Monday, April 14, 2008

Pride goes…

Story contd

Now that both boys had left home (the younger got a job and a flat in the town) we both became very busy trying to fill the gaping hole we felt in our lives. William’s brother had got his own boat and was happy for William to crew for him and I spent most of my free time at the theatre club. Some time ago I had done a club production of ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ which was a great success and now the committee asked me to do a public production which would be performed at the Oast Theatre and be a more ambitious show.

The play is a famous, shocking, black comedy by Edward Albee. It is a four hander and requires very strong actors – especially George and his wife Martha. It is set in an American campus and the main theme is the love-hate relationship between George and Martha. There are savage verbal attacks against each other and the two younger ones.

When I first produced it I was asked if I had based the interpretation on ‘Games people play’. In fact I understood the whole spirit of the play without any aid from books and derived great satisfaction in seeing such feelings and emotions put into such telling dialogue. I suppose it was a kind of therapy. I was lucky that the actors realised the importance of the rhythm and flow, and it was great to see audiences in thrall and hanging on Albee’s words.

“Separate Tables” ” The Deep Blue Sea!” and “Restoration Riot” were also productions I was proud of. My favourite acting role was Beattie in Arnold Wesker’s “Roots”. Beattie was a simple Norfolk girl who left home and met Ronnie, who fell in love with her and tried to infuse some aspirations in her bucolic complacence - to no effect apparently. The irony is that just as she gets the message and even tries to convert her lumpen family, she gets a real message from Ronnie - dumping her.

I got great notices for these and then it all went horribly wrong and I got my come-uppance. It all started with the best of intentions. One of the actresses – who was also a friend – was heartily sick of character parts and longed for something more dramatic. I discovered a new play about a well- to-do family and the king pin was the part I thought would be right for Anona. I asked her to read for it, which she did. She effortlessly exuded class - which was essential for the play and I told her the part was hers and she seemed very pleased.

The rest of the actors were experienced and I felt we had a good team with a new set designer who had done some great drawings of a large old fashioned kitchen, full of family memorabilia and stuffed birds. The first snag I hit was when I tried to soften Anona’s appearance, which was a bit school- marmy. She needed to have a less severe hair style but when I suggested having a little cut off so it could be loose and pretty, she dug her heels in. I decide not to press the point and concentrate on the acting, but I soon realised that she was suffering a confidence crisis and that I would have to do everything I could to boost this.

I loved the play and the rest of the cast were steadily building a team spirit, but I felt I was walking on egg- shells with Anona and was nervous of giving her any direction. I couldn’t understand what was happening; we had been good friends for years and I was desperate to help her enjoy what could have been a great performance. Meanwhile the set designer had gone completely mad and filled the stage with wonderful nostalgic furniture and bits and pieces - all of them worthy of a show case for themselves - the only thing was -there wasn’t room for the rest of the cast. I had to rein him in quite forcibly. Fortunately he took it in good part but I had to check each night that he hadn’t sneaked something else back on the set.

On the day of the dress rehearsal I got a phone call to say Anona was ill and wouldn’t be able to come to the rehearsal, and it looked unlikely she would be better for the performance. Bloody ‘ell!

I did what I usually did in a crisis and got on the phone to my friend and mentor Julia. Not only was she a published writer and playwright she was also an excellent actress. There was no time for her to learn the part but she had the aplomb to read it, so cleverly, that after a few minutes the audience wouldn’t notice the book. Some time later I was able to return the compliment.

During the dress rehearsal everybody concentrated on making things as easy as possible for Julia and she really rose to the occasion – as I knew she would.

On the first night the theatre was full and we made a brief announcement to warn the audience. Julia was magnificent. She owned the stage and waltzed around it as if she knew the play backwards. The trouble was there was a lot of business and moves and I could sense the terror of the rest of the cast as they tried to sort themselves and their many props whilst this virago acted her heart out.

I think it must have been the fact that son # 1 was home for the week-end that I decided to have the end of show party on the Saturday night. A fatal mistake! We were all so unnerved - except Julia - that we all drank far too much and my second lead – Pamela – a new member, who I didn’t know very well, wasn’t used to drinking and through sheer nerves had drunk – not that much - but more than she was used to.

The next day – Sunday I got a phone call to say that she was ill and couldn’t make the performance. I rang the chairman and that was it. He and I greeted the would-be audience with the news that the play had been cancelled. My son said

“Next time Mum – I think it would be better to have the party on the last night.”

Thanks son!

Anona became very ill and I’m sure it was the onset of this that was the problem.

I decided I needed a rest from humans. Dumb animals were a much safer bet and I took up horse riding again


OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

The Directors Nightmare! Lordy, Pat....Thank God you had Julia, who stepped in...The Celebratory Party...LOL...Oh Dear....!
You Directed a lot of plays, my dear....Most exciting! And did you Act in some of the plays you Directed, too? Now that is quite an undertaking if you did...!
I LOVE That picture of you in your Riding Clothes...So very Elegant and Beautiful! Quite a change from working in the theatre, I'd say....! I LOVE "Virgnia Woolf"....I was lucky enough to see the Original Broadway Cast...And Uta Hagen was BRILLIANT, as was Arthur Hill....! The two young people were fantastic, too...George Grizzard, who just died a few months ago, and Sandy Dennis....! ALL MARVELOUS!

sablonneuse said...

What an exciting episode.
How did you get on with the Norfolk accent for 'Roots'? I think it's an actor's nightmare to try to reproduce Norfolk vowels sounds and clipped consonants. Most people sound as though they are from Devon or Cornwall when they try.

PI said...

Naomi: directing was one of the hardest things I ever did - all those strings you have to keep tags on; all those people you have to keep happy - actors and stage crew. By opening night I would look like an old bag lady. No way could I have done both. Occasionally something magic would happen on stage and I suppose that's why I did it.

Sablonneuse: you are so right but once you get it it's fascinating. My first husband hailed from Norfolk without a trace of an accent but he was a fair mimic and helped me with phrases I can't remember now - something about a dick a boo.

PI said...

Naomi 2 : I'm fairly sure I saw Uta Hagan and Arthur Hill on British TV which probably inspired me to do it it in the first place. I remember thinking 'I know these people.'

AndrewM said...

He'yer fa'got a dickey, bor?

See link

PI said...

andrewm: great site - apart from his word verification. Love the phrases.

R. Sherman said...

You look great in the riding gear, BTW.

I cannot imagine attempting to direct friends. One would think the friendship would always get in the way of the business at hand, much like a parent attempting to coach a child on a little league team.


PI said...

Randall:I found what usually happened was that, for the rehearsal period at least, the actors listened intently to what one had to say and did their damndest to give you what you wanted. If it all worked out there was mutual admiration all round.

Kanani said...

I can't imagine managing all those people!

I love your recollections about the plays. So very interesting in a day when most people don't even go see them anymore!

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Into every life a little Arona must fall. It sounds terrifying to troubleshoot that kind of thing.

Well done on your other successes though! it's a very particular and rare skill set I imagine - the ability to direct people in an artistic endeavour. You must have had to be endlessly patient sometimes.

Rand's right, you look like a classic English country rose in that photo. You're beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Narrative sincerity with the service of the truth of the feelings ,such could be the currency or rather the literary watchword of Virgnia Woolf.
It is always extremely complex to grant a troop ,the such bow on the violin seeking the harmony between each partition !
The indication of the tempo is followed of that of the emotional climate .

Very good job ,félicitation Madame Friendship

PI said...

Kanani: guess i like being in charge:)

Sam: it is frightening when you feel you must have done something wrong and can't put it right.

Crabtree: thank you. I see you understand.

sablonneuse said...

Just had a look at the Norfolk dialect site. It's really difficult to write down phonetically isn't it?
My favourite example (spoken by a headmaster in assembly!) is:
"As no good 'im a sayern 'e din do uh. I know 'e dunnuh 'cos I see'um"
Which translates as: It's no good him saying he didn't do it. I know he did it because I saw him.

Guyana-Gyal said...

Boosting someone else's confidence is one of the most difficult things to do, eh? Well, it is when the other person refuses to believe good things about herself.

What exciting times you've had, Pat. A wonderful, packed life. And still going full of beans.

PI said...

GG: I look back with sadness at this failure. She died prematurely, which was an awful shock to us all. I used to keep her company when she took her children to a cottage in Wales and we had some very happy and hilarious memories.