Ne’er the ingénue
I’m planning next month’s trip to Italy. I know when I’m going and the destination airport; I know where I’m staying. That’s about all I know at the moment.
My first stop is Verona, one of Shakespeare’s much-loved Italian locations, scene of Two Gentlemen thereof and, of course, that tragic love story Romeo & Juliet. I suppose I’ll pop to the ‘the balcony’ alongside a few thousand others, but what I really want to see is the amphitheatre. More precisely, I want to stand in the centre of the stage and say a few lines. But which lines? Therein lies the question (not that question or those lines).
I cannot do a quote as Juliet, my ingénue days are long over, if in fact they ever existed. I was in my junior school plays and was, I’ll freely admit it, a rather hammy actor. When Mr Lewis, our deputy Head well-known for his humorous rewrites of old stalwarts of school stages, penned his take on The Pied Piper of Hamelin when I was aged around 8, I was one of the townsfolk bewailing the devastation that had befallen the town due to those pesky rodents.
I had written my own lines and I, alongside a couple of others in the same boat, got to perform them in front of the stage curtain as the scenery was changed. A bit of an entertaining filler.
My fellow performers were, if I may say, a little dry and dull in their delivery – not I! I had written these lines and I was going to deliver them with the gusto and aplomb they deserved.
“My clothes are in tatters, and my house is in ruins!”
Imagine ruins delivered in much the same way Edith Evans said ‘handbag’ in The Importance of Being Earnest. All the parents were rolling in the aisles – it wasn’t meant to be a comedic moment, but one of pathos. Heathens.
I also ‘starred’ as #2 ugly sister in another of Mr Lewis’ rewrites. I delivered jealousy to perfection – not difficult as I could not understand why I wasn’t Cinderella and the pretty blonde who couldn’t remember her lines was (red-head, head & shoulders above everybody else in my year and that tendency to overact may have had something to do with it).
Quite possibly my best performance was as Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, during one of our nativity plays (yep, no virgin role for me). No undue laughter emanating from the pews this time, just solemn recognition of my delivery, sans microphone. Oh yes, I have always been able to project.
Which brings me back to Verona. I have never been seen as innocent and wholesome, so whose lines could I project from centre-stage? I could resurrect my comedic delivery and be Nurse, but my ego feels that belongs to a much older person, though in truth I’m probably too old for that role, too. Lady Montague has 2 very short speeches, Lady Capulet a few more, and they are dramatic… [pause for thought]
Or, I could forget location, bring out the big guns and go for a Lady Macbeth moment:
“Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers: the sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures: ‘tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed
I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal;
For it must seem their guilt.”
That’s it. A blood-thirsty, dramatic delivery to regale the audience with. That little girl who so wanted to have a starring role shall create her own moment some 40 years on.
Verona, you have been warned.