I always knew this would be the hard one to write – the last day of performance week – and so it has turned out. A combination of extremely long days, euphoria, massive physical exertion, poor eating habits, lack of sleep and high levels of concentration have taken their toll, hence this last piece is a bit later than originally promised. Anyway, let’s to it and see if it doesn’t provide some sort of catharsis.
The day began with yet another new experience as the RSC was offering a “touch tour” for those attending the matinee performance and who would be using the audio description facility. The tour gave audience members the opportunity to meet some of the cast, explore the set and handle some of the key costumes and props. This was a really interesting half hour and it was evident that to the patrons in attendance it would make all the difference to their appreciation of the play. I was asked to “model” the donkey ears and run through a few lines so that the sound of my voice would be familiar to our guests. They also posed some questions about how hot I got and how quickly I had to change. I explained that I had three people to get me into the ears (one for the headset, one for dabbing some red make up on and one to hold the torch by the light of which the others worked), that they were then removed by Puck onstage and that the makeup was removed in the wings by ASM Lindsey scrubbing my face with a wet cloth – most invigorating!
After the regular warm ups it was more or less straight into the afternoon matinee which as well as being audio described was to be captioned – not that any of this would affect what we were doing in the slightest. The performance is probably best described as a game of two halves. Things seemed a bit nervy in the first half (though personally I felt less so than on the previous evening) and there was a definite blip in our second scene which, fortunately, was able to be very quickly rescued. David came round to the dressing rooms at half time to give us a pep talk and this seemed to liven us up and provide a better second half. By the time we got to Pyramus and Thisbe things were swimming along very nicely again and this last scene, as ever, went down a storm.
In between shows it was time to start clearing up, gathering together greetings cards and presents and getting things ready for a later departure (not something I wanted to think about, believe me, but it had to be done). Various messages about the clear up procedures came from stage manager Jenny and company manager Suzi; as in everything else they are absolute models of efficiency but all done in a kindly and friendly manner. A quick meal in the Barbican’s Green Room with pros Alex, Ben and Jack revealed that they too were thinking about the immediate future and the journey up to the next venue in Cardiff. A definite feeling of finality was starting to set in. Back up in dressing room F3, dresser Jen appeared with our freshly laundered costumes (don’t know how they turn things round so quickly) and it was time to get ready for the final show.
I’m pleased to report that we went out on a high. From the moment we first came on I could feel that the audience were with us and as it was a now or never situation I decided to use all my reserves to give them a good night. There’s a fine balance, of course, and we had been warned about overpushing or becoming self indulgent; I think we managed to stay on the right side of this particular concern. A little extra bounce, a little extra swagger, a slightly more playful grin with Ayesha and just a hint more of audience engagement and I think it was possibly the best performance of the week – running a close neck and neck with Thursday evening. There were several emotional moments in the last half hour (mostly offstage but see the last paragraph below) but generally the trend was upbeat and celebratory. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed the Bergomask section in the early days but over the final week had found myself carrying it out with more abandon – if perhaps slightly less polish each night. For this final time I was doing it for myself and I couldn’t have cared less who (or if anyone) was watching. As Adam and I swung into our final pose a little voice whispered “You did it! You really did it!”. There was one more final extraordinary and very touching moment. At the curtain call the professionals went down on one knee and applauded us; that really finished me off!
Things moved apace after that. A swift get out in which I managed to leave my gifts of Dream Tour and Barbican T shirts behind – since located and set to one side for later collection – was effected. It was most unusual of course to not be going through the wearying process of striking the set and clearing the stage; every am drammer’s bugbear on the last night. For once there was a professional crew (I counted about 20 people) swiftly deconstructing the scenery and loading it onto a huge waiting van outside. I, for one, was mightily relieved. There were a few more well-wishers at the stage door and I reflected on how so many of our fellows had put in an appearance to cheer us on. Respect to the Canterbury Players team, Peter Cockerill from up north, the ever lovely Bradford Barry, Amelia from just down the road and part of Norwich’s Common Lot, Dorothy all the way from Cornwall and especially Graham for stop 12 on his tour of all venues; we thank you from the heart of our Bottoms. Just time for a brief celebration (glass of water for me as I got to the bar past last orders), lots (and I mean lots) of fond farewells and then the last train home.
As I fell into bed I reflected on a key moment that evening and one aspect of the play that was definitely different in performance. This was the “I have had a most rare vision” monologue towards the “latter end of the play”. Alone on stage for this section it is Bottom’s (and if I’m honest my) big moment. That night as I spoke the words they seemed to have a new resonance encapsulating not only what had taken place for Bottom but also what had happened on a personal level over the last year and a half:
I have had a most rare vision. I had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream.
Gentle reader, the words were Shakespeare’s, the feelings were Bottom’s but the very real tears were mine.
This week the production is at the New Theatre in Cardiff– click on the image below to reveal full details.