Friday, 18 March 2011

Chapter Four

Chris and I took a break from our marathon read of the diary to search on line for an actress who fit the description of  its author. There was no evidence of anyone in this century of any public importance by that name, only a lay historian who wrote an illustrated guide to Jane Austen, Her Homes and Friends, published 1923.  We admitted defeat and half and hour later returned, armed with more tea -  and the option of brandy -  to what we were now calling The Story of Constance (over the) Hill.

The next entry began in blue ink and the writing was even, almost decorative:

Saturday, 23 January 2010

I love rehearsal. I looovvvvveee rehearsal.  God, I love rehearsal. It’s the joy of the seaside with your best mates in the middle of the summer when you all have ice lollies, that’s rehearsal. And thrilling. Why is making things up so thrilling? I stand on the edge of Miss Fouquet, making her up. It’s erotic, the energy is the same.

We had a great morning. TYPECAST! is a sweet little play, I don’t imagine it will win a Pulitzer Prize but it has heart and it’s snappy and the actors are top drawer.

I burst into tears of joy over tea in the kitchen of the White Star Labour Club and was interrupted by the music director who stopped in the doorway, waiting and watching to see if she should hand me a towel or tip-toe out. I managed to look up and smile.

Con:    I’m sorry. I’m just so happy.

She nodded and made a sympathetic noise. She took the kettle out of my hand, probably saving me a nasty stint in a burn unit, made us both cups of tea and offered me a biscuit. We leaned against the counter, looking into a poster advertising holidays in France, circa 1998.

We ate our HobNobs. Someone somewhere must have published a thesis on the life-enhancing properties of milk chocolate HobNobs. I was in danger of crying again.

She didn’t say anything for a long time.

MD:    We’re bloody lucky to have you, you know.

She didn’t look up from her tea. She seemed shy. I wanted to make a speech, I felt a wild stirring in my chest and if I’d been able I would have turned, taken her by the shoulders and said

“Do you realise what this job has given me? I was mad with doubt and I have been helped out of the morass of my own mind, I love your music, you’re so talented. What colour are your eyes? Green? Brown? You  are adorable, you must have a thousand lovers. Let me embrace you, sister in art, as we sing something uplifting and suitably expressive, maybe Puccini?”

Instead I managed to put my hand on top of her knuckles and squeeze. She made another noise.

It was full of biscuit. And compassion.


I didn’t realise I must be doing quite a good job until the day was ending.  I was alone with the director, working on Miss Fouquet’s big confession of love but wasn’t alone as the rest of the cast were all lingering at the edge of the room, watching.

The director is called Peter and is very clever because Miss Fouquet is heart-broken but we’re making her smile and love singing about how heart-broken she is. This is always an excellent choice as an actor. Play tragedy as comedy. Vice versa. I was trying to think of who Miss Fouquet reminded me of.  Gillian, my new friend the music director, had stopped playing piano to make note of an entrance cue and I stood in the middle of the scrubbed and well-worn floor and remembered. I looked at Peter.

Con:    Judy Garland.
Peter:  What’s that?

He is young and fashionably scruffy and although he’s very clever, I wasn’t sure he’d heard of Judy Garland so I explained.

Con:    From the Wizard of Oz and Meet Me In St Louis. A singer. In the 40s.
Peter:  I know who she is, Constance Hill. What about her?

He calls me by both names.  It’s adorable. As though I am an entity.  Or a ship.  

I told him she sings ‘The Man that Got Away’ - the torchiest torch song ever - on the verge of grinning. Full of joy.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his iPadPhoneTunePod, a machine that does everything but rise at Easter it seems and found the clip.   We all gathered around his shoulder for a moment and there she was, overdone, over the top, hopelessly old-fashioned in her manner but completely, undeniably compelling in the sheer juggernaut energy of her performance.

[Chris went on line and found the excerpt.

‘Very revealing’ she said, cryptically.]

Peter agreed entirely, we found all the places where Miss Fouquet would enjoy how unhappy she was and I did the scene and the song -  and I felt my ribs try to exit my chest in ecstacy as everyone clapped at the end. Even the stage manager.

Malcolm hugged me tonight and told me what a genius I was.  He knows stage managers never applaud.


I forgot to say I’ve finished JohnWood’s script.

I took it home with me the night of our drink at the Lamb, a night that finished fifteen minutes after I interpreted his hot, molten gaze as having nothing to do with sex or love but simply about art: he wants to be an artist and he wants my help – a gushing fountain of relief, I can assure you. As soon as that was clear,  I took the script, said goodbye and went home, told Malcolm I was working late, ran upstairs to my cupboard-sized study at the front of the house and read the thing in one sitting.

It’s not bad, it’s got promise, if he can stop saying everything more than once. You know ‘I hate it. I can’t abide it. It’s unbearable.’ ‘I love her. She moves me. I want her.’ Rookie mistake. Easy to fix.

What I am having trouble accommodating is the central character- a woman in her mid-40s whose husband gambled away her fortune, who can no longer find work as a supermodel and who is struggling to make sense of her life.

If you amend the rather shaky premise that a 45-year old model would be surprised to find she’s not being used to sell lip gloss and lingerie, it's an interesting exploration into what it means to age as a woman in 21st century Britain.

That’s not my problem.

This is my problem. From the ‘Cast of Characters’ page:

Dramatis personae

Catherine Dale – 45. Tall and pale as a willow, with dark hair that foams in waves and fingers that are well-manicured but strong. She carries herself with an unmistakable quiet authority of which she has no awareness and that others find intimidating. Her silences are born of shyness but are seen as inscrutable and even, sometimes, cold and unkind. This could not be further from the truth as she is fuelled by a passion for life and a commitment to her work that inspires all those who know her. Women fear her, men want her. She is oblivious to both, only driven to be the best in her field.

I am fascinated to know how one strives to be the best in one’s field as the face of Tesco. Showing up on time would probably be the apex of professionalism. And the dialogue is better than the prose but do you think, dear diary, I am mistaken in believing John Wood has modelled his character on someone we both know and love? Although someone I obviously don't know well enough, unfeeling bee-atch everyone Takes Me To Be.

There’s a scene where Catherine and her assistant, Gregory – Irish, living in London – discuss the morning’s shoot, she despairs about working again and he rubs the back of her neck. It’s virtually wordless, just detailed description of her reaction to his hand on the back of her neck and him pulling her hair away from her face. It’s well done, tense and full of sexual longing.

I don’t think I can look JohnWood in the face again.

Even if I’m wrong, and of course it’s likely I AM wrong and it has nothing to do with how he, an Irishman living in London, feels about me, a married woman looking for work – I don’t THINK I’m wrong. And that will be smeared all over my face the next time we meet.

That may not happen for a

I was reading and showed Chris that the writing changed from its regular, handsome style to a very small, cramped, almost spidery script – one line only in a whole page.

Malcolm is leaving me.

There was no entry for two months.

1 comment:

  1. What fun. Not about Malcolm for poor Constance -- but the twists and turns! Loving it.