I arrived at the theatre this afternoon to find a card and a home-baked ginger cake from Sophie, a twitter friend who is in to see the play today. Good old twitter. The cake has been cut and is ready for the cast to enjoy in the interval with a cup of tea.
I nearly didn't make the half today. Now, if you've been reading this blog you will know that shouldn't really cause too much panic as I am not on in the play until 2 hours in. But I do like to be in the theatre for the half. It's tradition and it gives me a chance to say hello to my fellow actors before we actually start rather than in the interval or, worse, as I walk on stage to join them. It just seems the courteous thing to do?
Anyway, the point is, it reminded me of another time on tour in Newcastle when I not only missed the half but nearly missed the play. I was playing pool in a pub with Richard Bremmer, a well known Shakespearean actor, and we had had a couple of pints of Guinness. Richard had two pints every day for lunch without fail. He claimed it was better for you than a sandwich and it seemed churlish not to take his advice. We were well in to our third or fourth game when Richard asked me on which day that week we had a matinee? Matinees vary from town to town and we had both forgotten that Newcastle had an extra matinee day. You can imagine the panic. It was nearly time for curtain up and this was well before the days of mobile phones so no one had been able to contact us. We ran to the theatre and made it just as they were calling beginners so 5 minutes before curtain up. Nick, who was understudying my parts, was standing in the wings in my costume. I wanted to let him go on but the company manager insisted that I got in to the costume and went on. I never drink before a show. At least I haven't since then. Two pints of Guinness and no sandwich may have the goodness to sustain you until dinner but it doesn't help you act.
In that same week I went for a trip with Clive Francis to Lindisfarne. We drove, in his very classy Jaguar, up the coast and spent a lovely day wandering around that extraordinary island. We set off back to Newcastle for the show but the traffic was terrible and Clive, who like me in this production didn't go on until near the end of the play, had forgotten that I had the very first lines. Again we missed the half. The company manager was obviously not very pleased with me but Clive took the blame, bless him, and I was able to do the show, this time sober. Poor Nick was again standing there in my costume. He was an acting assistant stage manager and didn't have any lines. He had only just started acting and was desperate to go on and show everyone what he could do. Again the chalice of success was dashed from his lips. Sorry Nick.
While I'm still in the reminiscing mood I thought I would write some more about Anthony Quayle. It's a story he told me one day when we were having lunch together. We did this when we could and it was always fantastic to talk to this brilliant older actor about his life. He always said that his life had had three very important elements to it; his family, the war and acting, in that order. Family was easily the most important aspect of his life. The Second World War had been a massive thing for him. He was in the Secret Service. He trained up a group of game keepers, farm workers and country folk from the Northumberland area in the art of Guerrilla warfare and set them up with secret stashes of arms and explosives. They were to go underground and fight the Germans if the Nazis ever managed to invade Britain and take control. The secret army never had to fight, luckily, and nobody ever knew about it but them. They kept the secret from everyone, even their families, until well after the war.
Tony also served in Albania organising communist rebels behind German lines and teaching them the art of sabotage. He told me about a time when he was visited by a close friend in the rebel camp. They had a riotous night with loads of drinking and his friend rather foolishly showed everyone the belt he wore round his waist that had a collection of gold sovereigns sown in to it for use in an emergency. The next morning Tony waved his friend off as, with a group of the most trusted rebels, he tried to make it to the coast where he was due to be collected by submarine. The rebels never returned and some days later his friends body was discovered by the side of the track about a mile form camp. The belt with the gold coins was missing.
Another time he was holed up in a cave on the Albanian coast with about 30 German prisoners of war. He didn't want to be responsible for them as they really hampered his operations but they had given themselves up to him. He reckoned they had just had enough of the fighting. He was due to be collected by ship at night and when it arrived the captain refused to bring it in to the natural harbour near the cave as he claimed it was too risky. Tony rowed his small boat out to the larger ship and remonstrated with the captain, explaining that he had prisoners and that it would be impossible to get them all to the ship before sunrise if the ship remained so far from the beach. The captain wouldn't budge. You can't really blame him, even though Tony explained that he had sounded out the harbour and knew it was deep enough.
Word began to spread among the prisoners that they were not going to be able join the ship and in their panic and desperation many of them tried to swim to the ship. They had all been on les than basic rations for some time in terrible conditions and were too weak to make it. Tony picked up several in his rowing boat but eventually had to abandon the rest. He told me he had always been haunted by the cries of those drowning men. War is terrible.
I know I'm going on a bit but there is an addendum to that story. Tony said he received the first mail he had had for six months from the captain of that ship. Two letters; one from his future wife, Dot, and one from the Garrick Club telling him that he had been black balled and was therefore not able to be accepted as a member. He laughed a lot when he related that to me but he admitted that he had never joined, even when years later they personally invited him to become a member. He also never found out who had black balled him. (for those who don't know, members of the club have a secret ballot when a new member is proposed. They put balls in to a bag. White for yes and black for no. If one person objects by placing a black ball in the bag then the candidate is rejected. I don't know if that still goes on but it does seem an opportunity for anyone with a grudge to be a bit of a bastard?).
Nearly time for me to get ready. The first half is over and I must join my fellow actors for Sophie's ginger cake.
If you've made it this far with me then what's missing in your life? Get a dog and get out of the house for goodness sake!
Love Mike x