Sunday, November 29, 2009

Goodbye Marley, Goodbye Fezziwig!

Today's matinee performance of The Christmas Carol brought the season to a close. The audience was the largest of those we performed to (apart from the two school performances) and it was good to feel that the house didn't have lots of large empty spaces in it.

Unfortunately Habitat for Humanity, for whom we were fundraising by putting on the show, probably won't do very well financially out of it. However, their view is that it raises their profile further (as did our connection with them with The Diary of Anne Frank) and that's good for them in itself.

Within an hour of the performance finishing, the set was already in a state of deconstruction, props were being loaded into cars, and it was as if the show had never existed. Such is the nature of theatre, of course. But another feature of theatre which is always intriguing is what the audience doesn't see.

When you go to a play or musical or any other piece of theatre, as an audience member, your focus is almost entirely on what you see on the stage. What exists beyond is seldom thought about. The set and the actors are 'real' for you for the time being, but of course they're not in the least bit real for the actors.

Standing backstage you will see the person who's just come off in tears laughing at some whispered joke made by another actor. You will see two stagehands kneeling on the floor, on either side of the french windows, ready to pull the doors open as one of the Ghosts walks back through it. (The effect for the audience is magic; the reality is a lot more prosaic.)

You will see me bounding down the stairs after a serious scene as Marley's Ghost, tearing off his costume, racing up to the make-up girl, wiping off all the carefully applied talcum powder, having my face made up for a second time - this time as Fezziwig with bright pink cheeks - while the wardrobe lady helps me into my multi-buttoned waistcoat, ties a long blue tie around my neck, helps me on with my coat, and sends me pounding back up the stairs again to the stage where, breathing a little heavily, I wait to turn into a character who couldn't be more different from the bitter and twisted Ghost.

You will see the eight-foot high Ghost of Christmas Future backing out through a revolving door, taking a couple of cautious steps to turn himself to the left (otherwise he will walk straight onto the head of the prompt) and then, all scariness gone, being helped down two or three behind-the-set steps supported by the arms of a stagehand, without whom he would likely take a very serious tumble. You will see the same stagehand hoisting up Tiny Tim onto Bob Cratchit's shoulders: after several failed but hilarious attempts during rehearsal to do it on his own this was the only speedy way to get the child up there.

You might also see the fire warden wandering his regular route through the building during the show; he is probably the only real safety aspect available. It's not that safety products are unknown in amateur theatre (or in professional, if it comes to that) but they're few and far between. And accidents do happen. In this show we managed to get through with no more than a single skinned knee (another one of the Ghosts); in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader we had chips and bruises and cuts galore - some plays are more dangerous than others!
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