Role Play

I have finally decided to confess. I’m coming out of the closet.

I am a thespian.

Frankly, it’s about time I came out, as acting in such a small space severely limits one’s potential audience – to hangers on.

For years I’ve denied that I have much interest in treading the boards, but now I’m bored of treading on my dreams. The theatre thrills me to the core. However, this is not just a stage I’m going through. Long ago at school, my best mate Caro wanted to audition for Tweedledum or Tweedledee. Naturally, I went along as the other Tweedle. We had a riotous time, gambolling and fighting in our drama teacher’s study. Never had either of us thumped anyone with such gusto nor roundly insulted them with so much glee. It felt like controlled anarchy. Caro, who is a very good actress and had Tweedledeed perfectly, got the part.

 Unfortunately, the drama teacher had mistaken our natural tendency to have a hilarious time and be rude to each other for convincing acting on my part, so offered me an audition for one of the other roles. Was I woman or worm? Stark terror took over. I flatly refused to act. However, school being a democracy, I still ended up with a part: the Red King. This was absolutely the worst of both worlds; a walk on in a ridiculous costume, face and neck thickly caked with red foundation. For days you could tell that I had been last in the ablution line by the red ring in the bath. Yet standing mutely on stage for several minutes remains the pinnacle of my acting career.

However, the worm has turned (although this is not a convincingly fierce mental image: an aggressive, decisive worm…) The reason? Recent attendance at a performance of South Downs/ Browning Version at the Harold Pinter Theatre, ripping me out of quiet rustication in Dorset. My tour guide was my 19 year old son, Alex, who is a bit like Crocodile Dundee, but with a front to his shirt and less reptilian teeth. We equipped ourselves with the A-Z of London, water, a kilo of mints, the outline of a film script we are writing, two umbrellas and sunglasses (to cover all options short of a tsunami) all shoved into an immense handbag. Had this bag been of leather, the whole left side of an elephant would have needed to have been sacrificed to create it.

The theatre was worth the refreshing sprint through London rain: small but beautiful with its gilded painted ceilings, royal boxes, red plushy seats and bar. Immediately, I had a gin as recommended by my spirit guide.

Concern gripped me as I sat down in eager but blind, or at least very myopic, expectation. My limited research had told me that South Downs had been written as a complimentary play to the Browning Version which is terrific but hardly ever performed, being so short; although physical brevity was never a performance barrier to Danny DeVito. South Downs turned out to be funny, thought-provoking and firmly in the “Oh, I so wish I could write like this” category. As artistic contrasts are very trendy, the next one was bound to be dull, mindless and probably about mutant rats invading a public school or a gnu becoming headmaster. Thankfully I was wrong. It was equally stunning; gnot a single ungulate in sight.

One of the characters in South Downs is an actress who comments at one point that she is actually rather frightened of acting, but that feels that one should do something that scares you at 7.30 every evening. I feel this is a fine sentiment, but on a domestic front extraordinarily difficult to achieve. Short of tackling my 21-year-old daughter’s bedroom or deworming the cat, my options are limited. Furthermore, after a month or so, my daughter’s bedroom would become less scary and we would have the cleanest catgut in the neighbourhood. So much so, we would have to actively protect our feline from the catnapping attentions of tennis racket stringers. My only other option for the recurrent fear stimulus is a stage.

The audience hooting and clapping loudly at the end took me right back to my curtain call as the Red King bowing to the audience. My bowing was extremely stiff, partly because of my thespian interpretation of the regal nature of the character, but mainly because of the impossibly ridiculous costume.

In a sudden moment of deep envy I was inspired. Taking a deep breath, I decided to have a crack at this acting thing. The kids will probably disown me, so there are distinct advantages in doing so. Furthermore, it can’t be that tough. Socially one does it all the time. “Delightful children!” “Politics? Yes! Totally gripping.”

Probably my best option would be to contact Caro and see if we can reprise our roles as Tweedledee and Tweedledum. However, this time I’ll try not to be dum again.

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About alisongardiner1

Writer of YA series of books. Broadcaster/podcaster Litopia After Dark.
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