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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Karen Mills & Roy BramwellAh, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd, the 20p programmes which ran to a single sheet of A4, and the biscuits which ran out before I got there. All in all my play was a triumph. And I was asked to sign three (count them) autographs, none of which were disclaimers or court summonses. You can't ask for much more than that.

I was joined for this evening of culture by Lisa and my Mum - my Dad and sister were busy meeting each other in St Louis, while my brother and sister-in-law had been invited to a party. Having already been invited to my play. So obviously they couldn't come. I'm not taking it personally. I'm just never speaking to them again.

But anyhoo, the Constable Hall in East Bergholt is not so much off-Broadway as off the beaten track, so after Thursday's driving experience I insisted we leave halfway through X-Factor, just to be on the safe side. Meaning we were so early we had to sit in a BP garage looking at petrol pumps for ten minutes just to kill a bit of time. Having arrived at the Constable Hall, I strode confidently across the car park, into a deep puddle, fell through the door, and found myself in the toilets. It was the entrance I'd dreamed of.

From there however, things started to pick up. I announced my arrival to the lady on the door, who immediately told me how much she likes Ledgers, possibly in the hope of getting me to buy some raffle tickets, before being accosted by Val Eldridge, chairwoman of the East Bergholt Dramatic Society, and one-woman theatrical dynamo, who told me that the cast were all nervous knowing I was there. I tend to have that effect on people. Val in turn introduced me to Kieran Farrell, the director of my play, who made me feel old by being noticeably younger than me and having more hair. He asked about the background to the play, I confirmed that I saw no future in suicide, then I moved along to David Mitchell, very much the Boris Karloff of the EBDS, though I'm told he can do comedy too.

Introductions over, we took our seats, at which point Val Eldridge made her way to the front and announced that they were honoured to have a playwright in the audience that night. I looked around, realised she was talking about me, waited for my spotlight, before realising that nobody cared, and deciding not to wave. Then it was on with the show.

Keith Raby & Karen MillsLedgers might not have been the only play on that night, but it was the first, which is just as well, because it meant that having gripped Lisa's hand in nervous terror through all 35 minutes of my own play, she had the rest of the evening to recover and seek first aid. I might have been close to a panic attack for most of the performance, but I have to say it was outstanding. Well, I don't have to, but I am. Karen Mills and Keith Raby may have looked like Ellen DeGeneres and Fred Flintstone, but they did more justice to my play than a week at the Old Bailey. And I liked Roy Bramwell so much I wished I'd given him more lines. Even the stuffed pigeon excelled itself.

As for the audience, they might have been pushing 60 (in number and age), but they got my 'Malcolm in the Middle' reference and laughed at my penguin jokes, though judging by the sharp intake of collective breath, I might have to cut the 9/11 line.

Anyhoo, at the interval I instructed Lisa to head for the bar and mention in a loud voice just how much she'd enjoyed the first play, while I hunted down my actors and congratulated them on a job well done. At that point I hadn't discovered the lack of biscuits at the tea & coffee table, so I was in quite a good mood, and chatted at length to Keith about the problems of learning his lines. Personally I wouldn't be able to recite more than about three words from the first page, and I wrote the thing, so I had a lot of sympathy. I then shook hands with Karen over a cup of tea, realised I was late for act two, and headed for my seat.

An Evening of One Act PlaysThe second half featured my director Kieran moonlighting as an expectant father, and Roy sitting in a comfy chair reading a catalogue, before ending on a high with David Mitchell looking menacing in a boiler suit. Performances over, Keith asked me to sign his programme, Val followed suit, and I congratulated Kieran on his directing. Before forcing my autograph on him too. I felt bad afterwards that I hadn't written any personal dedications, but I'm not used to the pressures of public life, and it was all I could do to remember my own name. To be honest, I'm not even sure I spelt it right on one of them.

But I had my confidence boosted by a woman called Alma who rushed over to tell me she'd love to act in one of my plays. Which would have been quite a compliment, had she not spent act one playing opposite a woman in leopardskin tights dancing to 'I Will Survive' with a rose in her mouth. After that, anything would seem like a step up. But I took it in the spirit it was intended, especially as Pauline, the woman in leopardskin tights, was standing next to me at the time.

Having chatted until my mouth went dry, I was very kindly given a set of photos by Val Eldridge, who personally pulled them off the display board for me, whereupon I said my goodbyes, turned around, and realised Lisa and my Mum had already left the building. Presumably so they could get to the car and pretend to fall asleep before I turned up and started droning on about my play again.