Friday, 28 August 2015

West End Wendies revisited

January 2007

After a week in Newcastle  playing The Tempest in The RSC  and three weeks swimming in tropical rain storms and downing rum punches that ripped our insides out Minnie (Mariah Gale ) and I, by now inseparable, huddled together in my Walthamstow flat contemplating the forthcoming London run of Anthony and Cleopatra and The Tempest. It was January 2007. Cold and dark outside even my humble flat seemed cosy and inviting as the train continued to rumble past and the rain, freezing this time, dogged our days and nights. I began therapy. It seemed the sensible thing to do given my disastrous love life and I looked forward to some clarity as the nights came early and the days were dank and dark.

Rehearsing in London at the Novello theatre on the strand was wonderful. I had not been back to the West End since my fleeting brush with the high life of a leading lady in Ragtime in 2003 so it was with great excitement that I found myself back treading the hallowed boards. We rehearsed the main cast first and we girls found ourselves stationed in a dressing room on the top floor of an enormous rickety old theatre, five flights up. Great thigh work out. Once The Tempest was up and running after a rapturous first night and glamorous party it was on to the understudy rehearsals. During this time I continued with therapy. Beth was a wonderful woman who lived in a gorgeous ramshackle house in Islington. I would mirror climbing the stairs in the theatre as I climbed the many stairs in her house to the tiny room at the top where I would express my hopes, my fears, my pain and my disappointment, my anger and my humour and feeling cleansed and purged I would descend to rinse my face with cold water and face the world.

After three or four weeks I started to think more about the man that I had met before the great RSC experience and when he invited me out to tea during understudy rehearsals for Miranda I realised what lovely blue eyes he had, swiftly followed by how kind he was feeding me a big chicken dinner and before I knew it I was realising I had made a mistake and that this was a wonderful man not a rogue or a ‘b’anker or a dumper or a weird internet guy but a lovely person who just might be the real thing.

And so the huge RSC experience was racing to an end. It had been a phenomenal roller coaster of a ride and with two weeks to go I checked my bank balance only to realise that, horror of horrors, I was going to have to go back to the proverbial temping! None of the auditions I had gone to towards the end of the run proved fruitful and so I was back to square one. And so two weeks before we finished I found myself getting up to go to my lettings job in the day and appearing in The Tempest at night. Fourteen hour days. I was cream crackered.

Jonny and I resumed our relationship and swiftly found that we wanted to steam ahead. Within a few months I had found a flat through my job which was by Angel tube and was affordable between us. Again at the top flight of many stairs we decided to take it for fun and convenience and rent out our flats. It was amazing to be living in almost central London and loads of friends dropped by continuously. Meanwhile, I was auditioning and auditioning and having no luck. At least, I thought, I can walk to work and I have a great boyfriend. Things are actually looking up.

After a particularly upsetting experience when my boss shouted drunken abuse at me I managed to land a work shop for a show directed by Jude Kelly called King Cotton which had been written by Jimmy McGovern of ‘The Streets’ fame. I was thrilled. The workshop was short but a great tonic and when they finally decided to do the show up at the Lowry Theatre in Salford I was really excited to be offered the job thinking to myself that this could lead to the elusive T.V. work that I never seemed destined to get.

I picked the cheapest digs which looked close to the theatre. Big mistake. As Jonny drove me nearer to the house I was to be living in the streets began to resemble a horror movie. Boarded up windows and no lights on save the street lamps it felt like a different country. Uh oh. My land lady was lovely. She was young and fun and she used to be a makeup artist on West end and touring shows but was now a wig maker based in Manchester so that she could stay in one place. We shared sentiments of being fed up with touring as we came into our thirties and I realised that I was unhappy. I did not want to be living the rest of my life like this living out of a suitcase. Although the show was wonderful and I reconnected with old friends and made new ones I missed home and in particular Jonny. I had turned thirty-five.

Back at home the idea of going back to letting flats had lost its appeal. I applied through the back of The Stage magazine for an advert for an education agency that took people to work as teaching assistants with special needs children. I secured a couple of references from Steve Marmion assistant director at the RSC and Gill King who ran all the educational workshops that I had done with Ed Kingsley who had played understudy Ferdinand. I was in.

My first assignment was working with a boy in a school in Belsize Park who was behind developmentally. It was a great and worthwhile job and I really enjoyed it. It took me through the Christmas period and then out of the blue on a trip to Gloucester to stay with friends and watch the rugby Jonny proposed! I had certainly not been expecting a proposal out in a muddy field under a huge tree but it was wonderful and I accepted happily and tearfully.

Suddenly everything snow balled. I was offered a tour of Godspell without auditioning through Paul Kerryson who I had worked for ten years earlier and was to sing the fantastic song: ‘Day by Day’. I said yes as it was three weeks on and one week off and some places were commutable. I had one week to learn the show and then we opened in Brighton as I was replacing someone who was leaving the contract. And so again I had one week to learn something! Terrified I staggered through the first night.

On the way home after the second show I ran for the train to London. It dawned on me after a while that the stops were becoming unfamiliar and I asked someone where we were going. It was not a London bound train. What to do? I got off at the next stop and asked a guard. He said that if I got back to Brighton the last train to London was at 1.05 am. I would need to get a taxi. Right. I ran to the taxi rank and urged the driver to get back to Brighton as fast as he could. He chatted and drove like a snail. As I rushed on to the platform I watched the last train to London pull out. Manically I phoned my new theatre companions who were all still in the pub and more than luckily two of them were living with a land lady who had a spare room. I was saved. Running to the pub I laughed to myself and thanked God for small mercies.

The tour was great. The people were wonderful. The producer was a crook. But I was engaged and pretty happy. Planning the wedding was going to be crazy since we decided to get married in June 2008 and the tour ended in April. Also Jonny managed to get a theatre job at the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court. The director allowed him four days off to get married. I turned 36 and was soon to be wed.








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