Thursday, November 11, 2004

Down The Lane

The Producers has finally opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, or 'the Lane' as we theatrical types used to call it. For the first time in thirty years I wished I was back there in that dimly-lit backstage world. The buzz of a smash hit musical fires the adrenalin of everyone involved, not just those on stage. Some of the old hands might affect a well-practised cynicism but they wouldn't be there working long hours on low pay if they didn't enjoy it. And although the audience don't know it, a small part of their standing ovation is for you. Without you, the show really won't go on. If you cock up, it really won't be all right on the night.

Mostly, it was all right, despite the fact that in my day highly-paid stars put their careers and often their lives in the hands of a motley collection of out of work actors, alcoholics, drama students, and psychopaths. These were the part-timers who just worked shows for a few pounds an hour. In my time there was a guy with a previous conviction for an axe attack; a quiet and conscientious chap who didn't turn up one night because he'd been imprisoned for child rape; and a boy who was found to have cut a peephole in a small tent in which the chorus girls did their quick change. "I sacked the little wanker", said my boss.

One night, in one of the corridors, I walked past two chorus boys with their tongues down each other's throats. One of them asked if I wanted to join in, which was nice of him, but I said I'd just eaten an onion bahji and had a cue coming up. The next night they were in the same corridor but this time they were both knitting at great speed. The black one was shirtless and his six pack glistened and rippled as the needles went clickety-click. "Could you make me one?" I said. "Thought you already were, darling" he replied.

You'd be right to conclude that there's often more drama going on off-stage than on, which was the premise of Michael Frayn's 'Noises Off.' But bear in mind that I've saved my juiciest stories for the book. You wouldn't enjoy them as much if you were getting them for free.


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