One morning I decided to stage a musical in my front garden. If Gilbert and Sullivan can do it, I said to myself from beneath the pillow, other people can! I informed my mother over breakfast.
‘Yes, other qualified people,’ she replied.
‘Are you an autocrat?!’ I challenged – staring deep into her caring eyes.
‘Of course not! I just mean that musicals require a lot of technical expertise!’
‘So you’re an autocrat!’ I insisted. ‘Was Disney an autocrat? Or Dickens? Or Dewey? Or Dostoyevsky? No! But my own mother? Yes! An autocrat!’ It hurt me to lay the truth out so brutally on the table amongst the marmalade and egg shells, but I was frustrated by my mother’s unending conservatism.
Knowing by parents were going to provide scant support (my Dad had been killed in an army) I phoned my Aunt Margaret for help.
‘Aunt Margaret hi! Could you come over to help me stage a play-musical thing in the front garden?’
There was silence and then the sound of movement as the phone was passed to someone else.
‘Your Aunt is very sick,’ said her nurse, ‘and can’t help you out with your production’.
I was devastated, but held on tightly to theatre’s foundational assertion – “the show must go on, no matter what happens at all”
I walked out to the garden to survey my options. The garden was small. A driveway stage left (or house right from your perspective!), and a short bald hedge; twiggy, exposing a chickenwire fence at times, occasionally in bloom with a few berries – sometimes festively around Chrizmas – stage right. A modest and neat pansied flower bed lay beneath the sitting window. The discreet porch would have to be the changing room – its naked bulb adding a modest flare of glamour. I measured out the stage area and marked out the perimeter with a hoe. Father’s hoe. I hoped he was proud of me in whatever state he presently existed (was time even a factor in such a place? If not, could a sense of pride even be established without time’s movement to grant it context and contrast??) Sweat broke out on my forehead and lips and I had to put down the hoe and go inside to watch a few episodes of Mythbusters to calm my mind. A short time later I returned to the front garden and continued mapping the space. The stage extended slightly beyond the porch and the space between that and the public footpath would be reserved for the audience. I paused to imagine the eager faces of the waiting crowd, craning their necks to see into the dressing room. I would probably be upstairs in the toilet at that point, pooing, and relishing in my own excitement. I would no doubt sneak to my bedroom window (just above the porch) and peek down through the net curtains at the expectant bustle, safe in the knowledge that nothing could possibly, by an means, have gone wrong yet because it hadn’t started.
I snapped myself out of this fantasy and went straight to my room where I set to developing characters, plot, dialogue, melodies, lyrics, action, pace, choreography, lighting, costume and soliloquy: everything that a successful musical might need. Later, I phoned my friend Claude to see if he would be interested in playing the prancing orc, but he was crippled with the new Call of Duty. My other two friends had moved house a few years previously and I had forgotten to get their new phone numbers. Mum didn’t have them either. It would just have to be me and Jess.
Once the script was complete, I embarked on a swift leafleting campaign covering all the houses in the area. The musical was to be performed in two days’ time. Rehearsal took up every single moment of the intervening period. On the morning of the performance I was exhausted and just about ready to cancel the whole thing out of fright. But I remembered that foundational assertion: “the show ought to go on; irregardless of anything”. I gathered every gram of courage I had and when the time came, strode out onto the stage; singing, dancing, marching, and waving with absolute enthusiasm. As I went back inside afterwards, I knew I couldn’t have done a better job – and Jess had played her part marvellously. Yes I was disappointed by the turn out, but I had completed my mission to stage a musical in the front garden. Two weeks later, I was overjoyed when two skateboarders stopped me and asked me about it.
‘Did you put on a play about orcs in your front garden?’ enquired one.
‘Faggot’, added the other.
My twiggy joy turned to bloated despair after running home to consult the compliment on an online dictionary.