Rehearsals were fantastic. I loved getting back into the theatre after a summer of not much and enjoyed learning pantomime songs which are always a real laugh. Before I met the cast, I looked up the people I would be working with on google. (Come on everyone does this! Don’t they?) One member looked promising: Jonathan Kemp. Quite handsome, I thought. He was the last person to introduce himself to me on the first day. I thought he was like Bambi- all sweet with long limbs and bashful. Then later I thought he had a slightly dangerous twinkle in his blue eyes. One day when we were rehearsing my Dad gave me a lift back from having lunch at my family home because it was near the rehearsal rooms. Jonny, as I then discovered his name was, saw me leaving my Dad’s big red car and asked me if that was my boyfriend. Bearing in mind that my father was sixty-two at the time this was a facetious remark. Anyhow this was to blossom into a friendship and then a kiss in the Hampstead tea rooms that marked the beginning of my meeting with my husband.
Greenwich at Christmas was beautiful. Lovely Christmas lights-turned on by myself and Aladdin after being hauled around town in minus degrees in a horse drawn carriage freezing my tits off in my princess costume. Aladdin and I turned on the lights to herald a very merry and fun Christmas full of two show days, much gargling with port (good for the voice) and eating mince pies. It even snowed!
Jonny and I had a romance that involved sneaking off for little coffees and lovely suppers in bar de mussee. We told no-one as we didn’t want the cast gossiping. In the show was a mad eccentric Dame called Liam who had crazy red curly hair and a wicked glint in his eye. He talked about his sexual conquests in loud whispers on stage describing the night, or even the morning before in graphic detail. Charming! This manic depressive Dame enjoyed terrorizing the children in the audience and was once known to stop the show and glare at a poor unsuspecting pre-teen and demand that he stop texting right now as it was really annoying him. Just like a packet of revels you never knew what you were going to get!
I was feeling on top of the world when I received an audition through from my agent.
‘Sweetie! I have an audition for you on January 2nd. It’s for the R.S.C. Anthony and Cleopatra, The Tempest and Julius Caesar. Fourteen months touring. Just turn up at the office and know the texts. Alright sweetie? 2.30. Byee.’
Ooh. I had been asking for a miracle job and here it bloody well was. I told absolutely no-one barring Jonny. The panto finished on the previous Saturday and on the Tuesday night before the audition I could be found in Borders perusing the texts and trying desperately to finish them before my audition on Wednesday. I had started straight back at the lettings agency in Islington and so was busy during the days.
Tuesday night at seven o’clock my phone rings.
‘What you doing?’ My sister Chloe.
‘Um, you know, not much. Just in Borders’.
‘Oh good. You can chat.’ Shit shit shit. No I could not. I was nearly through reading Anthony and Cleopatra and had Julius Caesar to tackle before the morning. Get off the phone!
‘Okaaaay. What’s up?’
‘Weeell. You know when I get married?’
‘Are you getting married?’
‘Someday. I mean, well by the time I’m thirty.’
‘Okay. You’re twenty-three. So technically that’s seven years away. Has Jonny (her boyfriend) asked you?’
‘No. But when I get married do you think I have to invite great auntie Glenda? You know I mean she does have that problem where she gets loud and drunk and starts shouting.’
‘Sure but a) no-one’s asked you to marry them and b) by the time they do aunty Glenda might have a) died b) been to AA or c) I don’t have a c) I just kind of need to get on with stuff. Can I ring you tomorrow?’
‘You have a BIG AUDITION.’
‘Well. No. I just need to chill out and get some sleep after panto-mania.’
Act IV scene 1. Cleopatra: Oh Charmian, I will never go from hence. Charmian: Be comforted dear Madam. Cleopatra: No, I will not: All strange and terrible events are welcome, But comforts we despise…….’ The phone rings. My other sister Antonia.
‘Hi Zem. Whatya doing?’
‘Just not much. Taking it easy. You?’
‘Oh, you know, sorting out drama school applications. Do you think it’s worth applying to loads or just RADA, Guildhall and Bristol. I mean central has a good reputation. I’m just not sure whether it’s better to concentrate on one. What do you think?’
‘Well’ I glanced at my watch. I think. Fuck, shit it’s 7.30. I have a play to finish and one to read and the second biggest audition of my life tomorrow.
‘Are you busy? I can phone you back later.’
‘Yes. No! We’ll speak tomorrow I’m just knackered. Go for as many as possible. I should have. Love you.’ Click.
I was outside on a bench for all of this. Borders would be closing in an hour or so. I would have to buy the plays, go home to my flat in Walthamstow and crack on. It was freezing cold in January 2006 but my blood was on the boil. I was excited and nervous and pleased. Jonny and I were still on and I had a great opportunity.
The following day I took the afternoon off work and dressed in basic black attire, no make-up to speak of and long loose straightened hair. I made my way to the centre of town from angel and sat in Café Nero in Seven Dials. I was early. Or so I thought. I ordered a coffee and sat down feeling calm. Quick look at The Tempest and the music that I was going to sing: Your Daddy’s son, Ragtime and I felt confident and apprehensive at once butterflies dancing in my stomach and caffeine buzzing in my brain. The phone rings. I look at the number. It is my agent. Quickly I pick up.
‘Hi.’ She sounds concerned. ‘Where are you?’
‘What?’ I’m stunned.
‘You’re late for the casting. Greg (Doran) is waiting for you.’
O-MI-GOD. I am late for a casting with the RSC.
‘You said two- thirty!!!!!’ A woman turned to look at me.
‘No. I said two.’
I slammed the cup down and raced up the road pressing the buzzer to the office and panting hard.’
‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Not to worry. Sit down and take your time.’ Turns out that Greg Doran is one of the nicest men alive.
The audition process for the RSC season that year consisted of three parts: a singing audition, reading Portia to the director of Julius Caesar and meeting with the director of Anthony and Cleopatra for the part of Iras. As I came out relieved and elated it was over I bumped into Allyson Brown the Girl who had played Mimi in the Rent tour that I had not enjoyed. It was really funny how we always seemed to be up against each other. She looks very similar to my sister Antonia. Ah well. I thought. I really liked Allyson and I knew the right person would get the job (let it be me! Let it be me!)
Blow me down with a ten ton weight of feathers but I was me! I rang my Dad.
‘I’ve got a job with the RSC. Fourteen months touring. Stratford-Upon-Avon. Michigan. Newcastle and London’s West-End.’
‘Good Lord. I have to go someone’s phoning me. Chloe?’ Click. Jonny said he knew I would get it. And weirdly two things had pointed towards that being a possibility. One was Greg saying after I read for Iras: ‘Well you could do that standing on your head’, and the other was the casting director saying: ‘See you soon’ when she spotted me running home for the tube.
My offer was as follows: Iras, understudy Octavia and Charmian in Anthony and Cleo with Patrick Stewart as Anthony and Harriet Walter as Cleopatra and Goddess in The Tempest, understudy Miranda. Nothing in Julius Caesar. This meant that I was contracted to do two plays where most people were contracted to perform in three. Time off would abound. I was nervous and hyper excited.