I was fully expecting the world of Am Dram to be populated by the sort of characters you find in Alan Ayckbourn plays. There would be a grande dame figure called Pat (half-moon spectacles on a chain, voluminous paisley shawl), with a serenely magisterial air; everyone would be secretly a little bit in awe of her. (“You’d have to check that over with Pat, I’m afraid.“) There would be a “character actor” called Bernard, who would be given a Comedy Turn cameo role in every production; he would play all of these parts in exactly the same hammed-up way, mugging furiously to his loyal crowd in the audience. (“Good old Bernard – couldn’t have a show without him.“) There would be a slavishly self-martyring borderline hysteric called Hilary (Costume Department), who would rail constantly about having to do ALL THE WORK, with NO SUPPORT and PITIFUL RESOURCES, and absolutely NO THANKS AT THE END OF THE DAY FROM ANYONE. The stage manager would be a surly sociopath, answerable to no-one. There would be a subtle but rigidly stratified order of precedence amongst the actors – in effect, a miniature Star System – with an inner clique of three or four players who would constantly bag the best roles, to much furious sotto voce mutterings from the rest of the company. (“Well, I think we all know why Rupert gave the part to Helena, don’t we? I mean, I don’t deny that she’s a very pretty girl, but really…“)
To this effect, I have been pleasantly surprised. Everyone involved in this production has been – well – normal, and nice, and unpretentious, and socially skilled, and welcoming, and co-operative, and mutually supportive, and all of that. Who knew?
The constantly nagging question of the past three or four weeks: why haven’t I been doing this before? Why has it been eighteen years since I last acted? (Not even K has seen me on stage.) This – the acting – is actually one of the few things which I can do reasonably well. How ridiculous to have let it slip. I can’t begin to understand it.
I seem to be better at it this time round, as well. Back then, in the days of University Dramsoc, with all of its intimidatingly faux-soignee Crispins and Portias and Ramsays and Dinahs and Dominics, my self-subordinating timidity could hold me back. Besides, how much did any of us really know about the intricacies and nuances of adult human behaviour? Too many times, we would fall back on Doing It Like We’ve Seen It On The Telly – or else we’d come over all self-consciously Art-ay, in a kind of clueless sub-Samuel Beckett way. Whereas now, despite playing a deliberately stock character – the Camp Stereotype – I can work from real life observation, rather than guesswork and second hand imitation. He could have been James Dreyfuss, or Kenneth Williams, or Brian Dowling, or “Just Jack”, or Graham Norton, or any of the rest of them, but no – my little “Lexis” is his very own special creation, Lord love him.
To this end, Buni and I went out and conducted some Field Research a few weeks ago. In the Lord Roberts and @D2 (our local midweek gay venues), we trained our eyes on all the trashy queens, and solicited advice from all and sundry. What would he wear? How would he sit? How would he hold his cigarette? We tuned ourselves into the prevalent look: low-slung, distressed, “extreme boot cut” jeans (“flares” to you and me), mussed-up “fin” hairdos with the blonde highlights growing out, metal chains which dangle from the waist to the backside via the kneecap, buckled leather wristbands, chunky neck chains…quite a studied, carefully constructed look, it seemed to me. It would probably take hours to assemble, and much trawling through God knows how many funky specialist shops…
But, no. What I hadn’t realised was this: you can buy the whole look at Top Man. Every last little accessory – it’s all there for the taking, and my word, so CHEAP! Especially when Buni (my newly appointed Stylist & Personal Shopper) presented his NUS Discount Card at the till. Having set aside half a day to turn me into a trashy queen, we’d got the whole thing – including three changes of top – in less than an hour. (“It’s a mid-life crisis in a bag!“, we quipped, skipping out of Top Man together.) The ease and speed with which we were able to do this was both astonishing and somewhat disillusioning. Homogenised Chain Store Street Style: ho hum, how very humdrum. I really had credited the trashy queens with more creativity than that.
All that remains for my transformation to be complete: the haircut and the fake tan. Buying my bronzer in the chemists yesterday lunchtime, the sweet little old lady at the till smiled at me and said: “Ooh, going anywhere nice?”
(Good GRIEF. It’s for a PLAY, woman. Because WHY ELSE would I POSSIBLY want to buy bloody BRONZER? Do I LOOK like the sort of person who would turn themselves ORANGE before going on holiday? Are you perhaps confusing me with SOMEONE ELSE?)
And, oh dearie dearie me, orange is most definitely the word. Shiny, luminous orange. David Dickinson, Dale Winton, Judith Chalmers orange. People in the office have already commented – and I’m still only on my second application. Just wait till they see tomorrow afternoon’s Spiky Bleached Fin hairdo. Ooh, there’ll be talk.
Ah yes: the Spiky Bleached Fin hairdo. Now, I’m all for taking my character as far as I possibly can – but, well, I’m visiting clients in Paris next week, and the flight leaves on Monday afternoon, and the salon doesn’t open on Mondays. It’s a good job that the guy who cuts my hair is an old friend, who might be persuaded to do me an out-of-hours favour on Sunday – because I simply CANNOT walk round the streets of Paris with orange skin AND a Comedy Haircut. At least, not without a sign round my neck, in two languages, saying: IT WAS FOR A PLAY. IT’S SUPPOSED TO LOOK STUPID. I AM NOT HAVING A MID-LIFE CRISIS.
The perils of the thespian life, eh? Still, I’m doing it for Art. So that’s OK then. Because Art trumps Life, every time.