This month I turned the ripe old age of fifty - half way through, they say, though I can’t imagine living to 100 (I mention with pride that my granddad Robbo did indeed live until he was a 102! Smoked since he was nine and brought up on bread and dripping - good genes or an anomaly, I won't know until then!)
For some reason these “significant ‘ birthdays make one pause on a comfy chair and ponder one’s journey so far and where one has arrived thus far.
Well, as a jobbing actor over the years I’ve had the good fortune to encounter a versatile array of roles, from a turtle to a Florida grapefruit, from a parrot to a Polish despot conquering the world on a toilet! I may have had to live off a bag of potatoes, but never a dull moment!
When I properly started to noodle around what I had been doing over the last thirty years, I realised I had more often than not played children and having earned my stripes in this arena could possibly be nominated for the Jimmy Krankie award for services to the industry. The Benjamin Button of the theatre world!
So on tour with Vamos, I get to play two young girls about 8 years old. Katie - an energetic schoolgirl mad on Gameboys and hairstyling, and Khatera - about the same age, from Afghanistan. Khatera, equally open and playful but a little worldlier wise and considered, but with the same hopes and joys. Children are the same everywhere!
Is it my nimbleness and chameleon-like quality as a performer that allows me to transcend type casting? I'd love it if it was, but I remember the day of the audition at Vamos! Having played a few games to calm the nerves we did an exercise called he silence line. We are instructed to line up without speaking in various orders, our birthday, our eye colour and finally our height! It’s a great exercise and really begins the process of really looking, listening and communicating without words! When it comes to the height line up I always take myself immediately to the end! I’m always the shortest. We’re all short in my family and it’s as if we live in a doll’s house, we’re like the Borrowers! Various gentleman callers over the years have had to stoop to come in to our house, stoop to open to cupboards and bend double for a goodnight kiss! Often I have dreamed of a 32” inside leg measurement and of purchasing trousers that fit perfectly off the peg! But one thing I have learned in theatre is… you have to go with what you’ve got and being short has stood me in good stead!
Now, I maybe short but I’m still a 50-year-old woman with extra round bits. Where shall we put your boobs?? Tie them round the back and cover them with a rucksack? Sellotape? Our designer Carl was brilliant and after a few incarnations and experiments I managed to be transformed into the picture you see above!
It’s not just about being short, and inventive corsetry! It’s also the mask and the direction. When I first saw a mask show, like everyone, I was amazed by all the characters I had seen and how few performers came to take a bow. The magic of the mask is you can play many things and be in many places at once. The mask sets up an idea that the audience completes. It’s also the magic of theatre that we all are complicit in the pretence and pretty soon the drama takes over and we’re on a journey together. It is this freedom to play anything that makes it more egalitarian in a way, you really can be whoever you want to be and how you are received is up to you, but largely up to the audience! It gives me some respite from worrying about my pension!
As a small note, I do have to laugh to myself as I stagger back to the dressing room sweaty and buzzing and apply the Ralgex and deep heat for my 50-year-old knees! Not the kind things an 8 year old has in their satchel!