Ladies in Hats

I work with this theatre company called The Factory.

We have several productions in repertory – The Seagull is one.

At Sunday’s Seagull there was a small lady wearing a hat sitting on the end of the seventh row.  Some short way into Act One she called out:
“Can the actors speak up or use a microphone?”
She said this several times because she couldn’t hear anyone answering her.
Colin Hurley is playing Sorin.  The way we play the Seagull he is called Colin not Sorin.  When the small lady spoke up Colin’s tracksuit pants seemed to catch fire and, staggering slightly because he is playing an old man with a stick, he did his best to bound towards this lady shouting, “We can’t have this!  We can’t have this!”
Max (from where I was standing) seemed to drape himself protectively around her like a helpful scarf. He hadn’t quite finished declaring his love to Elena so it was fantastically awkward for him.
You know when you finally get up the courage to leap on your new boyfriend/girlfriend and your Mum comes in and switches on the light?  And she says: “What are you two doing on the sofa?  Max – did you bring your packed lunch home because I need to put the dishwasher on.  Yes I can see you’re busy… but will you just do that before you go up?… Shall I turn this off?”  and then she shuts the door quietly as though that is going to return you to where you left off.
That was Max Gell.
Actors generally, but especially at the Factory, talk a lot about the Moment.  Max’s Mum was The Moment and, as usual, the Moment doesn’t mean any harm.  There’s just stuff to be done.  Like the dishwasher going on.
“Can the actors speak up?” the lady was repeating (a lot) which was fair enough – she was getting a lot of physical contact she hadn’t actually asked for – from quite large men and, as I say, she was small.
“You come down the front, my love.  Up you come.  We’ll make room for you.” Says Colin. Avuncular, jocular, unintentionally threatening – like Polonius.
“I don’t think you’re going to win this one,” says Max to the lady, or perhaps to Colin, it wasn’t clear.  We were on tenterhooks.
From that point on the show didn’t really go down a gear.  It went up a few now and then, but we never dropped the revs below that moment of frenzied pastoral attention.
She left soon after, in fact at an apposite point during Tim Evans’ ground-breaking play.
Later we learned that the lady had come to see her daughter in the show next door.  Instead she finds herself in the wrong theatre, set upon by Colin Hurley.
We were really sorry she didn’t stay.
We were sorry she missed the beginning of her daughter’s show.
The point is, it was typical of us to be ignited by a lady in a hat in the seventh row.  Like the time Big Ben struck four as Jakob Krichefski got to “…why night is night, day day and time is time…” (Hamlet, County Hall, May ‘08) or a very drunk man passionately joined Alex Hassell’s in prayer “Help Angels!  Make assay!/ Bow, stubborn knees…” (Hamlet, Secret Garden Party, July ‘08) or a policeman moved Scott Brooksbank on just as he was revealing to Hamlet that he had been murdered by his own brother,
“…lend thy serious hearing/ To what i shall enfold.”
“Excuse me, Sir – could you get down from there?”
(Hamlet, Regent Street Festival, Sept ‘08)
These Moments also, don’t mean any harm.  Jakob is very happy to be underscored by Big Ben, Alex hugs his drunk ally and Scott climbs down from the railings to move the audience “List! List! O list!”  to a new perilous position.  There is just stuff to be done.  There is always stuff to be done.  And most of it without practice or forethought.  All of it novel and a bit scary.
Take this newsletter.  This column.  It’s another New Thing.  We’re not quite sure where it will lead or what it might be for, we just know it’s worth getting done.
It’s also a bit like a small lady in a hat who wants to know what’s going on and isn’t afraid to ask.

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