Friday, 5 July 2013

The Play Must Go On

I don't know how old the old saying 'the show must go on' is but I wouldn't mind betting it was originally uttered in Greek. Actually, it might even go back to the cave men and have nothing to do with theatre at all, "It's pissing down out there, Ug. We can't go hunting in this". "Oh yes we can, Og. The show must go on".

When it comes to live theatre you can't let the paying audience down. With 48 hours to go before George Bernard Shaw's 'Candida' hit the stage, part of the Theatre Royal Bath's summer season, one of the main actors, the always splendid David Troughton, had to take flight as someone in the family had fallen ill.
Shame, I was looking forward to seeing him. Two weeks ago he'd been a guest ago on my Sunday radio show and we'd enjoyed twenty minutes of backwards and forwards, tales of luviedom, telly and his late father, Patrick Troughton, who played the second Dr Who.

No problem, these things happen. That's what understudies are for.

There was no understudy.

You can imagine the panic. "We have a crisis!" Not like the one in Cairo, or the economic hell that is Greece, a theatrical crisis which may be small beer by comparison but one I'd love to have seen being played out. They'd been rehearsing for four weeks, everything was ready to go. This isn't like television where they learn half a page at a time, shoot and learn the next page. You have to know the whole part. All your words and the cues.

And deliver it in a believable way.

And get laughs.

Before the play began, in a moment that was more The Two Ronnies than Theatre Royal Bath,  the director appeared through the red curtain to tell the audience what had happened, the disappointment of losing David Troughton, the relief of finding someone to fill his shoes - RSC actor Christopher Godwin. And then the scary part, he said that Christopher Godwin would be carrying a script. Carrying a script, on stage, how was that going to work? Suddenly there was a shuffling of bums and nervous energy in the auditorium. Immediately my mind went to the wonderful Two Ronnies Amateur Dramatics sketch in which Ronnie Barker plays a a butcher who is a late replacement for a cast member who's gone ill. Barker reads his part from a book, losing all the intonation and misreading much of the dialogue. Hilarious, but not what was required in 'Candida'.

Curtain up and the first moments went well enough but then Chris Godwin was still backstage, you could feel the audience waiting for his entrance. Would he be reading, bumping into the furniture? "Sorry, love. I'll take read that again".

Forget it. Members of the RSC are the marines of the acting profession. Though Godwin carried a script book he hardly referred to it, he'd learnt 95% of the role in two days - two days! - and put in a terrific performance. Needless to say he got a huge round of applause at the end.

So today it's hat's off to old school English actors, making a perfectly wonderful drama out of a crisis.

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