Tuesday, August 2

The Hills Are Alive

There’s a time and a place for Political Correctness.

Ant was lovely. One of those bubbly, over-enthusiastic girls who were politically correct long before political correctness ever existed. One of those girls who liked to jolly everyone along and make sure everything was fair and everyone got a chance even if they not very good at whatever it was they were doing at the time.

She was short, with big curly brown hair and a little bald husband, and she was always cheery and happy and had an improbably posh accent and as with most such people a fearsome temper that you really didn’t want to provoke.

I first met Ant when she was assistant director on a play I was in. She was from Cheltenham, as so many improbably posh people are, a former inmate of Cheltenham Ladies College. Now she was a pillar of the local community, despite being only in her late twenties, and had her finger in all sorts of pies. The Lion’s Club, the Rotary, the Women’s Institute, whatever was on the social calendar you could bet that Ant would be involved, jollying everyone along, making sure everyone got a chance to shine.

Every year she directed the musical for the local am-dram group in the little Cotswold village where she and hubby now lived. And in this particular year in the late 1980’s, that meant The Sound of Music.

Now this was probably around the same time that I met my wife to be and so a little before I decided to give up the acting game and settle down and become a “responsible adult”, a plan which didn’t really work out for me as you might be aware. So I was still struggling along, earning a crust as a computer operator and picking up the odd acting job here and there, and when Ant phoned me up two weeks before her show was due to go on and told me she had just lost her stage manager, I was in a period of “resting” as they call it so was happy enough to jump into the breach.

The Director and the Stage Manager are probably the two most important people in any theatrical production. The actors, well to paraphrase Noel Coward, all they have to do is say the lines and try not to trip over the furniture. The Director is in charge, and is responsible for the look and feel of any production. But their job ends the moment the house goes down and the curtain goes up, and then the Stage Manager is the boss and everything that happens from that moment on is his responsibility.

So it’s important for a good Stage Manager to know the play inside out and back to front. Not just the script, but the particular production. Because Directors, and I speak as one myself, well, we sometimes do bizarre and unusual things. We have odd ideas, you see, and sometimes they can be brilliant, and sometimes they can be just downright stupid. And it is important that when something happens on the stage that doesn’t look like it belongs in the production, that the Stage Manager should know that it was actually a disaster that he has to deal with and not the Director’s brilliant coup de grace that they believed would make their production an unforgettable triumph. And Ant was the type of director who was likely to have more brilliant coup de grace ideas than most.

Therefore the very next evening I was on my way to attend a rehearsal, and of course to meet the cast. I met the woman playing the lead role of Maria, the postulant nun who comes to the Von Trapp residence to look after the seven children and ends up falling for the head of the household. And I met the man playing Baron Von Trapp, the gruff and grumpy Naval officer widower whose heart she melts. And then I met the seven children.

The seven children who together with their stepmother and their blue-blooded, Aryan, blonde-haired and blue-eyed aristocratic father would have to escape from the clutches of the Nazi’s by a rugged crossing of the Alps through high and barely accessible mountain passes.

One of them was black.

One of them was in a wheelchair.

There’s a time and a place for Political Correctness.


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