Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A Cast of Characters

When I say a cast of characters do I mean on or off the stage?  Well, in this case I mean both.

I’ve been doing the workshop of a new musical called A Body To Diet For written by Tim Anfilogoff and Alan Whittaker.  The workshop and theatre presentations have been produced by Katy Lipson from Aria Entertainment, with direction by Matthew Gould, musical direction by Ben Holder, and stage management, John Nicoll. 

Sometimes casts and crew gel, sometimes they don’t.  You don’t usually expect an outcome one way or the other quickly, particularly if people haven’t met or worked together before, however with this production it happened remarkably rapidly and we really haven’t stopped laughing or teasing (on or off stage). 

Did the creative team sense this at auditions?  Or did they just get lucky?

Whatever the goal, the characters in this show are funny but the cast are even funnier – to the extent it was sometimes hard to focus.  I nearly missed an onstage cue at the last performance because the back-stage shenanigans were on fire and it was hard to hear.  That’s not to say everyone’s not professional, as well as individually and collectively talented and committed, but the combination of wits – from dry, cheeky, subtle to rude and plain off-the-wall – makes for a unique cocktail.  The personalities are diverse too, yet even the most quiet has willingly gone with the flow and enjoyed the banter.  

Everyone in this cast can sing, act and be dramatically flexible, fast and funny... so why the especially high energy?

Well, that probably derives from the fact that we each took on the responsibility of learning the larger part of an entire musical in eight days rehearsal.  It was, to say the least, intense.  So perhaps the humour was our release?  That hardly explains the high percentage of flirtation and back-stage sexual innuendo, again not necessarily typical of the average cast, but it certainly added to the social frisson and primed us for dealing with a script that is at times explicit and provocative.

Some examples may help:  at one point during the first performance (when our nerves were inevitably on edge having handled the material for so short a time) one of the more understated members of the troupe scanned his script for his next entrance.  With a pained expression but the razor-sharp-subtly of a well bred Englishman, Simon Turner said: “this really isn’t fun, is it?”   He meant, of course, the actor’s experience of facing an audience unprepared, but that set us off and we all started laughing… at ourselves, at the situation, at the ludicrous risks we all take to make a living and follow artistic dreams.  It seemed reasonable proof that we were individually and collectively a sandwich-short-of-a-picnic.

Leejay Townsend got me into trouble more than once for laughing, but how can you not when he appears in a scene (as Herr Doktor Kafka) with an eye-patch, a furry cat nestled in his left arm, a funny accent, and a disabled walk which, curiously, allows him to limp on different legs depending on which direction he’s moving… and then minutes later he’s changed character into some hip-thrusting, wife-beating, rap punk who threatens to “smack ma bitch up”.

Paul Hutton was so busy changing between the womanizing characters of Fred (the big-time fashion agent) and Reg (the rough, small-time-businessman on the make) that I’m surprised he didn’t get a personality disorder.  Catherine Millsom was on and off stage as a mother, a doctor, a politician, a press officer, an adoring fan and all round wonderful singer, but still had time to joke endlessly with Rosanna Colclough who has to be one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.  I predict we’ll watch her on TV one day like we’ve watched Jennifer Saunders, in some hysterical, off-beat, character-driven sitcom.  As Ute in the show, Rosanna is funny enough, with an OTT German accent, but in each of Rosanna’s segments, as reporter under the duvet or as a member of the Lardy Da Das terrorist group, she steals the scenes.  Whether that’s due to timing, acting, physicality or sheer brazen commitment to squeezing every possible drop of humour out of every situation… it is fresh, unpredictable and compelling.  She’s like that off the stage too, even more so if you can believe it, so not only do we laugh ourselves silly at dinner and coffee-breaks, in the future I’m going to invite her to any party I ever have!

As the show deals with questions around body weight and body image, there are three actresses playing the female lead: Greta 1, Natalie Green; Greta 2, Michelle Lafortune; and Greta 3, Harriet Cox.  Though each physically different, they share not only a dramatic theme but absolutely beautiful voices.  I wait in the wings for their solos and duets, every time deeply moved by their talent and the lovely songs Tim and Alan have written for them.  It’s always great to see young actors ‘on the verge’, bringing back memories of my own experiences ‘in the biz’, and of course they are as drawn into the cast camaraderie and cheekiness as I am.  

(Actually, Natalie likes to say I’m one of the craziest, but I think the jury is still out as Rosanna, Leejay, Catherine and Paul are a wild combination.  And they do a good rendition of Rent too!)

Then there’s the male romantic lead, the character of Tony.  My character, Fay, works opposite him quite a lot so I’ve been lucky to find in our Tony, a delightful actor by the name of Adam Dougal.  Everyone in the cast and creative team love him.  No, really they do.  They fancy him too.  And make no secret of it.  Seriously though, we love his quiet integrity, his Irish humour, his sincerity (on and off stage), his solid preparation and reliability, his flexibility and readiness to ‘muck in’.  Adam is a good and truthful actor with a lovely lilting voice and a bright future.  Tony and ‘the Gretas’ have some very touching moments on stage.  And I enjoy the one where Fay takes off her clothes and throws them at him before straddling Tony on a chair and hanging upside down to sing before taking him off-stage to have her wicked way.  Well, you would enjoy that wouldn’t you?   I’m only human.  And after some years living in Italy I have more than a little ‘cougar experience’.  It’s the bisexual, white-witch, manipulative part of Fay’s character which is new to me. 

[ Ok, Julie Martin (nee Robinson) was manipulative… but in my personal list of faults that isn’t one of them - I am far too open and transparent to achieve it! ]   

I daren’t list or describe the hundreds of jokes and exchanges which have made us laugh hysterically throughout our February collaboration, for there’s sure to be libel issues.  At any rate, you just had to be there!

I will, however, say thankyou to Matthew, Tim, Alan, Katy and Ben for bringing us together. 

When we step up for our final performance tomorrow at the Landor Theatre (part of the ‘From Page to Stage’ series), accompanied with incredible polish, energy, leadership and good humour from Ben Holder on piano, we are sure to have a great time and be sorry to say goodbye. 

Well, until the next party or production…