The Swollen Tongue,The Sick Author and the Vanishing Actor

I prefer not to believe in jinxes or bad luck.‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’ as someone once succinctly put it. At times though this credo is challenged.
Take our latest production, two new plays, seven performances at three venues here on the North Tyneside Coast.
Two days before rehearsals began actor Dylan Mortimer suffered a bad fall which left him with a split eye, bruised body and more seriously a tongue bitten so badly that an infection saw it swell up to the size of a submarine and left him able to mouth only gobbledygook.
Two days into our five days of rehearsal he was just about able to mouth recognisable syllables, announced his capacity for quick healing and we ploughed on.
On opening day one of the writers, Mary Pickin whose play The Battling Ettricks was her debut piece, fell ill with a contagious flue which made her attendance in the small intimate venue of The Low Lights Tavern highly inadvisable. As she said (croakily) ‘I might give it to all the cast.’ She was forced to miss her own premiere.
The best was saved till last. We had five actors, two for Mary’s play and three for my own titled The Sisters about a serial seducer. In the afternoon of the opening night we all gathered for the dress rehearsals. Except one actor never appeared. Simply vanished. No answer to her phone, to her front door. Her agent was contacted, her family – no clues. No-one knew whether to be alarmed or hopping mad – and with the sold-out opening night only a few hours away.
We put into action whatever measures we could to help find the actor then tackled the increasingly imminent problem of the play. At such times, a refusal to panic is invaluable. The plays’ director Neil Armstrong manifested the kind of external calm which infused the rest of us. Once we had decided cancellation was not an option, we devised a plan which meant Christina Dawson would now act in both plays, though she knew neither the script nor the movements for The Sisters, nor had any time to learn the same. We turned my own piece into a radio play, broadcast in front of a live audience, focussing – a few sound effects apart – entirely on the script.
It worked partly because of the play’s great contrast to The Ettricks, which takes the form of an 18th century bare-knuckle fight between husband and wife and is full of slapstick humour, cartoon violence, funny noises and custard pies, The audiences loved both pieces. I write this after four performances at The Low Lights Tavern, North Shields where last night almost 60 people crammed into our normally 40 seater capacity venue (a converted back bar), turning it into a benevolent bear pit. Our three remaining performances are virtually sold out.
Last night we had both a 6pm and 8pm performance – a particularly testing time for Christina requiring her to perform four times in three hours. She came through with flying colours. And Mary Pickin’s receding flue, meant she could finally see her own play.
Happily our missing actor was discovered alive and well, (though her participation was no longer an option). Despite or because of these setbacks the spirit now among our four actors is terrific as are their performances. This show is the hottest ticket in town and all’s well that ends well.

Updated: January 22, 2015 — 3:30 pm
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