Tuesday, January 10, 2012

1975: Facing the world

The school play: who didn't want to be in it? Well, me, actually.

It had been announced in the autumn of 1974 that this year's school play was to be the Wizard Of Oz and everyone in the class had a part. I was in the fourth year at primary school, and both us the fifth year class would be taking part in some form or another, whether it be acting or producing or set designing or whatever.

The year before had been the first one they'd ever done and it had been Aladdin and was a roaring success with Michael Bernard-Jones stealing the show as Widow Twankey. Yes, the dame is always played by a man but this was a an all-boys school and a catholic one at that. But they still knew how to have fun.

So now it was our turn to be involved. So when the headmaster, (our form teacher and a Christian brother whose wandering hands landed him in court some years later), read out who had got which part I sat hoping there was no place for me. I didn't want to be in it at all. In fact, I couldn't think of anything worse. So when I was announced as the Wizard I shot my hand up and said I didn't want to be in it. Brother looked stunned. But okay, if that's what I wanted so be it.

Needless to say as the weeks went by and everyone got terribly excited about it and could talk of nothing else I felt hugely excluded. What had I done. It actually looked rather fun. That was that: I wanted in.

I asked Brother if I could have a part after all and the only one going was that of bold Munchkin girl. Well, it was better than nothing. I wasn't proud. I would be one of three 'girls' who represented the Lullaby League and welcomed Dorothy to Munchkinland. A singing role and brief too. But hey, I was in it.

So the preparations began. Mum put out feelers. We borrowed a long diaphanous blue dress from Auntie Barabara's daughter, a hairpiece and a mob cap (for some reason) and the outfit was complete. Oddly, when I showed Brother, he told me I wasn't allowed to wear any underwear undeath the dress and made me stand on a table in front of a window so the light shone through. A teahcer was present, who must have thought it rather odd that this should be the case, but there was the problem. This filfthy perv had been getting away this kind of behaviour for years. But no one said anything, it was just allowed to happen. It took a teacher almost 25 years to finally pluck up the courage to report him but when none of the parents would believe her she was sacked. But she did get her day in court eventually. Shame so many young lives were touched in such a sorry way by who was essentially a paedophilic monster. But that's the catholic church for you, I'm afraid.

Anyhoo, the show must go on.

That Christmas, I saw the film of the Wizard Of Oz for the first time. The whole class was glued and when we came back in January we had four weeks to get it polished and professional. Endless rehearsals and dress rehearsals and meetings, all taking place after school. But what fun it was to be involved. The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd. We were word perfect by opening night.

Three nights only, parents came, neighbours came the whole thing was a triumph. Nicholas Wood shone as Dorothy, carried off the solos with aplomb and looked very comfortable in blue gingham. I wonder what he's doing now? But in the blink of an eye it was all over.

I'll never forget the pain of that hairpiece though, and the pot of Pond's cold cream mum gave me to take my clownish make-up off each night. It took forever. Who'd be a woman? More trouble than it's worth.

The drive home always involved this song by Pilot popping up at some stage, cold and pitch black outside, the excitement subsiding as we got nearer home, but a big sense of fun all the same. It was brilliant, but I've not trodden the boards since.


  1. Good heavens. Did Brother end up doing time in the Big House, or was he 'protected' by being whipped off to a small parish in the Nigaraguan jungle? What an appalling and familiar tale.

    And how brave of you to ask for a part after having spurned the first one. I had exactly the same feelings of agonised exclusion after I got chucked off 'Insect Play' for messing around with my mates. I was demoted to painting a giant ball of crap for Claire P to roll across the stage in her role as The Dung Beetle. I've never been so jealous of anyone wearing a diarrhoea-coloured body stocking as I was of her on opening night.

  2. Not sure what happened to him. No doubt he was spirited away somewhere when he really should be rotting in a jail cell somewhere.

    I hope you've made up for it by having your own diarrhoea-coloured body stocking readily available when ever you find yourself in a thespian mood.

  3. Give it a few years more and I'll probably spend most of my days padding round the house in one, JP. With mismatched slippers and a hairnet.

  4. My gum-chewing Joseph who forgot his lines and declaimed "Oh God, what do I say now?" was the talk of Panshanger one year, but I never got to wear a dress on stage.

  5. Jeez - how grim. Equally I've always been suspicious of any grown man officiating for the Boy Scouts..

    I loved the idea of being in a school play (ideal part: the Artful Dodger), but was so bone-crackingly shy I was hopeless. Although did grab a part in the nativity as one of the three Kings (Gold)- but couldn't wait to unload my gift and bolt off out of it. The gold cape - made from recycled curtains, was later reworked into a cape for a Robin the Boy Wonder costume

  6. I played the headmistress in my secondary school's production of Grease. I wore a rather fetching tweed suit, Dame Edna glasses and an old wig of my mum's which she'd worn in the 60s. I covered it with talc, to make it white. This meant that any sudden movement of my head resulted in a cloud of powder, which on one occasion caused an outbreak of sneezing amongst the T-Birds.
    I've got a video somewhere. I'm going to have to convert it to a format I can actually watch again - my daughter says her school will perhaps be doing a production next year. Presumably one which misses out the references to STDs, abortion, contraception, and teenage sex in the original script!

  7. It totally went over my head when I see it at the cinema in '78, but that's another blog entry.