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Day thirty-three – Filling the void Part 2

December 6, 2017

Where was I? Oh, yes, with my amazing feat of memorising half a play (and the standing ovation that went with it) behind me, it was time to start looking forward to my second panto.

I was quite pleased when I heard that Mark, my festival co-star would be directing it. I shouldn’t have been. Unbeknownst to me, he was only directing it because no-one else would. Mark actually hated pantos and if there is one thing I now know it is this: you cannot direct a panto unless you love them. It also helps if you are a Brit.

The script Mark chose was Aladdin, which could have been fun, but wasn’t. (Anyone who was lucky enough, as I was, to see Ian McKellen as Widow Twanky in the Old Vic’s 2004 panto knows how funny this show can be.)

I’m not sure what I’d done to annoy Mark, but there must have been something, because after the auditions he rang to tell me that I was being cast as Sgt Pong to a thirteen-year-old lad’s Constable Ping. Not the role I would have liked, but, hey ho, you play the role in which you are cast.

Mark made some “interesting” (bizarre and annoying) decisions about the show which I could detail at great length, but I will spare you. Anyone who saw the show knows how awful it was (through no fault of the actors).

On the plus side, let’s see… The sets were beautiful. Oh, and there was one truly hilarious moment in the second act when the Emperor, accompanied by Ping and Pong, who are meant to have carried him from China, arrives in Egypt. As the three make their entrance the theme music from Lawrence of Arabia soared through the hall. The first time it was played during a tech rehearsal, Jean (the emperor) and I collapsed laughing and had to do the entrance again. It was a touch of genius, for which I gave Mark credit. I later learnt it had nothing to do with him. The music had been added by the sound guy Charlie, whom I did not know at the time.

2012 Aladdin

It was a relief to almost everyone when it was over.

Next up on the schedule was the 2013 one-act play weekend. I was doing a large piece of contract work at the time and knew I would not be able to make time to learn lines, so I did not go to the auditions. The day afterwards, Jean, who was directing one of the plays and with whom I’d bonded over the trials and tribulations of Aladdin, rang me to say there hadn’t been enough people at the auditions to cast all three plays and to ask me if I would reconsider. She wanted me to play the role of the narrator in Boise, Idaho. The narrator sits at a table in a café next to a couple she does not know, scribbling notes as she makes up a story about the couple. I told Jean I really did not have time to learn lines, but, if the narrator could have a laptop (with all the lines on the screen) instead of a notepad, I would do it. She agreed.

I was working with Nadine and Paul, two truly wonderful actors and it was a joy to be involved from the beginning. Except the Saturday matinee. Halfway through the play, I pushed the wrong key and my computer froze. Suddenly I no longer had my lines in front of me. Fortunately we’d rehearsed so often that I knew approximately what I was supposed to say at any given moment and even more fortunately Nadine and Paul quickly realised what had happened and rallied round. We got through the performance with no one the wiser – other than Jean, who was sitting in the back having a heart attack.

2013 boise idaho

Because my eyes were on the computer throughout the play (there was no interaction between the narrator and the couple) I didn’t appreciate until I saw the DVD of the show quite what an extraordinarily talented comedic actress Nadine is. (I’ve worked with her several times since and every time she just blows me away.)

A few days after the performances I was on a plane, heading back to London for my friend Irmani’s wedding. Thus I had nothing to do with the full production, another two-hander, The Gin Game, with Mark as the male lead. (He told me after I’d seen the show that he had wanted to play that role for years, ever since he’d seen the play on Broadway with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.)

2013 Under Milkwood

Back into the fray with the final show of the season, a staged reading of Under Milk Wood. Rather than using the sheets of script provided, I used a copy of the play given to me years earlier by my friend Krys. Little did I suspect when I received the present, when I was probably all of 18 or 19, that I would ever be involved in a production of the play. As you can see, there was a cast of thousands. It helped enormously that one of the readers was actually Welsh and another an Englishwoman who could do a very good Welsh accent.

Did I mention that I’d been asked to join the board? No, I don’t believe I did. So, yes, by now I was the board member in charge of communications, as well as appearing regularly in productions.

I may have been thousands of miles away from my actual family, but I’d found my island family.

More anon.

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