Sunday, 7 September 2014

Birthmonth Day Seven: Oliver!


I liked acting long before I knew it was acting.  In The First Year of Infant School The Favourite Make-Believe Game (although we always called them ‘imaginary games’, which I suppose is ambiguous)
was The Invisible Man.  I don’t remember much, but it was your basic Scooby-Doo style story, except whatever the more scary, serious version of that is.

From here, I perfected The Usual Role in the make-believe games that continued throughout Infant and Junior School.  Generally half of a double act, I’d be both wily and clumsy, the kind of cocksure person who might pull a mysterious lever and send a friend hurtling down a trapdoor without noticing, but at the same time I was partial to a pratfall myself. 

Slowly the make-believe became play-acting, and by Junior School any opportunity to tell a story was exploited into making the other kids watch us perform a play.  I knew my strengths when it came to improvisation and that wily but clumsy character had advanced to the kind of character who would interrupt other people’s monologues to complain for more attention, who infuriated figures of authority with zaniness, was cowardly in the face of danger, heroic in the face of audience attention, cocky, brash and idiotic when it was funny, sardonically facepalming when others were, constantly scheming, likely to cause harm to associates and even more likely to get blown up for a gag ending.

I had in other words written The Self to be Daffy Duck,
if you could add the occasional moral crusade in there.

So when I went up to Senior School and got a whole lesson devoted to drama, it was wonderful.  And not enough.

There was a drama club, but it was after school and I couldn’t go.  But I loved drama more than anything in the world.  So one of the drama teachers, not unreasonably assuming there might be other keen drama enthusiasts who weren’t able to stick around after lessons, opened the drama classroom at lunchtime and so began Lunchtime Drama Club.

But later in the year, I was able to join Afterschool Drama Club anyway.  I don’t regret that The Initial Not-Joining-Of-It led to the creation of an entirely separate club which then seemed like a slightly redundant move, because Lunchtime Drama Club was way better than Afterschool Drama Club.  I’m egocentric, like most normal people, and Afterschool Drama Club was a lot less fun than Lunchtime Drama Club.  Because Lunchtime Drama Club was invented because of me.  The only thing Afterschool Drama Club had going for it was that it reached a better audience in the end.  

Lunchtime Drama Club was The Favourite Thing In The World.  It was the reason I went to school.  I got through the morning by counting down till lunchtime.  Summer was the worst time at school because while the cold weather drove people into the drama classroom, the hot weather kept them away.

Lunchtime Drama Club was about opening our imaginations, it was about being important, it was fun, exciting, empowering and totally freeing.  We’d come up with small (mostly) improvised plays that we’d perform at open evenings, assemblies, ‘talent’ shows, at lunchtime performances for our friends, on special nights when we could invite our parents or occasionally not at all (especially if all the traitors had gone to sit on the field because it was sunny).  And sometimes we weren’t devising plays at all and were just playing Jurassic Park (I made a good velociraptor).

Afterschool Drama Club was very different.  It was supervised for a start, it wasn’t about improvising, it wasn’t about hanging out with your friends and it wasn’t about small ideas that I got to be in charge of.  Afterschool Drama Club was for the one big school production every year.  It involved the whole school, there were dozens of children from every year involved, there were auditions and scripts and selected rehearsals and eventually three performances open to the public (and one dress rehearsal open to other schools).

At Afterschool Drama Club I wasn’t in control of what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be.  There was now a hierarchy and I was one of the youngest and the newest person there (instead of the first and oldest like at Lunchtime Drama Club) and I had to stand in line.  For years.

In Year 7 (the first year of Senior School), the Afterschool Drama Club production was Frankenstein.  By the time I joined, I was just slipped into the chorus.  I was far too late to even have a chance of auditioning.  The only moment I got to have a voice was during a chorus sequence where I got to be a little girl whose argument with her sister about a shawl or a scarf or something sent her sister outside, into the murderous hands of the Bride, I think maybe.
23rd billed

In Year 8, the Afterschool Drama Club production was The Wind In The Willows.  They tried me for the role of the washer woman, but The Inability To Do Accents led me instead to being cast as Fiona (a role I had to share with someone else), a two scene character whose boyfriend is cackhandedly trying to propose and then Mr Toad steals their car.  Otherwise, I was just part of the good animal chorus.
12th billed
In Year 9, the Afterschool Drama Club production was Our Day Out with the songs cut.  Due to being the only person who read the script for one particular scene and so being the only one to perform it correctly during the audition, I was cast as Susan, a teacher, who while on stage for the entire play, has very few actual lines apart from in that one scene I did in The Audition.
5th billed
(only so high because all the adult characters were listed before the kid characters)

In Year 10, the Afterschool Drama Club production was Sherlock Holmes And The Limehouse Horror, except it went horribly wrong and we a) didn’t perform it until the following year and b) as such performed it in the drama studio instead of the school hall, making it very much like an unimportant Lunchtime Drama Club performance instead of the big whole school production.  I was cast as Moran, a one-scene wonder who gets caught in the very first scene.  I did manage to insert The Self into a large prologue section we added later and a later ‘in prison’ scene, but by this point it had also become a vampire story and made no sense whatsoever.
3rd billed

So in Year 11 (the final year of Senior School), when the Afterschool Drama Club production was Oliver! I had had it.  First off I was annoyed that everyone was moving on to the new production of Oliver! while our lame last-year production of Sherlock Holmes STILL hadn’t been performed.  And second off, Oliver! is a musical.  Frankenstein wasn’t a musical, The Wind In The Willows kind of was, although I'm sure a lot of songs were cut, Our Day Out specifically had the songs removed, Sherlock Holmes sure as hell wasn’t a musical.  So why in The Final Year Of School were we suddenly doing a massive proper famous musical?  I can’t sing.  Or dance.  Exactly what kind of rubbish role was I gonna get stuck with?

Frankenstein – I was in the chorus.  The Wind In The Willows – chorus, but with one scene role.  Our Day Out – supporting character.  Sherlock Holmes – back to one scene role but I made it bigger, bigger than just a supporting character.  There was progression here.  Everyone knew that was how it was supposed to work.  You start in Year 7 with the chorus and you work your way up until by Year 11 you get a lead role.  But I knew there was no chance whatsoever that I would get a lead role in Oliver! because it’s a dumb musical even though we’d never done one before.  And I was not suffering the indignity of being a Year 11 student stuck back in the chorus.  I had toiled for five years and I wasn’t going back there.

So I wasn’t in the show.  No biggie.  I still had Lunchtime Drama Club.

But all The Friends were in Oliver! and they made new friends there and all the old drama crowd I had come to know over the years were in it.  And from what I could tell, they were having the best time in their lives ever.

So obviously I had to hate and scorn the stupid show.

But when it came to the performances, The Flimsy Sulk didn’t really seem important and I wanted to see The Best Friends as Nancy, Mr Bumble, Fagin and Mr Sowerberry. 

So I went and saw Oliver! (Horndean Community School/Barton Hall, Horndean Campus/23rd March 2001). 

It was weird seeing a school show from the other side.  I’d never done that.

The kid playing Oliver sounded like nails on a blackboard and had the strong hint of being a bully not an adorable moppet, and I couldn’t find the hook that made this an interesting show, but the set was good, with some kind of bridge thing, and The Friends were all really good—Nancy, Mr Bumble, Fagin and Mr Sowerberry—they did themselves proud for their final Year 11 Afterschool Drama Club production and I’m glad I got to see them do it.

I am so proud of that Daffy Duck drawing.


  1. That is an AMAZING Daffy Duck drawing. But the rest are great too, obvs.

    Your contribution to the ruining of Sherlock Holmes made me laugh. As did your "positive criticism" of Oliver! (Although obviously you did really like your friends in it. Screw everything else!)

    1. Thank you, I shall stare lovingly at it some more.

      I didn't ruin Sherlock Holmes. I made it Moranelicious.


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