Helping out with the Biddermouth On Sea Amateur Dramatic Society was our friend Lila Morris’s idea. She reckoned it would be good for us to do something cultural for a change instead of just going to the Bingo. My neighbour Beattie wasn’t so sure.
‘There’s nothing mind improving about BoSADS,’ she’d said as we sat flicking through the magazines in the Bona Curl Salon, ‘unless you think seeing Frieda Finkley getting her hips jammed in a pair of French windows passes for culture. The set wobbled so much everybody was laughing.’
Lila argued that was because ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ was supposed to be funny.
‘Yes,’ replied Beattie, ‘but not at that particular moment. I mean you’d think at her age Frieda would be playing Lady Bracknell not one of the girls. I know she wouldn’t be any good at that either it but at least she’d be playing somebody her own age. And even she wouldn’t need a prompt to say ‘A handbag!’
‘And they had to shout that twice,’ added Vera Preston who was having to shout herself because Iris Naomi, the trainee stylist, had set the hair drier on twice its normal speed.
Lila said that wasn’t Clarice Henshaw’s fault. It was just bad timing.
‘The batteries in her hearing aid went flat just before her big line.’
Well I have to say if Frieda hadn’t nearly brought the house down along with the set the whole evening would have been pretty short on laughs. Especially as they managed to make it run for nearly three hours. Mind you I suppose they’d had to give her the part. You see her husband Gerald was playing her boyfriend. So at least that way when they’d had the stage to themselves you could forget they were both in their late fifties. It was only when Frieda had to call young Jackie Templeman ‘sister’ that things looked a bit weird.
‘Not as weird as when she played Juliet and her son was Romeo,’ said Hilary Mason who was having her roots done. ‘Now that was weird and believe me I’m no prude.’
‘We know that,’ said Vera whose ears were starting to burn.
‘Especially when they kissed,’ added Kevin the owner quickly so Hilary’s ears didn’t. ‘What are they doing?’
‘Macbeth,’ yelled Vera
Kevin let out such a shriek I thought he’d trapped his own fingers in his styling wand.
‘You can’t say that!’
‘What? Macbeth?’ she shouted.
‘You have to call it ‘The Scottish Play,’ or its bad luck,’ Kevin yelled back. ‘And if you don’t believe me you ask my friend Daniella.’
Apparently this actress friend of his had said it once when she was on tour in the Midlands and she’d never worked since.
As Kevin explained, despite appearing in Telford, she’d gone straight from playing Lady You-Know- Who to a part in ‘Casualty’ but they had to cut her scene because she’d kept falling off the trolley. As a result her agent flatly refused to put her forward for ‘Starlight Express’.
‘He didn’t think she could be trusted cornering on skates,’ he went on. ‘So that was that. Now she’s working in Tesco’s. And believe you me there’s only so much feeling a girl can put into announcing the special offers even when she’s been to RADA.’
Anyway, not believing in any of that old mumbo jumbo, we all turned up to offer our services. Vera said it couldn’t be that hard backstage and found herself put down for something called ‘props’ which we all thought was probably theatre-speak for laundering the costumes. I put myself down for ‘wardrobe’ although I have to say I very nearly pulled out when Frieda took one look at me and my ocelot print rain coat and said,
‘Remember this is Shakespeare Maureen, not Irma La Douce.’
I must say despite that the rehearsals were fun. Once Vera realised being in charge of ‘props’ meant handing people things even she began to enjoy herself. Except when the stage manager told her off for smoking behind the scenery. But then that was her own fault. I mean even I knew those buckets of sand were there to help put out fires not encourage people to start them. Beattie who had signed on to do front of house, turned up on opening night wearing a home-made badge saying ‘volunteer’.
‘I don’t want anybody thinking I’ve been reduced to being an usherette,’ she explained. ‘My late Arthur always said that those girls at the old Astoria cinema had been little more than prostitutes with torches. And they needn’t think I’m selling ice creams in the interval either,’ she added although she needn’t have worried because Lila was doing that.
Now I’m not saying that what happened was strictly Vera’s fault. However I do think somebody should have explained that when you’re in charge of props you’re supposed keep an eye on the script and not read the serial in ‘Woman’s Own’, otherwise you’re bound to lose track of what’s going on aren’t you? And if she hadn’t stopped off at the supermarket she’d never have had that bottle in her handbag in the first place.
Still as she said, in her own defence, she panicked.
‘I was reading a story about a woman who’d married a Zulu when I heard Frieda say ‘out damned spot’, so I thought I’d missed a cue, grabbed the ‘Fairy Liquid’ and threw it on stage. How was I to know it would explode? And why it had to be that dark God only knows. She could just about see her own hands.’
Of course I know Frieda Finckley may not have been the world’s greatest Lady-You-Know-Who but I reckon even Judi Dench would have struggled if she’d lost her footing and slithered into the orchestra pit. Mind you Frieda didn’t half ad-lib when the curtain came down. So maybe the curse is true and Vera, like Kevin’s friend Daniella, will never work again. At least not in the theatre.
To view my books ‘Bell, Book & Handbag’ and ‘Tourist Trouble & other short stories’ all featuring Maureen, Beattie and their friends from Biddermouth on Sea please click HERE
All stories in The Biddermouth Gazette ©Ian Ashley 2016