A Christmas Carol, Backstage Life, Charles Dickens, dress rehearsal, first night, Shakespeare in Love
The second run of “my” A Christmas Carol” opens tonight – and let me boast a little: we’re sold out all the way to January. There is no way on earth to call it anything else than a huge hit, and I’m inordinately proud.
That said, the Spirit of Charlie Dickens must have decided that we couldn’t have it too smooth, or we might grow complacent. Or at least I assume that’s why we are opening with a whole heap of substitutions… some of them carefully planned from the beginning, with understudies promoted and rehearsed in the sensible way. Some of them. The rest has happened in the last week or so, with a frightening amount of frantic juggling, out-on-a-limb choices, last-minute costume fitting… And we still don’t know too well, because our new Charlie Cratchit/Young Scrooge has come down with the flu – but that is easily solved, because his brother, the former CC/YS rode in to the rescue last night, and is taking back his old roles for the weekend. On the other hand, our Richard/Fred’s Guest is also feverish, and has no real understudy… so now the question is: do we send onstage a not-quite-ready substitute who only read the part for the first time last night (and is even now trying to cram it) or do we risk to have the original Richard and his flu, at the risk of spreading the plague through the whole cast like last January?
I don’t envy Nina…
Last night we had dress rehearsal – and it was… picturesque.
Things were going reasonably well until the Cratchits entered left for their Christmas dinner – minus Mrs. Cratchit. Bad enough – and then she arrived explaining why she had good cause to be late, and both Nina from the stalls and Scrooge from the stage took exception, and Mrs. Cratchit took exception to their taking exception, and Language was used, and Mrs. Cratchit stormed off in a huff (not easy, when you are wearing crinolines), and Nina followed her, and they had a Screaming Match.
The use of capital letters is entirely justified when you consider that we could hear them all across the theatre. In the most literal of ways: the house is admittedly small, but still. You reach the dressing room via backstage right – and from backstage left we could hear the screeching with perfect clarity.
I was there with the newest (and very good) member of the Quick Change Team, and a bunch of very round-eyed little Cratchits.
“What is going to happen now?” asked Delia the Dresser in a dismayed whisper.
The answer was not much.
“What if she doesn’t come back?” asked Martha Cratchit, while Peter mused that he didn’t think he’d have it in him to fight just this passionately…
“She is coming back,” I reassured, and proceeded to explain that it was nothing so very extraordinary, and I’ve seen it happen before, and it always boils down to nothing, it’s just the way tempers can occasionally flare around the stage… Or so I dearly hoped – but I didn’t say that.
When Mrs. Cratchit marched back and we could resume, Delia and the kids were watching me like some sort of oracle. And if,during the toast scene, Mrs. Cratchit reviled Scrooge with more vigour than usual… well, it didn’t damage the whole.
And then there was the whole fuss with the two Tiny Tims, and the new Caroline’s cloak questionable fit resulting in the Hunchback Caroline, and Marley’s new chains rattling too loud, and the New Liza singing woefully out of tune, and, and, and…
And did I say we are opening tonight?
“Is this normal?” asked in some befuddlement the father of Less Tiny Tim.
And I said yes. I went all Henslowe on him, and said that the natural condition of theatre is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster – but then, strangely enough, it turns out well. Which is what I always say, and believe. Believe rather firmly. So tonight, strangely enough, it will turn out well. Most surely.
Ah… wish me broken legs*, will you?
* And no – not someone else’s legs, please. Not this time. Not the way things are. I’m not sure we can afford to substitute anyone else. Last night Nina even told me to keep ready, because there is no telling, and study. “Study what?” I asked. To hear her say “Oh, anything!” wasn’t exactly reassuring.