Illusion

“My shoes smell of SHIT!” So says Miranda, wedding dress disheveled but mostly zipped up. “Smell them!” She pushes them near my face. God no! You can smell them in Chipping Norton. Once upon a time they were ballet pumps. Now Vladimir Putin wants them for a visit to Salisbury Cathedral. They are death. The only thing worse than those pumps are Trinculo’s shoes, which have been given to two hobbits to take to Khazad Dum.

Trinculo’s back went funny in his bed last night. He’s in agony. It didn’t stop him from doing his scene ten times and his scene involves getting in a little rubber dinghy which must be agony with a bad back. He got a lift there after the shipwreck to save him running, as did Sebastian and Antonio, leaving me sprinting down the road on my own. Late to the party as ever. There I was, panting and frantically plucking ivy leaves from a tree to make my boats. They sauntered past much earlier than usual. “We must do it like that more often!” Delightful bastards. They can call it character research.

Much of our costume has fallen apart, generally, as is usually the case one way or another.

I munged my jacket within a week but got a replacement which I keep safer. One of my cufflinks dissolved and is now a safety pin. Some of us have cut the legs off our trousers so the air can get to us. Close up, we are disheveled. But say one thing about this company – we all get stuck in and solve our own problems. This is a company of kind experienced actors with an understanding that just because an employer is making employment it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re rolling in filthy lucre. Jobs like this allow a company to exist, and provide employment for lots of actors and joy to lots of audience. But it’s not a big cash-cow and shouldn’t be treated as such.

When I’m filming for a big budget job sure I will wait until someone brings me wellies and holds my shoes and someone else carries an umbrella over before I walk exactly as instructed across the uncovered mudpatch towards the location. But that’s because there are people whose job is to do all of those things, and it makes it quicker in the long run for everybody as you can’t have a mudsplash on trousers suddenly that then vanishes in the next scene. As a general rule, in theatre muck in to help solve and on set wait until you know you can definitely solve the problem before mucking in.

In this sort of community we do the job of dresser for ourselves once the show is open. As long as I’m there physically I can say the things that need to be said for my scene, with or without cufflinks, even if I’m wearing a tutu. It’s only if there’s something impossible to surmount that we must reach out to the massively overworked team around us for help.

We are approaching the end of this glorious run. Our costumes are disintegrating. This is familiar to me from many previous shows with different companies, over the years. You fix your own stuff if you have to. Ferdinand only has one and a half working buttons left on his waistcoat. We only have 2 shows left.

The magic of theatre! You can get away with murder if you sell it hard. I’ve made my first entrance with mud all over my trousers and shoes from the previous rainy matinée and just thrown my arms and energy up and acted high in order to draw attention off it.

This is theatre. Magic can be cheap and still magical. Even in the moneyed theatres, the backstage area is narrow, crowded, smells of feet or microwave cooking and carries paggro notices. You’re the character until you walk offstage through that exit and then you’re actively reminded that you are a big pretendyface and have to put the prop exactly in the right place – for very solid reasons. I heard of a Julius Caesar being actually stabbed with a letterknife when an actor hadn’t picked up the retractable blade from the table but found the letterknife instead.

I’m the king in a cheap shirt, dyed and pumped up with a button-down ruffed front that can’t be washed. I’ve got a clip-on bowtie that I personally wouldn’t be seen dead in. My shoes are covered in mud most of the time. But it works. It is a glorious illusion, and a storytelling. And I’m thrilled to be part of it.

I’m winding down on the train. I thought I’d have a friend for this leg of the journey – I’d sorted her a comp and all – but she had a writing deadline out of nowhere. So it’s me, Marks and Sparks beer, you lot and the train.

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Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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