Monday, April 29, 2013

21.12.68 Double Bill and holidays

Dear Mum, (21st Dec)  It seems to be ages since I wrote to you last, and I’m sorry about that.  At least for once I have an honest excuse: this week has been the week of our three productions and we’ve been really flat out.  To show you how little I’ve been home, two weeks ago I went and bought some tins of snacks to have for tea at night during the week that was to follow.  I’ve still got them!  Last weekend I did have a break from Opera, and went up to the Crowls again.  On Saturday afternoon we went to a Christmas Party, for about half an hour, that was being held for the Mentally Handicapped Group.  I didn’t actually have to go, but Uncle Reg (I think I’d sooner call them that, in spite of theirs and mine agreement to the contrary [wonderful piece of grammar here, the result of not being able to go back and correct] had said he had told them that if his nephew wanted to come for a short while he would go, but he also said that he felt he should put in an appearance.  So what could I say?  Anyway, as it turned out while we were there, there was a young bloke about my age doing a Magician’s act, and he hit it off remarkably well with these folk, just knowing how far to go with teasing them by telling them a red thing was blue, etc.  He was very funny really.  I hadn’t been particularly keen on going , as I really felt only like sitting completely still and doing nothing, but it was quite an enjoyable half hour. 


That night I just sat glued in front of the TV and watched an old Glenn Ford cowboy film that was worth watching in spite of its title: Cowboy and the Redhead!  And then a rather clever Sci-fi film.  On Sunday, we went in the afternoon to a Carol Service being held at Highbury (still in London) where Reg works, a few days a week.  [Reg did accounts there.  Part of the complex was Stephenson Hall, where a few years later I went to train in Residential Child Care and met my future wife.]  I had already said I’d go to this so was prepared and it was a pleasant half hour of carols, old and new, and then ‘High Tea’ after.  Honestly I drink so much liquid at a typical Crowl weekend, it’s a wonder I don’t drown from the inside.  Also arranged to go and stay there over the three days at Christmas. Kingsley is going on Christmas Day to have dinner with someone who’s a friend of a friend, which saves my feeling that he’s being left on his own. 


THANK YOU AND FRED AND FATHER CHRISTMAS for the endless succession of postal notes!  AND the chocolate chippies.  AND the fudge AND the cake – Kingsley doesn’t eat cake at all so I’m sharing it with myself!  It’s rather funny about these postal orders with stamps; the blokes in the Post Offices invariably look askance at them, but now I’ve been in so often, that I can tell them what page it is in their reference book which saves that much time.  Sometimes I get a shilling for two 5c, and sometimes 11d.  I don’t really think they know what they’re supposed to do with them.  [Obviously I knew nothing about the complexities of exchange rates.]  This morning one of the clerks even refused to believe me when I said where he could find the information, and even when he looked it up he reckoned that he’d never given out money on stamps before.  It was only the arrival of another man who’d paid out on another lot previously that saved the day!  Incidentally about that $10, apparently an office in Chichester or somewhere informs me by post when it’s ready for me to receive.  I got that off the obstructive guy today, but the bloke who helped out in the end had told me previously that I should come back in a few days and see if it had arrived.  Government departments: !!!! [It’s hard to credit this kind of bureaucracy now, when you can transfer money so readily.]


I hope you realised that the money I sent you was FOR YOU and not to pay any bills and things of mine!  I thought it was better than trying to send a not very satisfactory Christmas present.  Last weekend I didn’t take anything to the Crowls, mainly because the little lady who sells flowers on the street wasn’t there that Saturday, and of course it turned out to be Mavis’ birthday!  I’ll take something bigger up to them on Tuesday. 


On Monday last we had our first rehearsal in Sadler’s Wells.  In the morning a piano rehearsal which went quite well, and then an orchestral rehearsal in the afternoon, which was especially interesting to be able to hear the sounds I’ve been attempting to make for the last couple of months.  I think it is very well orchestrated, as clever in its parody of 1920s sounds (early jazz bands, palm court orchestras, etc) as the whole thing is clever in its general parody of opera altogether.  (Seem to be some mighty confused sentences here today!)  But the orchestra players themselves are a rather scungy lot, considering they’re being paid, which I don’t think I am.  (I am being paid for selling programmes at the two performances of Albert Herring though, which I hadn’t expected!)  They are from the Royal College, and while the bulk of them aren’t a bad crew (and altogether they’re a very good orchestra) there are several who have made James Robertson’s life hell, and also the rehearsals.  One of the last rehearsals was so bad in fact that the poor singers scarcely knew where they were. It is very, very poor I think.  [I wonder if the musicians were actually sharper than Robertson...?]  Of course, as with everything I get everybody’s side: from Mr Robertson to the players to the singers!  Anyway, I am very much enjoying myself playing the piano part: though last night I seemed to be getting mental blocks or somut, [attempting to spell a Cockney version of ‘or something’ perhaps] as on two occasions I sat happily there when I should have played a note or two, and on another occasion I got a full 10 bars behind, briefly thank goodness, and played a completely contrary chord!  Fortunately in this sort of music, the audience would never know!  But I felt pretty silly anyway.  I don’t think Robertson noticed – he didn’t say anything  - but I think some of the players did!  Urgh!  [This doesn’t appear to be the time I had problems with an orchestral piano part during a rehearsal and had to be assisted by a friendly wind player at the back of the group.  I’ve never felt wonderfully confident in an orchestra.]


Sheila Thomas, the outside rep in charge of Dido and Angelique, and who is the nicer of the two ladies in this capacity, brought me a cup of coffee for the work I’d done on Angelique!  She is nice!  Unfortunately she isn’t working on the same stuff as me next time, for the coming master classes, but I’m working again with Alistair, who as I think I’ve said before, I get on very well with.  On Monday, after Albert Herring (which was very good, perhaps a little over-produced if anything, and which got good reviews though not enthusiastically wild ones) I went round to Hazel’s (in the same suburb it is) and several others joined us for a party.  I didn’t stay very long, however [handwritten] to be continued. 


Part II

as we had another lot of rehearsals the next day at Sadler’s Wells, by the way, the old theatre, that is, is the most maze-y place I’ve ever been in.  [This was the fifth theatre on the site, and has now been replaced by a sixth. The Sadler’s Wells Opera Company had moved out earlier in the year to The Coliseum.]  It took me about three days even to begin to find my way around it, and I can still get lost quite easily.  And I’m still finding places I didn’t know existed.  It’s large backstage – probably almost as big as the actual auditorium – which isn’t huge, but three-tiered – and there are rooms for everybody, stage staff, music staff, conductors, ballet rooms, rehearsal rooms, showers (quite a luxury in a NZ theatre) and all the usual accoutrements.  (Of course I would have to spell that wrong!) [I’d left out a ‘c’. I seem to remember that it was on the first day of rehearsals at the theatre that James Robertson bawled out Alan Opie for being late (he’d slept in) in front of everyone – singers, orchestra, stage crew – and told him he’d never make it as a professional with that attitude. Opie seems to have done all right in spite of this!]


Incidentally the SUN is shining here today – the first time in about three months.  Perhaps the rain has cleared up the cloud.  In Islington the other day, where the theatre is, it’s quite hilly, and the water was just pouring down the streets.  It hasn’t been that cold here lately, except for one very bad week, but it’s always damp.  Not to worry – the mould hasn’t appeared on me yet!


Thursday night was the Double Bill’s opening night, and it went off very well I think.  The papers, however, while they didn’t slate the actual productions, weren’t in the least bit enthusiastic about the way Dido was done, nor about the choice of Angelique at all.  These people get too serious about art I think, and fail to realise that something with a bit of humour in it has its own place.  Dido is a very interesting production, I think.  The leading singers are all dressed in very ornate costumes of considerable beauty – except Aeneas, who is in an awkward armour type thing that makes him look as though he has his shoulders around his chin all the time – and instead of the chorus being on stage they are in the pit with the orchestra.  Their place is taken by the ballet who dance in very symmetrical and angular patterns to the singing chorus.  And to their own dance music, thoughtfully provided by Purcell.  They are dressed in green tights, boys and girls (they’re all so young – 15 or 16 I think) and when the story is going on, recline in designs similar to those that you see in 19th century paintings – where classical people (very overdressed) were surrounded by dressed cherubs lying in attitudes all over the place.  I like this production, but only a few others do.  The scenery is very simple – Dido’s Court being a set of steps covered on the audience side by what looks like half a jelly (patterned, of course) and at the back a raked platform: ie higher (by a lot in this case) at the back than the rest, with a single rectangle reaching from its left centre to the flies.  The witches appear through trap doors and have great swirling cloaks over tights, and curious make-up that in the half light looks like their faces are hollowed out almost.  Horrid.


Next Day.  The scene in the forest consists of nothing but bogus and very large leaves flown from the flies plus more green in the lighting and a sort of dappled green effect thrown all over the stage.  The principals, except Aeneas, all come on in green cloaks too.  (I’m typing this in a short space left before I go out – also listening to the last few moments of Götterdämmerung, er, rather the last 20 minutes or so – it is fabulous.)  In the sailors’ scene there is a projected light onto the backcloth simulating water in the distance.  Angelique is done in sort of pop-art colours, though done relatively realistically as far as the scene itself is concerned, and all the characters are dressed in over-stated versions of their 1920-30 counterparts.


Well as I write this we’re now finished with the Double Bill and strictly speaking are on holiday.  There is talk of the Double Bill being taken to Southampton, but what the story is I don’t know.  As usual the reps are the last to know.   After the show last night we all went over to the Shakespeare’s Head, a pub opposite the stage door, and talked.  Everyone was a bit put out that there wasn’t a party arranged, except for some special people, somewhere, [probably those who actually put the money up to fund the shows] and so a group of us decided to have a party of our own somewhere and finished up going to Sara Wilson’s flat.  She is one of the stage managers, and her flat-mates are away home for Christmas.  She lives at the Marble Arch end of Wimpole St (though it’s not called that in typical English fashion), five flights up.  Most of us stayed onto (ye gods!) 4.30, and then I went home with Mike, who had come with me, and stayed at his place for the rest of the night.  It was a nice quiet affair, with a fair mixture of Opera Centre bods; funnily enough, with a few exceptions, not one of the usual cliques, but made up of people from different groups.  Had it struck home to me yesterday that I’m not the only one in the position of being far away from home at Christmas, and it’s obviously struck some of the others a bit too. There are quite a lot of Colonials at the Centre; in fact at this party last night, if we include Mike, there were only 4 out of about a dozen or more people that were born here.  Mad. 


Tonight I’ve been invited out to dinner by Diana Reid, another stage manager, with David Gorringe.  I’m a replacement at the last moment for a boy that Diana’s been trailing around with all term, and who has now been dropped or has dropped her.  Either way it sounds a bit of an awkward position, but unfortunately I didn’t find out about it all until after I’d gladly accepted the invitation!  I’ve been so busy the last fortnight that I’ve completely run out of sox and am now trying to dry a pair to wear tonight!  Thank goodness it’s the holidays.  I find that I’m looking forward to them more than I’d expected.  Not that I dislike the course, but the rest will be most welcome.  Actually I’ll only really take this coming Christmas week off, as the Opera for All auditions are coming up in January, and I’ll have to do some hard work to catch up for them. 


I got a card from Monica Stokes [my mother’s sister], well all the Stokes actually, and 3 postal notes!  Isn’t she a trick?  Will you give her my love and tell her thanks very much indeed.  Barbara Green sent me a card too with a cute little angel saying her prayers on it [handwritten] and tried to tell me it was her!  Lots and lots of love - it’ll possibly be New Year before you get this, Mike. 


[written on the back of the aerogram] P.S.  The trunk finally arrived – Wednesday last – day before I needed my dinner suit!!  It had been in the U.K. for nearly 3 weeks.  We now have so much junk here there’s hardly room to move. I think Kingsley has shifted everything he possesses over here!  AAAGH!