It is half eight in the morning on the Saturday which has followed a week of teching in Kings Theatre, Southsea. A rare moment of quiet.
I am not going to be flippant or attempt to be cool by masking my absolute giddy childish delight at finally performing in a space like this. It’s incredible. The red velvet seats with the gold embellishments, the ornate carvings round the boxes, the way your voice pings back at you from the back of the Grand Circle, the rake of the stage, the busy warren of dressing rooms that lurk behind the picture frame of the Pros … even the smell of the place. This is a theatre. A theatre which for over a hundred years has been a temporary home to countless performers including Charlene Tilton, Dallas’ poison dwarf, if the Panto posters are anything to go by.
We arrived last Sunday and having loaded the set onto the stage from the Loading bay (I’m now remembering TIE jobs in Germany where almost every school seems to house their theatre on the third floor… decidedly inefficient for Germans!) and completed my duties as hospitality representative (Cup of tea anyone?) I went exploring.
We take it in turns to run around, Challenge Annika style, poking our head into the old saloon bars, and eying up the ice cream freezers… Sam, our DSM hides under one of the posh sofas outside the dress circle and relishes making us scream as he bursts forth from under it, grabbing at our ankles with a big booming HA! Exhilarated, we coax the remaining members of the cast up in turn to scare them witless for our amusement. Our Romeo is decidedly shrill.
Our poster is up in the foyer. Chris Smart, our hangdog Benvolio (who has secured himself a title as the most wonderfully sarcastic man I know) is caught off guard by the adjacent image- he’s a big Kate Rusby fan and for a minute throws down his armoury of witty cynicism and insists on having his photo taken clutching our flyer in one hand and Ms.Rusby’s in the other. He is a dizzy seven year old that’s just heard the glorious tinkle of the ice cream van. Jack Dee and Dara O’Briain will perform here on their tours. Grease is coming. And us.
In the kitchen at the end of the evening I wash up the mugs, and Lady Capulet puts on the first costume wash and we have a bit of a moment. Tabitha and I trained together at Mountview on the PG course. It is now almost three years to the day since we graduated and both of us have slogged our guts out in the interim. We’ve worked for next to nothing. We have sent off countless letters and headshots. We’ve touted ourselves round the fringe and we have loved every second of it. But it has been bloody hard work. And it was for this. For this one magical evening where for the first time we stepped onto a stage and looked out at the banks of seats which next Wednesday will be filled with an expectant audience, and had the quiet knowledge: we’re getting paid for this.
I don’t expect the hard work to stop; this is just the beginning, of course. After that evening of the get-in there has been a stressful tech week, twelve hour days and we now have a cast of tired, anxious actors who are feeling the pressure of an impending opening night. After Wednesday will be eight months of touring and all the slog that that involves and then I will once again be unemployed with all the uncertainty that brings. But I can’t help feel a milestone has been reached. And this is pleasing.