It’s November 5th, Bonfire Night in England, and it’s peeing down with rain outside, which is heavy enough to dampen any firework, even put out a bonfire. I am sitting in a bar/restaurant called Cast, which used to be called Limelight many years ago when I trod the boards for a few months in repertory theatre as an extra. It is attached to the Nottingham Playhouse where I am waiting for my granddaughter while she’s at her drama class. Already had a Cappuccino, but now considering having a G&T, or, me thinks, a white wine spritzer.
My granddaughter has been doing drama since she was six, she is now twelve, and, along with one of her tutors, I consider her to be talented. I know I’m biased on that subject, but I do see her as another Dame Judy Dench, Dame Helen Mirren or a Dame Maggie Smith. She has very good comic timing, along with the ability to turn on the tears at the drop of a hat. She should go far. This place, though, has quite a ‘lovey’ atmosphere as I am sitting here remembering mixing with other members of the troupe after a show. The last night was always exceptionally good: drinking, and kissing all and sundry on the cheek – oh those were the days. Now I feel like a dinosaur as I am perched on a bench at a table plonking on my computer, writing my blog to keep me occupied whilst I wait.
It has been 25 years since I stood in the wings, stage right, waiting to carry on a bowl of water so Macbeth could wash his hands of all that blood after despatching Duncan, or standing with a group of women dressed in mourning clothes, singing the Requiem Mass, in Latin, during the funeral scene from The House of Bernarda Alba, the Latin of which I found a bugger to learn. But my most memorable moment was the opening scene from Macbeth. I had to climb a ladder to get onto a steeply sloping stage which resembled a desert. Not only were my boots 3 sizes too big, but I also wore a long skirt, had a rifle in my hand, and an ammunition belt slung across my chest. I then had to prostate myself on the stage whilst my legs dangled over into fresh air at the back where the drop was about 8 feet.
During our first technical rehearsals, when I found I had to climb a ladder to get onto the stage to prostrate myself like all the other bodies, I thought, no problem, just don’t ask me to leave stage back or I’ll break something trying to get down again. Luckily enough we all had to get up and leave the stage in equal numbers, stage right and left. That too was fine, but I was always the last one off as I had the furthest to walk. The opening scene was very atmospheric, though, with dry ice whirling around all the bodies littering the set, dead from battle, so we all had to keep still and silent. But, there was always someone who would whisper something funny, or fart, trying to make someone – anyone – corpse. It took great skill sometimes not to laugh, but we managed it. Another thing that springs to mind is the wrought iron swirling staircase to get from the dressing rooms to the set. Once in the wings though, waiting to go on, all the nerves disappeared while we were waiting for our cue.
Being here has made me remember such a lot about my time as a ‘lovey’ extra. And even though it was 25 years ago, only last year I was in a shopping mall in the centre of Nottingham when a woman came up to me and asked if I had been in Bernarda Alba, I said I had, and I found she, too, had been in the same Bernarda Alba choir, but I didn’t recognise her. By the way, I plumped for a Pinot Grigio white wine spritzer, and it’s rather nice sitting here, on my tod, sipping my spritzer, remembering the good old days.
NB: It’s considered bad luck to say, ‘Good-luck,’ in a theatre so they say, ‘Break a leg.’ It’s also bad luck to use the name ‘Macbeth,’ or whistle. The whistling comes from way back. Three hundred years ago if there was a fire in a theatre a man simply whistled to alert the players.