The playwright’s baby is a natural at the National
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’