Treading the Boards

One of the Lawyer’s school friends is making it in the world of acting, appearing in a recent episode of Silent Witness and fronting his own series soon I believe. Which made me ponder why, for someone such as myself who veritably glories in making a complete and utter tit of himself for laughs, haven’t I tried the old acting game more?

It’s not always been the case, though.

When I was small, I have had the odd moment, in amongst crucifying shyness.

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At ten I played ‘Father’ in a school drama called Mischief at Midnight where I had to put my arm around my stage wife, Alison Randell, dying several thousand deaths over the two performances.

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All I can now remember about Alison are her blond, page-boy haircut and green woolly tights. I suppose in some ways that’s not a bad way to be remembered.

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That’s me, the huge one – prefect to play ‘father’ and ‘Joseph’

I made it big the following year, as Joseph in the long running ‘Nativity – The Stable Version’. This involved some standing and looking thoughtful in amongst a bit on my knees when I think God, but it could have been a Roman or Herod, gave me what for for doubting Mary. I think this probably began my antipathy towards kneeling. I assumed I was chosen for such a leading role because I brought gravitas and dignity to a difficult to pull off characterisation as the husband cuckholded by the Big Man. Whereas it was because I was the tallest in my year.

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The biggest role that I undertook occurred some six years later when I was transitioning from gawky gauche  teenager into a pre-adult gearing up for university. I was just 17 and taking French to A level. This turned out to be a bit of a bad call (I failed) but at the same time I thought it was rather splendid and ever so slightly romantic. I read aloud from Camus, did the pretend shock thingy over Maupassant’s misogyny and sneered at Voltaire. Too cool to be the fool. Not.

When the Head of French, a redoubtable dumpling of a lady, Margaret ‘Peggy’ Post announced we would be doing a play I was a little indifferent. But then the play was announced. A Jean Paul Sartre affair. Les Mains Sales – Dirty Hands, as  a scruffy translation – I had to be involved if any street cred was to be maintained. I was existentialism personified. In my own head.

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There were auditions. Looking back I wonder I was chosen for the second male lead, Hoerderer. My acting credentials were poor and during a read through Peggy stopped to correct my pronunciation twice as much as the next candidate. I blame ‘feuille’ – leaf. Sartre was fixated with the bloody word. Peggy summoned all the dignity bestowed by her role as ambassador (Hampshire Branch) for  L’Academie Francais and demanded I master the back of the throat sound needed to give air  to the ‘euille’ piece. This youthful English larynx was not up to the challenge.

Peggy – who we also knew (I like to think affectionately, but will let history be the judge) by her Spoonerised Christian name of Piss (Miss Post – Piss Most – this was rural Hampshire, circa 1972 and so that passes for wit) – had a sister in arms in the production: head of English and former torturer from the Valkyrie Section of the Waffen SS, Ethel Davis. No one gave her a nickname. No one called her Ethel. At least not while in the same county. Miss Davis disliked anyone who might not be pulling their weight. Enthusiasm counted for a lot and I became convinced my selection fell to the simple fact that I kept trying. That and I was one of two boys capable of growing an approximation of a beard, needed for my anarchist character.

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The Misses Davis and Post left nothing to chance. We had individual scripts, with stage directions scribbled on them. We rehearsed daily for what appeared to be several weeks. Miss Davis pleaded with me to give up rugby – she feared injury – though Miss Post evidenced a greater understanding suggesting a broken nose or, better still, lost limb might add a certain ‘verité’ to my character.

We gave two performances. The first, to the school itself was somewhat farcical. A bottle of red wine (Ribena from memory) was knocked over in scene one and the puddle was still spreading and being avoided by the characters in scene four which, in the play, took place some months later.

After that rather staccato performance we had what can only be described as a  vigorous dress rehearsal for the last showing – to our families and invited guests. I recall two things from that.

First Miss Davis decided my beard was too blond and blacked it in. Andy, the other beard grower had no such problems and made what I thought were some rather hurtful remarks about my masculinity based solely in my bleached bristles.

Second there is a scene where Jessica, a femme fatale character, hands me a gun (or something like that – the plot escapes me now). In the first performance Catherine, playing Jessica, and I rather messed up the transfer – entirely my fault as I was already thinking about the kiss we had to undertake next (this was to our first lip on lip contact) and I had drifted up stage. In front of the assembled company Miss Davis admonished both of us for the clumsy acting and said (I’m near enough quoting so seared in my memory is it) ‘Remember Geoffrey after the kiss you get it on the bed’. I may not have learnt much about acting but I did experience my first corpsing.

*I have to thank Mum for the pictures – being the hoarder she was, she kept everything as you can see.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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36 Responses to Treading the Boards

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    Wonder is your Miss Davis was related to our Madam Brolowsky? Certainly sounds like it…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder why they didn’t let you play Geoffrey in your primary school play?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. M. L. Kappa says:

    Gaaahhh! Brings back excruciating memories… Also being the tallest in my class, I always had to play the male lead (girls school) in various productions, despite being singularly untalented and prone to fits of the giggles. But how was it possible to remain poker faced when dressed in a nightshirt and cap, as ‘Papa’ in ‘Twas the night before Christmas’, while peering out of an imaginary window to see my schoolmates galloping like a herd of buffaloes, sporting red or green miniskirts and antlers on their heads?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your stories are more entertaining than fiction. I smiled, laughed and nodded as I read your wonderful recollections. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ellenbest24 says:

    A brilliant if somewhat painful episode recalled with the help of your Mother. I hope a boy remembers me as kindly as you do your co Actress, wooly tights scratched and itched mercilessly as i remember.
    Great post as usual thank you. 😇

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ahh…the blackened beard, the first theatrical kiss, playing “fathers” as a child. You were meant to be a thespian ?? But we all know that the practice of law requires some of those skills. ☺ Nice memories. Sometimes, that hoarding comes in handy.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. But alas, no pictures of you actually ‘getting it on the bed’ 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Allie P. says:

    I tried out for a school play once only to discover that I am painfully bad at improv. Feed me a line, any line, and I will run with it, but please do not shine that light on me and make me think on the spot unless you are prepared to really embrace the weirdness that makes up my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. gordon759 says:

    You think you had rejection, I was thrown out of the Sunday School Choir for my appalling singing voice ( I would have been about 9) and put on special effects, pulling the star on a cord down the aisle for the wise men to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. davidprosser says:

    I should like to be remembered for something but I don’t think a blonde page boy haircut and green tights. I don’t envy you the performances.though the stage kiss might have been OK.as might ‘getting it on the bed’.
    Hugs Geoff

    Liked by 1 person

  11. trifflepudling says:

    Brought back mixed memories of school performances, thanks! My moment in the sun came when I played the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe. It was great fun, apart from the dress rehearsal to the Junior School one afternoon when I forgot some song words and had to la la la for a bit! We had the local press in on the last night but unfortunately we were never able to get any photos they took at all (and the school hadn’t taken any because they thought the press ones would be better) because the 1970s militant press went on strike and wouldn’t issue them, meanies. Never forgave the Unions for that, no record at all for all of us who took part 😦 … !

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Charli Mills says:

    You ought to “perform” some of your own work at open mic nights! Do some dramatic interpretations of My Father and Other Liars or spoken word poetry with your sonnets. You’d have fun!

    Liked by 1 person

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