Monday, 7 December 2009

The Play What I Wrote ... part deux

Now I’m not claiming the script was Stoppard, but it did have quite a light word-driven touch, aimed at conversational stand-up delivery in plain English for audibility.

So I was surprised when at the auditions our director asked everyone to do every part in a different accent, all at the same time. He cast two sweet guys as the Ugly Sisters, but encouraged them to exaggerate their native Australian and Glaswegian to a point at which they probably wouldn’t have been understood in either Greenock or Geelong, and the Fairy Godmother role I’d written as wry and observationally sardonic with myself in mind went to another experienced actor, but one whose house style tends to channel Brian Blessed with a rather hefty and bombastic delivery.

At first I was disappointed, but then amused that I must have been so crap an actor I couldn’t even get a part in “the play what I wrote” but once I’d seen the crude way it was elevated from page to stage, relieved.

I’ve written several scripts over the years, and remember the first time one was professionally directed (thanks, Ken Parrott, if you’re still alive) when I got quite a thrill from seeing how an experienced director’s interpretation could improve and extend the comic effect of my crumpled sheaf of A4.

editing on vacation in North Carolina

I think there was one person who’d actually done a panto, and since the director preferred to work on dance routines with a group of four imported girls from his personal entourage, the cast were left rudderless and under-rehearsed.

So last Wednesday when the whole thing was conjoined (music, dancing and acting) it was a car-crash in which the first scene ran twelve minutes instead of four. Our MD had his head in his hands for a lot of it.

It was their first time with costumes, and doing it cold in front of a hundred and fifty highly critical gay men is not a gauntlet many would choose to run if the alternative was, say, self-impaling on sharpened bamboo in a Japanese prison camp.

The costumes were surprisingly good, devised by a Filipino member whose natural predilection for All Things Bling and Shoeshopful could run Imelda Marcos a pretty close second. However, after six weeks rehearsal you’d think they would have known the lines.

Panic set in, and in the Chorus's by now traditional pre-show hysteria a number of spiteful and accusatory emails were allegedly exchanged. On Thursday our MD called me about 10.30pm to ask me to come in at 9 the next morning – opening night – for an emergency rehearsal to work with the actors on picking up their cues and cutting any superfluous material to bring the running time down.

We did that, and managed to trim a few minutes but then there was a meltdown as too much interference was applied and the cast were laden with multiple and conflicting changes and cuts, up to a few minutes before showtime. What made me especially furious was the apparent intervention of ‘committee members’ demanding changes on the day to a script they’d had every opportunity to peruse six weeks earlier.

Of course, every cut was a good joke discarded and every new move separated a set-up from its punchline as the baby-faced director struggled to accommodate their demands.

When it got to the stage it was a cut-and-shut Arthur Daley would have resisted selling, the welds were still warm. At least audience feedback was consistent: bewildered.

My personal pain was compounded by the difficulties of getting to Chelsea, from a part of Docklands consistently isolated from the known world by closures on the DLR and Jubilee Line, and for which I would gleefully erect a gibbet to hang the politicians and contractors who bought two new train lines that needed perpetual mending within two years of completion. What happened to warranties?

So on Saturday, despite an incipient cold and premonitions of doom, to be on time for the matinee I jumped in a taxi. Thanks to Westminster Council’s brain-dead idea of closing all roads to traffic in its special brand of rationally politicised support of the Copenhagen climate change conference that involves a lot of free balloons and face-painting, £43 later he had to drop me at Vauxhall to get on the tube. I’ll consider that my carbon-offsetting contribution, shall I ?

On the way home, a combination of District Line and DLR got me to, er, Blackwall – surely a fistula on the arsehole of London that is the Isle of Dogs, certainly one where taxis never prowl and where I – and an interesting assortment of drunks - were deposited to wait 40 minutes for the first of the two rail-replacement bus services that might take me home.

I live six miles from the centre of London. It took over two hours, I could literally have walked it faster.

Sometimes I need to be reminded this is what I do for a hobby.

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