Audition people while looking enigmatic? Me? Not likely!
As they say on TV every five minutes, we are all on ‘a journey’
Readers with rather long memories might remember how my friend Brassy Barbara phoned up one morning and bludgeoned me into directing the amateur dramatic society’s production of The Pirates of Penzance.
‘Mmm, I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I’ve never done anything like that before.’
‘That’s why the committee thought of you,’ she said. ‘You’ll bring a fresh look.’
This does not always instil the greatest of confidence, does it?
Picture the scene: ‘Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. To be honest, until this morning I was selling duty-free perfume, but the airline thought I’d bring a fresh look to the controls of this Boeing 757. Now, is there anybody on board who actually knows how to fly?’
I distinctly remember saying I’d think about it and get back to her. The next thing I knew, people were ringing up to ask if they could play The Pirate King, or wondering if I needed a make-up lady, or offering to paint a backdrop of A Ruined Chapel By Moonlight for Act II.
And now here I am in the village hall, rather nervous and conducting our first public audition.
‘You won’t actually have to do anything,’ Barbara assured me. ‘Just sit there and look enigmatic or something. And, whatever Ivan says, just nod enthusiastically and agree with him.’
Ivan is our musical director – which is, without doubt, the most important job in any musical. My role, essentially, is to make sure everybody turns up to rehearsals, to make the odd suggestion about where the cast should be standing, and to tell everybody how wonderful they are. It’s Ivan’s job to make them sing in tune.
Here are his qualifications for the job: 1. He plays the organ at a nearby church. 2. He runs a small orchestra that gives concerts for charity.
3. He organises community carol singing every Christmas.
4. He can play tunes on the ukulele that aren’t even by George Formby.
But his main qualification is that he looks the part: he wears the sort of green, corduroy jacket which seems to inspire confidence in the local arts world. He has long, artistic hair that is greying and looks as if he borrowed it from a bearded collie, and he also has a decidedly artistic beard. ‘We’ll get everybody to sing a little solo – anything they fancy – and then we’ll see what they sound like together,’ he says to me, pulling artistically at that beard. ‘Does that meet with your approval?’
Oddly enough, that does meet with my approval. Especially as – from what I can make out – my contribution to the evening will be to sit in a chair, looking important and trying not to fidget.
Brenda, who works at the chemist, is first up. ‘Tonight, Ivan,’ she announces, ‘I am going to be Adele.’
Brenda then belts out Someone Like You, with Ivan accompanying her on the piano, as if her life depended on somebody in the Outer Hebrides hearing the lyrics quite clearly. (Believe me, she is wasted selling suntan lotion and paracetamol.) When she finishes, the entire hall bursts into applause. If Adele had written The Pirates of Penzance, Brenda would be at the top of our list.
Tim, who is a motor mechanic and who once brought the house down as an am-dram Hercule Poirot (he virtually needed attendants to carry his moustache like a bridal train), then sings Let It Be by The Beatles.
Let me admit straightaway that I am no musical expert. I have been known to sing along if Mr Dear plays the piano, but that very much depends on the local supply of Prosecco. However, it strikes me that TV talent shows are definitely having an effect on the way people sing. All the women now sound as if they’ve just been told that their boyfriend has dumped them for their younger sister, and the men as if their football team has just been relegated.
As they say on TV about every five minutes these days, we are all on ‘a journey’. And what I have discovered along the way is that I am not the stuff of which great leaders are made. Great leaders in the world of light musical comedy are the sort of people who can look a middle-aged woman in the eye – a middle-aged shop assistant, what’s more, who slices ham just the way you like it – and say, ‘I’m sorry, darling, but your voice sounds like my cat running its claws down a blackboard.’
Me, I just simper: ‘Ooh, that was lovely!’ Through all this, if you remember, I am supposed to be looking enigmatic. But looking enigmatic at auditions turns out to be much more difficult than it looks.
You want to be encouraging, after all, but you don’t want to give anything away…
So I adopt that expression Simon Cowell puts on when confronted by a singing vicar, or a dog that plays the banjo. You know, the look that says, ‘I’m a little bit puzzled, but I’m also intrigued.’
After about an hour of this excruciating effort, Barbara brings me a cup of tea.
‘Are you all right?’ she whispers.
‘I’m fine,’ I whisper back, not entirely honestly. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘It’s just the way you’re screwing up your face,’ she says. ‘I thought perhaps you might have indigestion.’
‘That’s not indigestion, Barbara,’
I mutter back at her. ‘I’m looking enigmatic, just like you told me to.’
‘Ah, I see,’ said Barbara, slipping something into her pocket and looking slightly embarrassed.
‘What have you got there?’ I whispered. ‘Never mind,’ said Barbara. ‘It’s doesn’t matter now.’
‘No, go on. Show me.’
She showed me.
It was a packet of Rennies.
So much for enigmatic.