It's 06.52 on 4th December 2017 and my train pulls slowly out of London Paddington set for Worcester Foregate Street. I've a suitcase, an egg sandwich, a bottle of water and an unexpected packet of carrot batons (a £3 supermarket meal deal for breakfast). I also have the all important extra hot, double shot latte. It's cold, dark and I have left my family asleep in bed. I'm not just a little perturbed. The Christmas tree went up at the weekend and I'm feeling homesick already. Or family sick. (Not sick of my family of course. Though that would be forgivable as I've two sons, six and two, who are by turns living angels and then nightmarish devils incarnate).
My perturbation (yes, that is a word) is increased by the half knowledge of what lies ahead. You see, this is day one of rehearsals for Vamos's new show, A Brave Face. And day one of rehearsals is rather like the first day of school. You know there will be some familiar faces and some new ones. Old chums gone and fresh ones to take their place. And rather like my five year old self that arrived in the first year of infants school with freshly polished shoes, hair neatly combed and an apple in my satchel,... I wonder if I'm going to 'fit in'. These days of course, I've lost my hair, I haven't shined a pair of shoes in twenty years and I don't have an apple in my satchel, I've got a stupidly small packet of carrot batons!
I am also alarmingly aware that I am to play yet another 17 year old lad. Who joins the army. And is turned into a lean, mean, top notch physical specimen. And there will probably be some real army training to do in rehearsals with Rhys (ex-army). And I am 52. And have a paunch!
As the train pulls into Reading, I have convinced myself that the whole idea is absurd and am wondering how cross our director Rachael Savage would be if I pulled out of the whole thing now. The thought of how cross she would be is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. I quell any further idea of quitting as I do still value my genitalia, (even if they have fallen into disuse since fulfilling their destiny of procreating said nightmarish
I sprained an ankle very badly over a year ago and it's never really fully recovered. My knee gave out from under me in October and only now seems vaguely repaired. I get a persistent ache in my left wrist which I broke six years ago. Also, I know I can't get up off the floor without substantial help and a grunt resembling a highlander tossing a caber, (not great in a 17yr old 'lad' mask)... and by the time the train is pulling out of Hanborough, I
have definitely concluded that I am a broken human being. Then there is the nagging doubt that, after thirty years of devising mask theatre, (yes, I DID say 'thirty') what if I've finally, FINALLY run out of ideas? When you start a rehearsal period, you never really know what's going to come out at the other end. What if I just can't come up with the goods? By the time the train is trundling into Pershore, I have come to the morose (if not entirely true) realisation that I am a spent force, that my career is over, I can't do it any more and why, oh why, didn't I listen to my dad when he told me I needed another string to my bow, preferably one that didn't include throwing myself around the stage pretending to be BLOODY SEVENTEEN.
By Worcester Shrub Hill I have reduced my very existence to a pile of nonsense. Thirty years of wearing other people's faces on top of my own. Pretending to be someone else. Climbing in and out of sweaty costumes that cling annoyingly to your limbs, thwarting your attempts at yet another quick change. Wearing old shoes that had seen better days twenty years before and bear the imprint of the feet of the man who probably died in them
before they turned up in a second hand shop and were snapped up by a props and costume buyer...
I'm unsociable, grumpy, irritable, opinionated... why in hell's name do they want me here anyway...?
The train creaks in to Worcester Foregate Street. I grab another double shot latte. I experience a fleeting moment of optimism... maybe I'll get caffeine poisoning and have to be sent home! I crunch and reluctantly chew on a melancholy carrot baton and stroll the short distance to Worcester Arts Workshop, Vamos's headquarters, and trudge down the stairs to the rehearsal room. There are voices of those who have already arrived coming from within. I get a sudden unexpected tingle of excitement. Either excitement or I'm having a small stroke. Not sure which. I take a deep breath, open the door and saunter in. As I said, one never knows quite what the show will be like that comes out at the end of a rehearsal period, but whatever it is, on Thursday the 1st of February 2018, it opens!