I went to see my actress sister in a play last night. She was fabulous, funny and – most key to acting – remembered all her lines. WHATTA BLOODY PRO.
Being a disaster blogger, and deeply self-involved, this performance took me back to the worst theatrical experience of my life. And no, it’s not the time – aged 8 – a girl in my Saturday morning musical theatre club told me my nostrils flare when I sing and gave me a lifelong paranoia that, given the amount of spontaneous singing I do, I think about most days.
I am instead referring to the first play I was cast in at university and the diabolical mess I made of it.
It was a big deal to me, getting my first role at uni. I was studying English and Drama and other people on my course had seemingly sailed through auditions, able to turn things down left, right and centre. I, on the other hand, had trudged around Cambridge desperate to be given a chance. Finally, that chance came.
As I’d already become accustomed to at school, I was typecast as an elderly matriarch. It’s probably the flaring nostrils. I was the only first year in the cast; the play was A Day in the Death of Joe Egg by Peter Nichols. And sorry P-Nicho, because I absolutely butchered it.
After weeks and weeks of rehearsals opening night finally came. I had stupidly invited a whole bunch of my fresher friends to come and watch me in my debut.
My granny character had one main monologue which accounted for – if memory serves me – about 99% of my lines.
I entered, stage left. Haha, I have no idea if it was stage left or right. I can barely tell my left from my right at the best of times so it’s made particularly confusing when you add anything before it like ‘stage’ or ‘what the hell are you doing I said turn…’
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a play, reader? I imagine, if I know our education system at all, you’ve at least been a sheep.
Or a crustacean
Well if it’s a distant memory let me refresh you. You wait backstage running through your lines over and over and over again in your head, waiting for your cue. You feel like you might need a nervous wee but THERE’S NO TIME FOR THAT. You tell yourself that your character doesn’t need a wee and hope that works.
You anticipate either falling over flat on your face or rapturous applause and the first ever Academy Award for a college production. It could go one of two ways. You hope your friends like your performance, you hope you do your fellow thesps proud. Hope surges through your thespy body.
Your cue. You hear it. The familiar line that signals you’re meant to go on now. And stop being you and start being the person you’re pretending to be. Time slows down. You step on stage and are blinded by the lights, glaring down onto you, hiding the audience you know are sitting, expectantly, just feet away. Waiting for absolute brilliance because they paid £3 to get in.
The scene is set. I hope your palms are sweating. I know mine were.
My granny character hobbled into the spotlight. My monologue was tucked away neatly in my brain ready to be delivered with granny gusto.
I must be mad moving this from my parents’ computer to THE INTERNET
Only I couldn’t remember one word. Well, that’s a lie. I could remember one word – ‘garibaldi’ – but that didn’t much help given I couldn’t recollect anything that came before garibaldi, after garibaldi or around garibaldi to make mentioning a biscuit variety in the middle of a play add anything to the plot.
It’s somewhat comforting that Waitrose deem garibaldis a complete plot essential
I’m afraid to say I just stood there in complete and utter SILENCE.
I was frozen to the spot in terror. Stage fright overwhelmed me.
I stood there gormlessly for what felt like about FIFTEEN HOURS. I was told afterwards it was about 4 or 5 minutes.
In the end the talented actor playing my son had to improvise (thesps love to improvise so he was probably secretly pleased). He came on stage, took me by the arm and said “I think you’re having one of your turns mother”, taking me gently away from human eyes and backstage where I belonged.
The friends I’d invited were none the wiser. They weren’t studying drama. They didn’t know I had a monologue in that random silent bit.
I think they just assumed there was something in the stage directions that said: Granny enters, stands there in silence for five minutes. Looks like she’s thinking about biscuits. Is escorted off stage.