My great disappearing act

That's me dying the first time - on stage.

My great disappearing act took place at the height of my professional theatrical fame. For the princely sum of £5 and a bottle of Fanta (a night? or was the £5 for a week?) I trod the same boards the feet of Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds and Adrian Dunbar had before me. I played the eldest of Macduff’s sons in Shakespeare’s Scottish play at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast.

My main role was to die defending my Mum against the king’s hired killers – a bit of dramatic struggling and swooning after being stabbed. But it wasn’t all action. Oh no – I had lines too. A couple of Yeses and then that immortal exclamation.

Thou liest, thou shag-hair’d villain!

That’s what everyone remembers from that play, isn’t it? Never mind all that hubble bubble toil and trouble or being steeped so far in blood. Oh yes.

On the final night of the run, the usual murder happened. (Obviously I could have beaten the killers if I’d wanted, but I had to let them get away with it for the sake of the play. Just wanted to make that clear.)  The murderers fled, leaving the bodies of me and my mother and brother strewn across the stage. Then the lights went down completely, leaving the stage in complete darkness to allow us to drag our carcasses off stage.

As usual, I quickly nipped through the side drapes, but instead of finding myself in the wings en route to my bottle of Fanta, I almost immediately faced a wall. Very puzzling. I’d somehow gone wrong. But as I turned to find the correct exit, the light came back up as the play continued.

The light filtering through also revealed both my location and my predicament. Instead of stepping into the wings, I had nipped into the small space in front of the emergency exit. To go forward would mean opening the emergency doors and potentially setting off the fire alarm. To go back would mean suddenly appearing at the side of the stage, before diving into the wings at the correct place. I couldn’t do that. It would be too distracting for the audience and might throw the actors off. I also knew that there was no other moment of complete darkness.

Looks strangely like an Oscar, don't you think?

Oh dear.

So there I stood. The audience just feet away. Sitting there. No room for me to sit on the floor – my feet might have stuck out under the hem of the curtain.

That particular play is supposed to be Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy – and this version was shorter still. But it didn’t seem that way.

Meanwhile backstage, a lot of head scratching was going on. There was one more bottle of Fanta than there were boys to drink them.

Eventually… finally… Birnam Wood rose to Dunsinane and the cast took their bow. Out I popped, but not really in the mood to take a bow. Rather keener to make it to the toilet while there wasn’t a cue.

And there ended my professional acting career. It was my last act.

I think it means I scored a first in theatre – dying both on and (emotionally) off stage.

If the Lyric is reading this – you owe me a bottle of Fanta.

Meanwhile, the final curtain has come down on one of the world’s great performers – Christopher Hitchens. I did some work with him once – back when he had hair. It was a time when he was taking knocks in Britain for backing the war against Saddam Hussein and his own unrelenting campaign against what he had termed Islamofascism. He was also seen as “difficult” – a euphemism for too drunk to be trusted. I found him to be straightforward, polite and professional. He was such a great polemicist. And hey, anyone who takes a pop at my Granny’s old colleague, Mother Teresa, can’t be all bad, can they?

Here’s an interview the Hitch did with the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman while undergoing treatment for his cancer. It’s almost half an hour long, but worth taking a break from click, click, clicking to watch. 

This is a post for the Loose Bloggers Consortium on the topic – Act. You can find some other LBC members listed in the right hand column of this page – just scroll down a bit – then click on the links to find out what they make of the subject.


Filed under art, D - Loose Bloggers Consortium

19 responses to “My great disappearing act

  1. I’ve been front of house, back stage and even on stage but the latter was only during blackouts to clear props. Those days were fun and as a result I was christened ‘Grannymar’, hard to credit it was almost 40 years ago. The young man responsible spoke to me on Skype today, and regularly drives up from Dublin just to take me to lunch.

    I heard quite a bit about Hitch today, so will look at that video tomorrow, when Skype and the phone have a rest.

  2. I played the Pied Piper in the 4th grade. That was my one and only theatrical exploit. On the other hand I have been trying to “act” sane last six decades.

  3. I enjoyed your story of being trapped, with the possibility of your feet sticking out from underneath the stage curtain. Sooooo glad you didn’t actually wet your pants!

    I was in “Bye Bye Birdie” and clearly remember the scene where “in sync” all the gals held fake telephones to our ears and danced around the stage in pants that were so tight they looked painted on.

    • blackwatertown

      Yeah – I’m glad too. Would have had a hard time explaining that away.
      Tell me more about the Bye Bye Birdie episode – when was that?

  4. At my high school in Canada, I was in a production of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (now known as And Then There Were None; previously Ten Little N-Words). At one point I was required to sit in a deckchair with my back to the audience, apparently sleeping. At the end of the scene I was revealed to be dead – since most of the other cast members had walked past me, it was assumed that one of them had done me in.

    Unfortunately, half-way through rehearsals I’d gone down with pneumonia, and was only able to take part with the help of industrial-strength antibiotics, decongestants, painkillers and more. I still wasn’t feeling 100%, and as I settled into my chair, I let out an immense combination cough/sneeze, leaving a massive splodge of yellow mucus over my false tache (I was playing a retired general). The actors who came past could see what had happened, and some hid their amusement/revulsion better than others, but the audience missed it.

    • blackwatertown

      “Tim, got a great role for you. You’ll be on stage from start to finish. The focus of all the action. It’ll be a cinch for a thespian of your ability. You’ll literally be able to do it in your sleep.”

  5. 29

    Hitchens, obviously a great talent now silenced. However perhaps maths was not his strong point if he equated an attack on a church in Iraq with the 100000+ Iraquis dead as a justification for the invasion.

  6. Shaig-hair’d, there was a time that would have been a compliment. Your story made me laugh … oops, am I on punishment?

  7. I’m very impressed with your lines lol..especially thy exclamation line!! And of course we all have great faith in your ability to beat the killlers…if you’d wanted to lol 😉 Rather unfortunate about your predicament but how noble of you to stay put till the end! And how agonising!! 😉

  8. I too have had some ‘acting’ experience as an amateur. As difficult or as comic as it may sound to you, I was inevitably cast in roles calling for a comedian!

    • blackwatertown

      Since my theatrical zenith/nadir – you’ve just reminded me of my radio acting/voice over work in England and my three stages of type-casting.
      First I was called upon to revoice Sinn Fein spokesmen or to be an IRA man. The accent I suppose.
      Then I graduated to speaking the English translation of Taliban or other militant Islamic organisation spokesmen. Er… somehow they thought my accent worked for that too.
      And then last week – after a long lull – I was asked to voice up statements from a new category – rapists. This time my accent was not the draw – but my gender. I was the only bloke amongst a big bunch of women.
      I’m seriously thinking of giving up the voiceover work forever. It’s not helping my self esteem.

  9. I loved reading how you were trapped by the emergency exit, though I’m sure you didn’t think at the time that someone would be smiling at their computer in knowledge of that disorientating error. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Oh, my, poor you. I only did a little bit of “acting” stuff in school. I could never be an actor in anything real because I would have trouble keeping a straight face. I would giggle the whole time and ruin everything.

    • blackwatertown

      Which reminds me of Bob Monkhouse.
      “They laughed when I told them that some day I’d be a comedian. Well, they’re not laughing now.”
      And he was right. But you on the other hand might be a natural.

  11. Tabatha Connerty

    I love it when people come together and share stories like this.
    Great blog, keep it up.

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