Can blog, can write, can act a little


In Monday’s post, I shared with you my childhood love of the theatre.

There’s a bit of me that still loves it. If I’m ever at the seaside or at a ‘Fun Day’* at our local park and there’s a Punch and Judy booth, you’ll see me gravitate towards it.

For those of you unaware of what Punch and Judy is, imagine a brightly coloured square tent, just tall and wide enough to hold one man – maybe two – like a little mobile theatre. A square hole in one wall of the tent acts as the stage and on the stage appear puppets.

Apart from the wildly unattractive, hook-nosed Punch (who’s usually dressed in red and yellow with a pointed hat – like a court jester), there’s his equally unattractive wife Judy, their baby, a policeman, a crocodile and strings of sausages Honestly, I’m not making it up – this madness is my heritage.

Most of the characters have shrill, insane voices that drill holes in your brain because the puppeteer has a reedy piece of metal in his mouth called a swazzle. They say you’re not a proper Punch and Judy man until you’ve swallowed several swazzles. And I say, you can’t say ‘swallowed several swazzles’ if you’ve been drinking.

The storylines mainly consist of domestic abuse, infanticide, assaulting police officers, being eaten by crocodiles… It’s subversive, very dark and has passed as fit entertainment for the under tens since its first recorded performance in the UK in 1662.

Anyway, even though the voices give me a headache and the nice liberal in me loathes the laughs derived from unbridled male-on-female violence (this guy ain’t no role model, people) I will always watch a little of a performance as I pass by. Part of me loves the tradition, the history of it – and what are we Brits without tradition – but a bit of me is drawn to the theatricality of it, the idea that the puppeteer is like a strolling player of old, carrying his stage on his back – or more likely these days in the back of his Ford Transit.

And then there’s conventional theatre. I’m lucky in that I live in a biggish city with some excellent theatres. At any one time, I could choose between Shrek the musical or Warhorse, performances of Handel’s Water Music, a challenging modern piece about female genital mutilation or an 18th century Restoration comedy in one of the country’s oldest surviving theatres … by candlelight.

And as I said in Monday’s post, I really do see the parallels between actors and writers.

Both disciplines must thoroughly know their characters, how they would speak, what they would say, how they’d react to a given situation or stimulus.

We have to channel other people who might be very different from us, have different life experiences with different tales to tell.

We have to give ourselves over to the process of living as someone else and hearing their voices in our heads.

Now, if all of this sounds frightening close to mental illness, then maybe it is.

But take comfort from the fact that authors are solitary beasts by nature, usually hidden away in their Writing Caves, barely seeing the light of day from one season to the next, communicating only through email or text. They are rarely allowed out of their Caves, and if they must, if some evil agent or publisher forces them blinking into the blinding brightness of the day to promote something at a signing or a book fair, they are usually outnumbered and can be easily overpowered as their limbs have been wasted through sitting at a desk all day.

Now, actors … I’d be much more worried about them if I were you.

*Beware of anything sold to you as ‘fun’ – it will be cheap, cheesy low-grade entertainment, often with a high humiliation factor (such as stag nights, hen dos, and anything that involves the removal of clothing). If ‘fun’ is prefaced with the word ‘harmless’, it will be neither harmless nor fun. Fun is for the under tens and possibly for those over seventy who behave like under tens.

Books in the Blood #2


It’s said all of the cells in our bodies are replaced every seven years, though, if this is the case I don’t see why Mother Nature has to be a cow and replace them with similarly aged cells when she could take the opportunity to give us all a face lift.

Maybe this is why I don’t recognise the younger me as ME. I am literally a different person now.

For instance, despite being plump, awkward and self-conscious, I was also something of a performer, or as I’m sure my parents would have described me – a show off. I loved to make people laugh, loved to flounce around the living room putting on voices, doing impressions. Frank Spencer was a popular one – ‘Ooh, Betty,’ and ‘the cat has done a whoopsy in the carpet’. Tragic. And I leapt at any opportunity to make an idiot of myself on stage.

I was a Wise Man in the school Nativity Play at the age of eight or nine. To have a female Wise Man (or Wise Woman) seems a surprisingly liberal and forward-thinking move on the part of my teachers, as we’re talking the mid-seventies and despite the women’s movement, an age of virulent sexism.

In Secondary School I was the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella* (where I had to ad-lib as my wand broke in mid-spell – ever the trouper), performing poetry and sections of Hobson’s Choice for the Summer Show.

I loved Shakespeare, purchased a second-hand copy of the complete works and read it at home, which as anyone who’s done it knows it NOT the way to foster a love of Shakespeare in a teenage mind. Better off watching a performance –  blokes swordfighting in codpieces may be distracting but can convey the meaning of the words better than staring at the page.

I joined the local youth theatre, though partly because my best friend wanted to join and partly because there was a really fit boy who was already a member. I was only there for one production before I left, having made an utter fool of myself over same heart-throb.

Maybe the humiliation of that experience beat the love of limelights and grease paint out of me, though I’d argue writing is how I now channel my inner actor.

Anyway, before I fell out of love with performing in person and did it safely from behind the barricades of my laptop, I read

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown.

It’s about a group of terribly nice children, keen as mustard on acting, who have the opportunity to use an empty chapel to set up The Blue Door Theatre Company. All the children are plucky, heroic, middle-class, fighting against the narrowmindedness of adults to win through and fulfill their dreams.

I stayed up all night to finish this book, reading by the light of the street lamp outside so my parents didn’t catch me. To me it was aspirational, inspirational and awfully good fun. Probably a bit dated now, but which ten-year-old, straining at the restrictions of parents and school and their own lack of power, wouldn’t want to read this and imagine themselves part of the company?

Any childhood books you found utterly inspiring? Any make you want to run away from home and set up your own theatre company/ vet practice/ riding stables/ circus?

*You notice I was Wise Man and Fairy Godmother, never Mary or Cinders – I never was Princess material 🙂