My love of theatre started when I was aged ten and my parents took me to see a local amateur pantomime. I was mesmerised by the cheeky Dame, the slapstick comedy duo, and the heroic principle boy – even if I was confused as to why the male parts were played by females, and vice versa. But most of all, I wanted to wear one of the pretty dresses the chorus girls had on.
The following year, my parents took me along to audition for Aladdin and I was thrilled to be cast as a jewel in the genie’s cave. I was told to ‘stand there and sparkle’ – not exactly taxing stuff, but as I got to wear a beautiful emerald-green sparkly dress, I didn’t mind. From that moment on, I was hooked. I progressed from the chorus into character roles, and while most of my school friends spent their free time obsessing with fashion, make-up, pop music and boys, I was prancing around the stage pretending to be Miss Muffet, Bessie the Milkmaid and Aurora the Goose. I admit it, I was an odd child. It never occurred to me that dressing up in a padded white-fleece animal-suit and pretending to ‘lay an egg’ wasn’t normal.
Adulthood brought with it more in-depth roles, such as Nora in The Dolls House, Maggie in Hobson’s Choice and Viola in Twelfth Night. In 2001, my local drama group put on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I went along to the auditions hoping to be cast as Helena or Hermia, one of the female leads – who got to wear pretty dresses and swoon over handsome men in tight breaches. You can see a pattern forming here. Instead, I was cast as Puck, the mischievous goblin who flies around the forest planting spells on people, and who has a highly suspicious relationship with the King of the Fairies. Not a pretty dress in sight! Suffice to say, I wasn’t happy.
I began to enjoy myself.
Rehearsals began and things went from bad to worse. I was asked to ride a bicycle, perform cartwheels, reside in a makeshift tree-house and wear shorts – something I hadn’t done since 1979. But a strange thing happened. I began to enjoy myself. I hadn’t realised the part was so funny. I was soon whizzing around the stage like a hyperactive child on speed.
Opening night arrived and my blonde hair had been cut into a pixie style and dyed ‘fire-orange’. Along with my green make-up and matching green velour shorts and tunic, I looked quite the woodland nymph. My white plimsolls, spray-painted for the show, hadn’t quite dried, so I ended up with green-stained feet. But apart from that, the show was a massive success. . . well, if you ignored my encounter with the army netting in Act Two.
The set designer had managed to obtain a large ravel of camouflage netting from the British Army, which somehow I managed to get my ears stuck in. These were not my natural features, I hasten to add, but the jugs on the thirty-inch donkey head made for the character of Bottom. The director had this brilliant idea that when Bottom awoke from his dream, he’d see Puck moving spookily about the stage wearing the Ass’s head.
Rehearsals hadn’t been a problem, as we didn’t have either the Ass’s head or the camouflage netting. But during opening night, I moved forward to deliver my line and realised I was stuck. The netting locked tight, like a well-designed seatbelt, and I was yanked backwards. The Ass’s head swivelled ninety-degrees blinding my view and masking my mouth. For the remainder of the scene, my moves were confined to two steps either side of where I was entangled. By the time I got off stage, I was sweltering, my make-up was smudged, my voice was croaky and my nose was rubbed sore from horse-hair friction.
Despite the director assuring me that ‘no one would have noticed’, I remained sceptical. A green goblin wearing a back-to-front Ass’s head stuck in army camouflage netting, is something most people would notice.
But playing Puck was great fun… despite the green face-paint leaving me with a strangely jaundice skin-tone, and my ‘fire-orange’ hair taking forever to grow out. But it was worth it. After all, it was the inspiration for The Summer Theatre by the Sea.