In August I had the pleasure of directing my adaptation of Judith Kerr's THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA on the Fringe of the Edinburgh Festival. We played in the Pleasance Grand, which seats 750, and it was rewarding and, to me, a little surprising, that such large numbers of local mums, dads, grandparents and children made the effort to attend the 10.00 am performances. At one show, 88 buggies were counted lined up in the foyer! I had often read that the locals of Edinburgh didn't show much interest in the Festival, but the children's events proved me totally wrong.
The next surprise was to find in the listings that there were 195 children's productions playing simultaneously on the Fringe! Everything from fully staged plays, one-man storytellings, musicals, circus-based entertainments, magic shows, audience participation and fairy tale adaptations. A huge variety of product aimed specifically at children.
How different, I thought, from when I first played on the Fringe, 51 years ago! I went up with a student company and had a brilliant time. But there was no sign of anything on the Fringe or, indeed, in the official Festival, that was aimed at children. I suppose nobody had thought a children's entertainment would be of any interest. How things have moved on! It really is heart-warming to realise how integral to the world of theatre children's entertainment has become. Theatres now plan their seasons to include children's shows all year round, not just at Christmas. There is the realisation that here is an audience that can make commercial sense, even when the seat price is lower than for adult shows. Furthermore, there seems to be a realisation that children actually deserve their own shows, are entitled to them, and that by bringing them, even when very young, there is the possibility that their imaginations will be triggered and that a love of theatre-going may develop into adulthood. Just looking down the Edinburgh Fringe listings gave proof positive that there are many dedicated children's theatre practitioners who view the genre as a career option rather than a step on the ladder to more important, grown-up theatre. Not just performers, but writers, designers, composers and directors are all taking the work seriously. Hoorah!
So sad to hear the news that Cilla Black has died. To many people she was an iconic pop star and Queen of Saturday Night television. But my own happy memory of her is playing her boyfriend in her sitcom series CILLA'S WORLD OF COMEDY in 1976. Also in the cast, playing her father, was the lovely actor Leslie Sands, with whom I had acted in AFTER HAGGERTY for the Royal Shakespeare Company. I remember Cilla being kind and professional and not in the least difficult or starry, and never more than a few feet away from the ever-present Bobby. We were to record the show in the ATV Studios at Elstree, with a live audience. On the day, there was a technicians' strike, which meant we couldn't do the show. But there was no time to notify the audience and stop them coming. Cilla immediately decided they mustn't be disappointed. She called the cast together and asked to know our party pieces. That night the audience were treated to Cilla hosting a cabaret, in which Leslie did a comedy monologue, I performed a magic trick – a magic washing line with improvised props - , and Cilla adlibbed and chatted and joked and sang, unaccompanied, with feeling, I CAN SING A RAINBOW. To be honest, I think the audience enjoyed it more than they would have enjoyed the sitcom episode!
Another great loss in August was film and television director Jack Gold. I was privileged to act for him twice, in the film ACES HIGH and, a few years earlier, in a brilliant BBC Wednesday Play about Siegfried Sassoon called MAD JACK. At the audition Jack asked if I could ride a horse. I lied, answering yes. I got the part of Sassoon's close friend and quickly booked some riding lessons. By the time I arrived on location in Weymouth, I hadn't even mastered cantering, let alone galloping. The horses turned out to be 'real', not film-trained. Mine, his owner proudly told me, was called Paddy Punch, who was a bit long in the tooth, but, because he was rarely taken out, loved to race really fast …. In the scene, Sassoon (Michael Jayston – a skilled horseman) and my character had to ride towards each other, stop, have a conversation, then ride off in opposite directions. It soon became apparent to everybody how useless on a horse I was. We rode towards each other, but I couldn't stop to talk. Paddy Punch and I gathered speed until a tree blocked our path, he reared up and I slid off his rump. Several takes later Jack, who had been incredibly patient, considering he must have known I had misled him at the audition, expressed satisfaction. But a couple of weeks later I was summoned back to do it all again. I hardly slept the night before. Arriving at the location I was surprised to find there were no horses around. Jack, with a twinkle in his eye, told me to sit on his shoulders, while Michael Jayston 'rode' a crew member. They jiggled around, we said the lines and in no time the scene was in the can. Jack was a brilliant director who was a lovely human being, too. Warm, generous and funny. All who worked with him will miss him.
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