The call for the final dress rehearsal was at 6pm on Monday evening.
I arrived a few minutes late – working at the compulsory job all week meant a timely arrival would be challenging. All those familiar faces were already there at the theatre, excited about the start of the show, and perhaps like me, they are bricking it at the same time.
As I am playing a Ukrainian road-sweeper, my costume is a set of overalls – dungarees and jacket. My props are a baby blue Dublin City Council bin bag, and that dingetje (Dutch colloquial word for ‘thingamabob’) that road-sweepers use to pick up litter, to avoid the need to bend over. This is a important prop for me – not because I’m all Daniel Day Lewis about the whole thing and living my everyday life in typical Ukrainian road-sweep style (what would that involve I wonder – for some reason I think I might be eating pickled cabbage sandwiches and lots of beetroot – are these popular food items in Ukraine I wonder?). No. The reason I need the dingetje is because my overalls are a touch snug. If I am required to bend over repeatedly to pick up rubbish I am a tad concerned about a wardrobe malfunction.
And this is not ‘Sex maniac – anarchist theatre for the mentally unhinged’ – that bizarre German ‘play’, for which I did front-of-house duties during this year’s gay theatre festival. This play ‘Everyone’s a winner’ is a light hearted comedy. A pair of burst pants and the Murphy family jewels on display is not an expected or desirable occurrence.
My scene involves an encounter between my character and a homeless person, after a riot. I have to clean the debris from the fictitious street. I had placed the optimal quantity of dry rubbish in the dustbin – enough to make the stage look like it had been properly thrashed, but little enough to allow me to say my lines without panicking about not having enough time to do the clean-up. A delicate balance.
All went smoothly enough. I think I may have lost a kilo since last week as the trousers felt reassuringly roomier, the rubbish was the correct volume, and I have worked out the fastest way to use that picky-uppy thing, while injecting the proper level of feeling into my dialogue. Oh look at me. Getting all Elaine Page in my dotage.
I was ready for opening night the following evening. Unlike dress rehearsal evening I did not dine on a plate of pork in black bean sauce over boiled rice, prior to performance. That was too stodgy. Instead I had a tuna salad – fresh and light enough not to require a trip to the toilet – those dungarees require a lot of manoeuvring to get on and off.
You’d know we are performing in a university theatre judging by the graffiti on the walls of the toilets. You see some clever clogs have taken a pen to correct the spelling and grammar of the previous writer’s words; which are scrawled on the back of the door. Which is hilarious and passive-aggressive in a smart studenty style.
We did the warm up in costume. To get the limbs and voices limber. ‘Red leather, yellow leather’; ‘Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled pepper’; ‘Unique New York’. All spoken at great speed. Try it. It’s tricky.
We were assembled quietly backstage at 7.45pm, in full costume, ready for doors to open at 7.53 and the audience to enter. Curtains at 8pm. All my props were in place. The atmosphere was buzzy and electric. Some people were silently pacing up and down. Others had mini-torches aimed at their scripts doing a last minute cramming. Despite everyone knowing their lines and having rehearsed them repeatedly my greatest fear is blanking on stage, or skipping a few pages of crucial dialogue. Therefore I understand the logic of last minute cramming.
As my scene is towards the end I found a seat that was away from the exits and not in a position where I could be knocked over by someone rushing on or offstage. I sat quietly, internally reciting my lines until the scene before my one. At which point I rose and took my place at the entrance..
Gadzooks. The rubbish had malfunctioned. That carefully tied up Centra plastic bag containing chocolate wrappers and coffee cups had burst meaning that it would be a litter inferno on stage; instead of one tidy item. Nothing to do about that now though. Get on with it. Worry about it tomorrow. The heart was pounding. My fingernails were bloody stubs.
Are you ready Murphy? You can still run away.
I listened for my cue, heard it, and strode out on stage, like a road-sweeping Ukrainian colossus in tight dungarees; my accent at the ready; clenching the picky-uppy thing.
And it all went….