All the fun and dedicated work in three tours of this hit comedy -Starting with the Main Tour of 2001

NB I had started to write the "Ladies' Night" blog in early 2013-to cheer myself up after a very disappointing pantomime season. It was with deep sadness that a week later -Guy Chinery (Lewis) -one of the main-stays of the first two tours of the show suddenly and unexpectedly  passed away-aged only thirty four. As a tribute to him-I have tried to continue writing the blog as before.

I dedicate the following stories and reminiscences to his memory;(Make sure you check out Part 2 for further tributes)

 

 

 

THE 2001 TOUR

PART 1

("It's not where you start-it's where you finish")

 

Without a doubt-the tours of the hit comedy "Ladies Night" were the happiest tours to date. I don't think anything has ever quite come up to the sheer fun, craziness and camaraderie of those tours!(A few others have come pretty close!!)

 

I saw  the show in 1991 ,whilst still at drama school-and working as an usher at the Alexandra theatre, Birmingham. The show had taken the touring circuit by storm. It had come from Oldham Coliseum in 1989-and was the first ever show about male strippers(pre-dating the movie- "The Full Monty"!) It caught audiences imagination(and a few pairs of eyes along the way !) at just the right time-and enjoyed playing to packed houses wherever it played.

Indeed-at the Alex in Birmingham-we had full houses (predominantly female) -all enjoying this hilarious comedy.

One role stuck out in my mind-that of the guy who ended up being the drag queen compare in the final section of the play-which is essentially the strip section.

During the run in Birmingham I got to know the company manager-Richard and often popped backstage for a chat. On one of these occasions-the lady who played the only female role-(Glenda-the dancer who whips the boys into shape)- came into the dressing room to talk to Richard.......

As the years went on-I saw the show advertised in the jobs section of the stage quite often-but it always required "guys with exceptional physiques". I knew however-that one role wasn't dependent on this....

 Cut to nearly  ten years later and I'm watching my dear friend- Samantha Hughes -in her one woman show -"Me and Mrs Beaton"-and happen to read the biography. I suddenly realised-that even though I'd worked with her since 1998-I never realised we'd met in that dressing room in Birmingham ! Yes-she was the original Glenda !!

Sami told me that "Ladies Night" was going out on tour in 2001 and I immediately got my then agents- Trends on the case. I was pretty sure that the role I was after was Gavin-based on the photograph in the old programme I had-but I couldn't be sure. But-I insisted that Trends send my  drag publicity photograph.

About a month later-towards the end of February I received a phone call from Trends -telling me I had an audition.

"Is it for Gavin"-I eagerly asked ? "No-it'll start with a dance audition" ! My heart sank. I have never been a dancer- I can move adequately and have learnt some complicated stuff over the years-but not as a dancer !

(I very nearly didn't go to the audition-but that would been a life changing error-for us all as it was to turn out)

 St Gabriel's Church hall in Pimlico-in those days-was not the most cheerful of places to audition-dusty,dirty,with the waiting room being the kitchen ! But-it was probably this that gave it a relaxed air-perfect for auditions and rehearsals.

I was given an afternoon audition slot-and I duly turned up-determined to do my best.

A lovely girl called Caroline was chatting away in the kitchen-and I quickly got chatting with her as well.

We were led into the audition in groups of about ten or so I would say-and a very friendly guy-Stuart put us through our paces in a short routine-move movement than Dance-which helped tremendously. I gave it as much energy as I could. At the end of the short routine-as the show was about male strippers-the panel had to see us without our shirts off-so some looked a bit red in the face-but the majority of  us just stripped off-totally unintimidated!

Stuart asked a few of us to stay behind to read some dialogue, including myself! At which point -I stepped forward and produced a copy of my drag photo-at which point-the older, kindly looking gentleman on the panel said -"ahh-that's a great help"!

I retired to the kitchen-and Stuart appeared with some dialogue for the role of ---Gavin! My heart skipped a beat-"don't screw this up", I thought !

I can't remember who I read the dialogue with-but one of my dear friends to this day from that original cast-Dan Baines -told me I was in his group for reading.

Something told me instinctively that Gavin was a wonderfully dry,humurist-almost underplayed-and I seized on this as much as I could.

At the end of the "reads"-Stuart asked me to stay behind-and read for another role-that of Bernie-the stand up comedian. He also asked me to read the drag queen patter section-which in those days was nothing like it was to turn out to be.

The elderly gentleman turned out to be the wonderful John Newman-founder of Newpalm-and he was widely enthusiastic in the fact that I'd previously played panto dame and performed drag cabaret. He asked if I could possibly supply my own wardrobe-which I reassured was a strong possibility.

After these questions-I was offered the role of Gavin immediately -at the audition! I think that is the one and only time I've been offered a role there and then !

(**I've since discovered after chatting with Stuart-that he was going to let me go after the movement session! But-he thought he'd get me to read for Bernie-which was my cue to produce the drag photo. Un-known to myself-John told Stuart that he'd seen the photo before(presumably the one from my agent).Stuart (understandably)asked why he'd never been shown the photo before-as it was crucial in casting what had in the past been a difficult role to cast. I was so near losing the role !**)

I left the church hall trembling-and rang Trends-to which my lovely agent Linda said-"there we are-I knew we'd get there in the end for you"!

I was shaking all the way to the tube station-and rang my partner Michael to tell him the good news. "A long tour"? he asked. Of course-it was the first time in my relationship that I'd embarked on such a long tour.....

 

PART 2   ("Bit by bit-putting it together")

 

And it was quite a long tour(compared to some)-pretty much the best part of six months. I rand Newpalm-and John Newman happily gave me the nineteen dates over the phone. Newpalm was always that sort of company-a family-and both John and Daphne always had a welcome for anyone who phoned the office in person.(How many producers these days do that!)

In those days-a lovely man-Phil Compton worked for the company and he rang me one night to let me know a script was on it's way-along with some material from Cere Dupree, the drag artist-that I could adapt for the drag section at the end.

When the script arrived-and I was able to read it in it's entirety -the role of Gavin was pretty much as I remembered-and as I'd portrayed at the audition. Gavin had a wonderful dry sense of humour-similar to my own-quick witted and always with a quip !(Tailor made you could say!) I realised early on that the success of the drag cabaret section at the end was dependant on underplaying Gavin during the rest of the play. I also knew that the drag persona -Gloria-had to be an extension of Gavin and not myself !

But-when the patter script arrived-it was a scarcely  a page long ! I still wasn't sure what they had in mind with the drag section-only that they wanted to extend the role more.

I also started to amass costumes-even though I wasn't sure ho many I'd need or of what style. I rang Dave Lynn, with whom I'd worked and done guest spots on his shows ,since moving to Brighton-and he sold me some of his costumes that had "outstayed their welcome". He also gave me some invaluable advice on handling "hen party audiences"!

So-having done as much preparation as I could-rehearsals started at the same church hall in the second week of March. I commuted from Brighton that week-in order to ferry the costumes down in stages-and also to lessen the time away from home-which I knew was troubling Michael.

As always-I get to rehearsals /auditions etc-far too early-especially on first days. I took myself off to a local cafe for a coffee(nerves racing-which always happens on days when you don't know a soul !) -across the cafe was a young guy-who I thought was familiar.... Fortunately-he answered the question for me- "hi geezer-you in "Ladies Night" by any chance " ? This was our lovely Dan Baines-who was playing the role of Barry-and with whom I've worked on two further tours and another production -in his role as a brilliant choreographer.

We chatted and exchanged small talk-and then realised we shared the same agent in Trends ! (Little knowing that an older gentleman was observing us-from behind his script at an adjacent table !)

The company consisted of twelve of us-eight principal roles, three ASM /understudy roles and our stage manager-not a great many for a show that had toured many number one theatres-but enough to create a close knit family on the road. Apart from Dan and myself there was Stuart-playing the Geeky character Norman  and who was also our director, Andy who played Wesley,Guy,who played the leader of the gang-Craig, Andy who played the bitter and twisted Graham, Caroline-whom I'd met at the audition-and playing Glenda(I since discovered that I'd toured a TIE show with Caroline's sister a few years before) Jimmy (who it turned out had been watching us with a wry smile in the cafe-playing the night-club owner and warm up act-"Bernie the Bastard", our two ASM's Stefan and Alan ,Louisa ,our wardrobe supervisor(and cover for Glenda) and our wonderful stage manager-Carl.

Rehearsals began in earnest-with no read-through to my knowledge. I'm always relieved when we move straight into blocking, rather than attempt a read-where everyone feels self conscious ! But on this occasion-we started with costume fittings !

It made sense-to begin a show about male strippers -to check if the outfits they'd be removing actually fitted.

Each time the show had been put out in the past-the content of the boys strips altered each time-to include rugby players, tennis pro's, cricketeters,policemen,sailors-in fact I think there was even a robot in one production ! In short-every possible subject was covered over the show's ten year run-and there was still new material to be had .

For my part-all I found was the shiny gold and black tulle outfit that had been worn in countless productions-and now looking a bit jaded!

Stuart gave me a list of all the individual strips and group strips and a brief resume of what he wanted in the way of linking material. My expression -must have said it all! In short-I had one page of A4 material that wasn't too funny to start with-and I had to link the last half hour of the show together !

I seem to remember on that first day that we blocked pretty much all of the first act in one afternoon-which wasn't bad going-considering that apart from Stuart-we were all new to the show !

On the way home that night-I realised I'd have to act quick and get something created for the linking jokes/dialogue for the final cabaret section-sooner, rather than later-and the next day- found "The bumper book of politically incorrect jokes" from the local waterstones. I commenced highlighting the quick fire gags-that wouldn't take up too much time-and could be string together in "set". Years before I had worked for six weeks as a blue coat at Pontins,Prestatyn!(What possessed me to do that after my first year at drama school-I will never know) But-I'd remembered seeing(and mercifully recording a female stand up comedian-who had the ingenious method of stringing her gags together- "I've catalogued all my jokes from one to a hundred-and the higher up they get the ruder they get-so you shout out a number"! (Miles of scope there I thought-and lots of interaction with the audience)So-that was a good start. Stuart did suggest singing a number at one point-but all my backing tracks in those days were rather "synthesised" to say the least-and clashed horribly with the techno beats of the other tracks in the show. (We did attempt "Chanson D'amour" as a possible filler-but one rendition was enough to render it unconscious!)

What was so wonderful about those early rehearsals was the energy that everyone came in with-and it soon became clear how different all our characters were-but how well they blended together as a gang.

"The Gang" led by the character of Craig have been mates for years-and it's only a drunken chat in a bar one night that gives them the idea of becoming male strippers.

After they are deserted by one of the gang-the other five start to create a very unlikely selection of strips-from motorbike riders to "Bob the Builder" and from a Roman clad in grapes (!) to a business man with an extending umbrella. 

"The mock strips" as they became known were a delight to do-as we were given carte blanche to be as over the top as we wanted.(as if we needed encouragement !) Mine in-particular involved splattering myself with grapes, catching them in my mouth and spitting them out at the audience-along with wine/water ! I was also the only one who revealed their upper torso-early on in the play-so that the audience were kept wondering as to the "body condition" for the main four.

 

The four guys couldn't have been more different in their styles ,looks and body types-and the show really did cater for all tastes. Guy was the bigger build of the lads and eventually did a Gladiator strip (as the Russell Crowe film was all the rage),Danny was smaller-but very lithe-and did a cheeky motorbike rider, Andy ,as Wesley-performed an American football routine-and Stuart-being the smaller of the guys-but again ,with a cheekiness the ladies in the audience adored, performed a sailor's strip. I suppose looking back-we all had our favourites (not that I'm revealing mine in this blog! The one in question knows who he is anyway !)

So-the show was coming along nicely. When I first saw the show the first act ended on the boys, with their trousers round their ankles in the gym-practicing provocative moves. However- it was felt a "teaser" was needed to end the first half-and so a routine to YMCA brought the curtain down. I was relieved to see that I didn't have to do it-but in a subsequent production-I pretty much learnt the routine as a contingency plan(But more about that later)....

Act two commenced with the boys doing well for themselves but the break-down of one of the boys marriages and one of them being pissed at a top class gig-puts the whole thing in doubt.

Throughout the show's long and chequered history-various ad-libs and gags  and extra dialogue had been tried and tested and used ad infinitum. One such piece was a speech for Gavin-created by one of the original actors. The speech was spoken to Guy's character,Craig,whilst looking through the onstage mirror and while applying make up in the mirror-not an easy job-as the make up had to be put on very quickly-and I insisted on using false lashes and the full drag queen slap-to achieve the desired effect. The first time I tried it with the make up was hysterical-eyelash glue everywhere, one lash on ,the other off(or upside down) and lipstick that looked as though it had been applied with a paintbrush. Eventually I found a clever way of putting all the eye shadow on a powder brush, ditto the blusher and I had just enough time earlier in the scene to apply the copydex to the lashes before coming back downstage to continue the dialogue-returning to apply them during the main speech.

 

After a few goes-and as the run went on-I became very adept at it-to the extent -the make up got better as the run went on.

I was still desperately worried about how I was going to string the whole cabaret section together with linking patter. As yet-I had a few jokes from the joke book and bits and pieces from Pauline Daniel's show that I adapted-but nothing like the material I needed to link four solos strips and two group routines.

At the end of the first week's rehearsal, with the show in good shape-I was lucky enough to see the fantastic Phil Starr on my Sunday off.

Phil was a legend on the drag circuit-no-one has bettered him since. he could make an old gag sound as though it was written yesterday and make it unique to himself.

He was performing on our Sunday off-at Legend's bar in Brighton-so my partner Michael and I duly packed ourselves off for a front row seat.

Phil was on top form that Sunday and told some terrific gags-that I made careful mental note of. He also told some stories that weren't actually gags-but with his timing and expressions-he turned them into wonderful routines-particularly an hysterical routine about waking up and discovering "a small discharge"! The routine went on for at least five minutes-until we were told that it was "discovered in his ear" ! It doesn't sound much to write about-but it gave me an insight into how I could make the most mundane of stories into a full scale epic-and with a bit of borrowing from Pauline Daniels, Lily Savage et al-I turned it into a full routine that I kept in every production ever since.

Phil's magnificent timing also showed me how by making a  gag personal-it gets a bigger laugh-and involves ones audience more. For instance-it's not funny just saying-"a man went into a pub etc... BUT- make it personal-as if you were in that pub -talking to the man walking in-and it becomes REAL-and gets a far bigger laugh!. Phil was a comic genius-and his untimely death in 2005 came as a shock to us all-I'm so lucky I was able to learn so much from him, during our nine years in Brighton-and working with him on two adult pantomimes, I can still hear his voice now-and whenever I'm stuck for how to make a gag work-I think of him-a wonderful man !

But-back to the show-and thanks to that afternoon of  pure education-I now knew how to string the gags together-and work in "sets" as Phil had done. It made the drag persona of "Gloria" more three dimensional -and also I found my alter ego. Even though I had set out with the view that Gloria must be an extension of Gavin I suppose it became more of an extension of myself-But-as Stuart said-it meant the gags flowed more naturally-and meant I was far more at ease in the role. It was after all-the first time I had done a full stand up drag act.

Rehearsals resumed on the following Monday morning and I gradually started ferrying my costumes down to London on the train every morning-along with the wig blocks, jewellery-and make up-which took up rather a large suitcase.

"Gloria" had never changed on every entrance before -and had never embarked on so much patter as I was now doing. I made sure it was all typed up-and learnt it like any other script-but was still dreadfully nervous about it all. After all-how can you rehearse comedy unless you have an audience ?

We re-capped everything we'd worked on  in the previous week-and then early in that second week-we had a run of the show in front of the producer-John Newman.

John is a wonderfully kind man-very supportive to his actors-and the six years of working with his company-Newpalm-were undoubtedly the happiest of my career. The company really was a family-and as someone said to me very early on-"once you were in-you were in"! However-the show had been originally directed by Paul Kerryson( who'd worked his way through Oldham Coliseum and Leicester Haymarket-as artistic director -and has now created the fantastic Curve theatre at Leicester. So-Paul's original direction had to be observed and respected-even though we were new actors coming into an established show.It was understandable then-that John had to make sure the show followed this maxim-and had a few notes for us-which went against what we had interpreted. I will be the first to admit-we were a bit " taken aback"-as we'd rehearsed as directed-and none of us were complacent enough to have done anything "radical" with the text or stage business at that stage.We certainly felt very much for our director-who'd done a first class job in getting us so far in such a short space of time. It wasn't surprising when a little later in the day-after our "notes"-and I asked if I may change a move-I received the cursory-"whatever"! I'd probably have done the same  !

But -we ploughed on-tightening the dialogue scenes in the morning and the cabaret scenes in the afternoon.(Mercifully-the suggested rendition of my "Chanson  d'a mour " was dropped at the first complete run through-it really was incongruous.

The company was starting to "gel" very well indeed-and each day brought something new.

I still wasn't sure how how the cabaret section was going to hang together-but I continued to treat it as a "script"-in  order to get every nuance I could out of the patter.

 

Then-in the middle of that second rehearsal week-disaster did strike as they say. Guy clipped during a rehearsals and badly hurt his ankle. Guy was a dedicated body-builder at the time-and had trained assiduously  to be in perfect shape for the show.Now-at this late stage-all he could do was watch helpless from the sidelines-and rest-hoping that he would recover in time for the opening of the show the following week. This also put added pressure on Alan-Guy's understudy.It's bad enough going on for anyone when the role isn't yours-but when the show hasn't even opened ...... !

But-mercifully-with rest,a support bandage  and a visit to the physio-Guy rallied round and by the end of the week we slowly uncrossed our fingers and just prayed he'd be ok.

 

On the final Friday-we held a "producer's run" -at which John Newman ,Daphne Palmer( the collected Newpalm name!) plus Paul Kerryson attended. We were all terribly nervous-being new to the show and still finding our feet-but that added adrenalin was a tremendous boost-and after a brief hick-up early on-we quickly gained momentum, got on with it-and had fun. Looking back-it was also the first time I'd ever run a show in a rehearsal room in complete costume-changes and all.

As Stuart had quite rightly said to us all(especially the four main boys)-if we could perform the routines in the cold light of day(and in this case- the cold rehearsal room-which often let the rain in)-then once we hit the stage and lighting-we would have the comfort of a "fourth wall" to soften the blow  !

Looking back-that producers run was a god-send for me-as I had no idea how my gags were going to work-but having to run them at speed and time them with the boys routines-it put me in good stead for the following week-and opening night.

Paul and John were full of praise for everyone-the notes were all constructive and we finished the week on a high-feeling we'd accomplished all we could before moving onto our opening venue-the Wimbledon theatre!

 

PART 3-("Opening Night")

 

The Wimbledon theatre was a perfect place to open the show-as the producers knew it well-having opened many a show there. It was also a large auditorium-so we could judge the level we'd need to play the dialogue-as we wouldn't be using radio mics-apart from the hand held one for the cabaret section-used by Jimmy and myself. It was also large enough to enable us to "spread out"-and get used to lots of dressing room space-in a feeling of comfort-before we had to "downsize" on the road-and adapt to whatever each venue had in store !

Our technical rehearsal was an anomaly-as we rehearsed with both minimal lighting(as it was still being plotted as we worked) and minimal sound-so the effect on that first "onstage rehearsal" was somewhat muted. It did however give me a pretty good idea of how far I had to run to the nearest dressing room to accomplish each of the costume changes.(When we returned for the 2003 production -we found a quick change room seconds from the stage-albeit up an iron stair case!)

Mercifully, Louisa-our wardrobe mistress and cover for the role of Glenda had us all well-organised-and along with Stuart had instilled in us the necessity of being responsible for setting our own costumes, quick changes and having our own designated "areas". That maxim was followed in every subsequent production-and even in the celebrity cast of "Wildboyz" many years later-and proved to be the only way the multitude of costume changes could work effectively-and with minimal fuss. Louisa also proved to be one of the best dressers for the drag changes I have ever worked with-even on pantomime !

I had arranged to stay with my dear friend Richard Heggett-who had been so supportive during my drama school audition period-and with whom I always stayed -before I moved from Birmingham-but on the Monday of our technical rehearsal-we were faced with a tube strike. So-Guy-who was playing Craig -offered to let me stay overnight at his flat (and I can't remember where-even my diary doesn't give a clue !) But- I remember having a very heart to heart chat with Guy as we drove back to his flat-with him confiding in me -how he really wanted to meet that "special someone" and settle down. If only we knew then how that prayer was to be answered and how I was to be partly responsible for being fairy godmother(pardon the pun!)

On our opening night-I don't think any of us had a clue what to expect. The dress rehearsal went as well as it could do-considering there was no audience-and I for one-was wondering what I'd let myself in for. The costume changes were going ok-despite a bit of a run-around to the dressing room-and because I still didn't know the music for each routine-there was still a slight panic to be back in the wings on-time-and ready and composed for the next entrance.

The last note our producer gave us was-"use the actor's third eye"-meaning we had to always keep a subconscious ear open for the laughs, learn how to let them happen and then ride them, just as the laugh was ending-a valuable note to anyone !

Our dear agent Trends(representing Dan, Stefan and myself )sent us beautiful bouquets-and they were also coming to see us that night-so the pressure was on!

When the lights went down at the top of Act one -an almighty cheer went up from the predominantly female audience-with us all thinking-"oh s**t!

But-there was no turning back ! The show started with a fight between Guy and a couple of the boys upstage-in silhouette-and that always got adrenalin going.(As the run went on-I did learn to conserve vocal energy-as I discovered there was a loud sound-track playing over our shouts -but then I was the one who did the majority of the talking in the second act-so it was wise to pace oneself.

And we were off on that roller-coaster we were to experience every night ! The opening bars of "Two tribes" never failed to send a rush of adrenalin though us all!

And from that opening night-we built on our stage camaraderie, building up the rapport, the business, the re-actions-and making it a real team affair !

I don't think any other show could or has topped that ensemble feeling.

But back to opening night- following on from our final producer's note-we used the adrenalin for the better-and kept an ear open to every titter, belly laugh and any moment when the show might be flagging. The audience on that opening night were fairly rowdy-(but nothing like the audiences we would encounter later on in the run-particularly up north) -so it was a baptism by fire-and all the way through I wondered how the cabaret section would go.

The first act went well-particularly the mock strip sections-and anything that revealed a bit of flesh !  Jimmy-as the club owner and warm up man- had the audience in the palm of his hand-and his own stand up act never failed to get the "Ladies" warmed up sufficiently for the boys The act one finale of "YMCA" had the audience just where we needed them.

So-onto act two-in many ways far more difficult-because of the "emotional dip" the characters went through in the first two scenes-but the show was well constructed in this respect, It needed that "dip" in order for us to build the atmosphere up again for the strip section.

The first scene in act two went well and the dressing room scene ,with it's "emotional dip" played well-and I was very surprised by the re-action to the "mirror " speech! The guy who'd originated that speech-obviously knew what we was doing when he created it.(I did at least manage to keep both  eye-lashes on by the end of the speech)

And before I knew where we were-I was offstage-and preparing for the first entrance of "Gloria" in all her glory !

Whatever theatre we played-we endeavoured to make that first entrance "through the audience"-and where possible down the centre aisle .This meant-we just about had enough time to get the costume change completed-whilst the dressing room scene was coming to an end-and touch up the make up-before racing round front of house to make the entrance. I always managed to get there in time-but at a few theatres it was a close call!

 

And every night- I stood behind an auditorium curtain ,said a little prayer-and launched forth -running down the aisle-so the spotlight could pick me up  at the front of the stage with as much energy as I could ! That first night in Wimbledon certainly had the adrenalin running-and all the better for it! I got the audience clapping to Gloria's entrance music(a disco version of "Diamonds are forever")- did the brief exchange of dialogue  and radio mic with Jimmy-and launched forth. Then-came the heckles from a member of the audience. Mercifully-I'd lots of "put downs" I'd learnt from the Brighton drag circuit over the years-but on this occasion-it was off the cuff!

And as the BSE crisis was at it's height- I merely commented that "mad cow's disease" had spread to the circle" It got a huge cheer and applause-and we were off on the tried and tested patter-and it pretty much worked!

The whole of the second half flew by-amidst seven costume changes and the boys solo and group strip routines-and before we knew where we were it was curtain call.

I can't recall any major mis-hap on that first night-and the casts timing-considering only Stuart had played the show before was pretty much there.

The following day-Lionel from Newpalm gave us notes -mainly just to tighten up the show-but all in all -we just had to build on the opening night success.

 

There were moments in the show that had been contrived/improvised/inserted over the show's long history(including the mirror monologue)-a lot of which had come from unscripted incidents. One  in -particular-involved an exploding can of beer-which had happened once in the past, made this audience howl with laughter(and reducing the cast to hysteria)- it was kept in ever since -and worked virtually every night-with the combination of Stuart's facial expressions-and Guy's  superb reaction.

 

The Wimbledon run was over too soon. My partner Michael and our dear friend Richard  saw the last night-and concluded we had a hit on our hands! We all hoped so-as we packed our bags-and headed of on the Sunday for  our first venue, on tour !

 

PART 4. ("Touring Days")

 

Week 2. Darlington

 Our first port of call was the civic theatre in Darlington-a beautiful Matcham auditorium-and with a quaint charm to the town. And with a lovely top floor flat to stay in-it was a lovely week to  start us off-especially as we had free entrance to the town gym, including free sunbeds(Essential with so much flesh on display!)

The theatre was an old fashioned hemp house(IE-the flying bars were hand hauled-rather than counterweighted)-so we had to dispense with bits of the set which were far too heavy to fly-but other than that the show fitted the theatre well-after all the set was built for touring and had done for nearly twenty years.

There was quite a run round the coridoors,through an upstairs bar-to get to front of house for Gloria's entrance-but before that-an alarming bell rang(Literally !)

I was in the middle of the change into Gloria's first red-sequin outfit-when the stage manager announced we'd received a bomb alert and we must leave the theatre immediately and assemble outside the stage door.

Instinctively we stopped for at the time-in our various dressing rooms to collect our valuables-and then suddenly-common sense kicked in-and we got the hell out of the theatre, via the stage door-just before the cabaret section.

The entire company and audience ended up outside the theatre on a very cold night-and as my costume was backless, strapless and sleeveless- I won the sympathy of a party from the audience who offered me the shelter in their car. It was only when I accepted their kind offer-I realised to my horror-I'd forgotten to put my wig on !

(Stupid I know-in the circumstances-and I don't suppose anyone cared at all-but to me.... mortification !!)

Eventually we  got wind that the bomb scare was a hoax and rumour had it that it was from a husband or boyfriend of an audience member-just to spoil everyone's enjoyment-we never found out!

But-an audience of ladies and a cold cast weren't going to stand around in the rain-so off we repaired to the pub across the road! audience members bought us drinks and we prepared to wait until we had clearance to return to the theatre-assuring our audience we wouldn't miss a thing-and would continue from where we'd left off. Audiences love to be involved in something like this-and that was the enduring appeal of the show that we shared every little slip up/natural disaster/accidental flaw with our audience. In this case-it was a shame we'd had to reveal Gloria in all her glory before time-but it was just like a scene from the war years-with actors and audience bonding in a common cause !

No further incidents blighted our week at Darlington-despite my accidentally cutting a page of the first scene-when a line was missed. It wouldn't have mattered so much-but the cut section included the oft repeated gang-type hand  and hip gyrations-whenever the name of the group-"Raging Rhinos " was mentioned. On that particular night we got to the end of the scene-and I realised-we'd missed that essential bit of business altogether.

Week 3. Westcliff on Sea-Palace Theatre 

I was able to get home most weekends in the early stages of the tour -and sometimes didn't open the next week until Tuesday-if there was a bank holiday.

I've probably played the Palace theatre at Westcliff more times than any other theatre in the country. It's a beautiful house to play-albeit pushed for space at times. It has a wonderful acoustic-and is a pleasure to play-despite a rather steep rake. I've returned over a dozen times since-and have been installed in every dressing room at one time or another-in either rep or tours.

At the time I first played the Palace with "Ladies Night"-it was still a thriving repertory theatre and beneath the stage were the prop stores-neatly laid out in racks-with everything from decanters to telephones-years and years of collected period props. It was also the place where my first producer/director-Alexander Bridge had been artistic director for a number of years.

(* Sadly-less than a year later when we returned in the comedy-"the Real Monty" the theatre had closed,re-opened -but stripped of every last prop. It's days -as a producing repertory theatre were over- yet another casualty of cuts to the arts!)

It was a favourite touring venue for Newpalm-who also produced a Summer thriller season every year.

 

During our week there-the resident company were rehearsing the entire Agatha Christie cycle ! The banner outside the theatre was somewhat misplaced however-making the two adverts look like- "Agatha Christie's Ladie's Night"!

 

 

The only slight hiatus on our opening night as I recall was Gloria's first entrance. From the steps onto the stage from the auditorium, one has to open a concealed black "gate" that is skilfully moulded into the proscenium arch. As we never did a tech run in each new venue-it wasn't until "Gloria" tried to get onstage that she realised that one of the onstage Banquettes had been placed in front of the gate -making an entrance impossible. Jimmy and I never realised this until it was too late-so we ad-libbed for all we were worth -whilst Alan and Stefano, our trusty asms were summoned to haul the offending piece of set out of the way.

(* Funnily enough-years later when I toured "The Titfield Thunderbolt" to Westclif we had the same problem-when the bolt on one of the gates had been left on !)

During That week-we were taken over to Chelmsford to perform a "set"-including YMCA and some Gloria patter -to launch the new rep season at the civic theatre-which Newpalm had run for thirty years. Perhaps it wasn't quite the right choice to have  a drag act and four guys performing a raunchy routine-in front of a predominantly older audience used to Frances Durbridge and Agatha Christie. The jokes fell on very stony ground and the routine was met with spontaneous indifference !

 

 -Because of the shallow stage of the Palace ,the mirrored back wall off the set was nearer to the audience than at other venues.  It also meant that Guy, Dan and Andy,in the "shower strip"--the only completely naked routine -were nearer to the mirrors-and suddenly realised to their horror-that their reflections in the stage mirror-were very clear indeed!

(NB When we returned to the theatre on the 2003-tour-Guy had found a solution to the problem-but I'm jumping ahead ......) 

 

 That same week-we arranged for some more publicity photos to be taken .Dear Jimmy leant us a beautiful blue and white Boa-that he'd inherited from the late and great Danny la Rue.  It not only looked stunning-but went all the way round myself and all of the boys(and if you're wondering how they were dressed underneath the boa-that's for only us to know !!) One of these photos now has pride of place in my bathroom !

 

On the Friday night -I went back to Stuart's digs he shared with Guy and Andy, for a late night drink-and we were watching  a TV programme-when he suddenly spotted a friend of his-and pointed him out. I also recognised the guy on the TV-and then suddenly realised I'd briefly met Stuart at the Pink Carnival in London(circa 1995)-and never realised I had a photo of him in my photo album-funny the way our lives weave in and out of each other  !

 So ended an eventful week in Westcliff-and onto ......

 Week 4 Peterborough, Key Theatre

 I'd played the Key theatre on my first ever tour in 1992-and have returned almost as many times as I've played Westcliff.Always a lovely atmosphere-on the banks of the river-and the theatre has been carefully upgraded and enlarged backstage to make it more audience and actor friendly. The auditorium remains the same-and presented yet another problem to Gloria on opening night.

Peterborough  was the only venue where the audience were looking down on the stage-as it was a fan shaped auditorium, raking up.

Gloria sailed down the stairs rather too glibly, missed her footing, stumbled -and practically fell onto the stage ! Ah well- she  got a laugh and a big hand on her opening -so one shouldn't complain. And because the front of the stage was at audience floor level-it meant I could sit on the stage to do some of the patter-almost like Judy Garland getting chummy with her audience.

In those days at Peterborough-because the Saturday matinee and evening performances were virtually back to back(IE-One started soon after the other had finished-leaving no time for popping out to eat. So-the friends of the theatre very kindly laid on afternoon tea-a lovely gesture-and one that only stopped  a few years ago-when the private function room it was served in became part of the new restaurant.

Peterborough was then followed with a week off--due to the Easter break

So-what happened ,when we resumed the tour at Sunderland Empire-a week later, when we were all rested-was rather alarming-and certainly very spooky !

PART 5.Hauntings,Recordings and Romance on Tour !

 Week 5.Sunderland Empire

 -A week's break is always welcome during a long tour-and it was handy that the tour was split into three sections-the rehearsals and four venues, then another three venues, followed by a week off-then the final twelve weeks-split up-by a week in my home town-Brighton-before the final six weeks.

I returned to the show-refreshed and looking forward to a new town and a theatre I'd never played. I travelled part of the way with Alan and Andy Crabbe(Graham)-meeting them in London and travelling in the same car.

I'd arranged digs for Jimmy, Carl -our stage manager and myself-in a house out of town-comfortable enough-and with a garden to enjoy the early burst of Summer that had emerged.

I went into the theatre with Carl for the "get -in"-and to work out the logistics of the quick changes.

Sunderland Empire is a barn of a theatre-on four levels-and seating over  a thousand people-easily the biggest house on the tour.

Brand new dressing rooms-luxuriously decorated ,with showers and all mod cons had been built-but for some reason-unknown to anyone-they were miles from the stage-upstairs and accessible mainly by lift. I visited them later in the week-and wondered if the boys ever got back to use them during the show-they were so far away.

However-the nearest dressing rooms to the stage-even though they were up a short flight of stairs-were adjoining rooms, on the first floor-stage right. Jimmy and I bagged these-even though they were in a bit of dilapidated state-and certainly not as luxurious as the boys new ones-somewhere stage left. We were also aware that it was the last dressing room of the late Sid James-who had died onstage in the theatre.......

But-we made ourselves at home and did the usual things on get-in day.

(During that week- I explored the dressing rooms above ours. There were long corridors of dusty chorus rooms-that obviously hadn't been used in  along time-very dark and dingy-and somewhat eerie!

Everyone arrived safely-and had a quick line run in the afternoon.

We knew we hadn't sold particularly well-apart from opening night-which was due to a two for one deal. The audience that night were also a little bit more "assertive "than we'd been used to at our earlier venues.

We started the show-and early on-I felt my voice start to get rather gravelly!  Because we weren't using radio mics for the majority of the show-we were reliant on float mics on the front of the stage-and our own projection. But-this was easier than a heavily amplified panto-when you can't hear you voice coming back.

I was also aware that I was using the same techniques I'd used in the previous theatres-and Wimbledon was certainly not a small theatre. So-why was my voice packing in ?

My vocal quality got noticeably worse during the first half and Andy Crabbe asked me "what was wrong with my voice"-to which I answered- "I have no idea"! (And I really hadn't) It was a relief to get the first part of act two out of the way-and onto the cabaret section-so I could fall back on the hand-held microphone. But-the damage seemed to have been done. My voice seemed worn out by the end of the evening and judging on past experience-felt as strained as it had in panto-when the only cure is rest. And this was Monday!

I went straight back to the digs that night-terrified that I wasn't going to last the week-and just tried to rest. Even Jimmy-who was covering the role of Gavin/Gloria got his script out-and checked the lines!

Then-overnight an extraordinary thing happened-the soreness and vocal strain gave way to a streaming cold ! This was uncomfortable-but it meant my voice from freed up-and sounded as resonant as it normally had.

(***The whole incident was quite extraordinary-but I put it behind me until last year-when I happened to be browsing in Waterstones and came across a book about Sid James. In the epilogue was a paragraph by the late Victor Spinetti;

 

And of course-Jimmy and I had been in that very room !)

Despite our spooky goings on in the theatre-the week passed easily enough-despite a few disappointing houses and a lot ,ore heckling and attitude from the limited audiences we had. Gloria was getting adept at dealing with them-but interestingly-once we got to the cabaret section and could answer them back-they chose to keep quiet! This proved the case in a lot of venues we played.

 Stuart and the three main boys, plus Stefan our ASM/cover had taken the bold step to form a boy band (a little older than the average boy band-granted)-with the idea of producing a single to promote the show and possibly use within it. Stuart also wanted to get me involved somehow-so I agreed to do some ad-lib patter/voice over on the recording.

Straight after playing two performances on the Saturday in Sunderland-we drove through the night to Manchester to stay with record producer-John Barry(Not the one you're thinking of-but yes, that's what we all thought!)-and somehow we all managed to sleep at his place that night on a variety of make-shift beds. (I seem to remember I was literally on a sun bed (un-plugged I'm happy to say!)

 The next day we spent an entire day in his studio recording the now famous(!)-"Boom Boom Boom" !   It was amazing it took all day to record one track-but then again -each member of the team had to be recorded separately and together-to get the maximum quality.

I was left till last to record my ad libs-and after a very long day-only one line ended up on the final disco version mix !(Heigh ho!)

As if that wasn't enough-after going back to John's house for a much needed rest and food-Stuart insisted in going out clubbing in central Manchester. This was sort of the straw that broke the camel's back(the camel being myself in this case)-and fatigued and weary (I don't know if the curse of Sid James was still hanging over me)-I pretty much slumped against a pillar all night in a very dark and dingy night-club-begging for some rest !

(An incident that Stuart never tires of reminding me.

WEEK 6. Worthing Pavillion

 

-Thankfully-our next port of call was on my home doorstop.I'd played at the Connaught theatre-just up the road ,many times-but had never played the lovely Pavillion-at the entrance to Worthing pier. I have to say that of th

two theatres-the Pavillion has far more atmosphere-despite a smaller stage,with less depth.It is a favourite concert venue for "one nighters"-and we often saw our dear friends- Hinge and Bracket here over the years,before I actually played there.

From the front of house-the theatre gives the impression of being small-but actually backstage is very spacious-with plentyof dressing room space. My room in fact was practically next to stage left.

The accoustic in the Pavillion is terrific-and very easy to project into-despite the high ceiling of the auditorium-on only one level.

The run went well-with no problems.The audiences were a relief after the somewhat hostile crowds we encountered in Sunderland.-and were great fun to play to. We also had several nights out in Brighton,due to being so close.

(**.On the Friday afternoon-I auditioned for a well known pantomime company-who actually took the trouble to come down for a private audition -as I'd been in Peterborough during their London auditions-and watch the show that night. I did the audition in costume-and all went well-with them offering me the lead in "Mother Goose" there and then.Sadly it became one of my two most horrendous panto stories-which can be read in due course in the panto blog section.Our director told me in confidence that he too had a bad time with the same producer- a sad and to a promising start)

And so -up North to conclude the second section of the tour

Week 7.The Palace Theatre,Manchester.

 

-It took me many years before I felt at home in Manchester-let alone find my way about. Now-I love it whenever I visit-but for the first few visits-I found it a most confusing city.

 


I had visited on a couple of occasions for radio auditions and had been to the opera house in 1992 to see my friend Graham Hoadley in "Some Like it Hot".So-it was indeed an honour to play this historical building-the home of so many hit shows that had their pre-London try out.

But-our living conditions that week were far from easy. Both the Palace theatre and the opera house share the same digs list-and with such a big city -I suppose it wasn't going to be easy to find digs within walking distance of the theatre. However-on the strength of "theatre owner with city centre appartment -commanding stunning city centre views"-I was won over !(NEVER TRUST THE DIGS LIST 100% !)

When I arrived on the Sunday night-the theatre owner seemed to have ideas above his station-and the city centre apartment-turned out to be a high rise flat.The owner and his wife had just had a baby-so the whole flat smelled of nappies and baby food-and the inevitable yells at all hours of the night.The room  I occupied was far from luxurious-

-no main light-a black and white TV that "rolled" constantly, unless it's areal was in the right position-and the chances of preparing any food in the clogged up kitchen sink was impossible,(It didn't bode well for the rest of the week)

Guy and the rest of the guys were having similar problems. They rang me on the Monday morning to see if I had a digs list-and set about finding themselves somewhere half decent.


All that aside-the Opera house was a beautiful theatre-but rather bizarrely-number one dressing room was a fair distance away from the stage. We'd got into the habit of finding me the nearest room to the stage for the quick changes-regardless of where it came in thee hierarchy of things-number one, two or twenty four-it didn't matter if it was adjacent to the stage.

  

The number one room at the opera house had been re-furbished for one of the big touring musicals and it's star(I think it might have been for Tommy Steele in "Some Like it Hot")-it even had a free standing bath ! Stuart bagged that one straight away-but Guy persuaded him to share-as it was so luxurious. I was quite content with the upstage right room that had been occupied by Mr Sowerberry in "Oliver"-the last big show before ours at the Opera house.

 Also on the plus side was the nightlife-with the clubs and bars on canal street to keep us all busy after the show-and one in-particular which was a favourite with all visiting companies-the bar owned by Liz Dawn from "Coronation Street"-where we spent many a happy evening after the show.

 

The record producer John Barry came to see the show-and he told me that the one and only Fu Fu Lamar-whose famous club was in the centre of Manchester ,was quite poorly that week-and having seen my performance -asked if I'd be interested in covering for him. I knew of Frank(Fu Fu)Lamar through a radio documentary I had from years before-and knew he was a local legend-so it was indeed very flattering to at least have been considered. I don't know if anything ever came of John's suggestion-but I wished I'd at least gone to the club-or have been bale to meet the great man himself. having read his autobiography-he was indeed a one off.

The audiences were generally appreciative-and I seem to remember we faired a lot better than we had done in Sunderland.

 On the Saturday afternoon we managed to squeeze in a matinee of "Loot" at the Royal Exchange theatre-before our own back to back shows at the opera house. We'd just come out at the interval and received a phone call to say that one of the cast's cars had been broken into outside the theatre-and as a result-some of his luggage-including his wages had been taken.(Newpalm always paid us in cash in little brown envelopes-which at times could be alarming-particularly at the end of a pantomime run-when the holiday pay and overtime made a rather hefty pay packet to leave in a dressing room. It made total sense of the old expression-"the ghost walks tonight"-a code word to say it was pay day-that only theatricals would know!)

But-the company -being as close as it  was -rallied round and organised  a collection-so that our poor company member didn't go home penniless after a week's touring. It was indicative of how everyone cared about each other on the tour.


I got the first train out of Manchester Piccadilly on the Sunday morning-meaning I had to leave the digs from hell at about six am. I slammed the front door with great satisfaction-to be returned by the sound of the  baby awakened -and bawling it's eyes out-this putting pay to it's parents lie in- justice I thought for advertising such awful digs.

 

We then had the second week's break-during which my partner and I spent a most enjoyable week in Holland-with our two friends.

Week 8. Chelmsford

I returned-refreshed and ready to face the final twelve weeks. The first port of call was Newpalm's repertory base at the civic theatre Chelmsford. There is nothing particularly remarkable about the civic-except the fact that after all these years and all the shows we performed there-it became a home from home. Backstage had it's own workshop-where the sets for Newplalm's rep productions were built-and in it's heigh day-the season ran for a good six months-through various productions-into pantomime and finishing round about March.

It's a strange theatre-in that the only two dressing rooms are under the stage-one each for boys and girls-making it a tight squeeze for large cast shows, like the pantomime.

Luckily-there was one dressing room on stage level-and with a back door-leading into the auditorium-which I used for the "Gloria" changes-and I always managed to purloin it for panto-but not without some tact and diplomacy !

Nothing particularly remarkable happened that week-other than our staying in about the only digs on the list-a certain lady- who luckily was out during the day-so we hardly ever saw her. But folks from the panto weren't always so lucky-and three were horror stories of our genie from "Aladdin" being sick in one of her bedrooms-and I think when one of the ugly sisters broke the bed-she stopped providing digs altogether!

 Week 9.York

And so-on we travelled to the opera house in York. York is a beautiful city-but very prone to flooding-and the theatre had suffered -being so close to the river. I'd played one afternoon there in "Paddington Bear " in 1998-but the theatre had a bad flood soon after. As a result-all the dressing rooms were re-decorated a re-designed by the local art school-each with it's own theme. There was a Romanesque room, a steam railway room-and the number one dressing room was decked out in a Guy Fawkes theme-with the shower disguised with  gunpowder barrels-and a mock window and view of thee Thames over the mirror!¬ Bizarre-but quaint.

 

Virtually the entire company stayed in the same house-just by the East gate. I think it was the largest house-share we did on the tour(apart from maybe Hull)-and I shared a room with Guy.

 On the Sunday we arrived-there was a fairground down the road from our digs-so a good time was had by all that night.

On the Monday afternoon-we had the obligatory photo call-with us all posing on the banks of the river -picturesque-but a little way from the opera house-exposing us all to comment as we walked down the road !

 

On the Tuesday night-we had the first of our cast being "Off"-not entirely on this occasion-due to illness.

Andy who played the role of Wesley was no-where to be seen on the half hour call-and wasn't answering his mobile. So-Stuart made the decision that Stefan-our Asm/cover-would go on instead. Stef was covering three roles-as was  Alan -our other ASM/cover-and understudy rehearsals had been few and far between. Also-Wesley was the role that Stef  knew the least.Added to this was the complication that we all had to change the characters name to Stefano-and any references to Wesley's colour was replaced with remarks about Stefano being an Italian. We all thought(foolishly)that none us would be much affected by these changes-but as the night wore on -the lines crept up on us-with some very odd delivery-and juxposition of dialogue ! There were also a few hiatus-where it was a case of "jump in quick" if the glazed look overcame Stef.

We got through it all-but it was a fairly hysterical performance. Andy was deeply apologetic afterwards-but of course-Stuart was right-to miss the half is a cardinal sin-without a decent reason !

The following day was a huge turning point in all our lives-most importantly for Guy. We'd all been summoned for obligatory "flyering" in the streets! (As Alan had remarked wryly-"inviting a few bins to see the show"-as that's where most of our handed out flyers ended up! )

Guy-surreptitiously asked me where I intended to distribute my flyers. In a sotto voce voice I sketched out my plan of taking them to the only gay bar in York-and depositing them there, whilst enjoying an afternoon libation.

Guy asked  if he could join me-and I happily accepted-thank heavens I did-as that trip was to change Guy's life for ever.

When we arrived at the bar(The Bay Horse)-it was pretty deserted but we asked the chatty girl behind the bar if we could deposit our flyers there. She readily accepted-and we both had an afternoon drink and a chat with her. She introduced herself as Hanna-and Guy said he would arrange tickets for her to see the show. I thought no-more of it at the time -until later in the week........

 

We returned to The Bay Horse for social nights during the run-and romance blossomed under our very noses. As I mentioned earlier-Guy and I were sharing a room and in the early hours of Saturday morning-he finally came upstairs to sleep -after a long night. His wish he'd confided in me during the Wimbledon run was coming true.

York has always held happy memories for me -and I love going back there to see friends whenever I'm up in that part of the world. Alas-I've never been back to the lovely opera house.

 PART 6 "HERE,THERE AND EVERYWHERE"

Week 10 Cheltenham Everyman Theatre

 

The following week was one of our highlights-and  certainly for Guy as we played his home town of Cheltenham -and the Everyman theatre. The Everyman is a lovely building-an old auditorium, surrounded by a modern facade-but in no way diminishing the building's charm. The only slight draw-back was that the dressing rooms are a good distance from the stage. However-this was solved by a quick change room at the back of the stage which the whole company used-so there was a lovely community feel to the week.

Guy had also organised some fantastic digs for us. A few of the cast stayed with Guy and his parents, Don and Sue-and on my part I was put in touch with a lovely man-Michael-with a beautiful terraced home-right in the centre of the town-and with a conservatory and Garden to die for-like a secret garden ! I should have had a relaxing week there-but early in the week-we went out one night to a local gay club-and I got roped into performing cabaret after two shows on the Friday or Saturday night(I can't remember which). I was very flattered-and luckily had brought my backing tracks with me-just in case-but after two shows-my voice was beginning to suffer-and I felt as though I'd croaked my way through the show-and certainly wasn't at my best.

NB I was to repeat the same silly  thing six months later-whilst doing the infamous panto -"Mother Goose" in Wakefield-and I've seen a lot of cabaret acts do it. Basically-don't over-stretch yourself when you're in a physically demanding show like pantomime or "Ladies Night"-it takes a hell of a strain on the voice and the energy-and even if you get through an "extra -curricula" performance-you'll suffer the next day -at the detriment of the show you're contracted for !

But-we did have some wonderful times in Cheltenham-particularly with Guys family and friends-and we were made to feel very much at home.

Week 11. Theatre Royal ,Nottingham 

 

I'm pretty sure I had a lift with Alan and Andy(who played Graham) on the Sunday-to get up to Nottingham-as I seem to remember our arriving quite early in the day, checking into our digs with a certain Mrs Waz(!) and hitting the gay pubs. I remember one in-particular round the corner from the Co-op hall. We went in for a drink-just as the cast and crew from the local production of "Brigadoon" were in the middle of their dress rehearsal-so I made a mental note to try and squeeze in the Saturday matinee-as our back to back shows didn't start until about 5.30pm.

Nottingham theatre royal is a beautiful Matcham theatre-in gold and bottle green-and one felt very proud to be playing a week there. It's had brand new dressing rooms built within the building -so it has all the mod-cons -but it hasn't spoilt the atmosphere of that beautiful building  

 

(Indeed-when I returned there in 2005 with "Round the Horne"-we probably played our best performance there on the Saturday night_

As with all Matcham theatres-it is acoustically a joy to play if one projects correctly-and on both occasions I have played at the theatre-one can here one's voice coming back at you from all parts of the house.

Whereas Cheltenham had been Guy's home town-Nottingham was Andy's-but whereas we had superb reviews in Cheltnham,in Nottingham the critics were a little lukewarm!

As the tour wore on-the use of baby oil was getting rather too frivolous!. Now-granted-it made the boy's bodies shine under the lights-but with all the writhing about on the stage during the routines-it did mean the stage became rather hazardous (not that I was blameless myself-having played with squashed grapes during the mock Romanesque strip scene in Act 1  !)

But-the hazards of baby oil and the knock on effect it had-created an hilarious incident round about the third night;

During the dressing room scene, when Glenda used to say "Gavin -go and get ready",-I would exit to whichever side was nearest my dressing room or quick change area-as rapidly as possible-to complete the transformation into Gloria. As I've previously explained-it was a fairly tight change-so I couldn't hang about. However-on this particular night in Nottingham-I received the cue from Caroline, started to run off and slipped rather too noticeably !

Now-granted I regained my balance-and got to the dressing room where Louisa was waiting with the red opening dress (which I still have incidentally!) we did the change, I tarted up the make up, attached the jewellery and put on the blonde wig .AND THEN-we stopped to listen to the tanoy! NOTHING SEEMED TO BE HAPPENING ! We were both routed to the spot-until we heard the audience laughing. We were frantic to find out what had happened. And then we gradually heard the boys who were left on stage-trying to get through the rest of the scene-barely having moved on from the point at which I had left the stage!

It seemed that following my "fall"-an infectious "corpse" had gone through the entire cast-and the audience realised it too! But-the boys had done the right thing-share the joke with the audience  and never try to hide it(Unless you're in a serious play that is-and then you're f****d !)

 

We also had our 2nd "off" that week-but this was partly planned for.

 Danny had to get to London for an audition and there is nothing worse than being worried about not getting back in time for a show.So-as a precaution-Stef was ready and primed to go on as Barry-which he did admirably.Danny was back from London in time for the six Oclck show-but let Stef go on.And why not indeed!!

 

-I think with a show like that .when it is inevitable that with a long run there are going to be ilnesses,and injuries-and in a show where there are no star names-I think it reasonable to allow the cover to have their moment to shine-as long as they are well prepared and give a good performance.

Over the yesr I have seen understudies give incredible performances and proved themselves more than capable. I have also been in the position myself of getiing that "chance" to go on....

  I seem to remember getting the first train out of Nottingham on the Sunday-so I could have a full day at home(I had been away for four weeks on the trot )I was lucky enough to return to 

 WEEK 12 Gordon Craig Theatre,Stevenage

 

The Gordon Craig theatre in Stevenage is actually a rather nice little intimate theatre-within a leisure complex. the theatre is well equipped-and similar to Peterborough-in it's fan shaped auditorium.

 

I had previously played a couple of days there with "Paddington" back in 1998-but have never actually stayed there. I'd managed to stay with a friend of a friend who put us up for the week-which was a good job-as there are no decent digs.

 (I have since played the Gordon Craig and commuted back to Brighton-albeit a mega dash after curtain down-mercifully the station is next door to the theatre-I'm sure it's been many an actor's motivation -being able to catch a train home -,rather than endure the following day in Stevenage !)

 

(The town itself however is a shit-hole-probably the Versailles of shitholes-obviously twinned with Crewe ,Crawley and Lowestoft!)

We played to very disappointing houses all week-so much so that Stuart advised me to cut the gags to the bone, rather than pro-long the agony. For a while I was rather peeved-but then I had to agree-there was no point in flogging a dead horse !

(I even put in a reference to one of the local pubs-"that's not saw-dust on the floor -it's last night's furniture !)

The only memorable event of the week was our ASM Alan going on for Andy -in the role of Graham. this was in no way due to illness or indisposition-it was by mutual consent that Alan should have a chance to go on at the Saturday matinee.

          The matinee was a disappointing affair-half empty and very unresponsive-so when Andy gave a heckle to Alan during his big scene- no-one was particularly outraged!(The fact that the heckle was a quote from a clinic doctor that Alan had to visit the week before, for various reasons-only added to the hilarity of the situation-and the phrase -"reveal your penis",spoken in an Indian dialect became one of the catch phrases of the tour from thereon)

      

       Week 13.Brighton Theatre Royal.

 

 

But-the dreariness of Stevenage soon gave way to a week of sheer hilarity in my home town of Brighton. The cast all came down on the Sunday-meaning we could all share in the wonderful plethora of drag cabaret that Brighton was blesses with at that time(A little bit jaded now-I have to say) We all piled into the Queen's Arms to watch Dave Lynn-and he seized on the fact that the boys were in town-even getting Stef to do an impromptu strip onstage !

 

On the Monday we had the usual publicity shoot -this time in Ann Summers-with the boys posing in saucy thongs-with myself in a shocking pink two piece,ala Patsy from Ab Fab.

 

 

The audience loved the show-and it was just unfortunate that Brighton theatre Royal is another hemp house-so bits of the set couldn't be used-and those that could flew in at rather rakish angles(as the video of the show proves-I'd managed to get a friend to film it for us as a memento-and I'm so glad he did )

 

On the opening night-the curse of the baby oil reared it's head again and almost caused Gloria to go a purler in the curtain call-as you can see from the video below;

 

 

(NB.I've had to be careful publishing extracts from the show-as it is strictly protected by the writers and producers.However-as the stand up comedy sections were written/compiled and performed by myself-I don't think this should present a problem. BUT- don't ever let this turn  up on one of those tacky "You've been framed" type things !)  From then on-the use of the said substance was strictly monitored !

 

On the Wednesday night-I was asked to do the most bizarrre radio interview under the sun. I was asked to attend a local radio station (Southern FM I think)-dressed in my Romanesque strip outfit from the first act. Mercifully- Stuart suggested Dan and Alan went with me-and thank-god they did ! It was a live broadcast-and the two boys were asked to strip on the radio ! (What the point was I've never known-apart from the fact that there were pictures in Southern FM's magazine) Poor old Alan and Dan, surrounded by a female studio audience had to conceal their embarrassment with a couple of paper plates, on this rather bizarre late night programme. At least they were able to provide an entertaining dialogue while they did it, which I very much doubt I could have done in the circumstances.(Whoever had dreamt up this crazy stunt had a lot to answer for !)

 

As Cheltenham had been a week for Guy's friends and family-this week was definitely mine. Loads of friends popped along during the week to watch the show-and Friday night was a riot. We all piled back to the digs that half the cast had booked out near Saltdean for a wonderful al-fresco party into the small hours.

 

 The following day was a local carnival in Brighton (Kemptown Carnival I think)-which I managed to avoid on the pretence of having to go to an audition.(As I was going to be away from home for six weeks-every moment at home was precious)

 I was very anxious about being away for so long-on the final leg of the tour. Up till now-I'd been bale to get back most weekends-or at least had a break, or some time with my partner. It must be remembered that touring can be a strain on any relationship-especially if the other half isn't used to a theatrical lifestyle. Michael and myself had gradually got used to it over six years-but believe me-it doesn't get any easier.

 

We'd had great problems finding digs in the Inverness(our penultimate venue) -and eventually I'd managed to find a two bed-room flat for six of us!(More about that later) In between the matinee and the evening show in Brighton-I confided in Louisa how worried I was and asked if it was possible for Michael to join us in Inverness-adding him into the budget-which would then bring the cost of the digs  down for everyone. She threw her arms around me-and reassured me that it would be fine. It was just what I needed-before embarking on that last six weeks. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART 7."HITHER AND YON' "

 Week  14 New Theatre, Cardiff

 

 

I didn't relish the Sunday after the Brighton run. Michael and I went out to our local bar as usual on a Sunday for a lunchtime drink-and I had my bags packed for the next six weeks.

 Alan and Andy C had offered me a lift to Cardiff on the Sunday afternoon-and it seemed the sensible thing to do-particularly as we had a photo call on the Monday afternoon and a rehearsal for a publicity drive.

 It was a lovely Sunday evening as we drove there-taking about three hours-but in glorious Summer Sunshine. I was staying with a gay couple in Roath-and they made me very welcome and the digs, although a fair walk from the city centre were very comfortable.(I subsequently went back to stay with them in 2005 with "Round the Horne-revisited".

On the Monday morning-I did my customary wig styling and sussing out the logistics of the theatre, in relation to the quick changes.(this time-it was in a pokey little cupboard, normally used by a company manager-but it was just off the stage-so perfect.

 

In the afternoon we had our photo call. A member of staff from the New theatre had rung me the previous week and told us that a local guy was also a local drag queen-and was willing to have some photos taken with us-and give us a plug for the show at the pub he worked at. We joked amongst ourselves that we would probably encounter a very sad drag queen, who looked a mess-OR as Stuart said- "he'll be so good-you'll hate him"! Mercifully-only one part of any of these rumours proved accurate. From the moment I met Rob-we got on like a house on fire. His stage name was Doctor Beverley Ballcrusher(!) and he was very popular on the Cardiff circuit. He was a genuinely nice guy and I'm still very much in touch with him.(The last time we met was in Weston Super Mare when I was on tour with "Strictly Murder" in 2009,but I also told him the tragic news of Guy's death earlier in 2013)

Rob worked at a bar called Minsky's-and the stage was literally on the bar! A panel unfolded from the back wall-making the bar area a stage-and that was his performance space. He had a regular booking there and on the Tuesday-we were due to perform a few numbers and routines with him.

When the boys saw the size of the stage-the same thing crossed all their minds-how on earth were they going to adapt a wide stage routine for this very rickety  erection  ? (!)

 

 

But -adapt they did and we planned the format for Tuesday's show-with myself joining Rob for a number and singing one myself.Plus the the boy's routines-somewhat reduced in size!

  The New theatre Cardiff  has a lovely atmosphere-a large auditorium but intimate-and again-excellent acoustically. The show went well and we followed it up with an appearance at another local pub/club to a rather bemused/Luke warm reception. It did go to show how self contained our show was and how it was difficult to take any part of it out of context(as we'd learnt at the press launch at Chelmsford.

 However-the next night at Rob's bar-we had a ball ! (One couldn't help but not do-given the cramped corridor/dressing room we all shared!) The audience were with us all the way-and Rob gave us a fantastic plug. it was a joy working with him-and we all agreed it had been one of the better publicity brainwaves.( Laying to rest the annoyance we'd all had at the useless late-night radio interview in Brighton!)

During that week-the two guys I was staying with made me very welcome-and took me out for days around Cardiff bay (formerly tiger bay-which I wanted to see for the Shirley Bassey history. We also went to Caerphilly,Corfe Castle  and other local points of interest. I'd love to know if they still live in Cardiff and do digs. I haven't seen them since "Round the Horne-revisited" in 2005-but if they are on the digs list I heartily recommend staying with them. I have a vague recollection that Andy C stayed at the same digs-we shared a lot of digs together on that tour.

On the Saturday night-we were far from the "draw" in town! Robbie Williams was appearing at the main concert venue(I don't think the Millennium centre was open in 2001-but I stand to be corrected ) The show started to the usual heckling-which got decidedly worse.

We couldn't answer back during the play section of the piece. the most we did was a wry smile and a raised eyebrow.

But-the heckles that night got a bit out of hand and during the opening to act 2 one girl cried out -"We gave up going to see Robbie Williams for THIS ?"!

It gave me great ammunition for my speech that I had in the opening scene of Act2 (deliberately angled straight out front !) Watch the carefully selected clip below;

 

 

It always got the necessary reaction on "animals"-but on that Saturday night-the timing played to perfection.

The boys were really looking forward to my being able to put the audience in their place-once Gloria swished onto the stage, microphone in hand-but funnily enough that night-Gloria didn't have to use any of her tried and tested put downs !(Funny that !) But-it had been a great week-making a lot of new friends and enjoying a wonderful city.

On the Sunday-Alan and Andy picked me up early and headed for.......

WEEK 15- LEEDS Grand Theatre

 

 I'd booked most of us into a large terraced house in what  I later realised was not the most salubrious  of neighbourhoods. The house sounded great on the digs list (But then-Chernobyl looked good in the brochure!) and to be fair-it as a lovely house-with five bedrooms and a lovely communal kitchen.

Guy asked me if he may have the downstairs double because he had a special reason-Hanna and he had kept in touch since York-and it was all looking pretty serious. Romance had also sprung up in two other members of the cast-Andy C and Caroline were now very close, amidst rumours in the company-and as I was in charge of organising the digs-I decided to take the situation in hand and ensure they both had the respect they deserved. I made sure they had the top floor room, along with myself-and made sure the other housemates(funnily enough this was the first year of big brother !) all gave them their support.

We arrived on the Sunday lunchtime to meet our landlady. And-fair do's she had made a lovely job of converting the house next door to hers. (Her own house had two attic apartments that Linda and I rented during our stay the following year doing -"The Full Monty" at City varieties music hall.)

But-she herself was a character study ! We asked where the local shops were when we arrived and without a breath she said- "well there's a Pa**i shop-five minutes away" ! -at which the entire occupants of the kitchen wished the floor would open up-and the pained expressions on all of our faces must have been very evident-racial equality was obviously not high on her list.

As far as I remember the show went well on opening night-and our landlady came to see it with her friend-but then(-cheek upon cheek)-she let herself into the house ,once we got back-and sat at the kitchen table with her friend-slagging off the show and my outfits ! There are definite boundaries with landladies/landlords -and I've stayed with some brilliant ones over the years that far out-weigh the naff ones-which must be observed. As a landlady-one should allow the artist the freedom of your home, without "crowding "them. As an artist- one should respect that a very kind and generally accepting person has opened up their home for you-and respect their rules and ingratiate with them-if it feels comfortable. (As was the case in Cardiff)-This one however was starting to get on all our nerves-and after the second day of letting herself into the house ( un-announced!) we decided to take matters into our own hands. Once we got home to the digs-the door was locked from the inside-and any members of the cast that needed to get back in-rang us on our mobiles to ensure they weren't harbouring a landlady eager to pounce ! She soon got the message!

It was just as well we'd adopted this policy for the big stripper household-as several wild nights ensued ! Guy had gone to fetch Hanna over to join us, as I think her car had broken down (remind me Hanna-my brain is getting frazzled!) and we all had a truth/dare game with "consequences " in the communal kitchen ! The most memorable was us all descending on poor old Andy K's hair with everything from strawberries to shaving foam and Alan naked doing an animal impression on all fours around the kitchen  (Hanna-remind which animal it was)

But-what goes on tour stays on tour-and I share these memories with you-knowing they will go no further!

 

Leeds Grand is another beautiful theatre -a joy to play-even though it is so large. One of my big regrets was that when I returned there in 2007 to play a rep season-I photographed the beautiful building from top to bottom-and then sadly lost the photos due to a pc crash(Grrrr!) It is so strange that the bigger the theatre-even though we weren't wearing radio mics-we could project and be heard adequately -a lesson a lot of those reliant on amplification should take head of !

The other factor I was aware of that week was that Stuart had either hurt his leg or ankle-and so Stef was on playing Norman. But-equally as well-and he fulfilled his role in managing to play all three of his understudy roles during the run. Stef was a great Norman-and at times it was difficult to distinguish between the two very excellent performances. As I've said before-understudying is thankless-due to having to follow exactly the timing of the  main actor. But Stef managed it perfectly-and I learnt a lot from his approach to it-when I had to cover four roles in the West end three years later.

 So ended a mad week in Leeds. It's a beautiful city. I'd played it back in the autumn of 1992 with "A Christmas Carol" at City Varieties music hall-and found it drab, cold and un-inviting-along with digs from hell--opposite a graveyard ! But-what they have done to rejuvenate Leeds city centre is brilliant. each time I've returned-I have had a great time-and along with Nottingham,Cardiff,Cheltenham-it's one of those places you look forward to on a tour schedule.

 We made sure the big stripper household was spotless when we left on the Sunday (another rule for theatricals-always look after your digs -or it buggers it up for the next actors !) But our landladies parting shot to us as we departed(and she saw us safely off the premises-bless her !) was (in broad Leeds Dialect) "what I liked about your show-was it was so classy !" (immediately followed by her wiping her nose on her cardigan sleeve) Alan, Andy and myself barely contained ourselves as we headed for the door ,the safety of the car-and up country to ............ 

WEEK 16 Sheffield-Lyceum

  

-The Weather was getting better and better-and we were all taking advantage of the ultra violet to top up the melanin appearance !

For some reason-I found myself almost swapping camp(!)as far as digs sharing was concerned. I'd spent the majority of the tour either going it solo or sharing with Andy C,Guy etc. In Sheffield however -I was sharing again with Stuart,Jimmy,Louisa,Carl,Stef in a lovely house -pretty much in the country at a local quarry ! (Sounds ghastly I hear you say-but the house itself and the local countryside/garden were beautiful and we spent many a happy afternoon sunbathing .It also had a beautiful upstairs sitting room/balcony that we could sit out on ,under the stars and top up the alcohol levels until the early hours. That is my memory of "Rivelin Valley Quarry " and a landlady-unfortunately named "Penny Slack"(She's not on the list any more-sadly-but at least she won't cotton on to this account !) For some reason she took umbrage with our lovely Jimmy Horne who is a pleasure and a delight to perform with-and an absolute hoot to share digs with (wait until Inverness-you'll see what I mean !)-which put a damper on things.(She was lucky we didn't go out and buy kippers on the last day !)  

Again-the Lyceum was another beautiful Matcham theatre(I returned again in 2005 with "Round the Horne")-and all went well with the show.

However-as with any show-tiredness and irritability can prevail-and I think it was about this point that we realised we only had three more weeks of what had been an idyllic tour.

We always met the audience in the bar afterwards when we could -it boosted the bar takings, boosted a few egos and sent the girls off for the night feeling they'd got their money's worth(as well as a few autographs !)-a formula we used on the next tour-and subsequently in our own show-"WILDBOYZ"-2011/12.

However-the constant stream of the cast knocking on my door asking -"you are going to mention the meeting in the bar" ? got a little too much in Sheffield-and sadly-I did vent my spleen at poor old Guy who backed off like a frightened mustang! I was very sorry for my behaviour-but it was all smoothed out-by a joint award at the end of party awards ceremony in Aberdeen (Keep reading!!)-Thank you Stuart and Jimmy!.x

 -I think I scrounged a lift again from Andy and Alan again-to take us even more up country ..........

 WEEK 17 Hull-The New Theatre

 

 Now Hull sadly would not inspire one  to shout "whoopee" if it cropped up on a tour list! But-that was 2001-and it may have changed( ! ) (Maureen Lipman sums up the dialect perfectly by describing folks in Hull on their mobiles as taking a "firn curl" (think about it phonetically!)

But-it was early August, beautiful weather-and virtually the entire cast was sharing one big house across the road from the  New theatre.

We arrived in good time for lunch, hit the supermarkets for everything one could need for a Sunday lunch(including a schooner of alcohol) and settled down to a chill on our very own terrace-my idea of heaven !

We were just re-filling our glasses when my mobile rang-and a voice with a slight echo announced-"Hi-this is Dave Lynn-calling from the stage of the Queen's Arms in Brighton ! "

My dear partner Michael (baring in mind I'd been away for a month) had gone to see Dave at our local, where he used to host a game show/cabaret afternoon and one of the components was phoning loved ones/not so loved ones-in fact any one that was up for a laugh ! It was the most wonderful surprise-and knowing how close Dave, Michael and I were at that time-he knew how we were missing each other. He wished the cast every success  and said what a fantastic show we were all touring in and passed me over to Michael-saying that the phone ,previously on loud-speaker in the pub-was now mute. Obviously I didn't want to waste the pub's phone bill -so I just said- "darling I miss you". At which point-a loud cheer went up-Dave had kept the phone "live" for the pub crowd! But-it was a very touching thing to do-and just what I needed on that idyllic Sunday.

 

Caroline and I had a radio interview on the Monday -which I had to do in make up-because of an imminent photo call(but I can't find any trace of a photo or write up !)-which was slightly off the wall -because the radio interviewer wanted to reveal why I was wearing drag make-up-but of course-he couldn't, because of the plot of the show  !

 

The Hull New theatre (from memory) is rather upmarket municipal-not unpleasant-but reminiscent of Bradford city hall I played with "Wildboyz"(-flat floor, chair seating and then a raked bit !)-we also had the first "dash upstairs" dressing room since Sunderland.

The main "theatrical" pub in Hull was (and probably still is)-the old English Gentleman-in between our digs, the theatre-and the local fire-station ! So-on a balmy August night-the predominantly female audience & certain members of the cast (self included!) were given an impromptu cabaret by the fireman arriving back from a conflagration- (slightly carbonised  from the experience !)-stripping off and hosing each other down -opposite the pub where we were sipping our cider ! (Honest  you can't make this up !)

 While I was in the pub-I noticed, amidst the signed photos on the wall, a photo of a fellow drama student and indeed ex flat mate from Birmingham-John Craggs ! I asked the landlady if John still lived in Hull-and she pointed to the drink next to me and said-"that's his pint luv-he's just popped to the loo! ". Yet another wonderful surprise. I hadn't seen John for almost ten years.He was in the year below me at drama school and shared my flat in Birmingham for a couple of terms. As can be imagined-lots of catching up to do-and days out !

The week passed pleasantly enough-and the added bonus of us all cooking for all each other each day-we were just like the Walton's!(we even had our own hostess trolley-bend me over backwards!)

But-we were all dreading the penultimate jaunt on our tour through England's green and pleasant lands ! AND -we had to leave England behind us !............................

WEEK 18 Inverness-Eden Court Theatre

 

In the initial planning of the tour -Newpalm had secured Inverness, Aberdeen AND-finishing in Edinburgh .But-there would have been a week between Aberdeen/Edinburgh(I think they'd tentatively booked Crawley !)-which didn't justify the cast going all the way down South and back up to bonny Scotland-so we only had to weeks unfortunately-I've always wanted to play Edinburgh. But-baring in mind we would have hit the granite city at festival time-perhaps it was just as well-considering the problems we'd had in securing any sort of shelter in Inverness!

As far back as Nottingham-we knew we had problems -and Jimmy had urged me to book the Inverness "lead" I had straight away.

So-with the prospect of  six ,members of the cast sharing a two bedroom flat(plus Michael who was travelling up to join us ) -we sallied forth as soon as we could(9.oclock I think) from Hull.

Again-I travelled with Andy C and Alan (I really must track them down via FB-always determined if they want to know me after reading this epistle !)-and it took us virtually the entire day and a lot of petrol.

Newpalm(being Newpalm) had paid us the going rate on train fare -and it was far easier for us all to pool our meagre super saver advance/have it away day money on joint petrol-for whoever had cars (Dies-regarding the rule that one shouldn't sensibly  travel with one 's understudy-in case you both get stuck !) Louisa,Jimmy and Stuart were in another convoy and Guy and Andy K were in another.(Heaven knows how Stef and Caroline fitted into this fiasco !)

It did become (shamefully !) a race to see who could get there first. I recall we ran into Guy and Andy K at a service station-just as we were leaving-and from thereon it became like the wacky races (I suppose with myself as Penelope Pit-stop !) -to the extent that Guy and co were eventually virtually in our boot as we sped towards Inverness !

 Arriving at Mrs ... accommodation -I think hysteria got the better of us. The "holiday home" was comfortable enough-for a family of four maybe-but with seven of us -it was nothing short of farcical. Add to this the fact that the loo/bathroom was off the main "dormitory" style  bedroom ! Add to that the fact-that the bathroom  door didn't shut properly!!! 

So-there we all were in a situation that would have put the big brother rabble to shame ! Carl,Stef and I shared one room(with Michael yet to arrive) and Louisa, Stuart and Jimmy in the other (it really was "The Waltons")

As soon as we arrived and recovered from the hysteria-I headed to the station to pick up my "Beloved"! Now -baring in mind he had travelled from Brighton from  the crack of dawn (strange girl  !) he had the most amazing experience and train journey-through the high-lands  .isle of loch alsh and all the picturesque scenery one could wish for. Thank heavens for mobile phones(baring in mind I didn't get one until 1999 !) -he was delayed by a couple of hours-which wasn't bad-considering we were travelling on a Sunday !

Maybe as years have gone by-and a Civil partnership behind us-we've taken separation in our stride-but not then-a month away-and we need a damn good....... drink -and a catch up ! But-by this time-we were all fairly tired, had downed a fair few libations to relax us after our various journeys-and all rather ready for bed -to sleep it off !

I met up with the rest of the "Waltons" and we headed back to our "bijou late" ( Late= slang palarre for home/house !) That night couldn't have been more farcical; our room-Carl and Stef grabbed the singles, Michael and I in the double (not that it mattered!) -and an open highway through our room to the communal bathroom !

I'd never been to boarding school-but the whole experience was like giggly schoolgirls in the dorm ! It tended to be Jimmy who had an "early start" in the morning-so with the door that refused to attach itself to it's roller-ball-the farce was complete!

Add to all this-the weather for the whole week(in August) was pretty appalling. But-at least we had a roof(and an upper floor) over our heads; Guy and Andy k were sharing a caravan and Andy C and Caroline had bought a tent and were on a camp site  !! If that isn't love I don't know what is. Mind you-halfway through the week-the phrase" f**k that" rang through the theatre-and the pair found a Travelodge I believe!

(Before anyone gets any ideas-this is our story-and we're making the film of it !)


PART  8.- "And now -the end is near....."

 Coming to the end of any long tour is very difficult. Friendships have been forged/broken/re-made /tears shed.appologies made/hearts broken etc etc etc. BUT-thank heavens -we had no major rows or arguments on this tour. Yes- we had our irritability (self included !) and off days -but we are human beings-that's why we have the sensitivity to become these mythical creatures called actors .And what I'm trying to say is- any new-comer, soap star, reality TV personality-WHOEVER ! -look after those around you ! Don't just think of yourself-you're part of a team(or you should be !) On tour especially-there are no stars -it's a team ! And quite frankly-if we could do it on a six months number one tour -then anyone can ! (Just

 The weather in Inverness was foul-but Michael and I tried all we could to get out, walk and sight-see-lots of afternoons in the pouring rain (without a pub in sight -aghhhhh!) -trying to take in the scenery, (I doubt if we could do it now !)

The theatre (backstage)is actually a very old building--an old house in fact that has been "tacked on" to a very modern auditorium-very spacious and reminding me somewhat of the Millennium forum in Derry which we played later in 2003.(Funny-the  more distant the locale-the more plush the theatre.BUT-the audiences in Inverness were phenomenal  ! If anyone reading this has the chance to play the Eden Court-take the chance -and do it ! 

The audiences loved it-and Michael was made very welcome by the theatre staff, once they knew he was my partner. There was only one member of the audience who had an "unnecessary reaction" when she found out the same ! It is very strange-these are the same members of the audience who go wild with applause and "assume" your preferences when they meet you in the bar afterwards-purely on the grounds of wearing a frock. The same actually happens when playing "dame" in panto-crazy!

 

But all in all it was a good week-the living conditions were quickly forgotten, we all cooked for ourselves-and the highlight on the Thursday afternoon was a trip up to Loch Ness.  

 

 

Everything they say about the loch is true-deeply beautiful and tranquil, eerily quiet-but spoilt by the visitor centre across the road!AH well-I suppose they have to keep the American tourists happy!

Michael had to travel back to Brighton on the Friday-for Brighton Pride-so I sadly had to watch him pack. Stuart tells a similar story, with a different ending; (!) e saw me in the kitchen-lovingly preparing Michael's packed lunch and making up a bottle of squash and thinking how lovely it all was------ until he saw me decant half a bottle of vodka into the squash mix-as a little "libation" on the way!

(Well-if anyone knows that journey to and from Scotland-they would have to agree that one needs sustenance !)

 

We finished the show to packed houses on the Saturday night-but not before Louisa had performed her debut as Glenda. Caroline was absolutely fine and cool about Louisa doing the matinee-and it was a lovely though to let her have her chance as the others had done-although she was terribly nervous-and when flowers arrived from her boyfriend-and went into a complete "dither"!

And so we  prepared for our final week-not too far down the road.

 

Week 19 Aberdeen-His Majesty's Theatre

 

 

-I can't remember who I travelled with to Aberdeen-but I have a feeling it might even have been Guy and co. But-whatever-it was only a short jaunt that took us most of the morning. By lunchtime-we were ensconced in Mrs Milne's flat (so of course we christened her old AA!) We were sharing again(although not to the extent of the previous week)-but it made it happy final week-to be amongst as many of the cast as we could.

 

 I think everyone felt the pang of regret that it was all coming to an end. Yes-it had been a long tour-and Yes-we had a few minor bumps and scrapes-but nothing major-and now-the end was in sight. It was a most odd feeling and I didn't know how I was going to cope with that final few performances.

I hate last nights anyway(-particularly panto-as I detest all the shenanigans that can sometimes occur on last nights when one is trying to do one's job as normal. I've had too many backstage collisions in the wings to relax on last nights of panto!)

and I didn't want this show to go "off the boil". However-I needn't have worried. It all wound down very happily.

Not only did we have one of the most beautiful Matcham theatres of the tour to finish in. (With probably the closest dressing room to the stage ever)-but the Aberdeen was/is a lovely town-very friendly-and with a high old night-life as well)

On the Friday night-Stuart and Jimmy organised an "award ceremony" and a full company meal for us all.(I can't for the life of me remember what cuisine it was though !)

They'd done the "awards" to perfection-with everyone getting something-and all four boys receiving the "aggravation of a drag queen award" for the constant asking about the "Request to join us in the bar". I myself received the "Award for managing to wear shorts in every venue we played"! I'm not sure that was strictly true-but it made for a good night's entertainment-and a lovely way for us all to be together for the last time-before the final two performances-which mercifully were "back to back".

All I can remember was us all being on an absolute high-determined to make it a great last night-and that every one of the cast was involved in some way-Louisa went on as the bar lady at the top of the show, Alan played the boy in the Gym and of course Stef had his own strip section as well-so everyone was involved -and we could all take the curtain call together.

It fairly rocked along-and one just breathed in that atmosphere of that beautiful building.

The only little trick that was played (to my knowledge) was in the boy's shower strip. This was the only routine performed entirely naked-but facing upstage-and during which the boys squeezed soapy water down their backs. (I would include a you-tube clip at this juncture-but modesty prevails -and I've tried to avoid giving too much of the show away-apart from the parts I wrote myself)

On the last night-Stef and Alan had carefully concealed ice cubes in the water-so that by the time it reached the stage it was freezing !

For once-I was in the wings during the scene(I never normally liked to be in the wings too early while the boys were performing this revealing scene-even drag queens have tact and diplomacy!)-and I heard the audible scream from Guy, Andy and Dan as the glacial water hit their backs-and a lot more besides-classic!

 At the final curtain call-to run down that stage to the wall of applause and adulation, along with my fellow actors,collegaues -but above all-the best of friends is something I'll never forget. Yes-I wanted to cry at that moment-but I think by that point we were all beyond tears. We'd worked hard, played hard and at the end of the day had the time of our lives.

All that remained was the long arduous journey home (In a similar way-"WILDBOYZ" finished on the Wirral-with a journey from hell the next day) by train. It was hard to say goodbye to various people at various times-either on the last night, the last morning-or in the case of those of us that got the train from Aberdeen(Dan,stef and myself )-at railway stations-the worst place to say goodbye.

To this day-I can remember an out-of body experience-walking down the rake of whatever stage/theatre we were playing in the final section and seeing a wall of lights and feeling a tremendous power behind us all .I have never forgotten that feeling !