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