FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – GREASE PAINT AND FEATHERS
Lights, camera ACTION … I fell dreamily into the arms of my leading man – Keifer was such a fine actor. We started to embrace and then …
“Morning”. The bedroom curtains were flung back, and in streamed the sunlight from an unusually sunny morning in Cardiff. My dream was shattered and I was brought back to earth well and truly by the arrival of Alison my PA.
Had I been dreaming? Well sort of. The night before was the last night of “Birds” – the production that I and about a dozen other disabled people from South Wales and the West country had been rehearsing for what seemed like an age.
My (sort of) leading man was Ben, and I’m sure he would be pleased to be compared with Keifer Sutherland. And we had kind of fallen into each other’s arms when I had my first stage kiss during one of the scenes in which I was cast as Roxy – a supposedly sexy bailiff from the East End.
Plot lines apart, I had taken my inspiration for my “Roxy” character’s accent from a good friend of mine – who wasn’t really sure what to make of my impersonation of her mother tongue; But, that’s what you get with poetic licence. Wardrobe was completed with a battered leather jacket, and longish biker-type scarf, which meant I ended up looking like a cross between Biggles and the RAF pilot portrayed by Alexander Armstrong in the BBC’s Armstrong and Miller series.
Roxy & ‘Shagger’ performing a Mating Dance! In the Birds.
Now, if you’re confused, just think what it must have been like for our audience, some of whom had apparently read the original version of the Aristophanes Birds for their literature studies at school and University … Our version bore only a fleeting resemblance to the original, and had been cleverly crafted by writer and Director Cheryl Martin to reflect the desire by so many of us present-day earthlings, to find a better place to live.
For quite a while last year, I had a yearning to do something a bit different, and so I took my life in my hands (well actually my little pandies) and went for an audition with the Unusual Stage School in Cardiff for this production. On the basis that the last time I had done any acting was a couple of years ago, when I played ‘Delilah The Flesh Eating Lesbian Bandit Queen’ in Kate O’Reilly’s “D” Monologues, and before that, when I was in school – a VERY long time ago, I really didn’t hold out much hope. But, as I’m always up for a challenge, I set about putting a piece together to perform at the audition.
Having mulled over what to do, I eventually compiled a montage of scenes from My Fair Lady, and amazed even myself as to how good I was at Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering. The over-the-counter hormone tablets obviously had the desired effect on my otherwise feminine voice! I did consider mixing it up even more and pitting Eliza Doolittle up against Maria Von Trapp and producing a sketch where the Flower Girl met the Nun on the White Cliffs of Dover, but decided enough was enough. That would have been too much for even the most hardened Director and her production colleagues to cope with.
To my surprise I got the call and commenced my mythical journey with a wonderful group of actors and entourage of a production team, who I am now proud to call my friends.
We started with a couple of workshops, and were eventually cast into our parts.
I am guessing that I got Roxy because of my Eliza Doolittle impersonation at the audition, but it may equally have been because I’m a mouthy old so-and-so, who just happens to love watching Eastenders. Perfect casting. But it wasn’t to stop there. I was also cast for Cassandra – a self made internet Billionaire. Apparently Cassandra was to be a no-nonsense type of character, used to getting her own way … Not like me at all!
Dai, Penguin & Cassandra getting annoyed with the birds! In the Birds.
But the piece de resistance was to be me as a bird in the chorus. A Flamingo no less. Pink (yes, well I’m usually flushed after a glass or two of wine), Graceful (I’ll leave you to decide on that one) and somewhat Flamboyant (Oh, alright then … yes that’s me).
Now this costume was magnificent (designed by Steve Denton and made by Bryony-Ruth Tofton). It entailed layers of pink chiffon with abundant pink feathers. A pink flamingo hat on top of my head and the longest pink and black false eyelashes you have ever seen in your life! When it all came together I looked like a cross between Queen Victoria, Barbara Cartland and a Pantomime Dame!
Months of preparation, learning lines, and practicing squawking like birds would soon pay off. But, at what cost? My family life turned into one long round of learning how to call one of my fellow actors “Shagger” in the most provocative manner possible, given the limitations that present themselves in using an electric powered wheelchair in the confined space of a stage. But you’ll be pleased to know I mastered that. You know what they say … Once a flirt!
However, learning lines was a whole new experience. Picture prompts could be found on the bathroom mirror – even my PA’s knew Roxy and Shagger had a “history” on earth-land. Scripts littered the house, but patience was soon to be tested when I got Steve to play “Shagger” in bed … Did he ruffle my feathers? Well actually No … I was far too concerned with being a thespian to think about anything else!
Apart from wearing a blingy dress topped off with a posh scarf, adding a sophisticated silver streak to my hair and an extra layer of red lipstick – I had to wear glasses. These were large round Harry Potter looking glasses. With the heat of the lights and much effort getting in and out of costumes, my body temperature went up to boiling point. Consequently the glasses steamed up and had to be removed by the make-up girls each evening for the finale, so that I could see where I was going and not kill any of the audience! In the process of getting as far as the performances, James was thoroughly sick of having a penguin to tea, and as for Welcoming anyone to Our World (our chorus for the show), I think both my boys would have happily sent me there, closed the door and thrown away the key!
The day of our first performance dawned. Dress rehearsals done and dusted, costume changes in place, and staging all set. We were told that we had to be ready, dressed and made-up by no later than 7pm – in time for curtain-up at 8pm.
Steve came to help me with final preparations, and just as we were wrestling with the pink-feathered-flamingo-dress, whilst Steve was joking about the length of time we had been in there, and that others would be thinking we were undertaking ‘the mile-high’ in the accessible loo, my mobile went off … Funny how you can never find your mobile when it rings at the most inopportune of moments. Seconds later Steve’s mobile went off … Sara our Assistant Director was worried that no-one had seen Roxy for a while – was she OK – Would they need to draft in Shirley Carter from Eastenders as Roxy had seemingly been abducted by aliens. NO, they wouldn’t, but why can’t a Diva adjust her undergarments in peace? I bet Amanda Holden didn’t get bothered by the Britain’s Got Talent production crew when she was in the loo last week!
But, I suppose it’s all in a day’s work for us theatrical types!
You’ll be pleased to know I managed to escape the loo, didn’t get to do the mile high, and remembered all my lines – I think. I got my first stage “snog” and managed just about hang onto my dignity; looking like a pink version of Queen Victoria in my flamingo outfit … I was definitely amused!
Ben & Rosie dressed as ‘Shagger’ & Flamingo! In the Birds.
But most of all, I had a great time. Huge thanks to everyone involved in the ‘Birds’ production at the Sherman Theatr Cymru. The Directors, Managers, Make-up Artists, Costume Makers and Designers, Lighting, Musicians, PAs and all the crew were phenomenal, patient and gifted. Everyone in the Unusual Stage School is so talented and I have learnt numerous skills from this experience.
I was honoured and touched that so many of my family and friends turned out to support me and the rest of the cast. Some even travelled from Swindon, Bristol and Oxford just to spend an hour in mythical Cloud Cuckoo Land.
I can tell you it was more than a bit strange returning to my day job after all the hype and exhilaration of the production. I had the pleasure of working with some very talented performers, and am grateful for that opportunity.
I’m not entirely sure if I’ll ever be cast as Queen Victoria – pink or otherwise – I’ll leave matriarchal monarchs to Dames Judi Dench and Helen Mirren. However, you never know … I might just be king for a day!
But every cloud has a silver lining. I don’t have a PA tomorrow, so watch out Keifer. Now, where were we?
Oh yes, the embrace … And CUT … Damn, on the cutting room floor again, but not before I manage to get another blog in the Can!
Exit stage left and curtains down.
PS – Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat!