Tuesday, 2 June 2015
Here's one for any performers out there. May you never find your guitar transformed into a clumsily-drawn cardboard replica and the stage ankle-deep in water. Though it's bound to happen sooner or later.
I haven't spent much of my life on stage, though I have often delivered an artfully-crafted PowerPoint presentation to various tough crowds, and have performed often enough to know that it is both an addictive and a terrifying experience, best left to those needy few whose appetite for applause is insatiable. One early stage experience in particular made a permanent mark on me. Or rather, non-experience.
At primary school we were supposed to be putting on a play. I can remember very little about it, apart from my one line: "No, Peleus, wait!", sternly delivered with an upheld, admonitory palm. From that tiny piece of surviving dramatic DNA, I deduce that the play had some sort of Trojan Wars theme, Peleus being the father of Achilles, though I think I can be pretty sure that a bunch of primary-school kids were not enacting the premeditated rape by Peleus of Achilles' mother, the shape-shifting sea-nymph Thetis. Whatever it was supposed to be, the main thing was that the play never took place. Why, I don't know. Our school had a strong record in dramatic productions, and as far as I can recall in every previous year there had been a well-received school play put on by the final year pupils. It was simply something that happened with a certain periodicity, like morning assembly, Sports Day, and visits from the Nit Nurse.
My suspicion is that certain principals failed to learn their lines, or bottled out. Whatever the reason, the play never even got to the dress rehearsal stage and was quietly abandoned, so those of us who had learned our lines -- "No, Peleus, wait!" -- were left with a nagging sense of anticlimax, and the disquieting thought that we had somehow, collectively or individually, not lived up to expectation. That year -- our year -- there would be no school play. Or would there? Nobody in authority ever really settled the question. Had we forgotten to turn up for key rehearsals? Had we been so bad that the thing was silently euthanized? This sort of thing bothers you when you are ten, and still haunts the milder end of the spectrum of my anxiety dreams, along with the unwritten essays, missed trains, and public appearances in pyjamas. To this day, part of me expects to be called upon suddenly and unexpectedly to deliver my one line: "No, Peleus, wait!" But I'm ready, and have been for fifty years. I need closure!
Actually, there was another similar experience around the same time, during a family summer holiday in a caravan situated within a holiday camp on the English east coast, somewhere near Walton-on-the-Naze. But the world is not yet ready for the story of my abandoned preparations to sing "I Remember You" by yodellin' Frank Ifield at a holiday camp talent show. That one sits slightly further up the anxiety spectrum.