Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Back Soon...

Just trying out a little image change with the blog. Witch was getting a little fed up with that tired old pink and dreary claret. A little reinvention never hurt anyone...

I'll be back soon, dears. Back with a whole new cornucopia of theatre-related loveliness.

Ciao for now...

Friday, 16 October 2009

A Visit From The Mail: Petronella Wyatt Versus West End Witch

Oh dear. I was afraid of this...


A few weeks ago, the cast was rounded up after warm-up to be informed that Petronella Wyatt from the Daily Mail would be at the theatre the following day. In a stunt organised by our keen-witted publicity department, she was to come and do a "Day in the Life" piece about Sister Act. Alarm bells were already ringing, but we were assured it would be a sympathetic report designed to promote the show. Any publicity, and all that.

Now, I'm all for a bit of artistic license. Where's a good story, without a bit of embellishment? Heaven knows I'm always tarting up reality for the sake of a cheap laugh. But what I read this morning was so far removed from the truth that I simply couldn't resist setting a few facts straight...

Everything is just how I imagined it. Someone is plonking at a piano and two girls in hotpants, who are auditioning to be nuns, are hoofing on the stage.
Choreographer Ben Clare tells them: 'Great. Thanks. You can join in two weeks.' Talk about fast-tracking holy vows.

Who are these mysterious hotpant-ed girls? Why are they the only people in the whole of showbiz to turn up? And how have they managed to bag a top West End gig without so much as a second audition? Witch herself had to endure six auditions for Sister Act, including a hideous two-and-a-half hour dance call involving improvisation (shudder) and a terrifying singing final onstage at the Shaftsbury in front of Alan Menken and fifty equally scary people. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on our dance captain Ben, but I'm not sure he has all the hire-and-fire power she is suggesting...

Emma introduces me to the gathering by saying: 'As you know, this is Petronella from the Daily Mail who will be in the show tonight.'
There follows the sort of silence that there used to be in court rooms before
hanging judges would pronounce sentence.

If my memory serves me correctly, we all welcomed her warmly whilst she stared blankly around the stage, saying nothing.

We rehearse the scenes in which I appear, including the finale of Act One.

We rehearse the scenes in which Petronella appears, not including the finale of Act One, which took us six weeks to learn and perfect and would be impossible for even the most accomplished performer to grasp in twenty minutes.

We sing Raise Your Voice and Take Me To Heaven.

We sing Raise Your Voice and Take Me To Heaven; Petronella does not.

Time's winged chariot hurries by. Suddenly I am a nun eating dinner with the other nuns as the set becomes the convent. Then Deloris is teaching us how to sing and, as if only five minutes have passed, the first act is over.

I don't know what show Petronella was doing that night, but it certainly wasn't the one I was doing. She comes onstage twice — sitting at a bar in the background of the first scene, and revolving on with the nuns to sing a few out-of-tune lines of Latin for about thirty seconds.

Behind the slider, I say to her, "Are you alright? Excited?" Petronella stares at me vacantly and says nothing. Another nun jokes, "Have you learnt your lines?" Petronella stares at her vacantly and says nothing.

The thing I find so unbelievable irritating about all of this (aside from the fact that none of it actually happened), is the way in which she has made it all sound such a breeze. Any soggy old journalist with theatrical aspirations can just walk into a theatre, have half a day's rehearsal and perfectly execute what in actual fact takes months of hard graft, sweat and injury.

As for all the costumes being from "Primark or the cast's own", well... yes, you've got me there, Petronella. Fortunately all seventeen nuns happened to have identical white-sequined habits lurking in their wardrobes at home and the black ones were bought job lot from Oxford Street.

I can't comment on Sheila Hancock's "basilisk stare" because I wasn't there, but I can only assume it was:

a. Deserved


b. Imagined.

All too soon we reach the finale. We wave and laugh and sing Spread The Love Around. Suddenly, I have a lump in my throat.
The curtain goes down and the audience roars. Even if I have not, the audience has performed beautifully. Behind the curtain, my fellow nuns and I embrace. Tears spring to my eyes as the audience claps wildly.

When Act II arives, we are informed that Petronella has a prior engagement and will not be appearing in her other rehearsed scene. In fact, she has already left the building.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Wot No Phil: Sister Act Does This Morning

Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby host an Air Guitar competition on the back of the Thames, for This Morning

Hello, chickens. Sorry I'm so slack on the blogs these days. It's a busy life, what with trying to edit a ropey old first draft into an internationally-bestselling debut novel, as well as eight shows a week and more time in the Palladium rehearsal room than is necessary — or indeed, healthy. It's like dancing in a dirty old sauna. Even when you open the windows you're blasted with hot air from the generators outside.

Moving on quickly to This Morning.

If ever there was a topic you could move onto without having to fashion an appropriate link, it would be morning television. They do it themselves, every five minutes. Phil and Fer—um, Holly can be interviewing some distraught soul one minute about some dreadful catastrophe that has befallen them, only to switch glossily to camera two to introduce a ridiculous item about canine fashion. The programme coordinators never seem to get the order quite right. I know the age-old device of splicing up tragedy with comedy for greater dramatic effect, yadda yadda yadda, but still, there's only so crestfallen you can legitimately appear when telling several million viewers about their chance to win 25k.

Anyway, today was Friday, so it was an Eamonn/Ruth day...

Right, let's get this one out of the way or it'll hang over the rest of my latest entry like a black cloud of unspoken resentment.

I was disappointed. There, I've said it. Don't judge me. I know you all get it, that sinking feeling when you switch on the telly at half ten for an hour or so of guilty chit-chat pleasure and realise that it's not a Phil-and-Holly day. It's not just me, is it?

However, the disappointment faded slightly when breakfast arrived. You can always tell a group of musical theatre actors in a TV studio. We'll be the ones making the most of the free food. We're not used to it. The television stars drift in and out at their leisure, sometimes only turning up three minutes before they're due to be interviewed (you know who I'm talking about, Mitchell and Webb). They give their finest colloquial chat for five minutes and then waltz out again without so much as a bacon sarnie. The actresses are too busy trying to stay waify to squeeze in a pain au chocolat, and most male actors prefer to maintain a self-styled air of mystic importance on black coffee and nicotine. Besides, they're all so used to catering and runners attending to their every whim that they barely even notice it all.

Not so with us turns.

I remember a chilly afternoon in January when, after a particularly grueling morning of rehearsals, the company manager brought biscuits in for us as a treat. Nothing special, just a few custard creams and the odd Hobnob.

It was carnage.

You can only imagine the excitement of a full English at eight o'clock in the morning. Catering didn't know what had hit them. "Chocolate, before the performance?" "No, but I will have egg, sausage, beans, tomato and two rounds of toast."

I avoided the make-up police successfully, having had a particularly nasty run in with them on GMTV when I tried to convince Linda, one of our wiggies, that the blusher on my cheeks was just a "natural glow". Apparently nuns don't wear make-up. Neither do they break into disco songs and shake their booties every five minutes, I tried to argue, but she wasn't having it. I had to console myself by keeping my pearls on under my habit. A small act of rebellion, but it made me feel better.

No, this time I dodged the baby wipe test with all the finesse of Jack Dawkins on a pickpocketing mission. I even got away with a small amount of natural lip liner and a dab of Eight Hour Cream. Mission accomplished.

Our item seemed to go well. We were following an interview with Sheila and Patina. I'm sure the last thing Patina felt like doing before singing live on national television to a quiet backing track was telling Ruth and Eamonn how she was finding life in London, but she coped very well, before legging it to the other side of the studio to start the number with us in record time.

It was over very quickly. I had a minor skirmish with the dry ice machine, but managed to bat off great swathes of smoke with my habit sleeves. Finally, that horror of a frock has a use.

Eamonn rushed over to us at the end of the programme.

"Girls, girls! Can I get a picture? It's for my mum. She'll appreciate the nun thing."

I was surprised how pleasant he was. Chatted to us for a few minutes, located the Catholics amongst us and compared tales of convent school life — the highs, the lows, the beatings... No sign of Ruth, though.

I bumped into Jason Gardiner on the way out. He was very charming — a kindred spirit, a fellow twirly. I wanted to mention that he knew the Wanderer, but couldn't think of the best way to work "I think you worked with my fiancĂ© in Beirut" into the conversation.

Maybe I should have made like This Morning and done an inappropriate link...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Curse of the Chipbelly

Witch has another illness to add to the list, having suffered profusely at its menacing hands on Saturday...


Fish and Chips

Well, I'll call it Chipbelly, but it's really a blanket term for having eaten too much before a show. It's most common on a matinee day, but can occur at any time.

The conditions have to be right, of course. At Grease or Mamma Mia for example, with their strict back-to-back regimes, it just wouldn't happen. The turn around between performances is so quick that after the matinee you find yourself getting out of costume to the tune of Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your half-hour call...


And no time to stuff anything more down than a couple of biscuits.

Another contending factor is the choreography. Attempting a Chipbelly in a piece by Rob Ashford or Gillian Lynn would be foolhardy. You'd simply be sick. Trust me, I've tried it.

The final hurdle is your costume. A major hindrance to the cultivation of the perfect Chipbelly. Anything involving whalebone is a no-no, as are hooks and eyes or any sort of corsetry. Lycra is definitely out.

No, what you need is a show with not too much choreography, with nicely loose-fitting costumes and about an hour in between the matinee and evening...

In other words, Sister Act.

On Saturday, the girls in my dressing room and I decided to go for fish and chips. We had been planning it since Wednesday and were really looking forward to it. Oddly, half of the building seemed to have the same idea, and the queue outside the chippy looked like the turnout for an open audition at Pineapple.

We thought we'd be conservative, sharing chips and ordering small portions. No need to overdo it. We still had another show to do, after all. Best not be greedy...

By five to seven not a chip was left, no morsel of batter could be seen and five pots of mushy peas had been licked clean. We looked at each other nervously.

"I feel alright," said Jennie cautiously, as if she couldn't believe it.

"Me too," said Helen, a little over-confidently. There was an air of doom hanging over us. We sat in silence for five minutes, hoping to escape the inevitable...

And then it came.

The half was called. I tried to move, but it was as if Derren Brown himself had bound me to the chair with the power of his mind. Nothing happened. I tried again, managing to unseat only my left buttock as my right one remained rooted to the chair. I heard a little whimper from the other side of the room.

"Oh...God..." said Helen. "Spoke...too...soon."

Gradually, with much sighing and grunting, we started to get ready for the second show. Poppers and zips were groaning under the weight of our stomachs. Mutterings of "Never again" and "Whose idea was it to get fish and chips" floated around the dressing room. This did not bode well.

It seemed we were not alone. I passed Tom Goodridge in the corridor, clearly anything but ready to go onstage, his eyes rolling back into his lolling head as he grasped the wall.

"Two...jumbo...sausages..." was all he could muster by way of explanation.

It appeared that most people had succumbed to the lure of Chipbelly. At any given point during the show I could virtually guarantee there would be a nun, somewhere on the stage, taking advantage of a moment facing the back to blow her cheeks out exhaustedly and try to gain momentum again. The dance numbers felt as if we were wading through curry sauce. Getting a big enough breath to sing was a chore. Even bending over to put a pair of tights on was a struggle.

Suffice to say, tomorrow I'll be having a sandwich...

Thursday, 10 September 2009

What's Up, Doc?

Witch has developed a sudden interest in medical matters...

There are numerous ailments suffered by performers that sadly go undiagnosed and untreated, so I thought I would bring some of them to the public's attention. Education is the first step, after all. Here are some of the most common theatre afflictions:


A psychological disorder which renders the sufferer unable to control his or her onstage facial movements.


At the opposite end of the medical spectrum from Mugging, this condition usually rears its head during dance numbers. The afflicted party will lack energy and appear listless, easily distracted and slightly behind the music. Movements will be small and unfocused. Only two known cures for Marking currently exist: the threat of a clean-up call or an announcement that the producer is watching.

Extra Takes Mario Lopez & Cast Of A Chorus Line To L.A.-Day 1
Don't pop the head, Cassie.

Sowing the seed

Also known as How-to-get-a-day-off-when-there's-nothing-actually-wrong-with-you. A common affliction, particularly amongst lazier performers. Usually involves a pained expression, limp and/or cough, loud request for Neurofen, doubling over, refusal to eat and a brave "No, I'll soldier on" attitude. Precedes a day off.
Anyone who has swung a show will have an acute ability to spot the seed-sowers, but it takes a strong dance captain to weed them out.


A medical condition that renders the sufferer unable or reluctant to come into work on a Saturday. Often accompanied by Friday seed-sowing. Cf. Midweek Matinee-itis.

Phoning it in

A polite way of demonstrating one's apathy towards the show.

Midweek Matinee-itis

Why should I come into work more than once a day?


Probably one of the most common theatre ailments; certainly one of the most well-known. Often mistakenly associated with dead bodies, corpsing is actually the inability to control laughter when onstage. Can be caused by anything from a rogue piece of set to a fart noise from the wings. The effects of corpsing correlate directly with an actor's self-control and can be calculated by the simple formula C=E (s x S), where E is the event causing the mirth, s the amount of self-control mustered by the actor and S how high the stakes are at the time of corpsing, ie. how serious the moment in the piece.

Inappropriate Notes Tourette Syndrome

The inability of an actor to refrain from giving fellow turns advice on their performance.

Pulling Focus

An umbrella term encompassing many disorders, from the classic hand-clap-and-rub-before-one's-line, to general ensemble mugging.

Don't Pop The Head, Cassie

Focus-pulling for dancers. Often accompanied by extreme arrogance. Very difficult to treat.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Witch Returns

So, after two weeks of Mediterranean bliss, Witch finally made it back to work last night...

I was a little concerned that I might have forgotten the show, after so long a break. I'm not known for my long-term retention of steps. Give or take a fortnight and things I've had in my brain for six months will start seeping out of one ear.

Lipstick frequently entertains me with her renditions of numbers from a job we did five years ago together. She remembers every kick, every turn, every top C that has ever come out of her. I humour her and watch politely, secretly wondering if I ever performed the same steps, or if she's just improvising very well. My memory is not what it was.

Of course, some things never leave you - All That Jazz from Chicago, the jive from Grease, or anything that has ever been drilled into you by Karen Bruce. I can also still remember the first jazz routine I ever learnt at college, oddly. Whether I can still do it is another question...

It seems that a fortnight, though, was not long enough for me to forget the show, although God knows I tried. The only problem I had was that people seemed to have forgotten how big I was (having been blessed with the teeny tiny Kate Coysten for a couple of weeks) and spread out accordingly. Gaps had become narrower, spaces smaller and I felt the jostle of shoulders and elbows at every turn. I felt like a full-on Blundernun, Bella Emberg-style. Not good for one's self-esteem.

Aside from that, very little seemed to have happened in my absence. It seemed there had been another skirmish with Equity over an additional EPK recording (which thankfully I missed) and more dramas about the West End Agreement, which could perhaps more aptly be named as the West End Unfair Buyout, but I won't get all political on you now, chickens. It's so boring you'd be asleep before I got through the first sentence.

Oh, and I did nearly miss a cue because I was engrossed in my book. I'm reading The Historian, by Catherine Kostova. Terrifying and gripping all at the same time. Fine for holiday, but now I'm not sure if it's unholy or blasphemous to read about vampires whilst dressed as a nun. Still, it's compulsive reading. I can't seem to put it down.

It's only fiction, but I keep my rosary to hand, just in case...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

West End Live

West End Live...

It's a bit of a new phenomenon, this. A strange outdoors-y affair. London theatre's attempt at a festival, a chance for the producers to wring some free publicity out of their shows.

When I was there four years ago, it was a tame affair. A smattering of people, hardly enough to call a crowd, consisting mainly of proud mums, diehard fans and passers-by who had halfheartedly stopped on their way through Leicester Square to see what all the racket was.

Saturday was a different story. Thousands of people had crammed themselves into the relatively small space to show their support. The Wanderer came to show his support (or rather, bring my packed lunch that I left on the kitchen sideboard) and found he couldn't get anywhere near the stage, having to content himself with a rather inhibited view from the other side of the square behind a giant Postman Pat.

It was definitely the place to be on Saturday morning.

I felt a little bit like a child at a dance competition as we piled into the coach outside the Palladium, already in full costume and wigs. It was Aunt Sally's Ballet Academy all over again, en route to the annual Eastbourne Dance Festival. All we were missing was a bottle of Ellnet and a carton of Um Bongo.

People stared as we drove down Regent Street, teenagers laughed, children waved... We could have been on an open top bus going to switch the Christmas lights on, for all the attention we attracted. I felt a strange pressure to put my wimple on correctly, even though usually I leave it till the very last second. (It leaves a crease in my forehead, and who needs more of those?)

We were quickly herded onto the stage, sandwiched neatly between Jodie Prenger and the cast of We Will Rock You. For some reason we were to be introduced by Biggins. I suppose it needed someone pretty spangly to contend with a show like ours...

After his patter, he bizarrely chose a seat at the side of the stage, crossed his legs and sat back to watch the action like a oddly camp Brechtian Chorus, tapping his foot and grinning over at us encouragingly. I had to fight an irresistible urge to drag him up and start do-si-dos-ing with him.

The sound was a bit am-dram, but apart from that, everything went well. Alli Harding did a great job of standing in for Julia Sutton, despite our concerns that she might repeat her performance at the press launch when she forgot the words and sang four lines in what can only have been Gaelic.

I looked up West End Live on the internet. As far as I could see (and I researched it a long time), it's purely a promotional gig, designed to encourage people to go and see shows. Performers are required as part of their contracts to do a certain amount of publicity unpaid. Fair enough. We're happy to promote our shows if it keeps them open and flourishing. Not a bad cause, if you don't compare it to any serious charities. But I couldn't help thinking I'd be happier to work for free if I knew someone else other than the producer was going to benefit. It would be nice if the bosses would stump up some cash for something like the Variety Club, or the Unicorn Theatre. For the families who can't afford sixty five quid a ticket.

The Broadway community has a different fundraising event almost every week. We do a bit here, but not as much as we could. West End Live would be the perfect opportunity to give something back.