I think I told you how, back in December, at the dress rehearsal for A Christmas Carol, we had the benefit of a row of rows, complete with screaming match in the green room between Nina the Director and Mrs. Cratchit. It was explosive enough to scare children, upset dressers, and perplex casual viewers – but, as is the case with most of these things, it evaporated quite quickly, and with little or no visible damage.
What I didn’t tell you is that, that night, my mother was in the audience – having heard much about dress rehearsals, but never having been to one. So there she was, enjoying the peculiar electricity of it, and generally having a lovely time, when the row erupted.
As I waited backstage, playing wise and reassuring to my little bunch, I inwardly winced at the thought of ageing, sweet, very proper Mother, and her deep dislike of each and any sort of fighting – not to mention Language. Not exactly the kind of glimpse of stage life I’d meant for her to catch… So, at the first chance, I went to sit with her, and told her that she shouldn’t mind the howling one bit, that it was all quite normal – not that we fought this way all the time, but that tempers can flare quite quickly, and these bursts always fizzle out…
Except, Mother wasn’t discomposed in the least. In fact, she was somewhere between fascinated and amused. “It didn’t feel like a real fight at all,” she said. “In fact, it almost felt like part of the play. Not that it was Dickensian in any way – just that it was…” And she waved her fingers a little to mean… I don’t know: unreal, perhaps?
Well, this made me think of that scene in W.S. Maugham’s Theatre, the one where leading lady Julia and a fellow actor play a pretend-game of fighting at a party, and they do it so realistically that the other guests (mostly but not all theatre people) are taken in, and are becoming quite alarmed… A rather precise opposite of my mother’s experience, isn’t it?
Offstage, Julia’s staged fight feels real; onstage, Nina and Mrs. Cratchit’s very real fight feels pretend. In both cases, the “audience” know very well that the fighters are players – only, at the party they don’t know themselves to be an audience.
On the other hand, while sitting in the theatre and watching a rehearsal, Mother knew perfectly well that Nina and Mrs. C. really were at each other’s throat – but to her the context wrapped the fight into a distancing cocoon of unreality.
Is the quality of (perceived) reality different – not just on a stage, but around it as well? I rather like the notion, and I’m sure there is a story of some sort hiding there. While I stalk and catch it, I think I’ll consider the whole thing a Peculiar Phenomenon, and call it a Reverse-Julia.