Saturday, May 2, 2015

Peeping Tom

                  Helen Mirren with NYT director M Croft in rehearsals for Anthony and Cleopatra


Can you remember what you were doing at the tender age of fourteen?

Of course you youngsters can. But for those of my generation who have to deal with the onset of senility, Altzheimers and other age-related medical problems the task is not so easy.

However, in spite of the afore-mentioned ailments, I can remember certain details with great clarity. The more exciting the memory the easier it rises to the surface.

The more mundane get zipped and, stored in the never-able-to-reach area of my aging hard drive. 

Good use of the computer analogy don’t you think?  Keeps the youngsters reading.

Sex is also an excellent tool to keep the younger generations glued to either a book or a screen.

So where was I? Ah, yes, fourteen and sex.

Well at this early stage of puberty, as we called it back then, I used to recite poetry to panels of stony faced adjudicators who sat in on Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Poetry Lovers Fellowship” examinations but I was also training as a “Peeping-Tom”.

I received this never to be lost training whilst I was treading the boards at the Old Vic Theatre in the suburb of Waterloo in London.

I was performing the minor role of Third-spear-carrier-downstage-left in a National Youth Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra.

I’ll give you the standard three guesses as to what I was peeping at.

Right first time.

Young Cleopatra’s ample glandula mammaria.

Mammary glands or bosoms for those of you without the Latin.

None other than the now famous Dame Helen Mirren was playing the role of the voluptuous queen of Egypt, who had all the local politicians of the time sporting permanent hard-ons.

She was a brilliant actress even at the tender age of seventeen and the Youth Theatre’s director, Mr. Michael Croft, had an extremely good eye for casting when it came to getting bums on seats.

There is a famous scene in the play, Act 3 Sc2 I think, when Antony confronts the love of his life about her possible involvement with his political rival, the young and also sexually active, Octavius Ceasar. The director, an astute and clever man with an immense knowledge of the Bard, had worked the scene as if it were a good old marital tiff.

As you may remember, this was the dawning of the “Kitchen-Sink” drama in the UK and Mr. Croft, in an attempt to upstage the famous John Osborne, gave birth to one of the first productions in London to have a good dose of explicit bedroom-drama.

He justified his direction by brandishing his “Stratford-Edition” of the play during the early rehearsals.

 “What does it say, line 138? Look at the stage directions!” We all perused our scripts.

Hands were raised in unison. “He strikes her!” we all yelled. “Good. And line 157?”

Our eyes glued back to the printed page. “He strikes her again!”

Mr. Croft then donned his school-teacher robe and explained.

“Shakespeare may have played this scene the same way we are playing it.” Holding the Stratford-Edition aloft he continued, “This is taken from the 1st folio edition and in several of his plays, in Othello for example, the stage directions clearly state that the leading man strikes his leading lady.”

For male kids of the Teddy-Boy era this was good news, for the young girls a few eyes were raised. You have to remember that this was the start of the Women’s Lib uprising. And I do concede that back in sixteen hundred and two, there were no “Abuse-Against-Women” marches, and as young boys played all the female parts, I’m sure Mr. Shakespeare did not have to deal with any picketing by irate females outside the Globe theatre.

However the early sixties were another ball game. There were mutterings emerging from the Australian Outback from the then naive diva of feminism, Germaine Greer. Bras were about to be burnt. Twiggy was strutting her stuff on the catwalks not needing one anyway. And Marianne Faithful and Mick Jagger were doing things with Mars Bars. Even “Ken-the-Red”, the recent ex- Mayor of London Mr. Ken Livingstone was up in arms, barricading the private garden squares of Notting Hill, so that single mums could wheel their prams.

These were heady times.

The young Ms. Mirren was no slouch either when it came to airing her views and opinions. The rehearsal room was a-buzz with heated discussions on women’s rights, the pill, violence in the home, and banning the bomb. Ms. Mirren and her gallant on stage partner Mr. John Nightengale, who played Anthony explored all the avenues that Mr. Croft opened for them.

Rehearsals continued apace and by opening night the “Strikes” were in! Thank God!

The national press reviews the following morning gave a unanimous thumbs-up for the production and audiences flooded in. Especially after they had read the Sunday review that mentioned Ms. Mirren’s mammary glands, which tended to slip out of the loose toga-like dress she was wearing. Crowds started queuing three hours before the performances so that they could get a chance of being a member of the “Peeping-Tom-Club”.

But unfortunately for these eager punters Ms. Mirren’s glands were never seen again by an audience after the opening night. With the use of her brilliant technical acting skills she had quickly developed a marvelous pirouette movement that ensured she always fell facing up-stage. I take this opportunity to thank Helen.

Two reasons.

Firstly, at a later stage in my career, I used the same twirling motion when I had to prevent my own privates being seen by the audience when I had to urinate on stage. And secondly because she gave the fifteen-or-so spear-carriers, who were standing in the up-stage wings awaiting their next entrance an occasional chance of catching a glimpse of her glandula mammaria, as they tumbled out of her dress.

As those adolescent years passed, the memories of Ms. Mirren’s boobs slowly faded as I focused on the more physically present appendages of the female partners with whom I was cohabiting at the time.

My peeping-tom days were over. Are they returning? Now that’s another story.


Maggie Storey said...

Wonderful depiction of a bygone era.Ah those were the days my friend!

derick said...

Your piece is erudite and engaging and stirs up a pool of memories

derick said...

Your piece is erudite and engaging and stirs up a pool of memories