Child’s play

The play­wright’s baby is a nat­u­ral at the Na­tional

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - LIFE AND TIMES - Con­sent is on at the Na­tional Theatre un­til 17 May; na­tion­althe­atre.org.uk

Au­gust 2016. I’m sit­ting in a pro­duc­tion meet­ing at the Na­tional theatre, f ive months preg nant. My play, Con

sent, opens with two bar­ris­ter cou­ples, old friends, meet­ing to wet a new baby’s head. Roger Michell, t he di­rec­tor, is keen it should be a real baby. the pro­duc­tion team look ap­pre­hen­sive. But, Roger says, we want the play to feel as real as pos­si­ble. I say, facet iously, we could al­ways use my baby. six Months later, we’re re­hears­ing that first scene. the ac­tors have had enough of the doll. the only real baby in the vicin­ity is my baby, Misha, now six weeks old. so we give it a go. And it’s ac­tu­ally trans­for­ma­tive. Misha doesn’t cry. With a real baby, there’s a marked con­trast be­tween the black hu­mour of the bar­ris­ters as they dis­cuss the sala­cious det a i ls of t hei r c a ses, a nd t he ten­der care they take over this small l i fe. Al s o, t he ac tor s s top t hi nk i ng about their lines. Adam James says, ‘I don’t have to act any­thing, I just have to hold him.’ FI v e Weeks on. We’ve made t he move from the re­hearsal room into the Dorf­man theatre. I can’t be­lieve it – Misha a nd I have a d re s si ng room. there’s a mir­ror with light­bulbs. And a fan­tas­tic knob you can twid­dle to lis­ten to the shows in all three the­atres. I tune it to the olivier and im­me­di­ately tamsi n greig ’s voice booms a round us, surf­ing a roar of au­di­ence laugh­ter, as Ma lvol ia i n Twelf th Night. Rus s el l tovey i s nex t door to us, hi s g rey French bull­dog skit­ter­ing af­ter him.

the dress­ing rooms are built round an en­closed court­yard. When you look out of your win­dow you can see straight into the other ac­tors’ dress­ing rooms. You can hear them laugh­ing, warming up, singing, shouts echo­ing across the cour tyard. Mag­gie smith said it was like be­ing in a lu­natic asy­lum. there’s a cus­tom t hat on a press night of a ny show, at the ‘be­gin­ners call’ (five min­utes be­fore cur tain up) all t he ac­tors bang madly on their win­dows in sol­i­dar­ity. there’s one room op­po­site ours wit h cham­pag ne, f low­ers, a ki­mono hang­ing up. Will a naked ac­tor st roll into view? Doon Mac­kichan pops her head out a nd waves at us. she r uns round to cud­dle Misha and man­ages to make him laugh five times. even a small baby can tell she has com­edy bones. Pre­views ARE ex­cit­ing but ter­rif y ing. the au­di­ence laugh in a ll t he right places, but things also go wrong. the fur­ni­ture should rise and sink el­ega nt ly on mech­a­nised t raps. It get s stuck. At t he st ar t of one scene, Ben chapli n look s d i scon­so­lately i nto a black hole and says, ‘I think my drink’s down t here.’ one au­di­ence mem­ber faints and the show has to stop while she is taken out. the ac­tors start their scene again but Ben can’t bear to re­peat a joke he’s al­ways thought rather poor – ‘Is there any­thing that isn’t im­proved by mix­ing it with vodka? Ac­tu­ally no, let me an­swer that. sugar Puffs. And I should know.’ on t he sec­ond go, he cha nges it to Weet abi x , a nd get s a round of ap­plause – which star­tles him so much, he fluffs his next line. Misha keeps his un­sul­lied record of not cr ying. In one show, he sleeps through his scene. Ben, who has to do a long walk­a­bout with him, tells me that dur­ing one, Misha farted all round the stage.

It’s press night. the lights go down. the mu­sic starts. the ac­tors come on, Anna Maxwell Martin hold­ing Misha. A wo­man be­hind me whis­pers, ‘It’s not a real baby. they wouldn’t do that.’ But I’m look­ing at Misha. he’s gaz­ing up. he just can’t stop look­ing at the lights.

The ac­tors come on. The wo­man be­hind me whis­pers, ‘It’s not a real baby’

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