The audition for the play that I had earmarked as the vehicle for my return to the boards came and went without me. I felt it would have been selfish to make myself available, not knowing whether or not my wrist would have placed restrictions on the production, although the splint should have been off by then. I’m not a fatalist, but I have to admit that I was beginning to think that it wasn’t meant to be.
I’d been to a gruelling audition earlier in the year. The play was deliberately gritty and coarse and I had auditioned for many parts. It was . . . graphic, and although it was a challenging couple of hours, it felt wonderful to be acting again. Out of the things I feel I do well, acting is probably the thing I feel I do best. A long-standing friend who had cast me in many productions was directing it and arrogantly, I thought I simply had to go home and wait for the phone to ring. Which it didn’t. A week passed and I received an email telling me that I’d been unsuccessful. I felt humbled by the experience and realised how far I’d drifted away from something that was once my raison d’etre. Once, it was a potential career choice. Once, it was my only pastime. Once, at any given time I’d be rehearsing for one, often two and sometimes three productions at a time. From plays in small, yet perfectly-formed theatres in the backstreets of town, to musicals in concert halls and even compering shows to massive audiences in the Brighton Centre, I’d lost count of the number of times I’d laughed, cried, sung, danced, even vomited (yes – won’t forget actually hearing the audience recoil from me as I wretched into the strategically placed ice-bucket) on Brighton stages. I’d rubbed shoulders with celebrities and even shared dressing-rooms with them. I knew I was fortunate. You’re only as good as your last play but if you do well in your first, then success is everyone’s frame of reference when you attend subsequent auditions. The difficulty is getting that first part; getting a director to believe in you, because that play is his or her creation, conception, budding plant. Bill Shankly (footballer and Liverpool manager in the 1960s and 1970s) once said that ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’ Replace ‘football’ with ‘putting on a production’ and that sums up most people’s attitude towards their involvement with the theatre.
I had a ‘moment’ about ten years ago in the middle of a rehearsal period. This particular play was going to be a part of the Brighton Fringe and then the Edinburgh Fringe and I was in a hotel in town for a preview evening. We performed a scene from our play and other people were doing similar things, depending on the nature of the wares they were offering to Brighton Festival. I was always pretty reliable with my lines; I usually had loads and so you have to be, but on this particular night I struggled. I didn’t know why; I’d learnt them, but I was also struck with an overwhelming urge to leave, to go home, to be with my children. Obviously, I had cut right back on my involvement with the theatre since having children, as time with them was precious, but I still did plays from time-to-time. I didn’t do the play, which was a first for me; I’d never walked out on a play but I knew the results would be catastrophic if I didn’t abandon ship. I performed since then, but at a rate of around one production every few years.
At the audition for this risqué play, I was reunited with an old friend and we supported each other with mock looks of horror and shock as we read naughty words from the script at the bidding of the director who wasn’t really a voyeur, just wanted to get the rude words out of the way at the start, lest future rehearsals should be held up by time-consuming fits of the giggles. And remembering him from days of old, he wasn’t the most patient director and had been known to actually scold members of his cast. Usual rules of etiquette are broken quite frequently in the theatre; I even remember being reduced to tears in my teen years by angry or drunk directors. Maybe it’s the nature of the beast: because you are, in effect, fantasising about being in a different reality as soon as you are in a play, perhaps we leave the rules of the real world behind upon stepping onto the stage.
So anyway, maybe Old Friend and I had an inkling that this wouldn’t be ‘our’ play, because we agreed to meet at the next audition. And now I’ve done full circle, because that’s where I started at the top of the page. I let her down, because I didn’t go, because of my wrist. Which is why I started to think that maybe this just wasn’t going to happen . . .