THE PLAY’S THE THING
I told William I planned to join the S.A.P.S. dramatic society and wondered if he was interested. I knew his stammer would preclude him from acting but thought he may be interested in a back stage job. He wasn’t and I didn’t blame him. His job was physically tiring and he was happy to sink in to a book after dinner. I sometimes felt the book he hadn’t read hadn’t been written. He haunted second hand book shops – never paying more than a few pence for them and actually got interested in DIY in order to make bookshelves to house them. If any of the family or friends showed a flicker of interest in any subject William would have a book on it or wouldn’t rest until he had found one. Fortunately the moves we made were always to larger properties so we never ran out of space.
The play’Before the Party’ was based on a short story by Somerset Maugham the play was actually written by Rodney Ackland only a year or so earlier. All I can remember about the plot was that it concerned a ‘murder lurking beneath the surface of a socially respectable household.’ There were parts for two men and four women and a school girl Susan. Both Lily and I had our eyes on the part of the young widow. Lily was very excited as she was shortly going to Oxford to visit her fiancée and deciding on her wardrobe, and I was delighted to be asked to help her choose. We agreed that whoever won the part the other would accept graciously and may the best man win.
The committee were seated round a table in a separate room and we had to take turns to go in and read for them. Eventually it was our turn and Lily went first. She seemed quite happy when she came out so I took a deep breath and went in. I told them I would like to read the part of the young widow and there was an uncomfortable silence.
‘Actually Pat, we’ve decided that Lily is perfect for that part. Would you mind reading the part of the school girl?’
I gasped. What a bleedin’ cheek!. Here was I – in my early twenties – older than Lily and a married woman to boot – me read the part of a school girl?
Meekly I sat down and looked at the script. I was choking with outrage and nerves and started to read not knowing how to handle it. I had to say something about a shilling and I stumbled and lisped a bit. Hang on I thought that sounded real. That’s the clue.
When I had finished they were beaming at me and asked me if I would play Susan and I said yes; already planning a gingham cotton dress, hair in bunches and perhaps binding my bosom. We went for a milk shake to celebrate.
The only acting I had done previously was a school girl in ‘Oliver’s Island’ a non PC play at school which talked about ‘dusky maidens’. Not much progress then in my acting career. William seemed pleased I had a part and the weeks of rehearsal passed quickly as they always do when you’re having fun.
The play was a success with mixed crits. I treasured mine however even if it did seem as if I was a case of arrested development.
‘One performance which I exclude from any adverse criticism was that of Patricia ---- who is a young married woman but who lightly shed quite a few years to give a delightful portrayal of the inquisitive lisping school girl, Besides mannerisms and carriage she caught perfectly every facet of this charming little girl.’
The committee said they would like me to take a leading role next time so I decided it was time to start growing up a bit. At least I felt more mature than Lily. She told me she was going to break off her engagement – she was still very fond of him but didn’t feel ready for such commitment.
‘Oh Lily,’ I commiserated, ‘and you were so looking forward to going down to Oxford.’ (We always said ‘down to Oxford’ because geographically it was.)
‘Oh I’m still going!’ she said. I stared at her.
‘Well I’ve got all my clothes ready.’