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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Working In Theatre- Part 6

 I remember John Mortimer arriving at the rehearsal studio and some days bringing in completely new scenes he had only just written. It seems that when the play started rehearsals that it wasn't complete, hence the new scenes as well as some scenes being completely rewritten. It must have been quite stressful for the actors involved as it would have meant new lines to be learned.

I went with the designer of the show on a prop-buying expection in central London. We went to a variety of prop hire companies and even into Television Centre in Shepherd's Bush. It was quite an experience for a rather 'green' youngster at the time to be going into this famous building, and particularly into areas that you wouldn't probably get access if you didn't know a member of staff there, as he obviously was. We went into the B.B.C. club, the staff-only bar and restaurant and design department. All of this is now closed down as the B.B.C. vacated the building earlier this year. 

"A Voyage Round My Father" was due to start it's run with a Press Night, as most new plays do. It was a World Premier, so there would have been a lot of interest. We did a technical rehearsal, but the set would not work.  It took something like four nights for the show to be 'got in' to being something like ready for a technical rehearsal. I had been detailed for something  like two nights to look after the technicians from the company who supplied the equipment that worked the set to make them tea and generally keep them supplied with food, sandwiches etc, in a vain attempt to get the set working so that the show could proceed to it's Opening Night. But, after a great deal of effort it was decided during the Technical rehearsal, that the set wasn't going to work as planned and the scene changes would have to be done  another way without the 'forms' moving up and down stage and spinning round on their axes. We had to bring furniture and other pieces of scenery on in full view of the audience with the projections set to be projected onto the stationary 'forms.' The revolving section worked well enough to be used as planned.
During one of the performances the lighting was being re-designed as the show went along, not something that is usual in any show. One performance was extra special, as we had Royalty in the audience. Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden came to this particular performance and there was a great buzz around the theatre as at first it wasn't clear who the 'royal personage' was. Special arrangements were made to the restaurant in the theatre with a screened-off area for them to sit and have their meal. I believe that they came up the river from central London and came to the theatre from the river-side, but I can't be sure now. So, I can say that I have appeared on stage 'before royalty' even though I was only pushing a piece of scenery on stage!

I would imagine that "A Voyage Round My Father" was eventually going to transfer into the West End. It wasn't clear one way or the other, but it would have been great if it had and all those who had worked on it in Greenwich had gone with it,  including myself, but it didn't have a West End transfer. We were visited by several prominent actors who would have been cast as the central character of the father, such as Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave and Alex Guinness. I believe that Alex Guiness did eventually play the part in the West End and Laurence Olivier was in a brand new television version which was made by Thames Television. I do remember Olivier coming backstage having seen a performance. The play has since been revived more recently, with Derek Jacobi in the role of the father and staged at the Donmar Warehouse.

During this period there were many strikes, it was during the 'Winter of Discontent' of the 1970's, and at one point there were many different groups of workers on strike, particularly dustmen, and I recall seeing piles of rubbish along the side of streets in London due to this strike, rubbish which hadn't been collected due to these strikes. Also, power workers went on strike and there were a lot of power cuts. As a result, places such as theatres were not considered important enough to have electricity and some were closed early to preserve electricity. Also, lights in shops were turned off early in the evening. It was at this time that Greenwich Theatre installed a generator to provide power to light the stage lighting and emergency lighting and so allowing performances to continue uninterrupted. One performance was, though, underway, when there was a powercut.  This must have been before the generator was installed. The actors continued, presumably expecting the electricity to be restored, but it didn't come on, and the audience seemed to enjoy the performance, and it must have been rather like experiencing a live radio play. Quite amazing, and brilliant that the actors managed to continue in the dark!

During this time I had an interview at R.A.D.A. (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) to join their stage management course. I didn't get accepted. They said, as I was already working in theatre, there wasn't much they could teach me that I didn't already know. I don't know, on reflection, whether it would have made any difference to me, but as I had got around three years of experience behind me, I'm not sure whether I would have benefitted.

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