No? 

What about Hair, with its song that pays tribute to an old mattress?  No – even more clothes to take off than in The Memory of Water

Other songs sung on a bed are… oh no, I’ve got that sinking feeling…

… ‘My Favorite Things’.  That’s it.  The Sound of Music.  Charming On-Stage Lover and I will be transported back to 1983 and our first production together.   

Suddenly there is meaning where there was none before.

Race to Which Mountain?

Here I am again.  Children of Mine are now in bed.  Husband of Mine has gone to the local pub with his ukulele and the other half of The Renegade Dogs to launch their new career as folk singers and buskers.  There are a hundred things I could or should be doing: including sitting down for the first time this week in a comfy chair, in front of a roaring fire, with something decent on the telly and a glass of wine in my hand (or more likely, a nice cup of tea).  But instead I’m sitting at the computer, adding some more memories to this growing collection.

Actually, this could become a bit of a competition.  You see, Charming On-Stage Lover has been so inspired by my collective ramblings that he has decided to start his own online memory box, wittily entitled ‘Better Offer?‘.  Let’s hope he doesn’t get one before opening night.

I’m actually quite flattered that he’s taken the time to read and digest my musings, and delighted too that, like Artist Masquerading as a Manager did for me, I’ve provided the inspiration for him to start on his own creative journey.  

In his blog, he makes reference to the coincidence of his very first performance on stage in The Sound of Music being not only the opening inspiration for my blog, but also being our first show together.  I was a mere child at the time, and dressed in a nun’s outfit to boot, so back then we would have had no inkling that we would ever end up playing opposite each other in quite the current manner.  It occurred to me though that we have been in many productions together over the years, and it’s going to be really interesting seeing how our individual recollections of these times differ.

So perhaps a blogging race might develop over the coming days, weeks or months?  Perhaps it won’t.  Certainly not if it involves me having to get all my scrapbooks out of the roof.   Not just yet, eh?  I had heard a rumour that summer was on the way… and surely sorting out the roof is an autumnal activity?  So in the absence of The Sound of Music memorabilia from 1983, I thought it fitting to concentrate on adding a page for a more recent reincarnation of me in a habit – playing Sister Robert Anne in composer Dan Goggin’s Nunsense.

Theatrical rivalry?  Never.  Shared memories and blogging tips and tricks?  Of course.  And I’m always saying I could do with a tame IT professional. 

But who will lead the way up the blogging universe that towers above like a formidable mountain?  The answer is to leave you with the memory of the opening moments from the film version of The Sound of Music – a sunny alpine meadow, Maria twirling, arms outstretched. 

But where is she? 

Why High On a Hill, of course.

My creative journey: The ‘other’ phallic phase…

My theory worked.  Sunday’s blog post got the highest traffic on this site so far.  And I’m guessing that it was to do with a certain word in the title …

Actually, on my way home from rehearsal, I did wonder if I’ve got people a tad confused with my description of the phallic phase in my creative journey. You see, I have a more pressing phallic phase going on at the moment; the painting was a mere distraction during my hours at work that begs more exploration when I have time.  The other phase is with the afore-mentioned Charming On-Stage Lover in the production of The Memory of Water (and for those who want to be specific, check out the stage directions on page 32) .

I am playing the central character, Mary.  Although I’m probably competing with a bed for that honour.  The central focus of the set; the bed seems to play a silent, yet symbolic role of its own, with our characters sitting on it, lying on it, kissing on it, standing on it, smoking dope and drinking whisky whilst on it, crying on it, laughing on it, finding things in it, and revealing their innermost thoughts while slumped against it.

I spend the first 20 or so pages trying to sleep, before giving up and getting out of bed for a while.  But by page 27 I’m back there, and trying to avoid being intimate with my married boyfriend in what is, after all, my dead mother’s bed.

The company I am performing with are lucky enough to have their own 77-seater theatre and so we have the luxury of being able to not only rehearse in our performance space but also to see the set coming to life around us.

When I got to rehearsal on Monday night the bed had evolved yet again.  Made to measure to fit the stage by our talented set designer, the bed had started off as a basic slatted bed frame, uncomfortable to sit on, let alone lie on.  The only soft furnishings we had to hand in the early weeks of rehearsals were a scratchy old blanket, the kind that left tiny fibres on anything that touched it; and the seat cushions from the theatre bar.  Gradually the bed was transformed by our fantastic team; its first layer – a mattress – making a welcome appearance, followed fairly quickly by a layer of duvet and pillows.  Then on Monday, a flowery sheet, duvet cover and textured scatter cushions were added as a final decorative layer.  This has completed the bed’s distinct look and allowed the final transparent layer to settle on the room –  the ghost of my character’s mother who lingers until Mary’s traumatic secret is revealed.

So it seems I need to do my damnedest to upstage the bed.  Although, as Charming On-Stage Lover’s character would say, “It’s all complete bollocks, of course. Except…”

“Except what?”

All those layers on the bed make pages 27-32 a lot more comfortable.

Back to the ’80s part 2

The years have been kind...

Well, what a surreal night it was last night, as well as lots of fun!

Meeting people I hadn’t seen in over 22 years was a really weird experience. Drifting towards the Cross in Chichester in ones and twos, there were squeals of delight as we each recognised first one face and then another.

Our first stop was The Hole in the Wall, one of the old haunts of our college days.  Some of the crowd hadn’t been to Chichester in a long while and commented on the pubs that had been lost in the city since our college days – The Punch House in East Street, now a clothing shop; and The Hogs Head and The White Horse in South Street, now turned into bland gastropubs.

Once in The Hole in the Wall we settled down to deliver our monologues – potted histories of the last 20 or so years since leaving college – in true theatrical style, accompanied by raucous laughing and much applause after every act.

The tag cloud of our diverse conversations would look something like this:

22 years!     amdram   band    bar    Brighton    Chichester     coming out    Crawley    disabled    Discovery    drinking   dropped out    family trauma     gay    illness    India    job    kibbutz    kids    lesbian    Little Britain Live    MA    marriage     messed up    Mountview    police radio     Private Lives retail management     Romeo & Juliet separation    sex change     Sir Paul McCartney    smoking    social work     stage combat    stage management    Sweet Charity    sword fighting    Taj Mahal   theatre    twat hat    Veejay

We then continued this very lively exchange of shared memories at Pizza Express, which to us was the epitome of style in the late 80’s (and probably the only place we could afford, other than the café in A&N).

But as I’m standing here typing this (did I mention I do most of my writing standing in the kitchen whilst preparing gourmet feasts for The Family?), I’m thinking, yes, I was genuinely pleased to see all of them last night, as I hope they were to see me;  and to hear about the directions their lives have all taken.  But where does it go from here?  Yes, we have some great shared memories (although mine seem to be sketchier than most), but how will our good intentions of staying in touch stand up when we’re back in our separate lives with all the demands those lives place on us?

As one of the guys said to me, “I barely remember you – I mean, I don’t think we were best buddies – were we?”.  And that’s probably a fair comment.  We were on a performing arts course together, all of us seemed to enjoy it very much at the time, and when looking back on it last night.  But only one has actually made a living out of it – going to drama school to train as a stage manager and then having what seems to have been a fairly fulfilling career so far.  One thing this guy did say though that saddened me somewhat was that he no longer enjoyed going to the theatre, seeing it as a busman’s holiday and that he resented paying the going rate to effectively do something he did when he was “at work”.  I do understand this, but it has reinforced my belief that I made the right choice all those years ago to not follow the bright lights of theatreland with the vague hope of making it my living.  To not feel moved by the power of theatre would, for me, be a huge disappointment.

Another thing that surprised me was that very few of my peers had continued with acting in any way as a hobby.  Most had used elements of what they had learned in the course of their ‘normal’ jobs – presentation skills, confidence etc.; one had done some work with stage combat and fighting; another had recently started teaching at local stage school and was part of a developing band.  Most cited a lack of time, demanding jobs and working patterns as getting in the way of any creative leanings they still may have.  One said to me that it was really good to look through my Facebook pages and see show after show listed (of course that has the reverse effect on my non-theatrical friends who do think I’m a bit barmy and very single-minded).  Once again though I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be able to put as much time and effort into what I do as a hobby – The Family are very understanding and they know I know I take them for granted… and for that I’m sorry… but they also know I wouldn’t be ME if I stopped.

So will the class of ’87 meet up again? 

I have already mentally declined two opportunities – the first being the band Discovery’s next gig – the date clashes with the final performance of the next play I am in; and the second to the same person’s 40th birthday party – which is on the same day as The Family jets off on this year’s holiday to sunnier climes. (The fact that it is the same person whose invites I am declining means nothing, honestly!).

And the answer? 

Yes, I hope our paths cross again… and a lot sooner than 2032.

Back to the ’80s

Friends were supposed to be coming round today for a meal and games, but Daughter of Mine is a bit under the weather at the moment.   Earlier in the week I made the decision to postpone to another date, when I can be sure that she’s able to join in and not whinge for the next week about being tired.

The timing of this cancellation though has enabled me to participate in a full-on ’80s revival happening in Chichester tonight.  Early evening, mind.  This gathering of 40-somethings probably has a self-limiting curfew.

On Thursday I got wind via Facebook of a reunion being organised for the group I was at college with in 1986-1988 studying performing arts.  I haven’t seen any of them, except one, since then, so this is going to be really wierd.  I’ve just been looking through some photos of us all, taken when we went on an exchange visit to India at Christmas 1987 to showcase our drama performances to students out there.  It seems like a lifetime ago; we all look so young!  Tonight will tell whether the years have been kind to us all…

Looking back over the photos, I can remember what an incredible experience this three-week trip to India was.  We performed excerpts from traditional English drama – from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and I think I did a piece from Private Lives by Noel Coward – I found the script at any rate when I was looking through some papers yesterday.

We stayed with host families often during our visit, only having to put up with dodgy domitories a couple of times.  Here’s one where I obviously couldn’t resist taking a photo of the none-too-pleasant facilities!

We did see some fantastic things though – as well as the sightseeing ‘musts’ like the Taj Mahal and the Ajanta Caves at Maharashtra – we were treated to cultural spectacles of Indian dance and music.

I remember disjointed bits about the trip – one of the music students nearly throwing up on a bus; fake snow with the Christmas decorations in the Taj Mahal hotel in Bombay (as it was still named then); staying with a family in Mangalore who took us out on their yacht on Boxing Day; being bundled out of a venue halfway through a performance due to a demonstration by the locals, shouting “English, go home!”; taking my anti-malaria tablets on an empty stomach one morning and feeling REALLY sick; and eating scrambled eggs with what I thought were chopped tomatoes stirred in for breakfast – they were extremely hot chillies!

Can’t wait to see what the others remember about the trip and our college days later tonight!