Lobsters, rabies and wardrobe malfunctions: stars on their school plays

I played Bert the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins when I was eleven: the brush was taller than I was, I had braces, brief rolled up trousers. The “chim chim-in-ey” song? That was my large number. I went to an expat school in Hong Kong and I was the only Indian lady in the class. So there I was, with this extremely strong Indian accent, making an attempt to copy Dick Van Dyke cockney.

When I was three I was in Mom Goose at a local amateur panto in Bromsgrove. I was in lederhosen, with a curly blond mop haircut and two black eyes, since I’d fallen down the stairs at property (effectively that’s what my mothers and fathers informed everyone!)

The top lady had to get all the little ones around her to sing Do-Re-Mi, as you do. My older brother was in the manufacturing also. He had one line: “Special delivery for Mom Goose!” and we were all jealous of it. I did not want to be upstaged. It wasn’t adequate for me just to be part of the chorus. So alternatively of going to sit on Mother Goose’s lap and sing, which is what I was supposed to do, I went to the front of the stage and mimed enjoying various brass instruments – a trombone, a saxophone! The audience were cheering me on and the foremost lady was in hysterics. It was the very best feeling ever.

John Hurt, rear, as Lady Bracknell in a college manufacturing of The Value of Being Earnest. Photograph: Personal collection

At my boys college, I had the great fortune to play Lady Bracknell in The Value of Getting Earnest when I was 16. We had false tits and every little thing. It was all a massive amusement. But we treated the perform quite critically. When my housemaster asked me to perform the part I’d never even heard of Oscar Wilde. When I delivered the line, “In my guide, Mr Worthing, the truth is rarely pure and never basic,” it brought the residence down. Several many years later on, I realised that line is not Lady Bracknell’s but Algernon’s. It is feasible that there is an additional edition of the play, or maybe I just manufactured it my own line due to the fact it was so good…

I utilized to go to a drama group at All Soul’s Church on Fulham Palace Street. They put on a production of Oliver! and there was a bloody battle to get cast as the Artful Dodger. No one needs to be soppy Oliver. After a series of brutal X Issue-fashion auditions, it ultimately boiled down to me and a boy referred to as Elliot to be cast as both a single of these parts. They finally produced a call by measuring us against each and every other. My heart sank as I was about a head shorter, so thought I was doomed to play weedy choirboy Oliver. But it wasn’t so I triumphed against the odds to play my dream function.

Some years later, I went to open auditions for Oliver! at the London Palladium. I dressed up as a boy, pondering that I’d fool them all right up until press night, when I’d rip off my tail coat and scream, “I’m a Woman!” I got as far as the door. When they asked for my identify, I replied “Jim” in a sophisticated baritone. There was a brief pause and the lady stated, “We’re not auditioning ladies these days.” And I went house.

Elliot now goes by his DJ title Illustration, and I consider excellent pride in possessing been there for his initial foray into music – his exquisite rendition of In which-ere-ere-ere-ere is Adore.

Lia Williams lobster
Lia Williams plays a lobster in Hiawatha. Photograph: Private assortment

Lia Williams

I was as well shy to go on stage as a kid, even though I did as soon as seem in a perform at major college based on the story of Hiawatha, the Native American hero made famous in the epic C19th-century Henry Longfellow poem – not that I knew that aged 7. All that interested me at the time was the boy enjoying Hiawatha, which made me desperate to perform Minnehaha. I never ever did, although. I acquired hay fever in the course of the summer time months, when the perform was on, and sneezed an exclusion zone about myself. Also, I had quick honest hair. The instructor chose a woman who had long dark hair, which could be easily turned into pigtails. Instead of Minnehaha, and for some explanation I have prolonged forgotten, I played a lobster.

Our college plays have been all male, so somebody had to perform the girls, just like in Shakespeare’s day. Not me, even though I often got the older guys, and if an emotional breakdown was concerned, all the much better. When I was sixteen, it was Prospero in The Tempest. My college had acquired hold of the magic cloak worn by John Gielgud in Peter Brook’s production at Stratford. By the time I acquired to put on it, it was a threadbare point, a lot hired out because he’d doffed it but the exceptionally cunning director of the perform – a teacher of German grammar with some of the instincts of an impresario – informed me not to worry, it would look terrific below the lights. How a lot of occasions have I heard that considering that?

Lamb dressed as mutton, I held my head substantial, topped off with a wig from Bert’s which looked like a mob-cap, above a face with Leichner’s No 5 and No 9 stage paint applied with a trowel. The tattered cloak worked like a carpet sweeper, its extrusions of wire and gauze picking up no matter what nails, fluff and wood shavings had been lying about the stage.

Since the theatre needs the ready suspension of disbelief, I stalked by way of the manufacturing contemplating that the mantle of Gielgud had descended on me in a lot more senses than one. How dull was the Monday morning right after that: daft as I’d looked, I’d been in a musky, intoxicated heaven.

Celia Imrie fairy
Celia Imrie, right, as a nursery Christmas fairy. Photograph: Personal assortment

My really first acting function was in a Christmas production in my nursery. The costumes had been produced by my wonderful nanny – which tends to make me sound terribly posh. The really initial Shakespeare I ever did was playing Jessica in the Merchant of Venice at school. It was with the really frightening Ms Nesbitt, who taught algebra. She was an anathema to me and I in no way understood what on earth she was talking about. However, possessing been really fierce in the maths room, she was an absolute marvel as director. I can keep in mind receiving my massive, black old Shakespeare guide with gold writing to see how massive my part was. I was so excited. I’ll by no means fail to remember Ms Nesbitt simply because, stupid me, throughout the rehearsals, I received myself hospitalised with anorexia. And she stored the portion open for me for about two months.

At college we did Pirates of Penzance and Oliver Twist, West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Due to the fact they needed to make sure they sold the displays out for two weekends, the cast numbered approximately 70 to 80 folks. That is a great deal of Jets and Sharks – if we’re currently being real, Officer Krupke would have needed some significant backup.

One of my favourite functionality experiences was in my first 12 months of college when we took a production of Romeo and Juliet to a women’s prison in upstate New York. As I came running in to the auditorium to challenge Tybalt, they went crazy, jumping out of their seats and rushing up to the ten-inch higher stage yelling: “Get him, Romeo!”

Cynthia Erivo

When I was 15, I played Juliet in the Young Vic youth theatre’s edition of Romeo and Juliet. It was about two weeks into rehearsals, and we had been getting trouble generating intimacy in between Romeo and I. So, we had to do an physical exercise the place we would kiss for ten seconds with out breaking apart. We began, and it got to about 9 seconds and I could not consider it any more. I pushed him off, wiped my mouth, spun on my heels and walked out. I was mortified. He kissed like a wet fish! Spit all over the place!

Kevin Bishop, right, in a nativity play.
Kevin Bishop, right, in a nativity play. Photograph: Private collection

Having been a skilled youngster actor considering that the age of 10, I was extremely utilized to currently being on stage. However, each time the school plays and assemblies came around, I was usually overlooked. I was advised by the drama teachers that this was simply because “somebody else need to have a go”. I could taste a bitterness in my mouth every single Christmas showcase. The excited youngsters operating up and down the darkened corridors, receiving to kiss that girl you have constantly fancied because you are in a play collectively. I suffered at the hands of jealous bullies because of my child fame and even more so at the hands of annoyed, failed actors/drama teachers who utilised to bark at me each and every time I made a blunder: “Shut up, Bishop. You are not on the tv now.” 1 overzealous religious studies instructor attempted to impress the wincing crowd as The Rocky Horror Show’s Dr Frank-N-Furter at the “Christmas celebration of Jesus” concert. I’m confident Jesus would have loved the fishnets but the dad and mom weren’t so impressed.

Jenna Russell

At junior college we celebrated the lifestyle of Louis Pasteur in a dramatised assembly. I was cast in a scene in which he found a vaccine for rabies. Sadly, I was neither Louis nor the coveted role of writhing rabies victim, but the nurse, whose sole work was to hand our hero a vaccine-filled syringe in a metal kidney bowl when he asked for it and say “Yes sir”. Not a demanding part, but really a lot remembered. My costume consisted of tons of tied-with each other tea towels, a single of which was wrapped round my head, and I was terrified it may slip off. Bizarrely, at the exact same assembly the headmaster spontaneously received me to stand up and sing Donald Where’s Your Troosers. I have no notion why, I just bear in mind getting terrified… It did not get any laughs either.

Tim Pigott-Smith school caucasian chalk circle
Tim Pigott-Smith, left, fears for his petticoat in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Photograph: Personal collection

At the age of 11, I appeared in Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle. I auditioned for the female lead of Grusha. To my disappointment, that portion went to the amazing musician Daryl Runswick, and I ended up with the portion of the mom-in-law plus various even significantly less rewarding citizens and maids. For a single of these maids I was provided a petticoat – as a rugger-enjoying adolescent, I deemed this an pointless detail on the portion of our wardrobe mistress. For the duration of a scene with 4 or 5 other “wenches”, the elastic broke and the petticoat began to slide down my thighs. So I opened my knees as wide as they would go, in order to stop the slip from falling any even more. As my concentration was centered entirely on the problem under my peasant skirt, I inevitably failed to come in with my line. By some means we completed the scene. I drew my knees collectively, permitted the petticoat to slide to the floor, picked it up and exited with my dignity intact.

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