Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A pantomime and some very patient friends

No. 11 ‘Have a play performed’ Achieved??

I grew up in a small village in Devon. I was a very shy child and spent most of my time up trees or having wonderful adventures sailing a picnic table that my Dad had helped turn into a pirate boat by putting a proper hoist-able sail in the umbrella hole. (Before you judge, there’s not much to do in Devon. You need a lot of imagination.)

One of the things that really helped to bring my out of my shell was something called ‘Children’s Theatre’. Each autumn I would pull my nose out of whichever book I was reading and gleefully join my friends down at the local Village Hall to audition for the Christmas pantomime. Those performances were the making of my character and confidence. There is nothing quite like getting a round of applause, or even better a laugh, from the audience. Because I was in character, I didn’t feel nervous. It wasn’t me on stage; it was the Witch’s cat, PC Dim the policeman or the vegetable fairy. I even ad libbed a bit, with decent results. It swiftly became one of the highlights of my year.

I wouldn’t say amateur dramatics solved all my confidence issues, I was still pretty socially awkward at secondary school (and some might say I still am) but it was a tradition I kept up through my twenties. By that time, Tinbad the Tailor was replaced by the Femme Fatale in Sherlock Holmes, or the wife in School for Scandal. I loved the costumes, the scripts, the intensity of rehearsals, the lights, the props and the final applause. Being in a fantasy world for a few hours can make the trials and harshness of adult life a little bit more bearable.

As well as being involved on the stage side of things, I’ve been in the audience for some fabulous performances over the years including ‘Noises Off’, ‘the Woman in Black’ and more recently a wonderful version of ‘1984’, one of my favourite books. At school I used to relish the opportunity to go to Stratford and see the RSC in performance and I still adore a good performance of Shakespeare. Theatre remains one of my greatest loves and the times spent around the stage, whether in the wings, on, or off it, have been some of my happiest.

I don’t do any theatre work now as a full time job makes it difficult to commit to the same degree. Rehearsals and performances can be emotionally and physically exhausting, plus the time commitment makes it tricky. Before finally taking a break, I tried my hand not only at both comedy and more serious acting, but also at prompting, props (which I loved) and even Directing, although I don’t think I was very good at it. So it made sense that something on my ‘to do’ list should involve the theatre. Even more obviously to me, it should involve my first love: writing.

I’ve written plays in the past, but not to any degree of success. The structure is something I struggle with. You not only have to be able to pull together the plot and characterisation successfully, you also have to work out whether something works visually. I’ve tried writing thrillers for example and only realised in reading back that I’ve left a character standing on stage for twenty pages, having forgotten they were there.

As the years are rolling by much quicker than my efforts to complete this list (and my access to the RSC is severely limited) achieving a performance was going to have to be a lot lower key than originally envisaged. Not for me the performance of ‘An Inspector Calls’ with rain machine and a three quarter sized house that tilts all the crockery off the walls in act two to symbolise ‘discord’.

This year has been more difficult than most, balancing studying for an MBA with a full-time job (and a major appeal at that). One of the things that has suffered and which I miss most is creative writing. So, I resorted to my staples in times of stress: humour and friendship. In the same way as ‘having something published’ (also on the list) ended up being an article, rather than the Booker-prize winning novel I had hoped for, my play was not even close to the Ibsen-like tragedy, or even slick farce that it could have been. Instead the result was around 5 minutes of incredibly silly pantomime, based around the slightly eccentric personalities of a group of my friends. Slightly too niche even for one of those Edinburgh Festival performances where they use someone’s spare toilet as a venue. I was worried at the time that exaggerating for comic effect might lead to them not being friends any more (!) but bless them, they entered whole-heartedly into the spirit of it. Sound effects were provided, props were wielded and one of them even wore a tutu.

Shakespeare it may not have been, but people seemed to have fun and in the end, as I have learned, if you’re able to make people laugh it’s not such a bad thing.

Thanks to everyone who humoured me in this process. And thanks for still being my friends!

(There are no photos. It’s probably not such a bad thing…)

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