Saturday, February 25, 2012

Spring, Port Wine And Sheer Terror!

This week I've been in my first play since I played Mazeppa, a magpie in The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew circa 1975 at Xaverian College, Manchester.  I think I did drama for a year when the new drama studio at school opened just to see what it was all about. This week I'm playing Rafe, the family patriarch in Spring and Port Wine at the Grand Theatre in Lancaster.

In recent years I've been working as a TV walk on/extra and have sat in bars on soaps, stood by graves in dramas and had the good fortune to spend a few hours in a council office with Timothy West, a great actor and a true gentleman. I've seen close up many great actors at work and it's a privilege to be able to see them doing great work. Then I got wondering what real acting, rather than standing around in a crowd or sitting in the background with a pint, is all about. So I auditioned for the role of Rafe in November with the Lancaster Footlights.

I set off for the audition feeling quite excited. By the time I got to the theatre, a splendid Victorian building well worth a visit and a Saturday tour if there isn't a show, I was wondering what the hell I was doing. At my age did I need this feeling of fear? But the audition went well and I got the part. I love new experiences and am prepared to give anything a go, this was certainly something different for me. The next thing was to get learning the lines. It's been painful but most of the lines eventually stuck, thanks to my beloved who has spent hours helping me and probably knows the lines as well as the cast by now.
Grand Theatre, Lancaster

If you don't know the play it is set in the late '50s early '60s as we moved into the 'modern era'. A daughter refuses to eat her herring at tea time and it leads to a conflict that moves the family into the modern era. In a nutshell!

The action centres around Rafe who transforms from a basically good but uptight Victorian style father, due to his childhood of poverty, to an understanding and open father by the end. It has some wonderful comic moments that we didn't appreciate in rehearsals, but have gone down very well with the audiences. We can all see why comedians must love their work, it is such a buzz when your line gets a laugh.

We've had huge ups and downs and at times we wondered if our production would actually get on stage. In a cast of eight two of us have never done this before, one hasn't since school, I guess about ten years ago, and a week before opening we lost a son, 'Harold' from the cast. But here we are with our last of five performances this afternooon at 2-30pm.

If you have ever wondered about trying am-dram then go for it. I've had nights when I've woken up with cold sweats in sheer terror. I've had days when I've thrown the script across the room because a simple line like 'I never intended her to have to eat it' just wouldn't stick. I've had days I've resented having to leave a lovely warm home to go to a rehearsal room above a pub, especially when it included missing my football. I've been thoroughly embarassed on stage at rehearsals when my mind has gone blank.

But I am so glad I've done it. Even today, our last performance, I'll be getting the butterflies when the thirty minute call comes over the speaker into the dressing room. I'll be backstage with sweaty palms as the buzz of the audience dies down and the curtain goes up. I'll be praying as I walk on stage as I can't remember the first line. Then bang, it's there and we're off. At least I hope so.

The big fear is that every performance is a new experience. We all do things slightly differently in each performance, the audience reacts differently at each performance. The fears you had on the first night are there every night. It's so easy to see why actors get into routines that they will not break, if the first night goes well, just getting through it maybe, you want to try and do everything the same the next night, including driving to the theatre by the same route, same parking space and so on.

We opened on Tuesday night (21 Feb) and ten days earlier I had sworn that I would never do anything quite as challenging, or at times terrifying as this ever again. Today I'm wondering what the next one I go for will be.

At 2-30pm spare a thought. There will be a group of people in Lancaster, in various stages of nerves, about to go on stage for the last time in this production of Spring and Port Wine. But then again, soon after five we will be leaving the dressing rooms at the end for the last time to go and have several drinks and a jolly good feed.

Break a leg!