Post-theatric stress syndrome

I have not been sleeping well since the play ended. I blame Juno the Dog. She has no social conscience and very little idea of boundaries. I woke up this morning with my feet dangling over the side of the bed and the rest of me occupying about six inches of dog-free territory on the extreme frontier of the mattress. I guess I should have persevered three years ago, when I tried to introduce a very small Juno to the idea of territory: hers being a big cushion on the floor; mine the bed. But it didn’t seem important at the time. She weighed about ten pounds and occupied roughly the space of a large bag of sugar. Now, she is ten times that size and, as I said, has no social conscience.

There are other boundaries that she ignores. I have just removed a half-chewed bone from under my pillow, with Juno the Dog anxiously supervising. Apparently, she thought this an ideal place to bury her bone and, after some argument, we agreed to disagree. There were also two half-eaten books to be removed from the sheets. Juno is still working on literacy, it seems. She tells me that the love letters of Lloyd George were especially tasty. Personally, I think she’s too young for that kind of reading.

Lloyd George Knew My Father, the seventh annual play of Linden House, has just closed, and I am having trouble settling down. Indeed, the tension is dissipating like a very slow leak – drip, drip, drip. I had a dream a couple of nights ago. I was standing in the darkened wings of some mysterious theatre where a play was in progress. I knew I was supposed to enter, but I couldn’t remember the cue. Actually, I couldn’t hear the voices; they were just a distant hum, so knowing the cue would not have helped that much. I started running around asking for a script, to no avail. I woke up in a panic then and, after lying awake for a while, started reciting lines from the recent play to get back to sleep again. Reciting lines from a play that has finished – that can’t be normal!  

Another source of stress is the accounting. We have a producer this year who isn’t me: isn’t that nice? Actually, it’s a bit embarrassing, because I remained in control of the bank account. When Ann Davis started trying to reconcile expenses and revenues for this year’s show against the statements, she seemed a little startled. In fact, she has just told me, quite kindly under the circumstances, that I am “a master, an absolute master at financial confusion.” Oh dear.  That’s not a compliment, is it? She went on to say, with a somewhat grim smile: “Never mind. It will be different next year.” She added that she feels sorry for my accountant, whose annual torment it is to sort out the accounts for my business. (When I relayed this comment to my accountant, she laughed.)

The good news is that we have a tiny profit this year, which makes a nice change; the bad news is that the producer refuses to hand it over.  While willing to reimburse me for my own expenditures – and she would like a little paperwork to support those expenditures: oh dear again – she is going to guard our winnings tooth and claw in an account clearly labelled “Linden House.” As opposed to “Janet Uren.” There goes my plan to go whale-watching in Baja this winter.

Ann is right in taking a hard line. “You can spend what belongs to Janet,” she says firmly, apparently believing I have a right to whatever level of confusion I want in my private life. “But what belongs to Linden House is going right back into the theatre. Seriously, Janet, this will allow us to plan a little for next year.” I don’t think her plan includes me acting as Chief Financial Officer. I can bear it.

An actor once told me the following, when I was cringing over some onstage error: “If nothing ever went wrong, what would we have to laugh at?” Seen in that light, this year’s dress rehearsal was a side-splitter. You see, the set-builders hadn’t quite got to the bottom of the list by October 21, so there were no lights backstage. At one point, we had six actors crammed into a quite small space and all changing their clothes in the dark. That is how Maud came to turn up on stage shortly afterwards with her dress on back to front. I had my own problems.  Between scenes one and two, I had roughly 60 seconds to exchange my blouse and cardigan for a new sweater set. Picture me, if you have the strength, in the pitch black, kneeling on the floor, half naked and groping around for a top that I had just accidentally dropped. At that very moment, one of the crew – they had sorrows of their own – stepped on my outstretched hand with a clinking and clattering of a laden tray somewhere above my head. I leave you to imagine my joy.  This is the unvarnished truth about a show that many later described as “polished.” It makes you believe in God.

I guess I owe this year’s audience an apology for not warning them that I was going to sing. I know there were pained looks at rehearsal as I rummaged squeakily around in my head and attempted to locate the tune for “Onward Christian Soldiers.” In the end, with a bit of coaching from our pianist, Jenny Ross – “Anybody can learn to sing,” she lied – and the sheet music in front of me to give some guidance about whether to go up or down, I sort of managed. I am a bit worried, however. Someone just sent me a review that identified the song I trilled so bravely as “When the Saints go marching in”!? Maybe I got it wrong after all. Director Robin Bowditch says we are NOT doing a musical next year.

I did have one other musical moment, this one quite spontaneous. During the last performance, the workings for the telephone failed. Standing in the wings, I saw the stage manager frantically wiggling the switch on the thingamajigger and then frenziedly starting to check the wire. From on stage – where an appalled silence reigned – I saw the Vicar (George Stonyk) heading for the wings with a fierce, “who-the-hell-has-messed-up” expression on his face. What to do? I threw back my head and rang! “Rrrrring! Rrrrring!” The play chugged into gear once more and continued on its merry way. It was my debut as a telephone.  

Seriously, as any actor knows, the thing that is keeping me awake nights isn’t Juno the Dog; it is bereavement. I have lost Sheila Boothroyd, and for the last few months, she has been my delight. She was such a brat, stirring up the family with threats of suicide, and all because of almost unbearable boredom. She cut it pretty close in the end; and, of course, what saved her at the last moment was love. It was too sweet.

A lot of people came up to me after the show and said they thought that Sheila had actually died. All I can say is, had that been true, it would have been very cold of me to advertise the play as comedy. Others said they had tears in their eyes during the final few moments. So did I. As for Sheila’s husband, William, well – she did rather put him through the marital wringer.  But it wasn’t a dead loss. Didn’t he look fine in scarlet and gold, with sword at his side and the bearskin cap? “Il faut soufrir pour être beau.” That’s what Sheila and I think, anyway.

We had a survey this year, with over 100 patrons leaving us encouraging little notes, like “well acted,” or “could hear every word.” My personal favourite is this one, however, from someone who obviously thought that William should have seen a divorce lawyer: “Forget Sheila. A hunk like you can get somebody better!”

Now that IS cold. Next time, I might insist on sharing the glory. I shall wear the bearskin cap myself and see what kind of notes I get.