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Monday, February 20th

February 20, 2017

I don’t know why I’ve been so hesitant to use people’s names in this diary. Other than Dave and Charlie and my friend Jane, I think I’ve always just said friend, mate or bloke I know. This story is going to be ridiculously hard to follow if I don’t name names, so here goes.

Three or four years ago, at the wrap party for the one-act plays, my friend Donna and I (who’d been in different plays) got all luvvy with each other about our marvellous performances.

We decided we should try to find a play the two of us could do together. (Although we’d been in the same one-act play a year earlier, we hadn’t actually appeared on stage at the same time.) Initially we were just looking at two-handers, but we had little luck finding anything we liked. One summer’s evening we got together with some of the other actresses in the group to read four one-acts. One of them – not the one we were thinking of for ourselves – turned out to be a little gem, but it was not something Donna and I could do together. And the one we thought might be a possibility for us we hated in the end. Driving Donna home that night, I said it might be easier if we just wrote a damn play for ourselves. We thought about what the plot might be and one suggestion was two childhood friends whose lives had gone in different directions meeting up for the first time in many years. That idea reminded me of my all-time favourite joke, which I proceeded to tell her.

The next day I was at a planning meeting for the group, where it was decided that we should avoid two-handers in an effort to get more people involved. So much for Plan A.

A couple of days later I started thinking about that joke, suddenly wondering if some sort of play couldn’t be worked up around it. That’s Nice, set in a publishing house, sprang into being. Donna and I would play two editors, Charlotte and Emily, both stuck with nightmarish bestselling authors: the Barbara Cartlandesque Millicent and Greville, the best/worst macho thriller writer. The remaining characters were Ralph, another editor, known for his philandering predilection for much younger women, and Zoe, the harassed assistant. When I was writing it, I knew who I wanted to play Millicent and Greville and I knew I was writing the role of Ralph for an actor in the group named Paul. Part of the plot was a bit of a love interest sprouting between Charlotte and Ralph and I could just picture how well Donna and Paul would play together. I also knew which friend I wanted to direct it.

Unfortunately, when it came time for the play to be cast and for rehearsals to begin, the friend I’d hoped would direct it could not do so. Another woman, whom I thought would do a perfectly fine job, volunteered. Auditions for the three plays to be performed were held. The next morning I woke up from a dream in which the director had cast the wrong actor for Ralph. Oh, ha, ha, I thought. The role was so clearly written for Paul. He must have been cast. Then I checked my emails. What the fuck? Not only had she not cast Paul as Ralph, she’d also cast the wrong actor for Greville. (The latter oversight was subsequently corrected.)

Donna and I had been looking forward to getting to work on this play for over a year. We knew we were going to have so much fun with it. We were wrong. Whilst we both saw the play as an entertaining little comedy in the vein of Noel Coward or Neil Simon (not that I’m trying to big myself up), the woman who’d offered to direct it saw it as some sort of Benny Hill sketch. Her suggestions were excruciating and met with considerable resistance from the two leads. She decided to withdraw, which left us, three weeks into rehearsals with a play and no director. Someone suggested I talk to a woman with considerable theatrical experience who had recently moved to the island. Donna and I got together with her, had a long chat and were satisfied that, unlike the previous director, this woman was on the same page as us. She agreed to take over directing. This ended up making matters worse. The woman was an absolute nightmare from start to finish. Despite the long conversation Donna and I had had with her about the strength of the comedy being in the wit of the dialogue, she was determined to turn the play into a Whitehall farce. (Better than Benny Hill, but not much.) None of the actors ever wanted to work with her again, nor did any of the technical crew. Fortunately her “job” finished at the end of the dress rehearsal.

thats-nice-cropped

Millicent, Greville, Charlotte, Emily, Zoe and Ralph

On opening night I gathered the cast together outside, acknowledged that we’d been on a rocky road, then exhorted everyone to have as much fun with the play as we’d known all along we could. And we did. The shows themselves were great fun. The actor who was cast as Ralph was new to the group. He did a perfectly good job in the role and has subsequently become one of the leading lights of our little group.

Why am I rehashing all this today?

There are three plays in this year’s one-act play weekend: mine, another one written by an islander and a third, Naked in the Kitchen, a two-hander which Donna is appearing in with Paul. Yesterday was the first day all three plays were rehearsing at the venue. Charlie and I were up first at 1pm. Donna and Paul both came early so they could watch our rehearsal. (Both were effusive in their praise afterwards.) I stayed after our rehearsal to watch theirs which was up next.

The play has some touching moments that bring a smile to your lips, but it is not a comedy. Paul’s previous roles with the group have always been comedic, including the completely over the top, cross dressing roles he’s played in the last three pantos. When Donna approached him about playing this role, he was keen to stretch himself a bit and he has. It was a pleasure to watch the two of them on stage together.

It wasn’t until I was driving home afterwards that it hit me: I knew it! I’d known when I was writing That’s Nice that they’d be fantastic playing off one another. And I’d been right. How lovely would it be to do the play again with the cast I’d originally envisaged? Can’t see it happening, but it would be fun.

 

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