This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
So It came to pass, that a couple of weeks ago BPG took to the boards again… at the Kenton Theatre in Henley-on-Thames. The last time I had appeared on the live stage was opposite Trevor Howard, in Waltz of the Toreadors at the Haymarket Theatre. The wonderful Trevor has been dead for 25 years!
A long time ago I had had to make the decision to stop acting on the live stage, Quite simply, I had four children, 2 boys and 2 girls, and I wanted to be the person who put them to bed, watched rugby matches, listened to the tittle tattle on the school run, and accompanied them to the fracture clinic when they broke things… which in the early days seemed to be happening with alarming regularity. All of these things are denied to you if you are working on the West End stage. Worse than that, I had an absentee husband who was a comedian, and he was working in the United States, so I had NO back up.
Thus it came as a huge surprise, when Annabel told me almost as a “fait accompli”, that I was to play Lady Catherine de Bourgh, in a potted version of Pride and Prejudice, part of the Henley Literary Festival, and their tribute to Jane Austen.
As you all will know, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is the most obnoxious character, an appalling snob, quite simply a pretty ghastly woman. I would put her somewhere between Lady Bracknell and Hyacinth Bouquet.
“You are absolutely perfect for the part,” enthused Annabel. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that!
I said yes. One of my many failings is my propensity to say yes, I’ve always found it easier than no. An old boyfriend of mine, used to say it was one of my endearing qualities. It’s all in a good cause I thought, and anyway I’m always up for supporting our dear little theatre.
The Kenton Theatre, in Henley is an absolute gem. The gargantuan efforts of the goodly people of Henley have managed to keep it open, (no mean feat,) and we now have an eclectic mix of entertainment suitable for young and old, conservative and modernist all crowned with a proper panto at Christmas time. This mini Georgian treasure has a bar, a Box Office smaller than a telephone box, and a foyer, that is bound to find you friends, by that I mean it is so squashed that you can feel the body parts of the other theatergoers, always conducive to a good party.
So there I was, last Thursday, wondering what on earth I had let myself in for. The other Rogues and Vagabonds, who made up our cast were an assorted mixture of local Thespis’s and a couple imported from the Big Smoke, but all working actors.
“Can I borrow your highlighter?” said a well known actor, at our read through.
“Of course,” I said, “I have everything, pen, rubber, tissues, everything except BREATH.” This is an in-joke. The one thing you can’t do without as an actor is ‘breath’ it gets you to the end of the lines, and carries you to the back.
” Ha ha,” he said ” you will be marvellous darling.” We all call each other darling, it’s because we can’t remember each others names, it’s hard enough learning the lines, one can’t be expected to remember names as well, especially at my age.
We had a two-hour stagger through the piece the day before the performance and another 45 minutes in a room in a pub, and that was it. Everyone else had other commitments to which they seemed to be rushing.
” Work?” I said to the handsome young actor playing Darcy… as he tore off to the station.
“No, I’m a waiter this week I can’t be late, gotta go,” he replied.
So there I was, thoroughly ill prepared, and about to go on stage for the first time in years… I took a huge breath expanding my rusty old intercostal muscles and it all happened. Time melted away… the adrenalin ran, the excitement, the buzz – it was all there again. The warmth of the lights hit me and the magic of theatre began.
I adore the Theatre. It is so exciting, so unexpected, so sexy, and so sad. You can go…. anywhere… backwards and forwards in time. You can be in the depths of despair or laughing so much it hurts. You and the audience feel it together… It’s a sort of making love, without resultant babies… heaven! Ever since my parents took me to Covent Garden when I was about 6 years old, I have been hooked, for me it was love at first sight.
So I am very glad that Annabel persuaded me to go back to it, if only for a night, yes I suffered appalling nerves, but then I always do. It was fun. I felt at home. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed it, it was lovely to be part of a team again. And guess what? I’ve been booked for next year DARLING!