Life and times

The nov­el­ist mar­vels at the­atre’s n-ewe stars – from ba­bies to sheep

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - NEWS -

Susie Boyt on some un­usual thes­pi­ans

MY NIGHTS OUT in Lon­don have fea­tured a lot of ba­bies lately. Sud­denly an evening at the the­atre is not com­plete without an in­fant beam­ing down from the stage. Show busi­ness has al­ways been ob­sessed with youth, but this is ridicu­lous! There was a baby in Yerma at the Young Vic, there’s one in The Fer­ry­man at the Giel­gud. Nina Raine’s Con­sent at the Na­tional The­atre also fea­tured a baby (on some nights, Raine’s own).

I imag­ine these scene-steal­ing tots and their i mpe­ri­ous back­stage de­mands: sil­ver rat­tles, bot­tles of dou­ble cream, Ba­nanas in Py­ja­mas play­ing on a loop. The baby in The Fer­ry­man had huge, seen-it-all eyes. Happy in the lime­light, it was hav­ing a riot. But I did worry about the one in Yerma, where there was so much baby-re­lated mis­ery. We all know ba­bies should be tucked up by 8pm with some­one croon­ing lul­la­bies… I left hum­ming Don’t put your daugh­ter on the stage, Mrs Wor­thing­ton, my mind flash­ing for­ward to the failed come­back at six , the re­hab years. Although per­haps, like Shirley Tem­ple, these show­biz babes would have sec­ond acts in politics. You never know.

Dur­ing the in­ter­val of The Fer­ry­man I re­mem­bered an ex­change between Noël Coward and Judy Gar­land in the 1950s about their child­hood stage ca­reers. NC: How old were you when you started? JG: I was two. NC: Two? Oh, you’ve beaten me. I was 10. But I was— JG: What were you do­ing all that time?

IT IS POS­SI­BLE stage ba­bies are al­ready old hat. Thomas Adès’ new opera at Covent Gar­den, The Ex­ter mi­nat­ing An­gel, had three live sheep. I can’t tell you how odd it was see­ing them on stage. Talk about fish out of wa­ter.

I pic­ture these sheep in later life re­gal­ing their grand­chil­dren about the year they gam­bolled across the Royal Opera House boards. And the cyn­i­cal lambs say­ing, ‘Of course, Grandma. Tell us about the night you topped the bill at Carnegie Hall.’ Ev­ery­one knows it ’s im­pos­si­ble to im­press your own fam­ily.

MY GUILTY PLEA­SURE at the mo­ment is the Mati­nee Clas­sics film se­ries at the Re­gent Street Cin­ema every Wed­nes­day. I’ve seen Mary As­tor in sub­lime tai­lor­ing ly­ing through her teeth in The Mal­tese Fal­con, and Charles Laughton giv­ing us his mag­nif­i­cently waspish bar­ris­ter in Wit­ness for the Pros­e­cu­tion, as Mar­lene Di­et­rich smoul­ders on the side­lines. The cin­ema is one of the old­est in Lon­don, with an art-deco in­te­rior. If you ar­rive early for the 2pm show­ing, a man play­ing an or­gan in front of the screen wel­comes you. For the over-55s the cost is £1.75 – in­clud­ing a cof­fee! It’s al­most too good to be true.

I’VE HAD A DIF­FI­CULT cou­ple of years so I de­cided to write a com­edy. The re­sult­ing book, Love & Fame, is out next week. It is about the first year of a mar­riage, s e t in Lon­don and Chicago against a back­drop of show busi­ness and grief.

‘ What do you mean show busi­ness and grief ?’ my ac­tor friends ask wearily. One of the char­ac­ters in the book is writ­ing a bi­og­ra­phy of anx­i­ety, and thinks it has things to com­mu­ni­cate to us so should be lis­tened to, not dis­missed. His ner­vous ac­tress wife thinks hav­ing to re­alise the full po­ten­tial of your anx­i­ety is a whole new thing to fret about.

My last novel was so sad, some of my friends com­plained it should have come with a free pack of Smar­ties. I hope this one makes them laugh as well as cry. Love & Fame by Susie Boyt is pub­lished by Vi­rago (£14.99). To or­der your copy for £12.99 plus p&p call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.tele­graph.co.uk

I can’t tell you how odd it was see­ing live sheep on stage. Talk about fish out of wa­ter…

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