I’m not saying a word…

“Last night I dreamt I was in a theatre. On the table there was a box. It seemed to be full of presents.  Wrapped.  I couldn’t be sure.  Are they presents? I said.  We pulled off the Christmas wrapping and they weren’t presents but clues…”

Mary.  Linda.  Linda.  Mary.  MaryLinda.  MaryLin.  MariLyn.  Marilyn Munroe.   A 24 hour character crisis.

Then, “Suddenly everything makes sense; in fact it’s triplets…”.  No.  This time it was twins.  And not Mary’s, someone else’s.

Mickey and Tony were in the dream.  And Simon and Eddie.  Caroline, Donna Marie, MaryAbi, ‘B’, ‘Streets’, ‘PinkUkelele’ – were all there too, together with unfamiliar faces, who by the end of the dream, were like old friends because we had been bound together by a shared experience.  Sammy was there, but not Sam – how could she be with her head down the toilet?  Charming On Stage Lover was there too, but only fleetingly as the doctor I remember him to be; then he would appear with a crate of milk in his hands; but most of the time he had to be uncharacteristically cold, distant and unfeeling.

Artist Masquerading as a Manager enters centre stage with Liverpool-inspired paintings.  A funfair.  Beads and bleachers and colored lights. As if she already knew.

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 Artwork © Joanne Webb

They were young, free and innocent – three good friends. Mickey, Eddie and Linda – “she’s a girl, but she’s all right.”  But is the couple in the picture Mickey and Linda? Or Linda and Eddie?

It could have been either. And yet they both died – the two clowns, who could and did get their lines right. Leaving Linda alone.

Bring the curtain down. Until September.  Because other people’s words said it all…

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Should I learn to love the cold?

I couldn’t resist a final post about The Memory of Water seeing as the memories came back to haunt me last night. Quite literally, in the shape of seven of the cast and crew, including my ‘dead mother’, although she wasn’t wearing ‘that turquoise flowery dress’ or making the room smell of ‘Phul Nana’.

In the days since our final performance, the play has refused to leave me completely, by continuing the series of coincidences that accompanied the rehearsal process.

Firstly, another couple of post-show messages from Trilby Jeeves, including one with a link to a trailer for a Polish version of the play – check it out!

Then last week I attended with Husband of Mine, the funeral of his aunt, who had suffered with Alzheimer’s during the past year of her life, and had died on our opening night, leaving behind three grown-up daughters.  In the words of Catherine: “I went to a brilliant funeral.”  Well, no, it wasn’t actually: can a funeral ever be brilliant? But it was made especially poignant, given the similarities of the situation.

We also received a great review in the local press, emphasising ‘extremely strong performances’. No mention of the director though, which I feel is a great disservice given that it was her vision that allowed us all to give performances that were ‘stunningly portrayed’.  Grrr.  It’s always ‘Sir Peter Hall’s revival-this’ or ”Sir Trevor Nunn’s production of-that’  – why not afford the same respect to all? 

And then so last night, most of the cast and crew came round to mine for something to eat and to watch the DVD of the film version of the play. There were some key people missing; Charming On-Stage Lover for one, still suffering with a trapped nerve aggravated by too much lawn mowing. Probably just as well he was missing; I would have been embarrassed all over again during the film version of pages 27-33, given that a lot of the action took place up against a tree, albeit without a neatly trimmed lawn. Thankfully the stage play is written to be performed on one set, although I’m sure our set designer would have been able to come up with suitable greenery.

The film version came out in 2002. Entitled ‘Before You Go’, it stars Julie Walters, Joanne Whalley and Victoria Hamilton as the three newly bereaved sisters. The consensus from all at the end of the evening was that it worked better as a play than as a film; we felt that the characters lacked depth and the emotion of the piece was barely visible. No mention was made of the mother’s death from Alzheimer’s; something that had been an integral part of the play. But the interesting and most major change was in a scene between Mary and her mother, Vi (now right at the end of the film; although it is Scene 1 in Act II in the play).  The emphasis had been shifted from the mother forgiving Mary for her coldness and indifference in the years since she was forced to give her baby away – ‘I forgave your father; now I’ll forgive you’ – to the mother asking for Mary’s forgiveness, presumably for making the decision to give the child up for adoption and for it never to be mentioned again – ‘I forgave your father; now can you forgive me?’ (or words to that effect). Shelagh Stephenson wrote the screenplay for the film, but it is hard to understand her reasons behind this change that alters the fundamental relationship between Mary and her mother.

‘Learn to love the cold.’

This is the final line of the play – showing Mary’s acceptance of being ‘second best’ to her lover’s wife and resigning herself to staying childless for the sake of the relationship. 

I’ve been thinking about the literal resonance with me of those words and in particular, some of her other last words to Mike, “I’ve hated winter all my life.  Ice on the windows, dark at three in the afternoon…. I’ve hated the stasis, the waiting for Spring.”  

So true.  As Mother of Mine will tell you, I’ve always dreaded that gloomy January to March period, when the anticipation of Autumn gives way to the excitement of Christmas and the prospect of a new year, one that often falls desperately short of all it first promises to be.  But this year?  For the first time, I have felt truly invigorated and ready to take on those first three months – thanks to ‘The Memory of Water’.

And next year?  Do I ‘learn to love the cold’ as Mary did, or do I seek out something to fill those dark winter months? 

Well today, Spring has well and truly sprung –  we had our first ice cream cone of the season on the seafront this morning, and this afternoon, Children of Mine have had water fights in the garden.

The answer is clear – the cold’s not here any more.

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.

It’s a mad, mad week

Yesterday was the start of a week of chaos.  Both Daughter of Mine and I are in productions this week – Daughter in a dance show and me in The Memory of Water – involving us both travelling in different directions to different towns at different times.  On top of all the usual things – you know, work, other after-school clubs, shopping, the usual.  Aaargghhh!

The Memory of Water opened last night to a full house, and has been very well received from audience members thus far.  I hadn’t realised though until I got to the theatre last night, that Daughter of Mine’s Headmistress and three other staff members would be in the audience on opening night.  Now, I know from first hand experience that this Headmistress is no prude – given that she, I and 10 girls recently witnessed a professional dance company’s production featuring male nudity and simulated masturbation – however, I was just a little nervous last night thinking, oh, I say that word, and that one; and spend the best part of 32 pages in bed; and take my clothes off.  Twice.

No need to worry though.  I happened to pop into school this morning, to see Son of Mine in an assembly about the rain forest – his line was about one of the things to take with you when planning a trip to Brazil: “Sturdy Walking Boots” – good on you, lad.  Headmistress made a bee line for me after the assembly to say how much she enjoyed the play, and how she wouldn’t be able to look at me in the same way again.

That’ll make the next school event fun then.

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.

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.